I was shocked to hear of Mike Sporn’s passing on Sunday. He has left us much too soon, but not without making an amazing mark in the history of animation. (photo above, from last summer’s Animation Block Party in Brooklyn, left to right: Jerry Beck, J.J. Sedelmaier, Michael Sporn and Emily Hubley)
Mike must have had some idea of how many lives he touched, and how many people’s careers he helped, especially young New York animators. In so many ways, Mr. Sporn WAS New York animation; he carried the torch from the animators of the golden age through now, and onto the next generations. His influence will continue to be felt throughout the animation industry and independent animation.
There is a gentleness to so many of his films, both in artistic style and timing. It was wonderful seeing The Man Who Walked Between the Towers with an audience of adults and children at the Ottawa Animation Festival. I still smile when I think about that film, and I think about an especially intrigued child that was sitting near us, reacting with delight at the film.
Mr. Sporn was a great animator and supporter of animation history. He was a wonderful writer as well, giving his insight and sharing his recollections (and collections) of animation art on his Splog. Over the years the Splog featured material you couldn’t find any other way, from animator’s drafts to whole sequences of drawings to pencil tests, many form his personal collection. The Splog is a tribute to so many beautiful pieces of work, set in their proper historical context by someone who truly loved animation. Mike’s comments were never pretentious or self aggrandizing; they were only meant to share the art and love of animation and art, a simple and elegant goal.
I had known who Michael Sporn was since I was as a child, reading John Canemaker’s Making of Raggedy Ann and Andy book. As a 10 year old, this book had a huge influence on me; I had no idea that I would be lucky enough to meet any of them.
A few years back, Mike was kind enough to have one of my students intern at his studio. Josiah enjoyed his time working with Mike in his small studio, and was amazed at his knowledge in so many areas.
Mike Sporn and Mike Barrier were kind enough to allow me to use Mr. Sporn’s recorded interview with Jack Mercer on the Thunderbean DVD Popeye Original Classics. The interview was originally included as a little plastic record in an issue of Funnyworld in the late 70s. The Popeye disc was the first of the Thunderbean DVDs, soon followed by Cubby Bear and so many more. My friend Lenny Kohl was kind enough to make a recording of it for the disc. Here it is – a wonderful document of animation history:
Above: Jack Mercer (Popeye), Mae Questel (Olive Oyl) and Sid Raymond (Katnip, Baby Huey) clown around at the recording studio in 1947.
Below: Jackson Beck (Bluto), Mae Questel (Olive Oyl) and Jack Mercer (Popeye) clown around in character during a recording break in 1978.
On a personal note, I was quite happy that Mike enjoyed the Thunderbean DVDs and was even able to line up frame grabs that matched drawings he had from the Van Beuren Studio on a few of the Splog Posts. None of us are here forever, and losing the wonderful Mr. Sporn is a reminder that we can, and should, each do something amazing in our lives. He sure did. Spend a little time on Mike’s blog this week; I’m sure he’d like that.
Billy Joel is right; life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.