March 29, 2018 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Back to Iwerks: The Comi-Color Series

Some Thunderbean news:
It’s been a crazy busy time here at the school, but as it finishes and the various projects at Thunderbean also come closer to completion, I can imagine a time where Thunderbean expands and has the ability to do man, many more projects. Last year’s ambitions led to quite a few bottlenecks, but out of those is coming the ability to have quite a few titles working their way through the pipeline, in progress in various stages by the folks helping on them.

Scanning details have started to be worked out by project, with (happily) less nitrate needing to be shipping as scanning possibilities become more available). The first scans from the Iwerks Comi-Color cartoons should be to me within a week or two, as well as many of the Rainbow Parades. Noveltoons have started getting further cleaned up, and the Screen Songs I needed to finish that ‘special’ set are now all set.

2018 is looking to be a great year for the many titles that are coming into completion. It’s never as fast as I’d like it to be, but exciting to see them getting there.

Lots of things are in their finishing stages. Fleischer Rarities is now officially ‘in the can’ and finally off to replication. The Cartoon Commercials Blu-ray is all scanned now. All the films are scanned for More Stop Motion Marvels. Mid Century Modern 1 and 2 are complete and have masters (and will replicate as soon as finances allow). Cartoons to the Rescue is finally getting sent after a very bad week with the Blu-ray replicator. More scans are happening for Award Winners this week and other stuff.

The 16mm Rainbow Parades have become my biggest challenge on that set at this point, and we’ve started to scour the archives around the world a little further to see if any of the titles we don’t have in 35mm may be hiding there (so far with little luck). My collector friends are coming through with the best material we can find, but I always have my fingers crossed that another one or two will show up in 35mm.

Starting work on Ub Iwerks Comi-Color series is exciting. There are many cartoons in the series that are favorites of mine—and it’s a great joy that we’re able to use the master materials held at UCLA archives. The archives has been incredibly helpful in this venture so far.

The series have long been available in various versions, with perhaps the best versions in Greg Ford’s excellent series The Cartoons that Time Forgot, released on DVD and VHS. These sets were from the best versions available to scan of the films provided by Blackhawk.

Happily, David Shepard (of Blackhawk Films) gave Thunderbean access to all the materials that were held on the series – from prints made for masters by Commonwealth, to preservation materials, and even the original nitrate negatives. Serge Bromberg at Lobster Films continues this relationship; I’m so happy to be helping to make this beautiful material available in HD.

Last year I looked at many of the Comi-Color master materials, and was happy to discover that the original color records existed on most of the titles.

As far as I knew, there should have been successive exposure negatives on each film; a single edited negative with two records of each frame, shot successively on one piece of film. At first I was confused; there were two negatives on each cartoon and no successive exposure negative. The Willie Whoppers were shot successively, so why were the Comi-Colors different?

It turns out that the two records I was looking at are the camera negs, and had been shot with a single camera using a prism to shoot both the red and blue Cinecolor records. For the most part, the series exists intact from this material, as well as excellent condition prints of every title in 35mm. There are a few titles early in the series where the camera negatives do not exist. These are the films being scanned first for the first volume, and since the material is in such great shape I think they’ll look fine.

In the coming weeks we’ll be seeing the first scans, and we’ll be announcing the pre-order of Volume 1 soon (of two). I’ll also start talking about the restoration process as we take a close look at some of the materials. We’ll also be talking a little about the music in the films, if I can twist my friend Chris Buchman’s arm enough to do so!

The Comi-Colors were promoted well by Celebrity Productions, with really beautiful posters and lobby cards. We’ll be featuring this publicity material and other extras in the bonus features on each set. I’m sure you’ve seen them, but here are some of my favorite posters:

We can’t end this without at least showing one — and they are all over youtube since the series is in the Public Domain. Since Winter is on its way out for a little while, here’s one of my favorites, Jack Frost. I can wait to see how this looks from the negs. A wonderful little short with a lot of heart. I love Stalling’s excellent score for this cartoon (and especially the wonderful build from xylophone to full instrumentation (and onto ‘Cab Calloway’ the Scarecrow) starting at 3:28 here; I think this is one of the most magical moments in the series). The series is more humble than the Silly Symphonies or Happy Harmonies, but it more than makes up for it in heart.

So, what are your favorites from the series, and why?


  • I would have to say “Balloon Land” is my favorite in the series. Probably the most original and strangest in the series.

    • It’s worth watching for that alone!

    • That’s also my favorite.

    • There’s so much death in that cartoon.

  • “Jack Frost” is definitely one of my favorite ComiColor cartoons, even if I’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint any specific reason(s) why; it’s just one of those cartoons where all the elements (design, color, animation, music) come together in a way I find appealing. The bear cub’s repeated “frizzly, grizzly bear” refrain is catchy, and the animation on the scarecrow is a lot of fun. I’m also fond of “Sinbad the Sailor” and “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” for being distinctive takes on old chestnuts.

    My one favorite from the series, though, is unquestionably “Balloonland” (aka “The Pincushion Man” — or should it be the other way around?), a wonderfully bizarre cartoon that almost crosses the line to straight-up horror at several points. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that particular ‘toon.

    • For me, “Tom Thumb” always kinda bugged me with it’s conceptual image of the inside of a goat’s stomach with it’s Art Deco-ish gradients like something out of an Oskar Fischinger film!

  • JACK FROST is one of my favorite Comi-Colors too! Can’t wait to see the scans on the Comi-Colors! I’m also looking foward to seeing the Fleischer Rarities set.

  • I was fortunate to see an essentially pristine 16mm print of “Jack Frost” projected at one of Tom Stathes’ recent “Cartoon Carnivals” — and, boy, was that a treat! The colors were absolutely gorgeous — it was stunning! Thanks, Tom!

    I’m looking forward to your new set in HD of these Comi-Color films. I’ve got the “Cartoons That Time Forgot” sets and, while the cartoons were a wonderful, I was disappointed that some of the prints had problems. I would see what was supposed to be a clearly defined black outline line that instead was fuzzy, with a red and/or blue tint. It appeared to me almost as what you would call a registration problem in a printed color comic strip or book, where the different colors being printed at different times don’t line up with each other. I hoping the prints you get to use don’t have this same problem!

    • Sometimes that does happen, often due to shrinkage of the nitrate itself I’ve heard.

  • I have the wonderful CARTOONS THAT TIME FORGOT set of Ub Iwerks cartoons and like them a lot. However, my interest in your forthcoming COMI-COLOR set is for the ones not previously issued on such boxes. I like the “JACK FROST” cartoon as well, and I didn’t realize that Carl Stalling was responsible for the score. Can you imagine this cartoon being created at Warner Brothers? I say that only because I’d always enjoyed the musicianship of the Warner Brothers/Termite Terrace orchestra; they never miss a beat or movement of characters in a given scene, even before Carl Stalling got there to challenge the already creative embellishments that the individual musicians were giving the cartoons, and that holds true even in the Harman/Ising age or the mid-to-late 1930’s. I do have to say, though, that I truly like the FLIP THE FROG series the most out of everything on the afore-mentioned CARTOONS THAT TIME FORGOT set–very comparable to the Fleischer cartoons. I’d consider FLIP to be that link between Fleischer and Disney, but that’s probably because Iwerks assisted Disney on the best of the MICKEY MOUSE short films.

    • I’ve seen all the Flip the Frog shorts and yeah, they get pretty wacky and at times comparable to Fleischer. I saw then on YouTube with inconsistent prints as expected, and I’m excited for a restored Thunderbean release. Great fun Flip the Frog cartoons are.

  • MY very favorite is SUMMERTIME! Poetry in motion!

    • Good to know someone who enjoys that one as much as I do…

  • Always enjoyed the music tracks to THE THREE BEARS and HUMPTY DUMPTY JR.

  • Those posters look gorgeous and super colorful. Really upbeat and joyous cartooning in them. I wonder who made them?

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