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