THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
May 29, 2014 posted by Steve Stanchfield

The Online Animation Community – and Jam Handy

Today I discuss the collective online animation community – and Jonathan Boshen’s Jam Handy Documentary Campaign.

Rudolph-credit

I think it’s really interesting the some of the basics of cultural communication are changing right now because of the use of technology; It’s a good time to reflect on the effects the internet has had on classic animation and the community of collectors, fans, creators and relationships.

Some of the changes have been so fast that it’s hard to fully appreciate how many differences there are, and how the evolution seems to have sped up in the last ten years or so. We’re now experiencing a sort of leveling off, a refining of what technology does and how it works best. This can especially be seen in online streaming and the evolution of Facebook and Twitter, along with the availability of smart phones and tablets. We’re in a time where accessibility is no longer an issue- there’s no gate keeper there to charge in the same traditional ways as before.

birds-in-loveThe most interesting aspect to me related to ‘classic’ animation is that now it’s possible to see things and learn thing that many of us only dreamed of being able to access. It’s a truly amazing living library of knowledge collectively, and collectively at our fingertips. In more recent times, Facebook has groups directly related to specific studios, and information and pictures from the online community that one could only hope will get published someday. This development can only be described as astonishing if you think about how hard it was to just see *one* film from some of these studios many years ago. I remember all of us sitting on the bed of one collector’s house (there was nowhere else to sit!) in Brooklyn years back watching IB Technicolor Columbia cartoons from battered old prints. At that time, there really was no other way to see that material.

I was thinking earlier today about the internet as it was on the cusp of expansion in early 90s. It was already starting to be a communication tool for colleges and business in a more expanded way, but limited in people’s homes.

USENET was the name of the very first ‘newsgroups’ that would eventually evolve into today’s current blogs and message boards. These groups were popular before the internet had a visual interface, and still continue. One of the first that I saw was ‘alt.animation’ and ‘alt.graphics.animation’. There were others too, including ones devoted to Warners Cartoons and Anime, and of course every other subject that you can imagine. Most of these usenet newsgroups related to animation were moderated by Emru Townsend, a wonderful, thoughtful animation fan that we lost in 2008 to Leukemia. Emru truly was a pioneer of these animation groups, leading the discussions and steering the direction away from ‘flame’ wars, and they’d be called years later. The last time I saw Emru was at the Ottawa animation festival, moderating a panel. I think he’d be smiling seeing how the evolution continues.

Alt.nerd.obsessiveFunny enough, back then. I would bump into people that had bought the ‘Snappy Video’ VHS tapes. I really hadn’t sold that many back then, but the animation community was smaller back then.

The oldest of us can remember a time where some people didn’t own a TV yet, even in black and white. These days, it’s hard to imagine someone not owning a computer and being in touch with popular culture. The youngest people reading this don’t remember a time when they didn’t have a computer and an internet connection.

The collective gathering of people to each of their interests has allowed things like Thunderbean to exist, finding an audience for even a niche product that couldn’t be carried into a major retail store. It’s also allowed new ventures to find a start and an audience, and to even be ‘crowd funded’, allowing project to move forward without traditional methods of distribution or funding.

One of these very worthy causes is Jonathan Boshen’s Kickstarter Campaign for The Great Educator, a documentary on Jam Handy. This project has the potential of being the first really good historical record on the history of a little studio that at one point was shooting more film than most Hollywood studios, producing educational, training films and commercials, many featuring animation. Throughout the years, the studio employed many talented animators and artists, including Dan Gordon, Jim Tyer, Max Fleischer, Bill Sturm, Shane Miller, Gene Deitch and many others. Jonathan is a huge fan of many of the smaller studios that have been footnotes in the animation history books, most notably the Handy films and Ted Eshbaugh productions. When Jonathan comes to town for his documentary we’ll have to drag a 16mm projector out to the old soundstage and show a Nicky Nome cartoon.

jam-handy-doc

Johnathan’s Kickstarter campaign is linked to his Facebook page. Here is a nice little article from this very blog with some pictures of one of the main Jam Handy buildings, when Jerry visited Detroit last October. And finally, one of my favorite Handy productions – an industrial which shows how animation is created, featuring actor Robert Allen (no relation to the MGM animator) as “Allen” the animation director. (and yes, that’s Jim Tyer animation in the film)

12 Comments

  • You said it better than I could have, Steve. I have some downsides with the internet, but the good definitely outweighs the bad, and I view the online communities to be the best thing to happen to me.

  • I feel fortunate to have grown up in New York, where thanks to its size there were six commercial TV stations available (seven until 1962, when Ch. 13 became public broadcasting), which meant that there was a big enough need for afternoon and weekend morning kids material you got to see all of the old theatrical cartoons. But even that started disappearing by the late 1960s, so a lot of the animation history gained just by repeated watching of the cartoons as a yute had begun to fade (and the less-memorable cartoons were completely out of the picture) by the mid-1990s, when Internet access and usage really exploded.

    Combine that with the advent of YouTube less than a decade ago, and you get an online community where information about those shots is simply a few key word searches away and anything not patrolled scrupulously by the copyright police is potentially available for viewing (though after the work you’ve done to restore so many of the 1930s and 40s cartoons, I actually can understand a bit of the big corporations’ zeal to limit their restored efforts from showing up for free, when I see a vivid Thunderbean print pop up on someone’s YouTube page, making it less likely some people will go out and buy the DVDs).

  • Thank You Steve! :-)

  • Is there a list of all the Jam Handy productions that used animation? I would love to see such a filmography! And while you’re at it, how about a Ted Eshbaugh filmography? From where I sit, the Internet’s biggest game-changer is the effective invalidation of copyright, and taking away the livelihood of animation (and other) historians and cartoonists who used to be paid for their expertise and drawings until the Internet gave it all away for free. If you are an independent filmmaker, the Internet makes ‘distribution’ easy, but the flip side is, no income from your efforts, and no encouragement to go on making more films.
    Watching YouTube videos of old cartoons (at least on my computer) is not in any way satisfying. If you love animation, it is painful to watch versions of beloved cartoons with so many missing frames, playing at erratic speeds and usually out of syncronization with the soundtrack!
    The Internet has mainly substituted QUANTITY for QUALITY, which is usually a sure bet in this crazy world.

    • I actually have been working on a filmography for Ted Eshbaugh (since 2002/03), I’ve identified at least 34 films he has done, consisting of Animated Theatrical Cartoons, animation he did for Live-Action Feature films, Educational films, Military training films and non-theatrical live action films.

  • Yes, I see all sorts of amazing possibilities as a result of streaming. I just wish that the big video companies would see the worth of such things and put that money behind restoration. Still, too often, the animation from the golden age is continuously overlooked and, if put up on You Tube, too often taken down. I don’t mind them taking down the links provided *THEY* are planning to do the real work of restoration, publicizing and releasing! But why put obstacles up to you and others who want to actually make something happen? I don’t get what is so profitable about sitting on vaults of interesting film until it conveniently rots. I’m sorry to be such a broken record, here, but it is really disappointing, and no one can get through to such closed minds because they try with all their might to ignore us. I again say to them, most private collector links on You Tube are put up there to inform, *NOT* to steal the thunder from the big companies. Sadly, there is no real rich and powerful campaign, similar to TCM, that, daily, treats animation like an art form, more than just kids’ pablum, and that is the real shame, here. That is what I continually rant against!

  • while we’re on the subject of film preservation, crowd funding, the internet, and facebook, may i please mention that over on kukla fran and ollie’s facebook page there is talk about there being 600 episodes of the show that are in dire need of preservation/conversion to digital format.
    i hope that some of the cartoon research crowd might help in saving these classic pieces of televison history.

    • Those KFO’s are wonderful shows. While they are at it, how about crowdfunding the digital conversion of all the extant ‘TIME FOR BEANY’ shows in the Clampett family vaults!

  • “USENET was the name of the very first ‘newsgroups’ that would eventually evolve into today’s current blogs and message boards. These groups were popular before the internet had a visual interface, and still continue. One of the first that I saw was ‘alt.animation’ and ‘alt.graphics.animation’. There were others too, including ones devoted to Warners Cartoons and Anime, and of course every other subject that you can imagine.”

    When I got WebTV around ’97, I was all over those newsgroups myself. I was told sometime in the mid 2000′s that I held the #1 ranking spot at rec.arts.animation (number of posts really). I’m sure I still hold that spot unless some spambot didn’t take over that glory!

    The youngest people reading this don’t remember a time when they didn’t have a computer and an internet connection.

    They would certainly find it hard to ween themselves off them if they tried.

  • True, the internet has made a big difference and YouTube, for all its faults of copyright and poor prints, is kind of an educator…I am on Mark’s side of course: I much prefer watching the cartoons in their purest form, and I also prefer having my own copy even if it’s DVD…I still don’t stream or download, but I’m a committed collector. However the net has, via Facebook, also attracted a bunch of, to put it charitably, sponging fanboys who expect any and all research and answers to trivial and/or arcane subject matter to be handed to them on a plate. Of course I feel that the net, while a boon in various ways, is still woefully inadequate for what I call “real” hard-core cartoon history…that involves tracing collections of original source documents, such as the Warner Bros. paper collection (known as the Jack L. Warner collection) housed in a special collections building at USC, then speaking with the curators to narrow down your area of interest, making appointment times and then methodically going through years worth of correspondence and other material. In that field there are various helpful individuals like Ned Comstock to guide and assist but it takes learning, discipline and incredible patience to be rewarded with anything of substance. Large specialist libraries like the Center for Motion Picture Studies in LA (known as the Academy Library) or the Billy Rose collection at NYC’s Lincoln Center Library should also be accessed. Try doing this when you live in Australia and self-fund your trips (especially when your area of interest is as obscure as unbilled actors who did voices in vintage cartoons and movies, or lesser known radio shows of the 30s and 40s). As time goes on some collections have been closed off such as Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters…I thank my lucky stars I was able to do so much digging back in the late 80s and early 90s. Where the internet now shines is its ability for online access to original trade papers from the 30s and 40s, whereby the few really diligent contributors (such as the exceptional “Don M. Yowp” and Kliph Nesteroff) are making a difference by either publishing online the results of trawling through this ancient history or by interviewing the last pioneers of early TV and nightclubs. But we need more of these rare birds and not the egregiously lazy fanboy community which is , sorry to say, full of childish dreamers and outright loony bin cases. In cartoon history terms Thad Komorowski and David Gerstein are examples of people from a younger generation with the get up and go, intelligence and desire for history to be successors to people like Barrier and Canemaker….Disney and (it appears) Paramount/Famous history are going to be in good hands…but again these younger folk access original source material, not the so-often shallow internet.

  • For his performance as the animator, Ross Hertz deserved an Oscar…right over the head.

  • There are a lot of entries in the Library of Congress Catalog of Registrations under three names, The Jam Handy Organization, The Jam Handy Picture Service Company, and Jam Handy Productions.

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