I sometimes worry that I am one of the last men standing who was able to meet and talk with some of the legendary animators so I feel a responsibility to share as much as I can of what they told me.
Of course, there are many animators I never got a chance to meet so I am grateful to others who did for sharing their stories and impressions.
Animator Jim Tyer (1904 -1976) had a distinct style. He got his first animation job in 1926 on the Aseop’s Fables Shorts from the Fables Studio, that became Van Beuren. While there he directed four cartoons. In 1935 he left and spent a brief time as a special effects animator at Disney, a gagman at Harman-Ising at MGM, and did animation for Jam Handy in Detroit, before joining the Paramount Studio and animating on the Popeye shorts.
In 1946, he then went to Terrytoons where he really let loose and pulled out all the stops since there really wasn’t much quality control at the time. He worked for all the Terrytoon directors of the period, Connie Rasinski, Mannie Davis and Ed Donnelly, and on all the series that the studio produced.Tyer later worked at Joe Oriolo’s studio on Felix the Cat and The Mighty Hercules (1959-1962). For the Hal Seeger studio, he worked on Out of the Inkwell (1962-1963), Milton the Monster (1964) and Batfink (1966). At Paramount, he animated on the Snuffy Smith (1963) series. His last animation was on Fritz the Cat (1972), where he worked on the section which takes place in Harlem.
As a devout Catholic often stopping at church in the morning before going to work, he had difficulty with the subject matter on that feature film and got fed up, slammed his drawings down the desk and just walked out while loudly swearing. He died four years later.
Tyer did have a ribald sense of humor and supposedly could “cuss like a soldier” but Fritz was just too much for the shy, well loved man who couldn’t bring himself to hate anyone.
Producer-director Ralph Bakshi loved and respected him. He recalled, “To my mind, Jim taught me about the possibilities of a different kind of animation than the kind being taught by Disney or even Warner Brothers. The kind of motion that is closer to John Coltrane and Miles Davis than to anything else.”
In 1994, Bakshi wrote the following about his first encounter with Tyer.
Ralph Bakshi: As a young inker at Terrytoons in 1957, I first ran across Jim’s work. In those days, there were no videos, 16mm prints or TV animation. The history and craft of animation was a mystery, except for one book about you know who. I was stunned by Jim’s drawings.
They were the funniest I had ever seen. They squashed and stretched on every frame; they changed shape everywhere; volumes were solid then loose and then long then smaller by sixty percent of the drawing before and after it.
They fluttered and spit; they twirled and stopped and spent four feet on themselves on singles, going nowhere but changing shape subtly. The closest cartoonist to Jim that I can think of is George Herriman. Jim’s animation had the same feel as the Krazy Kat strip, pure cartooning that’s had to explain.
From that moment on, I asked the head of the Ink and Paint Department to give me only Jim Tyer’s scenes to ink. She laughed her head off. No one wanted Jim’s scenes because they were hard to ink. Every drawing was a challenge.
I became Jim’s inker and the resident idiot. The other animators at Terrytoons were all over the inking department talking about thick and thin lines, moving holds, strong poses, all the same stuff you hear now, same exact stuff.
Jim never came by, not once, so I went to see him. I found him: Two hundred and eighty pounds of him sitting in his boxer shorts, long black socks with garters, skinny legs, chewing on a cigar stub, his bald head shining. He was laughing, animating a Mighty Mouse scene.
His top pegs were piled with about 25 to 30 sheets. He was flipping like mad.
“Mr. Tyer,” I said, “I’d like to ask you a question about your scene.”
“Not now, kid,” he said. “Sit here.”
He turned over an empty wastebasket so I sat down and watched. Jim was drawing a nose on every sheet of paper, just a nose. Then he’d go back and put in two eyes, going through all the sheets, never stopping, constantly flipping as the scene came alive. Crazy funny is how I saw it then.
A jazz improvisation is how I saw it later. It was a brilliant way to free the animator to be himself, to allow his giddy feelings quickly into the music of the scene before it was lost on rules.
Jim was a brilliant draftsman who fought against it, forcing his scenes back to pure cartooning. Every drawing was original. Every drawing hooked up to the next but not the same arcs and overlapping action as everyone else was doing.Jim swung. He had real rhythm so everyone thought he was lousy. Just look at a Terrytoons cartoon today and you can spot a Jim Tyer scene anytime and laugh your head off.
I showed Jim’s stuff to my young Mighty Mouse crew thirty year later. They cheered, applauded and printed out Jim’s extremes on the video printer. Tyer hung everywhere in my studio. I glowed. Jim was with us.
Jim was considered bad because he didn’t stay on model. I argued with all the directors on this point. “But you know who the character is, right? And it’s funny, right?” I would say.And then they would say, “Yes, yes, but it’s poorly drawn and doesn’t look like the rest of the picture!”
“Wrong!” I said. “It doesn’t look like the rest of the picture because it’s funny.”
Then there was a real long silence. I said that I bet that the audience can’t tell the difference. It probably looks like the same character to them.
Jim can’t draw was the answer. “Baloney!” I shouted. “Jim’s the only guy here who’s cartooning. You’re all copying Bill Tytla and poorly at that. Why don’t you fire Jim if he’s so bad?”
They said they had tried but since he does 60 feet a week of animation, Paul Terry likes the fact that he produces the most footage in the studio. “Ha!” I laughed. Against the entire folklore animation, Jim Tyer stood alone in speed, quality, footage and originality. “Ha!”