The Gag Book Returns

Okay, here’s how it all began. John Cawley had the crazy notion of publishing a book of my animation gag cartoons. Naturally, there were jokes never meant to be published. It was simply the silly stuff animation artists had been doing for decades. Cartoonists, being cartoonist always enjoyed mocking each other. On occasion, even the studio management was up for grabs and jokes and gags were drawn about the boss as well.

Once again, these were “insider gags.” Jokes rarely seen by civilians. Only animation employees were even aware of these goofy cartoons that adorned the walls and cubicles of the cartoon makers. Cawley gathered up a pile of my gags which eventually became the published book, “Faster, Cheaper.” It was a look inside an animation studio and the wacky process of making a cartoon. I think John printed around a thousand copies which at the time was a very big deal. Surprisingly, the goofy book seemed to find an audience and people began to tell me how much they enjoy my book of wacky cartoons about the animation business.

Some years later, I found myself with another stack of cartoon gags. Gags from various studios that had the courage to employ me. The goofy sketches came from Disney, Hanna-Barbera and Pixar and covered a couple of decades of cartoon making. Having already published a book with the title of “Faster, Cheaper,” I decided to call this sequel, “Son of Faster, Cheaper.” Since the book was self published there was never an attempt at properly marketing the book. Word of its existance spread simply by word of mouth. Remember the the Internet was still taking baby steps and few people were even on it in those days. Once again, we had a very limited print run and when the books were gone - they were gone.

Thanks to Bob McLain and Theme Park Press my crazy cartoon book has been given a new life. This time, it’s truly a published book and it’s on sale now. Remember, these goofy gags were drawn a couple of decades ago but it seems the gags still resonate with people. Especially those who make their living in the animation business. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it was like to work at the Walt Disney Company back when the Old Maestro walked the hallways you might want to check out this book. The same would apply to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the guys who ruled Saturday Morning Television in the sixties and seventies. Finally, you’ll get some of the spirit of Pixar Animation Studios where they continually tell you what fun it is to work in the magical cartoon business. However, the real magic, rather than the fabricated image involves working your butt off. When drawing gags I’ve never pulled any punches. They’re often drawn in the moment when the ideas are fresh and exploding in my head. If you want the real deal instead of corporate spin. If you want complete honestly instead of executive blather check out “Son of Faster, Cheaper.” You’ll see the cartoon business the way it truly is.

"Son of Faster, Cheaper." My wacky gag book gets a second life thanks to Theme Park Press.

"Son of Faster, Cheaper." My wacky gag book gets a second life thanks to Theme Park Press.

Aging in the Cartoon Business

It doesn’t seem that long ago when we walked into a large conference room filled with season cartoon veterans and a handful of studio executives. You can imagine how we felt. We were kids. Newbies to the animation business with only a few years under our belt. Now, here we were with these animation geezers who had seen more and done more in the past few years than we had in our entire, lackluster career. How do you pitch to a group like that? You’re totally intimidated the moment you walk in the door and you expect the old codgers to toss you out on your ear for wasting their valuable time. I honestly can’t remember all the pitches we made to these animation senior citizens back in the day. Yet, that’s the way it was. The animation industry was run by pudgy, bald old men, and they were probably the younger ones. There were also a handful that could boast working for Disney in the forties and “Termite Terrace” in the fifties. There weren’t a lot of young people in the cartoon business back then. Perhaps that was because the work could hardly be considered a career. Only goofy, naive kids like myself would aspire to such a wacky, pointless job.

Imagine how I feel today. Either I’ve entered BizarroWorld or life has taken a complete, unexpected flip-flop. When I enter a conference room filled with artists, managers and executives I feel like I’ve made an accidental turn into a daycare center. Dare I say the staffers are young? Let’s just say most are probably the age of my grandchildren. So, it’s intimidation all over again - except this time around the players have all switched places. Clearly, all the bright young people starring at me are talented, educated and filled with enthusiasm for the business. As I look out upon the sea of innocent, smiling young faces with their clear complexions and perfect teeth, I’m filled with a sense of dread. I’m no longer the green, stupid young kid with no experience under his belt hoping eagerly for approval. Now, I’m the old grandpa. The codger who worked in the business back when people drew on paper. As you can imagine, I’m waiting for the kids to grab my walker or my cane and kick my tired old ass out of the room.

It would appear I’ve been the wrong age all my life. It’s not a total downer, however. Back in the sixties I managed to work with a bunch of “old men.” Actually, I believe there were nine. Fast forward to the nineties where I worked with a bunch of kids at a new studio called, Pixar. So, on occasion I did manage to fit right in. It’s all very amusing, of course. That’s the way life is. Whatever goes around eventually comes back again. Only, not quite the way expected. It’s the wacky circle of life, and I’m the one running in circles. I’ve made a decision never to pitch again. My ideas were initially too brash, controversal and irreverent. Now, my ideas are not brash, controversal and irreverent enough. I failed to impress the codgers back in the old days and I can’t seem to wow the kids today. Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a rant and it’s hardly a complaint. Simply an observation as I walk down the hallway of a studio where the senior management appear to be high school seniors.

Enough meetings like these and you realize how old you've suddenly become.

Enough meetings like these and you realize how old you've suddenly become.

The Animation Drawing Board

It’s funny how a simple photograph can completely capture a view of the recent past. I think this image would appear almost foreign to people working in the animation business today. It almost seems quaint and slightly outdated. It’s the way animated films were once made. It’s a view of a time few would recognize today.

Of course, those of you old enough already recognize the animator’s desk. That big silver platter in the center is called a disk. Drawings were affixed to it on pegs and the device could even rotate. For many years, artists managed to draw on these devices and although it took some getting used to - over time it became comfortable. That’s a model sheet above the sketch. Artists kept these images nearby for continual reference as they went about their work. The yellow paper on the right is known as an exposure sheet. Critical in the animation process, it contained all the information needed in a particular scene. This fact filled sheet would also be used by the camera department when they photographed each individual drawing. In the world of animation, this was pretty much our bible.

That white object in the animator’s left hand is called a cigarette. That’s pretty much a thing of the past as well. We’ve since learned to do without these items because smoldering ashes could land on the sketches and edges of the scene could be accidentally burned. Of course, That wasn’t the only damage they could do. They could also kill you. I might add that the sketch on the animators desk is not an animation drawing or a layout. It was something called a, “bluesketch,” and several young women used to trace these things as part of the production process. Naturally, it’s simply another job that has been totally forgotten today.

If you’re old enough and lucky enough to have labored on these ancient devices you may have fond memories of the forgotten process. There was something unique about being an animation artist and the fact that you were making a movie by hand. That’s correct. The process was totally analog and the human touch was felt every step along the way. One could almost say that these sketches contained the artists DNA. Naturally, the physical process had its limitations and we were restricted to five levels because of the density of the animation cel. Even the camera had its limitations and that even included the mighty Multiplane once considered a technological marvel. Despite these obvious handicaps, we were able to create magical worlds where elephants flew, and princesses were given life with a kiss. Worlds were created with watercolor and gouache and the animator’s pencil brought amazing characters to life. Animation was clunky, crude and coarse. But, by god - it was magical.

Behold the hand of the animation artist. In the old days we made animated movies by hand. Digital production is the norm today. I can't help feel that a part of the magic is gone.

Behold the hand of the animation artist. In the old days we made animated movies by hand. Digital production is the norm today. I can't help feel that a part of the magic is gone.

Things You Didn't Know About The Jungle Book

I hadn’t thought of this interesting idea, but someone suggested a series of notes on Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book. I think they called it, Seven Things You Didn’t Know About The Jungle Book. Since there are a number of things most people don’t know about Walt Disney’s final film. Let’s get started and learn what some of them they are.

First of all, did you know that all the songs in the film were not written by The Sherman Brothers? Of course, Robert and Richard Sherman contributed the Lion’s share (no pun intended) of music for the film. However, songwriter, Terry Gilkenson was the composer of The Bare Necessities. The song was nearly cut from the movie by Walt Disney himself. However, Walt’s top animators persuaded the Old Maestro to allow the song to remain. I think we’re all glad Walt changed his mind.

Did you know that none of the story artists, with the notable exception of story master, Vance Gerry, received credit on the movie? There were a number of story artists who went uncredited on the motion picture because credits were not liberally doled out in animation’s old days. Much of the zany, wacky stuff you see on screen can be credited to story men, Al Wilson, Dick Lucas, Eric Cleworth and a new kid named, Floyd Norman.

Did you know that the voice for one of the vultures in the film’s final act was television writer-producer, Digby Wolfe? Yes, that’s correct. Before he moved on to become a producer on such hit shows such as Laugh In, Turn On and Cher, the talented Aussie provided a voice for one of the Fab Four. Perhaps you remember the four hungry vultures that confront Mowgli the Man Cub as he wanders through the jungle. After the four sing a rousing barbershop quartet, the party suddenly ends. It appears the cunning Sher Kahn has had enough of the merriment. He attacks and poor Baloo the Bear and he is eventually done in. Or, so we are led to believe. Did you know that popular radio and television entertainer, Scatman Crothers provides voices for the renegade monkeys that kidnap the Man Cub? The famous Scatman often appeared on Los Angeles television shows back in the fifties and his voice can be heard on many animated cartoon shows at other studios as well as Disney.

I’ll bet you probably didn’t know that Walt Disney picked voice actor Sterling Holloway to voice Kaa the Snake because the veteran Disney voice actor was already at the Walt Disney Studio recording tracks for the animated film, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. No need to look elsewhere when Sterling Holloway was already nearby.

Veteran writer, Larry Clemmons thought having animated characters in drag was a sure fire gag. Every time the story team would come up with a wacky idea, Larry would always chime in and say, “What if we put him in drag? That would be hilarious!” Eventually, Larry managed to get his way. When Baloo the Bear has his wacky (I Wanna Be Like You) duet with King Louie the Orangutan, we put Baloo in a coconut bra and a grass skirt. I think we finally managed to please Larry, and perhaps he was right after all. The zany duet between Louie Prima and Phil Harris is a genuine show stopper.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard this story. When master story artist, Bill Peet pitched his version of The Jungle Book to Walt Disney, the Old Maestro was not pleased. The storyboards were impressive all right , but the story was dark, dreary and full of mystery. After viewing the storyboards, Walt was all too willing to express his opinion, and his evaluation was terse and unexpected. “This reminds me of Batman!” A reference to the Dark Knight was the last thing we guessed would come from Walt Disney. Was Walt a closeted DC Comics fan, we wondered?

These are a few of the things that went on behind the scenes during the making of The Jungle Book. Like most animated feature films, this motion picture has its fair share of wacky stories and we’ve only scratched the surface.

The talented Sterling Holloway. It was a joy to be in the recording studio with this guy.

The talented Sterling Holloway. It was a joy to be in the recording studio with this guy.