One hundred years ago today in Spokane, Washington, Charles Martin “Chuck” Jones was born. It is quite possible there has not been a more widely influential artist in the twentieth century.
We could easily list his over three hundred cartoons that he directed; we could talk about all of the influential cartoons that he didn’t do for Warner Brothers– Pogo, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Dot and the Line, and revitalizing Tom & Jerry; we could mention his creation and co-creations Private Snafu, Charlie Dog, Hubie and Bertie, The Three Bears, Claude Cat, Marc Antony and Pussyfoot, Charlie Dog, Michigan J. Frog, Marvin the Martian, Pepe LePew, the Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote; we could discuss his educational work with The Electric Company and Curiosity Shop and his works with Dr. Seuss, not to mention the multiple generations of animators he taught and trained– but we’ll simply note that three of his shorts (Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening and What’s Opera, Doc?) have been inducted into the National Film Registry.
As a child growing up, I loved cartoons. At that time (the 1950s and early 1960s), that’s a bit like saying that I loved breathing. There were cartoons on Saturday morning, and cartoons every afternoon. The movie theater near my Grandmother’s house had Saturday matinees that were three hours of cartoons.
But I loved comic books more.
My husband, John Tebbel, was the first animation maven I ever met. He not only knew the difference between Disney and Warner Brothers, but he knew the individual directors, and quickly taught me how to spot Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson. He explained who the Fleischer Studio was and why I should care.
Naturally, I tried to share my love of comic books. My success rate was lower. He liked Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. He loved Kyle Baker. Milk and Cheese made him laugh out loud. Still, he never quite got the superhero thing.
I’m not writing to celebrate two geeks in love. I’m writing about how sometimes, we let our differences divide us. Do you like Marvel or DC? The Big Two or independents? Broadcast or cable?
We defined our affection for two art forms that were graphic storytelling. One moved and one didn’t. One had finite time limits and one didn’t. Each of us, with our affection for our chosen art, could appreciate the other’s favorite.
I would like our political discourse to work at this level, but that isn’t going to happen as long as there is so much money and power involved. However, if there is anything that would make my husband’s life more significant, it would be if we could each of us share our love for pop culture with the rest of the world. Instead of fighting over which piece of the pie is the biggest or the best, we could have more pie.
A slightly less conventional (and certainly less played) Christmas special for you– from 1969, we bring you The Pogo Special Birthday Special, which also works as a holiday special for Valentine’s Day, Harbor Day, the fourth of July, and the entire month of Octember.
And it’s a Christmas special too? Well, any special which has Albert the Alligator and Beauregard performing and arguing over the correct lyrics to “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie” simply has to be a Christmas special.
So sit back, relax, and listen to June Foray as Pogo, Les Tremayne (yes, Mentor from Shazam!) as Churchy LaFemme, Chuck Jones as Porkypine, and Walt Kelly hisself as Albert The Alligator and P.T. Bridgeport.
Here’s one I bet you didn’t know about and probably haven’t seen: So Much For So Little, a short cartoon that Chuck Jones did back in 1949, made for the Federal Security Agency in much the same way that he did Private Snafu flicks during World War II for the War Department. It won an Academy Award in 1950 for Documentary Short Subject.
“2,621,392. A nice even figure. That’s the number of babies who’ll be
born next year in the United States. Of these babies, 118,481 will die
before reaching their first birthday.”
The irony, of course, is now that so many John E. Jones have reached their golden years, they’re convinced that they shouldn’t help the next generation…
I have to laugh when I watch old [[[Tom and Jerry]]] cartoons. First, of course, because they’re funny. The original series of 114 theatrical cartoons by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Hollywood cartoon studio were produced between 1940 and 1957, seven of them winning the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons)…a tie for most awards, one should note for the animation snobs out there, with Walt Disney’s [[[Silly Symphonies]]] animated series. A series of perfectly dreadful and too-often released cartoons followed, produced in Eastern Europe (cheap labor, I would imagine, and worth what they paid for it), produced by Gene Deitch at Rembrandt Films in 1960 before, thank the animation heavens, there came Chuck Jones in 1963.
Which brings us to Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, hitting stores on Tuesday. Jones was one of the handful of master animators to influence the entire look and feel of the Warner Bros. animated line with his Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Tweety and Sylvester and countless other cartoons. But after 30 years, the studio closed its animation section and Jones set up his own shop, Sib Tower 12 Productions, with partner Les Goldman. MGM came knocking, and the 34 madcap adventures included in this collection was the result.
The second reason I find to laugh at these, or any classic animated shorts is because of how the reality of these characters clashes with the perception that has grown up around them since the 1950s when they began appearing as Saturday morning children’s programming. These cartoons were not created, originally, as children’s fare. They were, instead, part of a program of entertainment shown to adult movie audiences in a day and age when theaters routinely ran double features and the bill changed twice a week. Before, between and after the movies, however, came a variety of subjects: a newsreel, a short feature (usually humorous), a cartoon, and coming attractions, at the minimum. Look at a World War II era Bugs Bunny cartoon; that was not kid’s stuff!
Because as I watch these cartoons—and they are a lot of fun, have no doubt of that—I’m struck at how mercilessly violent they are. Heavy objects routinely fall and crush their victims (Tom), explosives blow in hand or in the victim’s (Tom’s) mouth, an axe used to chop open a mouse hole chops a victim’s (Tom’s) tail like a chef chops a carrot. The network censors chopped a lot of that material out of the cartoons when they went to TV in the 1960s, and, by the 1980s, the original essence of these little seven minute masterpieces was corrupted beyond redemption, to the point that as the writer of the Tom and Jerry syndicated newspaper strip for Editor’s Syndicate around 1990, I was told Tom could chase Jerry, but if he caught him, he could do him no harm. No hitting, no smashing, no slamming, certainly no chopping of tails. These guys were pals they just chased one another for fun.
Bugs Bunny has suffered a similar fate in the modern world: A friend working on a Bugs Bunny promotional comic book project was told by WB to change a gag because “Bugs would never produce a mallet out of nowhere and whack someone like that!”
But thanks to home video and DVD and the demand of the marketplace for original and uncut material, the truth is coming out. Tom and Jerry is funny and it’s funny because it’s violent. Take away the psychedelic randomness and well-constructed but mean-spirited violence of a situation like Tom and Jerry or the Road Runner and Wiley E. Coyote and all you’re left with is the existential angst of the eternal loser pursuing that well-known definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again in expectation of a different result.
If you’re going to be in or near Allentown Pennsylvania between June 24 and September 16 of this year, you might want to drop by the Allentown Art Museum to enjoy their massive Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons exhibition.
A greatly expanded version of the exhibit that played New York’s prestigious – and extremely expensive – Museum of Modern Art back in the mid-80s, the program consists of over 160 drawings, paintings, cels and sundry objects used by directors Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett and others in the creation of the famous Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig cartoons from the classic period of the 1930s through 1960. Dozens of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies will be shown in their entirety as part of the exhibition.
Artwork from Bob Clampett’s Porky in Wackyland copyright Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.
ComicMix friend (and my first husband) Steve Chaput reports that the Orange Public Library & History Center (in Orange California) where he works, has just opened its doors featuring an art exhibition called Read To Succeed®, sponsored by the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity and Orange Public Library.
The exhibition includes original, hand‑painted animation cels which have never before been available for public viewing, and will be on display through mid-September.
The press release mentions of Jones, "A voracious reader himself, Chuck relished the opportunity to sketch and paint a variety of colorful works showing Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety, Pepé Le Pew, and other characters finding knowledge, fun, and adventure in the pages of books."