A Johnny Gent Comic

Giggle4_CoverOne of the great pleasures writing a history of the New York animation studios is finally doing some appreciative analysis of John Gentilella, or “Johnny Gent,” and his work. Admittedly, it will be brief. He was a relatively minor player—he worked at a higher skill level than any of his Famous Studios colleagues on increasingly mediocre cartoons—but he was an amazing repository of knowledge on the inner workings and personalities at Van Beuren, Terry’s, and Famous. It’ll be nice to have his memories give color to the larger story.

Bob Jaques called my attention to a story drawn by Gent for Giggle Comics #4 (January 1944). Gent said he recalled doing a few stories, and it’s easy to see why his memory was fuzzy. The art here reflects a bit of his animation’s dynamism in the posing, but largely looks like it was dashed out in a lunch hour between working on Popeye. But it’s still his, and to me (and maybe only me and Bob), anything Gent did is of interest.

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Who says print is dead?

042943What are my qualifications to never post?

Well, I’ve been busy as a freelance writer and journalist as per usual, and all of my free time for animation writing has been devoted to pitching and starting an exciting new project. I’m pleased to say that my friend and colleague Charlie Judkins and I are co-authoring a new book: a history of New York studio animation (from the teens to the ’60s) to be published by Wesleyan University Press. That’s all I can give away for now, but I assure you we aim to give these neglected films and artists the scholarly attention they’ve long deserved.

Now, on a completely unrelated note…

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I’ve also been translating stories for the new line of Disney comics by IDW. The process is taking a script (generally of Dutch or Italian origin) and spicing it up in my own voice for American publication. It’s a job I’ve missed dearly. My friend, collaborator, and boss David Gerstein had me do a few for the Gemstone line nine years ago, and I’m delighted to be a regular contributor for IDW.

The translating team includes Jonathan Gray, Joe Torcivia, and Gary Leach. We’re all students of the Disney masters, so we all “get” these characters. But on our personal writing styles, I’d say Jonathan and Joe are always in a “stupidest puns” competition mixed with pop culture references reflective of their eras (Joe a child of the ’60s, and Jonathan an ’80s kid), whereas Gary is very much a classical Barks scholar proper whose excellent work goes back to the original Gladstone days. Myself: I think it was Jonathan who described my style as stewing in a seat in the corner making “really cynical, really mean-spirited” jokes. Suits me. (Joe’s enthusiastic analyses can be found over at his blog, The Issue at Hand.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.39.38 PMYou can judge for yourself this month: Jonathan has started a year-long serial in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #721, Joe has a story in Mickey Mouse #311, and Gary begins a two-parter in Uncle Scrooge #408. I had the pleasure and privilege of translating a rather convoluted but funny ten-page Donald Duck for WDC&S #721. It’s a classic 1982 story by Daan Jippes and Freddy Milton with Donald as a tortured bookie runner, once too hot for American publication. Donald Duck #370 features my spin on “The Siege of Nothing Atoll”, a spy-spoof with Donald and cousin Fethry illustrated by the great Giorgio Cavazzano.

Note that this is classic, not modern Cavazzano. His style today is good, if a little standardized. Cavazzano drew “Atoll” in 1976, still fresh from his days assisting and inking the other great Italian Disney master Romano Scarpa. In those years he managed to make every pose unique and funny, and could make something as standard as an airplane flying or explosion cloud a surreal extravaganza.

It seems the new line of Disney comics is selling rather well, particularly Mickey Mouse, whose launch issue last month was essentially a sell-out all over the New York City/New Jersey area. Some of the team has presumed the popularity of the new Toon Boom Mickey cartoons for the Disney Channel has given the character better brand recognition. (Jonathan said his brother was stymied after watching a few with his daughter: “These are funny. Mickey Mouse’s not supposed to be funny.”) My low opinion of those cartoons aside, anything that helps give these comics longer press life is fine by me.

I’d tell you to watch for an update, but, well, we know how that goes.

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3-D Rarities

Boo1

And of course, my plans to continually update my blog fell flat. It’s not easy juggling some three or four different gigs, I’ll tell you that.

One of the projects I’ve been involved with for the past several months is 3-D Rarities, a joint release from Flicker Alley and the 3-D Film Archive. Producer Bob Furmanek invited me to do audio commentary and liner notes for Boo Moon, the Casper cartoon Famous Studios produced in 3-D in 1953. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to pontificate about Famous Studios—even if it is Casper. I will say that the cartoon is a hoot properly presented, and the preview of the restoration at the Museum of Modern Art went over big with the audience.

The Blu-Ray will also feature some of my earliest digital clean-up efforts on several of the shorts and trailers. Thanks to Steve Stanchfield’s generosity, I’m now able to do studio-level work out of my home, and I’m looking forward to repeatedly showing the big corporate boys that competent work doesn’t require a monstrous budget, just care.

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John Stanley’s First Lantz Comic

NF79-coverI had posted this story years ago on my now dormant site Golden Age Funnies. Like every niche website, both the proprietor and audience lost interest. My scans from at least ten years ago are long gone, and all to the good, because my skills at getting archival material online have increased tenfold.

It was a bit of a dilemma, though, scanning New Funnies No. 79 (September 1943), because my copy is in such nice shape. This copy was a bargain that I nabbed in my more volatile days. Early Dell comic books have never been plentiful at cheap prices in the last 30 years, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get Charlie Chicken’s first appearance as a baby chick. (He was a full-grown rooster in the next issue.)

I wasn’t aware that this Andy Panda story is one of the first John Stanley illustrated, period, for Dell until I read the draft for Mike Barrier’s Funnybooks last January. Some Stanley stories in Our Gang Comics precede this one. Gaylord DuBois is the writer, with embellishments by Stanley (presumably with editor Oskar Lebeck’s encouragement).

It’s certainly funnier than the vast majority of Dell Comics at the time; Charlie’s belligerent retorts are far more pointed than youngins were used to. Some of the “animation staging” that hampered Carl Barks’s first year of Donald Duck is prevalent even here, though not to that degree of detriment. The final page is sublime comedy, period.

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