The National Film Registry

Just to show that I’ve still been writing about animation for places besides Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research, right now you can read two of my essays for the National Film Registry: one on Tex Avery’s Magical Maestro here and another on Dave Fleischer’s Technicolor Refreshment Trailer No. 1 (or “Let’s All Go to the Lobby”) here. The Avery piece draws information from Mike Barrier’s essential book and some new research by Keith Scott (and myself), while the Fleischer essay was unexpectedly fun because I managed to track down the composer Jack Tillar to add unique anecdotal information on that camp classic.

I have a few others in the works on Fleischer cartoons for LOC, but the mundanities of everyday life have gotten in the way of fun for now.

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Chugging On

A frame from Svën Höek, the cartoon in postproduction at Spumco when the split between Nickelodeon happened in September 1992. Or was it?

A frame from “Svën Höek”, the cartoon in postproduction at Spumco when the split between Nickelodeon happened in September 1992. Or was it?

I guess it’s because I wrote a book trying to clear up misinformation about The Ren & Stimpy Show that further misinformation annoys me. The Huffington Post article published over the summer is of the most common sort: John Kricfalusi is in the news for some reason (this time for animating a backdrop for Miley Cyrus’s concert tour), so give him another soapbox. Easy click-bait, little work.

Lauren Duca, the writer of the article, never responded to my e-mail addressing how troublesome her piece was several months ago, but she has updated it today to incorporate a few quotes from Vanessa Coffey, the Nickelodeon executive who had to fire Kricfalusi in September 1992. Not September 1993, as Duca has it, regardless of her response to me on Twitter: “That’s not the information I have from John K. or Vanessa Coffey.”

I don’t know what John K. is saying these days, but Coffey and I spoke at length in December 2009 about the “nuclear fallout” (her words), and there was no question that it happened in the fall of 1992. (She also said in that phone interview that the plan to set up Games Animation to continue Ren & Stimpy went back to August 1992, probably around the time Nickelodeon saw a finished cut of “Man’s Best Friend,” the infamous ‘banned’ episode with George Liquor.)

As animation history has proved, memory can be fleeting. So why not look at a few primary sources? (Not the dumb Splitsider article Duca linked me to, citing a phony September 1993 date for Kricfalusi’s termination.)

The Hollywood Reporter
September 23, 1992
“Nick ticked by late Stimpys”
Paula Parisi

Nickelodeon is reportedly trying to separate animation whiz John Kricfalusi from his runaway hit “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” which has drawn high ratings and reams of publicity for the cable kids network since its premiere last summer. Kricfalusi’s reported inability to meet deadlines in delivering the new season’s episodes of “Ren & Stimpy” is said to be the primary source of discontent for Nickelodeon, which owns the show the independent animator created and produces through his Hollywood-based firm Spumco.

USA Today
September 24, 1992
Ren & Stimpy run into trouble at Nick”
Donna Gable

The future of Nickelodeon’s cult hit The Ren & Stimpy Show is in doubt after reports that creator John Kricfalusi was ousted for failing to produce new episodes in time.

Business Wire
September 28, 1992
“Nickelodeon and John Kricfalusi reach agreement on production of The Ren & Stimpy Show

Nickelodeon and Spumco’s John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show, have reached an agreement to reorganize production responsibilities for the animated show.

“I felt confined by the rigors of this particular animated series and wanted to pursue projects with more artistic freedom,” said Kricfalusi. “I am thankful to Nickelodeon, especially Vanessa Coffey, for giving me my first break and I hope the show will continue to be a success.”

Those were three of a few dozen press clippings I have related to the Spumco-Nickelodeon split, and I could easily post several more. I spent an enormous amount of time sifting through the paperwork of Spumco, Games, Carbunkle Cartoons and Nickelodeon to figure out the minutiae of the series: when certain people were hired and left, how much a cartoon cost, when a cartoon was in animation, etcetera. You can have your debates on who’s insane and who sold out whom (for my own assessment, read my book), but facts are facts, and The Huffington Post has one wrong.

At times, I wonder if that research was worthwhile, and if correcting Ren & Stimpy misinformation is simply futile. Duca has not yet corrected the date error and seems clueless about the existence of Sick Little Monkeys, which I’m sure warms certain people’s hearts. But since she is actually writing for a widely read website, I feel compelled to keep at it. Any attention is good attention.

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It’s a Grand Old Nag

Grand Old NagI’ve had this on the stack for a while, and since I know you’re dying for updates, here’s a rarity to tide you over.

As you all know, the only color copy of Bob Clampett’s sole cartoon for Republic, It’s a Grand Old Nag, was available in terrible dupes for decades. That was it. Even Clampett himself didn’t have anything better, and that’s what was included on the Beany & Cecil Vol. 2 DVD.

That changed almost two years ago when a 16mm Kodachrome of the cartoon appeared for an astronomical price on eBay. I tried reasoning with the seller, and he agreed to sell it for something reasonable. Then he decided to back out. Then I asked, look, for posterity’s sake, can I rent it from you, make a transfer, and pay you a fee (and all shipping costs)?

The guy said sure. I was very impressed with the quality of the 65 year-old Kodachrome print. That film stock is not well known for its sharpness, but trust me, after the third-generation dupes we’re accustomed to, this is the best we’ll see it until a 35mm print shows up. (The color won’t be much better either. Trucolor was another cheaper two-color process like Cinecolor.)

The improperly dressed animation wizard Steve Stanchfield came to my rescue and did the very nice transfer you see below. It was a big deal. Clampett’s kids, the genial Rob and Ruth, were extremely pleased when I offered them a copy of their dad’s final cartoon in full animation. I sent the print and a copy of the transfer back to the owner and never heard another thing.

That is, until several months later when I found out, quite by accident, that the guy flat out sold the print to someone else, after how he would only rent it to me because he whined about how “this is the closest I’ll get to having a lost film.” (I guess anything has its price.) The buyer, fortunately, was Jerry Beck, a close friend and fellow animation historian, but the story is still a thorn in my side. The guy never operated a film projector in his life and I could’ve easily swapped it out with anything. But that would mean stooping to his level.

Bottom line: the guy who had this rare, fun cartoon was a jerk, but happily it ended up in more than capable hands. And hey, now you can see it for free! Sorry for the watermarks, but the hard work of Mssr. Stanchfield and myself will not be overlooked. We paid for it, for chrissakes!

It’s a Grand Old Nag from Thad K on Vimeo.

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The Mr. Jones That Became Mr. Twiddle

For all three of you waiting for an update… not so much of one. I’ve been busy with my new position at WBGO, the jazz station in Newark, so I haven’t cared much about my graveyard of a website. I’ve also been working on a proposal for my second book, which I hope to announce formally in the coming year.

One of the fellows who has been of great assistance in that regard is Will Friedwald, the noted animation and jazz historian, whose books on the Warner Brothers cartoons (coauthored by Jerry Beck) are still of vital importance, even if he feels otherwise. David Gerstein and I recently did him the favor of hauling things in and out of his storage place. He repaid in kind by granting me access to all of his animation files. I’m going to be posting a lot of treats from Will, but I thought this would be of the most historic value to start off with.

Sh-h-h-h-h-h was the last theatrical cartoon Tex Avery directed during his all too brief (and unhappy) stint at Walter Lantz Productions. It may be the darkest he ever did. What I love about those four cartoons he directed at Lantz in 1954 is that they are pure Avery: he drew the boards and he didn’t have a character designer, so this is the closest Avery’s roughs ever got to being animated.

The storyboards here are almost the final film verbatim, in both story and design, as Lantz didn’t have the money to screw around (note the alternate ending that he thankfully didn’t go with). None of these limitations hindered the Avery on film, of course, even if it did force the real-life Avery out of the animated shorts business.

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