Cartoons — Modern and Postmodern

Having spent much too much time this week setting up the Fan Boy/ Fan Girl Detante and getting involved in the debates surrounding FanLib, I hope I will be forgiven for a post which is mostly a series of interesting links that I have had stumbled on recently, all surrounding one of my favorite topics — comics and animation.

Modern

I recently had the pleasure of introducing CMS graduate student Andres Lombana to the astonishingly original cartoons which came out of UPA studios in the 1950s, including my personal favorite, Gerald McBoing Boing, or their highly stylized version of The Tell Tale Heart or their adaptation of James Thurber’s The Unicorn in the Garden or the oft-neglected Christopher Crumpet and Family Circus or… Andres returned the favor by introducing me to a really interesting blog that author Amid Amidi has created around his book, Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation. The blog is a treasure trove of classic commercials and cartoons, often obscure early works by important animators, as well as storyboards, sketches, promotional materials, and the like, surrounded by interesting critical commentary. I strongly recommend this site to anyone who shares my interest in 50s animation or who is simply interested in understanding the intersection between modern art and popular culture.

Postmodern 1

Have you seen A Fair(y) Use Tale? It’s a provocative video circulating on YouTube and where-ever else fine mash-up videos can be found which explains core concepts in American copyright law, including, of course, fair use, through the appropriation and re-contextualizing of segments from classic Disney movies. The film was produced by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University. The video is being distributed by the Media Education Foundation. (I don’t always like the films produced by the MEF, which often seem to be heavy-handed and pedantic and tend to demonize both media producers and consumers, but this seems like an especially valuable contribution to our teaching about the current copyright wars and came just in time to be a welcome relief from grading papers.)

As the closing moments of the film suggest, Disney as a company has been the big bad wolf of American copyright law, bullying everyone from local daycare centers to the Academy Awards which seeks to quote images from their films. Some have gone so far as to describe the current copyright statues as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act because it essentially keeps expanding the period covered by copyright to insure that the rodent never falls into public domain. So, it seems only fair that Disney sounds and images be used to help the public understand its rights and responsibilities under current intellectual property law. That said, I’d watch this one now before the Cease and Desist letters start to fly.

Postmodern 2

The Apple vs. PC advertising campaign has become one of the most quoted themes in contemporary popular culture. Not since the “Whazzup” madness of a few years ago have we seen a commercial which provided such a rich and recurring template for grassroots appropriations. So, it is not surprising that fan boys are using it to comment on the ever-green debate about the relative merits of DC vs. Marvel superheroes. You can see the results in two very different videos making their rounds these days — the first focuses on the two companies and their products, the second pits Batman against Spider-man, suggesting that Peter Parker has a way to go before he can match Bruce Wayne’s record for pain and personal trauma.

Enjoy!

Comments

  1. David Surman says:

    Have you seen A Fair(y) Use Tale? It’s a provocative video circulating on YouTube and where-ever else fine mash-up videos can be found which explains core concepts in American copyright law, including, of course, fair use, through the appropriation and re-contextualizing of segments from classic Disney movies.

    One of the key examples of this mash-up commentary is the Negativland tribute to Disney Gimme the Mermaid, which parodies the correspondence between an ex employee of the Magic Kingdom and one of their legal team over the use of and abuse of animation content.

    The mash-ups I really adore are Eileen Maxson’s redubbing of classic Disney features. They aren’t currently online, but I own personal copies and I shall put them on youtube to link here. Of course, then there is the whole AMV phenomena too!

    Over the past year I have been watching and creating YouTube Poops, and talking about them with friends; Tim Drage, Luke Oram and Christian McCrea. Some of the discussion has been summarised at Christian ‘s blog. I said:

    Through the use of videogame tv animations, Poops also foreground the narcissism of new media connoisseurship and its associated literacy. Remembering how shit a cartoon remediation of a videogame was (’cereal and super mario on tv before school, and then Super Mario World once I got home’) reinforces the primacy of the play experience and the poverty of its attentuated remediation.

    Poops also flatten. Cutting a larger animation down to a repeated loop breaks the animated effect into a serialised flatness. They collapse movement and the aesthetic of harsh repetition interpenetrates foreground and background. Narrative devices lose relevance and lose their effect; the stylistic language of colour fields, shape, contour, composition take precedence.

    Poops fetishise the keyframe, the point where the animation is at its most dynamic, and strip away the vestigial in-betweens. The keyframe is then serialised to maximise its effect while at the same time negating its capacity to communicate by transforming it from a momentary peak to a constant drone: the song of once-special lost commodities!

  2. David Surman says:

    Have you seen A Fair(y) Use Tale? It’s a provocative video circulating on YouTube and where-ever else fine mash-up videos can be found which explains core concepts in American copyright law, including, of course, fair use, through the appropriation and re-contextualizing of segments from classic Disney movies.

    One of the key examples of this mash-up commentary is the Negativland tribute to Disney Gimme the Mermaid, which parodies the correspondence between an ex employee of the Magic Kingdom and one of their legal team over the use of and abuse of animation content.

    The mash-ups I really adore are Eileen Maxson’s redubbing of classic Disney features. They aren’t currently online, but I own personal copies and I shall put them on youtube to link here. Of course, then there is the whole AMV phenomena too!

    Over the past year I have been watching and creating YouTube Poops, and talking about them with friends; Tim Drage, Luke Oram and Christian McCrea. Some of the discussion has been summarised at Christian ‘s blog. I said:

    Through the use of videogame tv animations, Poops also foreground the narcissism of new media connoisseurship and its associated literacy. Remembering how shit a cartoon remediation of a videogame was (’cereal and super mario on tv before school, and then Super Mario World once I got home’) reinforces the primacy of the play experience and the poverty of its attentuated remediation.

    Poops also flatten. Cutting a larger animation down to a repeated loop breaks the animated effect into a serialised flatness. They collapse movement and the aesthetic of harsh repetition interpenetrates foreground and background. Narrative devices lose relevance and lose their effect; the stylistic language of colour fields, shape, contour, composition take precedence.

    Poops fetishise the keyframe, the point where the animation is at its most dynamic, and strip away the vestigial in-betweens. The keyframe is then serialised to maximise its effect while at the same time negating its capacity to communicate by transforming it from a momentary peak to a constant drone: the song of once-special lost commodities!

  3. Henry – as a fellow fan of UPA’s work, thanks for linking to this blog/book. Just out of curiosity – where did you access the UPA work beyond McBoing Boing? I haven’t been able to find any on DVD aside from Gerald…

    Editor’s Response: I haven’t found any of it on dvd so far. There are commercially recorded tapes of much of it — the good and the bad mixed together, alas — that I ordered some years ago. I am on the road at the moment so I can’t check the name of the company which distributed them but I will post the information when I get back in town next week.

  4. Henry Jenkins says:

    This message from Mary Ellen Curtin has been blocked so I am reposting it:

    Speaking of FanBoyLand vs. FanGirlLand, did you know that (http://community.livejournal.com/mac_hearts_pc/” rel=”nofollow”) the Mac/PC slash community formed basically within minutes of the first ad?

    The fact that one of the ads IIRC involves the guys going to a relationship counselor suggest to me that this reading may be more along the lines of “intentional subtext” than “against the creator’s intentions” subtext.

  5. David Surman says:

    Jason/Henry: As I am sure you have probably found a UPA collection is being put together by the people producing the documentary ‘UPA: Mavericks, Magic and Magoo’ and is available at their site http://www.upapix.com/index.htm

    Also, if you are interested in North American ‘limited’ animation of the 1950s, you might like to take a look at the animation of the british Halas and Batchelor studio, best known for their production of Animal Farm (1955). There are some great publications on Halas and Batchelor productions which emphasise the contiguity with UPA, and in particular tease of the qualities of style-led limited animation.

    The new Wells and Vivian Halas collaboration is excellent, and makes best use of the H&B archive available at Farnham Art College; a really accessible and insightful study:

    >Halas and Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History – with bonus region-free DVD: An Animated History by Nick Park, Vivien Halas, and Paul Wells

    The classic study is Halas’ own work written with Roger Manvell. Brilliant breakdown of the aesthetics of economic animation:

    >Technique of Film Animation (Lib. of Communication Tech.) by John Halas and Roger Manvell.

    The limited aesthetic also becomes early anime by extension, and I think its important to set the technique manuals of Osamu Tezuka alongside works by people like Halas and the UPA studio. I don’t know that these are available over here in general distribution, but you can get them from specialist sellers like http://www.animebooks.com.