By Michael Petrou - Monday, April 8, 2013 - 0 Comments
Why cartoonists are proving to be a powerful force in one of the world’s most repressive regimes
There are many ways one can land in an Iranian prison. Marching to protest a stolen election is risky. Calling for the end of Iran’s ruling theocracy is dangerous. Nikahang Kowsar was jailed for drawing a cartoon of a crocodile.
The crocodile, and the pun name he gave it, led readers to believe Kowsar was mocking a prominent cleric. He was, but he had hoped the metaphorical nature of the drawing would protect him.
It did, partially. Kowsar received death threats and was arrested. But when interrogated in court by Saeed Mortazavi—a judge who would later gain infamy for his involvement in the imprisonment and murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi—Kowsar could plausibly claim that he had drawn a fictional character, not unlike the Pink Panther. He was released after six days.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
… and for good reason, as Jaime Weinman explains
Nostalgia for 1990s kids’ shows is big today, but there’s been comparatively little attention paid to perhaps the biggest ’90s hit of all: Ren & Stimpy, the creation of Canadian cartoonist John Kricfalusi. Its original run, from 1991 to 1996, established cable TV as a major outlet for smart cartoons. “People just love the subversive brilliance of it,” says Thad Komorowski, a U.S. animation blogger who has just written a book about the show, called Sick Little Monkeys. With ’90s nostalgia sites like Buzzfeed choosing to focus on more child-friendly shows like Rugrats, the new book might be the best way to remember how large a big dumb cat and an angry chihuahua loom in animation history.
Kricfalusi founded Spumco, Ren & Stimpy’s production company, after working on shows like Fonz and the Happy Days Gang where everything was done in the least creative way. “Layout artists just photocopied model sheets and cut and pasted them into new positions,” recalls Canadian animator Mark Mayerson. Film archivist Reg Hartt adds that by the ’90s, outsourcing had created a system where “animation, ink and paint and everything else was scattered around the world.” Though not easy to work for, Kricfalusi became a refuge for people who hated those compromises as much as he did. “He wanted it to look great,” says Canadian cartoonist Bob Jaques, who supervised the animation for many Ren & Stimpy cartoons. “Other studios did not care what the work looked like as long as it was good enough to broadcast.”
When Ren & Stimpy premiered, adults and children alike became fans of Kricfalusi’s attempt to revive wild physical acting. Even The Simpsons, which started the season before, depended more on writing than animation, but Mayerson says Kricfalusi “rejected the idea of stock poses.” Instead, Jaques says, “actions and acting were, as much as possible, tailor-made,” with stories told more through drawings than dialogue. The book chronicles how new techniques in animation and painting were used to create episodes like “Stimpy’s Invention” (with the “happy, happy, joy, joy!” song that became a ’90s catchphrase).
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Will the Oscar-hosting gig be the Family Guy creator’s stepping stone to onscreen superstardom?
Many performers have hosted the Academy Awards, but Seth MacFarlane, host of the 85th annual show, is something different: he’s not known for performances where he’s actually seen. As a TV creator and producer, MacFarlane became one of the most powerful people in show business thanks to the success of Family Guy, for which he also does many of the voices; he followed that up with two other animated series, then transitioned into live-action filmmaking by writing, directing and voicing Ted, one of 2012’s most popular comedies.
You wouldn’t think he had anything left to prove— being the highest-paid writer in TV with a reported salary of $33 million a year, and having influenced many other cartoons, such as Robot Chicken, a pop-culture parody created by Family Guy voice actor Seth Green. But recently, MacFarlane has been trying to get out in public—he hosted Saturday Night Live and sang at London’s Royal Albert Hall before landing the Oscar hosting job. It’s part of his attempt to go from animator to live-action star—and his colleagues think he can do it. “Watch this guy go,” says Family Guy and American Dad composer Ron Jones. “He will astound everyone.”
The transition from cartoonist to performer isn’t quite as strange as it might sound. Van Partible, creator of Johnny Bravo, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon where MacFarlane achieved early success as a scriptwriter, says, “the best cartoonists need to have a working knowledge of acting so that they can get their characters to perform and emote in a believable way.” Because of that link, many other writer-creators from the ’90s animation boom, such as Mike Judge (King of the Hill), are also vocal actors. But these other creators don’t usually try to separate themselves from the cartoon characters they play. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park (who have bashed MacFarlane’s work on their show) accepted starring roles in the movie BASEketball after South Park took off. But the film bombed, and the pair settled for an offscreen role for their next project, achieving live-action success writing but not starring in the musical The Book of Mormon.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM - 0 Comments
Sunday Times cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, the man who brought you the album art on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, erected another wall this past weekend. The new one looks a lot like the old one, except that it’s built atop dying Palestinians and their blood provides the mortar. Oh, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in as architect, his caricature complete with oversized ears and (you guessed it) a formidable nose. His horns, they say, are vestigial.
The writing on the wall as inferred by the Anti-Defamation League?
We don’t need no Jewish Nation.
Here’s Michael A. Salberg, the ADL’s International Affairs Director:
“The Sunday Times has clearly lost its moral bearings publishing a cartoon with a blatantly anti-Semitic theme and motif which is a modern day evocation of the ancient ‘blood libel’ charge leveled at Jews.”
I wasn’t aware that the Times had moral bearings, but the ADL isn’t entirely wrong in their “blood libel” charge. Scarfe’s Netanyahu does look a lot like this, and this, and this. There’s also the awkward bit about the cartoon being published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even Rupert Murdoch, who owns the newspaper, managed an apology. He called the cartoon grotesque.
But there remains a big gaping hole in this tale of anti-Semitism. For one, Scarfe isn’t an anti-Semite. Yes, to a lot of Jews (myself included) the cartoon appears anti-Semitic, but that has less to do with Scarfe–a man who has depicted several political leaders he abhors, most of them non-Jews, with exaggerated facial features in exaggerated ways—and more to do with context. Tony Blair, for example, (another one of Scarfe’s subjects) doesn’t belong to a religious group with a history of systemic discrimination. Or genocide. Neither does George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton–other leaders the cartoonist has taken aim at over the years. Netanyahu, on the other hand, does. Unlike Bibi, Blair, Bush, and Clinton don’t belong to a minority whose facial features were altered grotesquely throughout propaganda history, not for comic effect, but to instill fear and incite violence.
Scarfe has affirmed that he is not an anti-Semite—that he had no idea Holocaust Remembrance Day would fall on the same day the paper published his Bibi Netanyahu-architect-of-death cartoon. Here he is talking to the press, below:
“The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticize world leaders for what I see as their wrong-doings. This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people…I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust day, and I apologize for the very unfortunate timing.”
Anti-Zionists and ADL critics will of course say that the date on which the cartoon was published is irrelevant. If Scarfe’s beef is with a government, not a people, what does Holocaust Remembrance Day have to do with anything?
The answer, as he now knows, is everything.
The day has everything to do with the deed because it is, at this point in history, almost impossible to draw a sensational political caricature of a Jewish person without evoking images of Der Sturmer. The history is still too recent, the wounds still fresh.
If Gerald Scarfe is to learn anything from this, let it be that until further notice, like it or not, the only socially acceptable time to draw a Jewish caricature is at a Bar Mitzvah.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Orillia’s Doug Sneyd, a ‘Playboy’ cartoonist for 48 years, spotted Hugh Hefner’s no. 1 girlfriend first
For half a century, Doug Sneyd has worked for Hugh Hefner, publishing more than 450 cartoons in Playboy magazine from his home in Orillia, Ont. Despite that lengthy and ongoing professional relationship, Sneyd and Hefner have met exactly once, at Expo 67 in Montreal, where Hef was opening a Playboy Club nightspot. So it was an especially neat trick when, two years ago, Sneyd, who is 80, managed to introduce Hefner, 85, to 28-year-old Playmate Shera Bechard of Kapuskasing, Ont.—a woman Hefner describes as “my No. 1 girlfriend.” But let’s start this story at the beginning.
You see, Sneyd doesn’t really ﬁt the proﬁle of the Playboy cartoonist, whatever that is. He grew up in staid Guelph, Ont., has lived in small-town Orillia since 1969, was married for 44 years to the same woman—Shirley—and raised four children. He was a seasoned member of the Rotary Club of Orillia, did illustrations for Chatelaine and made a good part of his living supplying the Toronto Star and other papers with thoughtful, often provocative editorial cartoons. A widower since 2001, he met his current girlfriend, Heidi Hutson, a decade ago after a day of golﬁng. “I don’t know too much about him,” Hutson, 67, recalls a friend saying after they ﬁrst encountered Sneyd at an afternoon social, “but I think he works for Walt Disney.”
Sneyd didn’t set out to become a Playboy cartoonist—or even a cartoonist at all. Far from it. Yet his sensual, silly, single-panel gags, meticulously executed and vividly coloured for the past 48 years, have become a Playboy hallmark. “He’s an ideal cartoonist for us because he has a good eye, a good sense of humour and is able to draw a very pretty lady,” says Hefner. That is made amply clear in The Art of Doug Sneyd, a lavish coffee-table book published last year with some 270 of his Playboy cartoons. “Oh, yes, I still have my virtue, but I hardly ever use it anymore,” a redhead with a beehive tells a man in evening dress (November 1979). “The way I see it, promiscuity is its own reward,” one woman remarks to another (July 1972). As one dry-as-dust clerk at Library and Archives Canada, which keeps a Sneyd collection, writes in the archive record: “Generally, the cartoons deal with male-female relations and reﬂect the attitudes towards women and sexual mores held by [Playboy].”
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Quebecers aren’t allowed to submit captions for the magazine’s famous cartoons
Anyone who has ever tried to come up with a zinger for The New Yorker’s caption contest knows how challenging it is to seem effortlessly clever. Quebecers, though, will be further frustrated should they come up with a suitably droll caption for the magazine’s weekly back page cartoon. It turns out they are barred from the exercise, which welcomes “any resident of the U.S. or Canada (except Quebec) age eighteen or over.”
Some Quebecers may be tempted to suggest an anti-Quebec bias is at work. The New Yorker, after all, famously ran a lengthy article by Mordecai Richler in 1994, decrying the province’s language laws and history of anti-Semitism. Reality, though, is more banal. The Quebec government requires companies to register their contests with the province’s gaming authority, something done to “protect people who participate,” says Joyce Tremblay, spokesperson for the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux.
Rather than navigate Quebec’s red tape, some companies are deciding to skip it altogether. “The same thing happened last year,” says Tremblay, miffed that The New Yorker has “decided to exclude Quebec.” The NFL had a contest for Super Bowl tickets, and “Quebec was excluded then, too,” she says.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, April 20, 2009 at 1:33 PM - 2 Comments
I’m not too impressed with Sit Down, Shut Up, and neither are Fox’s viewers, who, like me, still enjoy King of the Hill more even though it’s past its peak. (Which is not to say that Fox is wrong to want to find a fresher animated series to put in the 8:30 slot, just that SD, SU may not be it.) It might get better; it might not; but so far it looks very suspiciously like another example of something I’ve noted before: truly successful prime-time animated sitcoms rarely originate at the writing end alone.
That is, the most successful prime-time cartoons all started with drawings that were developed at the same time as the series idea; instead of coming up with a concept and then seeking out artists to illustrate it, The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy all had a look to match the concept, with the same person responsible for creating and designing the main characters and setting a visual style that everyone would imitate. (Mike Judge drew the four guys from King of the Hill before he even knew exactly who they were.) This is not to say, as hard-core animation buffs often do, that only artists can create animated shows; these shows all have written scripts and non-drawing showrunners. But it is important that the characters should look the way they act, and that the overall look of the show should be inseparable from the way it’s written; that usually seems to come about when one person has a hand in both aspects. Those three shows have some pretty ugly drawing, but the drawing is inseparable from the writing.
The flop animated prime-time shows often look like somebody had the idea and then hired a crew to draw it for him; with Sit Down, Shut Up, we have a show that was supposed to be live-action (like its Australian predecessor) until Mitch Hurwitz realized he’d have an easier time selling it to Fox if it were a cartoon. (Something similar happened with The Critic, which was intended as a live-action vehicle for Jon Lovitz, and became an animated show when Lovitz wasn’t available to work full-time on it.) I’m not saying that this approach can’t work; it works in comic books, where an Alan Moore can write a comic and then give it to somebody else to draw. But it usually doesn’t work in prime-time TV, where — if the characters are not designed by someone who writes for them — they usually wind up with the sort of generic, bland look the characters have on SD, SU. And bland is way worse than ugly when you’re doing a prime-time cartoon.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, September 29, 2008 at 2:48 PM - 7 Comments
In 1933, Walter Lantz made a cartoon starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit called “Confidence,” where the Depression causes harm to Oswald and his barnyard friends, and so Oswald goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to get a lesson — in song! — about the only thing that can cure the Depression.
For some reason, I’ve been thinking about this cartoon a lot.
The Depression stuff starts at 2:21, and FDR appears at 5:00. BTW, Tex Avery was one of the animators.
Or if you want a less upbeat take on financial crisis, there’s always Bob and June Wheeler from Night Court.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 3:46 PM - 0 Comments
The YouTube user known as the New Toon Tracker seems to have collected every intro to every cartoon series ever. He’s given us an opportunity to be reminded of shows that all have one thing in common, whether we watched them, heard of them, or never heard of them at all: they’re cartoons that you can’t quite believe were real and not Robert Smigel SNL parodies.
Thanks to him I found the intro for a cartoon I actually watched as a little kid, called “Pandamonium.” Maybe “thanks” isn’t the right word. It was about a… well, I don’t actually need to summarize it for you because the narration does it all and then some. ’80s cartoons had a lot of expository narration.
The only line I remember from the show was the American Boy telling the evil Mondragor: “I don’t bow down to anybody!” and his sister saying “Especially while I’m around!” Teaching little boys everywhere that they should bow down to their sisters, I guess. I don’t remember if they ever did find all the pieces for the Pyramid of Power, but I’m guessing the series was canceled before that could happen (just as the Fonz and the Happy Days Gang never did get back to 1957 Milwaukee).
And here’s one I never watched or even heard of before, a Ruby-Spears cartoon called “Goldie Gold and Action Jack,” about a wealthy jet-setting heiress traveling the world with a hunky reporter and fighting evil. It sounds kind of interesting when you put it like that, and the late Steve Gerber was one of the writers (he was creating a bunch of shows for R-S around this time), but the intro has way too much narration, again. Did we kids really sit still for this much talking every week? And did Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom lift the mineshaft chase from this intro?
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 7:17 PM - 0 Comments
The Globe and Mail recently ran this article by Grant Robertson on the success of the recently-launched Teletoon Retro, and in particular its unusual approach to finding advertisers and an audience for a cartoon channel. Normally, cartoon channels are aimed at children, with maybe a special late-night block for adults. In the U.S., both Cartoon Network and its spinoff Boomerang started with a mostly kid-oriented approach and aimed still younger as time went on. Teletoon Retro is a cartoon nostalgia channel aimed to a large extent at adults who grew up watching cartoons; it was launched, the article explained, when Teletoon execs noticed that Scooby-Doo reruns were getting a lot of adult viewers on their main channel. The advertising on the network is mostly targeted to grown-ups — I see that damned Jennifer Love Hewitt acne-cream commercial every time I watch Porky Pig or Merrie Melodies — and the article explains that future acquisitions for the network will be based in part on requests they’re getting from adults. The Smurfs is, of course, their number-one most-requested show.
As a cartoon channel, Teletoon Retro started with too few shows, and while they’ve added a few recently (including The Pink Panther and Woody Woodpecker, the ones with Walter Lantz trying to become an on-camera personality like Walt Disney), they still need to expand their lineup. Also, a cartoon channel in Canada suffers from the fact that many studios do not make the best prints available to Canadian channels; I’m thinking especially of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, where Cartoon Network had access to the full uncut prints (though a fat lot of good that does them) but Warners mostly prefers to send out the old edited-for-TV packages in Canada. But the basic principle behind the channel, to cater to a mix of kids who are encountering these shows for the first time and nostalgic adults who remember these shows from years gone by, has worked out quite well. Some of these shows are good, some are bad, but all of them are fondly remembered by people who watched them as children. Okay, maybe not the ’70s Tom and Jerry where they were friends and they couldn’t commit any actual violence. Nobody liked that.
I’m glad that the Teletoon people have actually tried to exploit the fact that adults love cartoons. Many networks are, and have always been, terrified that adults might watch. They sell cartoons exclusively to advertisers of kiddie products, and these advertisers naturally expect the shows to be watched almost exclusively by people who are interested in using those products. Networks, broadcast and cable, have actually tried to eliminate adult-friendly content from their cartoons because they were being watched by too many grown-ups without kids. They never seemed to consider the obvious solution: sell some ad space for those grown-up viewers. You’re never going to stop adults from watching cartoons; as Scooby-Doo proves, adults will watch and love cartoons even if they aren’t very good. Might as well accept that we like cartoons, and try to turn that to advantage.