King Kirby and the Fleischer Connection. Jack Kirby is perhaps best known for the many comic book characters he co-created from Captain America to the X-Men to the Hulk but he also worked in animation at Ruby-Spears and DePatie-Freleng. Early in his career, he got his start working as an inbetweener at the Fleischer Studios in New York (actual Popeye drawing by Kirby at right). “Fleischer animation, like any animation studio, was a factory. It’s a factory with long rows of tables. That’s what I was doing at Fleischer’s. I was sitting at one of those long rows of tables with lights underneath. They’d give me this inbetween action. I would finish the action on seven sheets of paper and I would give them the seven sheets of paper. That was my importance. I felt that I was well treated at Fleischer’s. It was a good organization and I was just a seventeen year old kid. So who the hell was I? And that was always the question I tried to ask myself and when I didn’t get the right answer, I tried something else.” Kirby later told a different interviewer: “I left Fleischer’s still with no idea how they made the drawings move.” What did Kirby feel was the main benefit of working at Fleischer’s besides learning to draw faster? Apparently, he smuggled out large quantities of pencils and erasers, which he used for many years drawing newspaper strips and comic books. (Maybe that explains why some studios in the 1980s even kept their light bulbs under lock and key from the animators.)
Don’t Have a Cow. When asked how he felt about John Kricfalusi being removed from “Ren and Stimpy”, Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening aptly remarked, “It’s like taking Dr. Frankenstein away from his monster.”
The King and the Mouse. At the time of Elvis Presley’s death, according to his biographer Albert Goldman, Elvis was the second most commonly reproduced face in the world. The first most reproduced face was that of Mickey Mouse.
Michael Jackson and Walt’s Nurse. There are just too many Michael Jackson stories related to animation in general and Disney in particular. Associated Press writer Bob Thomas had a close encounter with singer Michael Jackson many years ago. “He’s a Disney freak,” stated Thomas. “One night a few years ago I went down to his place and he interviewed me, everything I knew about Walt Disney—which is considerable because I wrote four books about him and the studio. And then he wanted to locate the studio nurse, Hazel George, who was Walt’s confidant over the years. He wanted to interview her … so he pulled up in front with his limo and we went over to Burbank, talked to Hazel, but he was so shy, I had to ask all the questions. And Hazel was in her 80s and I had to keep reminding her of things. So finally when we finished … she said, ‘Well, thank you for coming, Michael … come back and visit me again. And don’t bring him.’” Thomas pointed at himself, grinning, “He talks too much!”
Jackson and the Black Cauldron. Back in 1984, singer Michael Jackson persuaded the studio top brass to give him a private advance screening of the then-unfinished animated feature, “The Black Cauldron”. Michael cheered all the way through the film. (And there is a good story in here somewhere about how Disney tried to remarket the film as “The Dark Cauldron” and then later “Taran and the Magic Cauldron”.)
Cut Down to Size. Prince Charles of England wrote a 1980 children’s book entitled “The Legend of Lochnagar” which was translated into an animated special by the BBC. Producer Mike Young claimed that it was the Prince’s idea that at the end of the special he should be “shrunkled” (using morphing techniques) into a “twelve inch ruler”. Young remembers the prince said, “They’ve always wanted to cut me down to size. Here’s their chance.” Prince Charles narrated the film and actor Robbie Coltrane did the voice of the old man hermit who encounters some Scottish pixies and learns the lesson that his actions affect others. It aired as a thirty minute ABC Weekend special on April 24, 1993. Dave Edwards Studio in Wales was responsible for the animation.
Native American Animation. Around 1975, Ira Englander (president of Comprenetics, a company producing visual aids) was approached by Anthony P. Lincoln of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Lincoln, a Navajo, was convinced that where conventional teaching techniques had been largely unsucessful in reaching his people, animated films could effectively deliver educational messages because the Navajos responded especially well to humor and to visual statements. Englander approached former Disney animation director Jack Kinney, director of animation for Comprenetics, to explore the ideas of teaching Navajo youngsters the art of animation. After seeing some samples of the work the Indian teenagers had already done, Kinney went to work signing up instructors for the project. As a result, the youngsters completed a short entitled Squirrelhead and the Magic Feather early in 1977. Englander was excited and said at the time, “We think it’s good enough to get commercial distribution. It probably will. We’re planning to show it to the heads of animation outfits in Los Angeles and New York. We are sure it will lead to some of our Indian friends getting jobs.”
What’s In A Name? While many parents have recently given their children some very odd names, it is important to remember that the situation is not a just a modern occurrence. Some people’s legal name is actually “Donald Duck” showing that parents don’t mind emotionally scarring their children. A young British Donald Duck saved his younger sister and brother from a fire in 1949; an American Donald Duck joined the Navy in 1967; in 1958, Donald Duck of London was fined for driving with a defective muffler. My favorite is the Southern California Donald Duck who in 1956 was arrested for strolling naked except for a duck hat.
Chuck Jones on Computers. At the November 1976 ASIFA banquet, animation legend Chuck Jones commented on the recent excitement about computer animation: “The designer can use a computer, but everything starts with the artist, which no machine can replace. That’s like saying the printing press can replace the author.”