Cartoon Researchers, hope you’re well! It’s been ages since I’ve appeared here, and I hope this is the first of a few new posts where I will share updates and announcements about current and future projects in the Cartoons On Film pipeline. It’s a pleasure to be back—not only on Cartoon Research, but back into a new phase of bringing rare early animation back to the general public.
For this post, what I’ll focus on is a very exciting event coming up soon in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sunday, June 9th, 2019. Some of you might remember that I’ve been hosting a series of monthly screenings in the New York City area, aptly called the Cartoon Carnival. It’s hard to believe, but as of this June, it will be 10 years since this series began, and coincidentally, our 80th program. I’m hoping many of you in the tri-state area might consider joining us for this unique and celebratory shindig. Space is limited, so I’ve decided to run two sessions of the same program that day, at 4pm and 7pm—and—also offer online advance ticketing so our friends and fans can guarantee entry to the event. Check out a more detailed event description and ticket purchasing options here. While I tend to keep the contents of these screenings a surprise, I can tell you now that we will feature the likes of Betty Boop, Farmer Alfalfa, Bosko, Koko the Clown, Bobby Bumps, and other favorites in rare 16mm film form. Grab some tickets in advance if you’re interested in attending, as we might wind up having to turn some folks away at the door if we fill up!
I also recommend that anyone who is interested in keeping up with more specific show updates join the Facebook event here and join our group on Facebook, The Tommy Stathes Cartoon Carnival so you’ll hear about all of our events. With at least one event per month being scheduled, my crew and I are doing what we can to revive these early cartoons for new audiences, and we always appreciate having new fans and friends come along for the journey.
In the middle of the last century, local neighborhood movie theaters would occasionally host Saturday and Sunday matinees of various cartoon compilations, often dubbing their events as a “Cartoon Carnival.” In the 1940s and 1950s, these would often include major favorites of the general period such as Warner Brothers and Famous Studios cartoons…possibly also some older material that local film exchanges might have kept on hand. In earlier times, such as the 1920s and 1930s, it was also possible to rent 16mm and 35mm prints of cartoons from some of the major studios like Disney and Fleischer (through Paramount).
In the spirit of those old kiddie matinees, and for my own purposes, this series was designed as a vehicle for me to share silent cartoon rarities from my archives, and to expose new audiences to other classic, and some more well-known animation from the 1920s through the 1940s—all utilizing prints from my personal 16mm film archive, with occasional loans from friends. That’s half the beauty of it: instead of sitting home alone and watching these old prints all by myself, we get a group of likeminded fans, historians, enthusiasts…and even complete newcomers to the field…enjoying these oddities and rarities together in a public setting, and with the added attraction of live 16mm film projection happening in the same room as our attendees. Film projection is a dying art and a form of entertainment that I’ve had the pleasure to help keep alive in some form here in the New York City area.
Like some of you readers of a certain millenial age group, I grew up being exposed to Golden Age animation through the wonder of VHS tapes—especially those infamous cheap-o 1980s public domain collections, on sale at supermarkets and department stores and drug stores galore—featuring hilariously off-model (and in my opinion, quite endearing) artwork of famous characters plastered over their sleeves. While I’ve always had an interest in researching and archiving materials related to these films’ initial production, I’ve also always held a soft spot and twisted appreciation for the ways in which these films were treated as relatively unimportant, outdated, cheap kiddie fodder in later decades, and repackaged as such to unsuspecting consumers.
Fast forward to June of 2009, when the first Cartoon Carnival screening took place: cartoon comrades (and fellow Cartoon Researchers) David Gerstein and Thad Komorowski, who were not living in New York City at the time, converged at my place to be part of the event. With David’s help, I created an inaugural poster for the initial event, and wound up dragging it along to display at the first few shows. I felt that while I wanted to be showing rare and obscure films in a somewhat formal setting, I also wanted to retain some of that kitschy latter-day off-model advertising and marketing aesthetic in promotional materials for my shows. So, in making this poster, I decided to paint a simple colorful background and then use artwork copied from some of those old beloved videotapes. Not the most original (or maybe even ethical!) way to go about creating a poster, but something that came from the heart. David Gerstein created some original hand lettering to put over the background, while I cut out copies of VHS sleeve characters to parade around the poster. Psychoanalyze some of its positioning, if you dare.
For many years after this first show, we had a series of rather generic, boilerplate poster images with text and dates and other info swapped out to correspond with each respective event. Over the last year and a half, however, I decided to revisit some of my old and basic fine art training to come up with some crafty custom posters for our more recent events. Fine art? Nah—simply a novelty craft combining collage and painting and other mixed media, and modern-day but very vintage-looking art that pays homage to the more kitschy aesthetic that I’ve mentioned a few times. These posters have slowly been evolving and they’re also a joy to make in preparation for each show.
All in all, to date, we’ve shown hundreds of films at these events and hosted at least a couple thousand unique attendees. Show subjects have varied wildly, ranging from unnamed programs featuring a potpourri of random titles, to a mixture of various animal themes…even a food-themed show…to focusing on silent-era animation, animation made strictly in New York, and some rather orthodox seasonal programs, like our annual Halloween and Christmas shows, which are some of my personal favorites. For our 50th program, I featured particularly rare items in the collection, and David Gerstein was kind enough to cut together a trailer in anticipation of the show:
And further memories; one of our outdoor summer programs:
We’ve even had some celebrities at our shows!
On a more personal and completely honest note, the Cartoon Carnival series and what it represents in my own archival and curatorial career has definitely gone through a challenging evolution. In the past, these events served as a creative outlet to share these films with new audiences, and to help bring together other folks out there who might like to treat the shows as a social outing, and an opportunity to network and find new friendships. At best, we would achieve that, and occasionally, there might be some proceeds left at the end of the evening that would serve as pocket money that I could put back into maintaining the archive and acquiring more material for it.
Unfortunately, however, I was displaced from my lifelong home in 2017 under considerable duress and at a great disadvantage. While I’ll spare the details here, readers can find out more about that situation at an old GoFundMe page that I set up to help my mother and myself partially recover from the ordeal. however, many things changed for me, including one particular aspect of the Cartoon Carnival series. As part of this displacement, the only option I had was to place my entire film archive in a large and very costly storage unit, as it would be impossible to find new housing, at current market rates, to store myself and all of the materials I own and work with. Working as an independent film archivist is certainly no way to get rich, and my other sources of income have not been particularly high enough to cover the cost of this monthly storage bill. So, as of early 2017, and aside from the other ways in which it has been a fun and satisfying project, the Cartoon Carnival became a very necessary vehicle for raising funds to cover the film archive storage bill. We need upwards of 50 guests per monthly show to help cover that expense in ticket sales, and sometimes we do fall considerably short. It’s a very trying situation, to say the least. One thing I’ve done to help with this slightly is to set up a Ko-fi page where folks who do not live in the New York City area, or who cannot physically attend some of the monthly shows if they do, can donate a symbolic ticket purchase to financially assist our cause. Some folks do choose to help out this way, and I’m very grateful for the support! Every bit counts.
Another thing I’ve done at some of the events since 2017, and especially in our upcoming 10th anniversary program, is to have a Tommy Garage Sale featuring all sorts of fun items: vintage 8mm and 16mm “home movie” films with decorative box art, VHS tapes, DVDs, my Cartoon Roots series of Blu-rays, toys, paper ephemera, Tommy zines, and many other random goodies. Sales of these items go toward helping with that very precarious storage bill of mine…and as I like to tell the audience, “Here’s a chance for you to take home a piece of me!”
Lastly, and on a brighter note once more, I’ll share a little generic birthday mashup video I assembled a few years back, with which we can all wish the Cartoon Carnival a Happy 10th Birthday. What better way to celebrate such a milestone than in a decidedly Bray style with Bobby Bumps and a young Walter Lantz?
Hope to see you at the next Cartoon Carnival! And I’ll be back reporting on new projects at Cartoon Research soon…