It’s time for our regular round up of rave reviews of the latest books I’ve recently received. But we start with a first look at a new Bray DVD/blu-ray you should own!
CARTOON ROOTS: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers Producer: Tommy Jose Stathes (Cartoons On Film)
This may be THE animation video release of the year. Bravo to collector/historian/film archivist Tommy Jose Stathes for compiling/curating/producing Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios – Animation Pioneers – an important piece of a film scholarship, animation preservation… and simply darn good entertainment.
This volume of CARTOON ROOTS (number 2 in a series) contains 15 films by the Bray Studios in New York, produced between 1913 and 1927, that provide a perfect sampler of what the studio achieved, who the major players were and in of themselves provide a perfect overview of the first 15 years of animation history.
Bray was a cartoonist, turned businessman, inventor and animation pioneer. He established the first animated cartoon studio, charged with turning out a regular stream of quality product to Pathe and Goldwyn, among others, fostering the early work of Paul Terry, Earl Hurd, Max Fleischer and Walter Lantz (among others). You could say he was the Walt Disney of his day – and you’d be right.
Though he left entertainment cartoon production by the late 20s – to pioneer educational films – his work is unforgettable, important – and virtually forgotten. Thanks to Tommy Stathes, Bray is rightly championed and celebrated with this classy package of material – a must-have for anyone reading this blog.
The set includes the programming on both DVD and blu-ray, and an informative booklet (in full disclosure, I provide a brief introduction) by Bray-buffs Stathes, David Gerstein, Charlie Judkins, Thad Komorowski and Amber Rae Bowyer who provide insights for each cartoon. The cartoons themselves are superior HD transfers from the best available material – and most of these prints are the best I’ve ever seen of certain titles. Most of the films, however, have been previously unseen in over 90 years.
Among the highlights (and there are many) is DIPLODOCUS (1915) Bray’s astonishing knock-off of McCay’s Gertie The Dinosaur; FARMER ALFALFA SEES NEW YORK (1916), a superb example of early Paul Terry cartooning – and a reminder of how he achieved pioneering status; and Walter Lantz’ THE LUNCH HOUND (1927) with Lantz himself hamming it up with Pete The Pup.
These cartoons are just pure fun – and this presentation restores them for a proper showcase (I highly recommend watching these on blu-ray on a large screen). The musical tracks deserve a shout out – Robert Isreal and Charlie Judkins provide delightful original scores – and David Gerstein recreates music and effects tracks for a duo of films.
And then there is a wealth of bonus material – several documentaries (edited by Devon Baxter) made from interviews with Bray himself (via John Canemaker), Bray’s sons and employees; a rare short from 1956 of Bray himself receiving a military award for his service to educational films; and a clippings slide show from trade magazines featuring rare Bray studio artwork and photos.
I cannot recommend this video highly enough. Whether you love silent cartoons or not, I promise you will enjoy Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios – Animation Pioneers. It’s a superior package – I’m proud of you Tommy – and it belongs on your video shelf.
Check out the trailer below for a preview of the characters and content contained therein:
They Drew As they Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s – Part One) by Didier Ghez
Coming out on September 1st is this second volume (of six) in Didier Ghez incredible series of books devoted to rare concept art in Disney’s vaults.
For this volume, They Drew As they Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s – Part One), Ghez has unearthed hundreds of incredible images — from early sketches to polished concepts for iconic features — by five visual development artists who shaped the style of the Studio’s animation during this period.
Those artists include Walt Scott, Kay Nielsen, Sylvia Holland, Retta Scott and David Hall. The artwork is superb and to sum up an overall description of this book in one word – that word would be “delightful”. It’s a joy to read the stories of these unsung artists – stories that were new too me – and to gorge in numerous examples of their work, most of it unseen by the outside world.
We are certainly living in a golden age of Disney animation research – and the books by Didier Ghez never fail to amaze. Don’t miss this one.
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 9: “Rise Of The Rhyming Man” Edited Bty David Gerstein and Gary Groth
Once again, a new volume of the Floyd Gottfredson series from Fantagraphics Books. This time, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 9: “Rise Of The Rhyming Man”, edited by David Gerstein and Gary Groth, continues collecting the daily newspaper strips in handsome hardcover editions.
The highlight this time is the introduction of fan-and-foreign-favorite Eega Beeva – a “man of tomorrow”, who becomes a comical companion to Mickey in a series of post-war strips. This is still a great period of Gottfredson drawings – funnier, looser, detailed and fun. The strips are less adventures but more comical situational serials of varying lengths. Mickey here is dressed in his long pants/short sleeved suburbanite garb, Goofy, Minnie, Pluto, Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar are all in attendance.
The “bonus material” includes a Thomas Andre overview of Mickey’s “Cold War Noir” period (1946-48); storyboard panels for an unproduced Mickey film, The Talking Dog; a week of un-inked Gottfredson strips; a promotional strip for poverty relief; an international gallery of Eega Beeva cover appearances; a spotlight on artist Romano Scarpa; chapter intros by Johnathan Gray, Thad Komorowski, Joe Torcivia, Francesco Stajano and Leonardo Gori – and much more.
I’ve raved about this series of books before. I have no reason to stop now. Important Disney research happens here. Buy it!
Silly Symphonies Volume 1: The Complete Disney Classics (IDW Publishing) Edited by Dean Mullaney; Introduction by J.B. Kaufman.
This came out last year, but I just picked up a copy at Comic Con (Thank you, Bud Plant). There is not any bonus essay material here like in the Gerstein/Groth Fantagraphics Gottfredson Mickey volumes – but the intro by J.B. Kaufman and the significance of the material (not to mention the art by Al Taliaferro and Earl Duvall) make this a worthwhile purchase.
After the initial establishment of the Silly Symphony Sunday strips, with a large dose of Bucky Bug (from 1932’s Bugs In Love) as the lead, Silly Symphonies Volume 1: The Complete Disney Classics segues into an adaptation of Old King Cole (1933) with Bucky involved… then drops Bucky all together (Bucky and June Bug marry and actually bid the readers “goodbye” in their final appearance).
The strip then begins to adapt (or continue the adventures of characters from) actual Silly Symphony theatrical releases – including The Wise Little Hen (introducing Donald Duck), The Robber Kitten and The Cookie Carnival. The art work is delightful, J.B.’s intros are informative and the whole package is very well produced. I’m glad I picked this up – and once again, I recommend this for your library.
The Definitive Betty Boop: The Classic Comic Strip Collection (Titan Books) Introduction by Brian Walker.
Another book I picked up at Comic Con. This also came out about a year ago, but I didn’t actually see a copy till last month. This is an expansion of a book Kitchen Sink put out about 21 years ago (Betty Boop’s Sunday Best) – this new book, The Definitive Betty Boop: The Classic Comic Strip Collection, contains all of Bud Counihan’s King Features comic strip from 1934-1937.
The book also includes example of the short-lived Out Of The Inkwell, Koko The Clown strip – and a 1933 Helen Kane Boop-Boop-A-Doop Girl comic strip that didn’t last.
The Betty Boop strip isn’t a lost classic. It’s actually quite forgettable. But it’s part of the legacy of Max Fleischer’s incredible studio – and its another piece of the puzzle. I’m happy to have it – but I can only recommend it to Fleischer completists.