Throughout his life, Chuck Jones was a dreamer. He was always able to tap into the child within himself as part of his creative process, and children and dreams are both ever-present themes and inspirations to Jones during his long career. That much is evident to anyone who had ever met the man or even those of us who were only fortunate enough to be entertained by his deep catalog of animated cartoon classics. In addition to creating the Roadrunner and Pepe Le Pew series, Jones is responsible for some of the most famous Warner Bros. cartoons in their canon: "What's Opera, Doc?," "One Froggy Evening," the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd Hunting Trilogy, and literally scores more. Of course, children and dreams are perfectly encapsulated in Jones' two Ralph Phillips cartoons. But from a mind as active and creative as Jones' was, not all dreams could be realized. In Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was, we are taken on a remarkable journey through a twenty-year period in Jones' life that was a mere footnote in most texts about the man – if it got a mention at all.
Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was weighs in at about 280 pages, and there's not a wasted paragraph among them. The book is neatly divided into six sections that chronicle the full story of Crawford in all its various iterations over two decades – but this project's ambitions don't stop there.
The book opens with a massive 43 page essay by Kurtis Findlay that not only outlines Chuck Jones' various attempts to get Crawford before the public – both successful and not – but also covers his entire career with a particular emphasis on his post-Warner Bros. accomplishments. That makes this book especially valuable as this period is less well-documented than his salad days as one of the guiding forces behind Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Findlay's prose is at once thorough, enlightening, and entertaining, and he guides us expertly through the highlights of Jones' tenure at MGM and beyond. Chuck Jones is justifiably one of the premier figures of the Golden Age of Animation, and his career at Warners has been discussed in great depth in any number of tomes, but his post-Warner career remains scarcely-mined territory so there are many stories just waiting to be told of this period. Truthfully, Jones had such a long and prolific creative life that every day was likely a new adventure and each phase of Jones' career could without a doubt support a book of its own. Even Jones' supposed misfires and failures are more interesting than the highlights of many other animators and warrant an in-depth study.
Chuck Jones passed away in 2002, and while his immense body of work does speak for itself, it is always interesting and instructive to hear the stories behind the story – the story of the gestation process of a project and how it finally saw completion – or not. That's what makes well-written text pieces like Findlay's such crucial reading. Findlay doesn't give us a dry recitation of the facts; he successfully captures the essence of who Jones was as a person and as a creator. Through the anecdotes chronicling his time as head of MGM animation and his later stint at ABC children's programming (where's that book?), we are shown a Chuck Jones who wants more than anything to push the boundaries of what is possible in the television animation format. Jones never gives up this goal even in the face of continued ambivalence our outright apathy from the studio and network executives.
Upon being dismissed from Warner Bros. due to his moonlighting as writer of the screenplay for UPA's Gay Purr-ee, Jones was quickly snatched up by MGM where he created a series of Tom and Jerry shorts that played throughout the 60s.
To his credit, Findlay doesn't try to whitewash the past; he gives full details about how much of Jones' post-Warner work was not unanimously well-received – both his Tom and Jerry series and the other projects he created for MGM. For instance, although Jones won an Oscar for his classic short, "The Dot and The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics," the author of the book it was
based upon, Norton Juster, reportedly hated the result. Juster had a similar reaction to Jones' feature-length treatment of one of his other books, The Phantom Tollbooth. To one degree or another, Jones met with dissatisfaction from the authors of other works he interpreted while at MGM including Dr. Seuss on the adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who, Frank Tashlin (the director whose animation unit Jones took over upon Tashlin's exit from Warner) on "The Bear That Wasn't," and the great Walt Kelly whose signature creation was brought to television by Jones in 1969's Pogo's Special Birthday Special. Perhaps the heart of the problem was that Jones was adapting other people's material and in fleshing them out for the very different media of television and film, imprinted too much of his own voice and sensibilities on stories that were very personal to their authors. This is in marked contrast to the Looney Tunes stars who were really committee characters and thus malleable enough to withstand the differing interpretations of multiple directors.
Findlay weaves a fascinating tapestry delineating how Jones began developing the character and world of Crawford in 1967 for a proposed television animated series, and how he worked on it with his wife through various refinements until it was ready to pitch to MGM in 1969. However, nothing came of it as Jones' busy schedule coupled with the closing of MGM's animation unit after the completion of The Phantom Tollbooth scuttled any plans to bring Crawford to television.
However, in 1977, another opportunity arose to bring Crawford to life albeit not on television, but in the pages of the daily newspaper comic strips. In 1977, Robert Reed (no, not the Brady Bunch dad) of the Tribune Company approached Jones with the idea of creating his own comic strip for his group of newspapers that would feature a set of kids to compete with Peanuts, the hugely successful strip that was part of the United Features Syndicate stable. To that end, Jones dusted off his Crawford proposal and reworked it and the characters for the daily newspaper strip format. The strip premiered in January 1978 in the New York Daily News and a handful of smaller papers. It is unknown why the Chuck Jones name did not have enough star power to get his strip picked up by more papers, but our own analysis of the results show a lack of cohesion and continuity in the seven months the strip was in existence. Jones had a lot of ideas, but failed to take the time to create distinctive and convincing characters to execute those ideas. Jones' trademark witticisms and wordplay are in full effect, make no mistake. But with few exceptions, the dialogue could be exchanged between characters with little to no effect on the outcome. The biggest obstacle to the public's being able to embrace the strip is that the titular character is actually the least interesting in the bunch. In the first few weeks of the strip, Crawford serves merely as straight man to his buddy Morgan, who initiates much of the action. On the whole, the Crawford cast is less interesting than their Peanuts counterparts: Crawford, Morgan, and Libby never engage, provoke, or touch us the way Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy do.
Also, during the course of the strip's life, its stars Crawford and Morgan undergo radical shifts in character traits and even physical appearance. The gang seems to age several years overnight again proving that the concept needed more thought and development time before seeing print.
Still, as a collected work, this book is a marvelous achievement by all involved. The Library of American Comics – spearheaded by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell – already have such a deep catalog of hit books to be proud of that, from an editorial perspective, it must be a daunting task to keep coming up with projects to top themselves. We're glad to report that with Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was, they really have upped the ante on what has come before.
Image from Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was
[Image credit: The Library of American Comics]
This book is a must-have for any fan of comic strips, animation, or Chuck Jones himself. Chuck's strips, storyboards, and sketches – and there are heaping gobs of it published here to drool over – occupy the lion's share of the book. That signature angular style Jones developed in the 1950s is here on display in all its charm. Chuck Jones, the artist, ranks up there with the best cartoonists that the newspaper or animation media ever produced. He had a mastery of body language – including the iconic sideways glance to the audience – which few artists could match and it was always effectively employed to convey character, mood, and subtext. With the precision of a surgeon, Jones always knew how big or small he needed the action to go in order to get the reaction from the audience that he wanted.
The Library of American Comics is no stranger to accolades for their works, which have won Eisner Awards in the Best Archival Collection category three times already. While the recent Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim volume 1 (reviewed elsewhere on this site) is the more obvious Eisner-bait for this year's awards, we think Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was is the more deserving and hope it at least gets a nomination. Chuck Jones is the kind of book that needs to see print because it gives full detail and context to a period in the artist's life that had heretofore been a footnote at best. Just when you thought you knew all you could about Jones, this book comes along and provides an exciting opportunity for discovery that adds a thrilling undercurrent to each turn of the page and makes the reading experience that much more rewarding. Yes, the stories on the page are fun, whimsical, and charming, but the story behind the story is the bigger prize and one that will make The Dream That Never Was a go-to reference for both animation and Chuck Jones aficionados now and for decades into the future.
Reviews: New Anime REDLINE & FIRST SQUAD: THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
Written by Scott Katz
Sunday, 15 January 2012 22:51
Anime fans are in for a treat as two signficant new films make their debut on Tuesday, January 17. From Manga Entertainment comes Redlineand First Squad: The Moment of Truth. Both films are exciting, fun, eye-popping spectacles, but each could not be more different from the other.
Redline comes to us from Madhouse, the animation studio whose crazed, over-the-top style has won accolades from fans all over the world. Some of Madhouse's previous efforts include television series and feature films such as Black Lagoon, Death Note, Demon City Shinjuku, Paprika, Record of Lodoss War, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and literally scores more. American audiences have seen their work in The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, Hulk Vs., and the new Marvel Anime series currently airing on G4. If you're an anime fan, the name Madhouse on a project automatically makes it must-see viewing.
Set in the far future, Redline tells the story of the biggest, baddest, most cutthroat racing event in the galaxy. Only adrenaline junkies with a death wish even consider trying to qualify for the competition, which is held once every five years. At the center of the swirling chaos, we find JP, our lanky, leather-jacketed young hero with a pompadour that is akin to Elvis' cranked up to 100. One of his main rivals is the sweet-natured, but headstrong female racer Sonoshee. Romance blossoms on the track, but the murderous cyborg rulers of Roboworld, where the Redline event is being held without their permission, threatens to crash this coupling before it can cross the finish line.
In a way, Redline is a throwback to the old ways of animation. It's completely and gorgeously hand drawn – over 100,000 individual drawings make up this film, which runs a generous 1 hour and 42 minutes – about a half hour longer than most anime films. The result of this seven year effort is immensely pleasing and the racing sequences provoke genuine giddy thrills. This is not a film which takes itself seriously at all, so don't you dare try to. It's admittedly barely there story has about the depth of a Fast and the Furious flick so the mandate is "look, don't think." But since this is Madhouse, there is more than plenty to look at and admire. The studio, whcih has a drool-worthy back catalog of influential hit movies and television series is at the top of its game here. Its long, arduous effort to get this film done has paid off handsomely. Redline is a triumph of traditional animation techniques (albiet supplemented by some computer effects and enhancements), and is what Speed Racer wishes it could have been.
102 minutes, Blu-Ray $29.99, DVD $24.98
FIRST SQUAD: THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
75 minutes, Blu-Ray $29.99, DVD $24.98
Click images above to watch the TRAILERS!
Studio 4°C, which animated the other film under review, First Squad: The Moment of Truth, also has an impressive catalog of projects, and, in fact, contributed sequences to The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight just as Madhouse did. Anime fans have also seen their work in feature films such as Steamboy, Spriggan, and Tekkon Kinkreet. Among their current work is the popular ThunderCats revival series currently airing on Cartoon Network. With a pedigree of this high quality, it comes as no surprise that their latest feature effort, First Squad: The Moment of Truth is a legitimate triumph of animation and solid storytelling with neither getting the short shrift. Because Redline is a balls-to-the-wall gonzo roller coaster ride full of sound and fury, it does keep you at an emotional arms' length. In contrast, the often quieter, more contemplative tone of First Squad successfully draws you in and forces you to pay attention to the characters and to care about what they care about.
First Squad: The Moment of Truth centers around Nadia, a girl who cannot remember her past, but who can foretell the future. The story takes place in 1942 as the Nazi forces, who have already conquered much of Europe, have their sights set on Russia. General Wolf, an SS officer, uses supernatural forces to raise from the dead an army of 12th century Teutonic Knights to aid him in his conquest against the Red Army. In Russia, Nadia is taken to a secret facility in order to make contact with other teenagers who had special gifts and were part of an elite unit killed by the Nazis. Nadia enters the land of the dead to convince her former comrades to come back with her to continue the fight against General Wolf and his supernatural army.
The battle scenes are equisitely staged and the snow-filled environment of the Russian front is convincingly rendered. As is common among anime aimed at an older audience, the story is non-linear in its progression, and its action moves without warning back and forth through time in order to set things up and then fill in the backstory. An additional element that is rather unique to animated films is the inclusion of live action actors playing war veterans, historians, and psychologists being intercut into the flow of the narrative at various points and commenting on the story as if it were historical fact. This gives the film a faux-documentary style, which has proven polarizing to the audiences that have seen it. For our part, we really enjoyed it and felt it added a sense of depth and importance to the film. One caveat, however, is that it seems the necessary subtitles for the live action sequences only show up when the Russian soundtrack with English subtitles is selected. However, all the animated sequences, which make up the lion's share of the film, are dubbed nicely into English. We would have appreciated having English subtitles burned into the live action bits so that the audience wouldn't have to choose between English and Russian dialogue.
Each of these wonderful films could easily be spun off into an ongoing television anime series or at least a series of movies. In fact, First Squad ends so abruptly and with such a sense that there is more story to be told, that we hope there are sequels waiting for us down the line to pick up where things left off. For different reasons, we've been won over by each of these films and would like to visit their worlds again.
As far as the transfer quality is concerned, each boasts crystal clear video and powerful Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio in their Blu-Ray versions (DVD audio is Dolby Digital 5.1). Video quality is outstanding given that there are many difficult and intricate animated sequences in both films. There are no special features on First Squad, while Redline boasts over 90 minutes worth including a Perfect Guide to Redline, a Quick Guide to Redline (both featuring behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors, writer, and director), and the Redline 2006 trailer. Each of these movies is priced to own, and we can wholeheartedly recommend both.
Review: FLASH GORDON & JUNGLE JIM vol. 1 BY ALEX RAYMOND
Written by Scott Katz
Monday, 26 December 2011 19:59
With his meticulous sense of design, sweeping alien vistas, bold heroes, vile villains, and scantily-clad females, it is quite possible that artist Alex Raymond invented the concept of eye-candy for his seminal newspaper comic strip Flash Gordon.
The 1930s were a golden period for the newspaper adventure comic strips, and 1934 in particular was a signifcant year as it saw the debuts of two of the most celebrated comics strips of all: Terry and the Pirates, which bowed in October, and Flash Gordon, which premiered several months earlier on January 7.
Flash Gordon was created for King Features Syndicate as a direct response to the success of Buck Rogers, which began publication exactly five years earlier on January 7, 1929 by a rival outfit. However, the talent of Flash's creator Alex Raymond quickly brought the character to heights of popularity far surpassing its charming albiet relatively primative progenitor. No mere knockoff, Flash Gordon upped the ante for what a science fiction comic strip could achieve in both story and art. It helped solidify the template to which all ensuing space fantasy sagas owe a debt. Flash's arrival and battle with Emperor Ming on the planet Mongo, while ostensibly broken up into discrete story arcs, actually comprise a continuous seven-and-a-half year grand narrative the likes of which were not seen before and rarely since.
We can't say with full conviction that Flash Gordon was the most lavishly illustrated strip of all time – that honor would likely go to Hal Foster's breathtaking Prince Valiant – but both Alex Raymond and Flash Gordon are at the pinnacle of comic strip achievement and this masterwork is finally being collected in a format that showcases its full impact.
What makes these collections so mandatory for any serious fan of comic books or comic strips is that these books afford one an opportunity to watch a master storyteller take a strip from its embryonic
stages to its full potential. As the series begins, Alex Raymond keeps things neat and orderly sticking to a four-tiered, twelve-panel grid. As the weeks go by, the strip begins to find itself, and its underlying themes and concepts begin to coalesce. It takes a bit longer for the growth in art style to emerge, but by July 22, 1934, Raymond eschewed the old twelve-panel layout for good and began to open up his art by using fewer and larger panels of varying shapes and sizes. At this point, there was no stopping Raymond, and fans will be in for a treat as they can now bear witness with each turn of the page to the blossoming talent of a legend growing into his full creative powers. Soon, he was experimenting with camera angles and perspectives, and by mid-1935, Raymond's pencils develop the more intensely detailed feathered texture for which he became justly renowned.
In this first volume of six, the Sunday strips from January 1934 to May 1936 are reprinted – more than enough to be introduced to Flash and his friends and enemies whose names have seeped into the national pop culture consciousness: Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov, and Ming the Merciless. In these initial strips, we also meet other key figures of the alien planet Mongo as Flash careens from one gloriously preposterous escapade to another: from fighting the Red Monkey Men for Ming's amusement to befriending Prince Thun of the Lion Men to battling for his life underwater against King Kala of the Shark Men to escaping from the City Above the Clouds led by King Vultan of the Hawkmen. All this while dodging the unwanted attractions and amorous attentions of every nubile femme fatale on Mongo: Ming's daughter Princess Aura, Azura the Witch Queen of the Blue Mountain Men, and Queen Undina of the underwater Coral City.
Flash Gordon, the character, is the typical heroic male that existed in fantasy before the 1960s: strong, confident, square-jawed, and uncomplicated. He sees a wrong that needs to be righted and just dives in and goes for it. His mission always takes precedence over his own personal wants or needs. His relationship and ever-impending, but never realized, marriage to Dale Arden always takes a back seat to whatever crisis is at hand. Flash is largely a cipher, personality-wise – his adventures are more interesting than he, himself is – but that's what gives characters like these their aspirational allure and allows their readers to project themselves into their places more easily than it would be with a character who is full of specific quirks and idiosyncracies. Our hero fights tirelessly against Ming and the evil hordes of Mongo for almost a decade without reservation, without asking for reward – without even so much as a bathroom break – just because that's who he is. No nihilistic pessimism here. The tone of the strip is empowering because it proudly embodies the American ideal that one good man can make a difference and that you could be that man.
Being one of the most popular comic strips of all time, Flash Gordon has been released numerous times before in a variety of formats. However, it's never been released like this. The folks at The Library of American Comics are releasing this series in their celebrated Champagne format. The book measures a large 16"x12.5" and presents the Sunday strips at pretty much their original full size. Better still, the book contains the Jungle Jim topper strips that debuted with Flash Gordon and were also drawn by Raymond. When each strip was given a full page to itself for several months, they are each presented in this book in their full page formats. Some of these pages are iconic classics of the series such as the full page splash of the horde of Hawkmen warriors bearing down on Queen Azura's forces, and it's a treat to see them presented in all their pulpy glory.
Alex Raymond's classic Flash Gordon Sunday page
(from June 16, 1935)
As for the presentation of the art, although it appears syndicate proofs are not available for use and so the results cannot be as sharp as if they were, we were still generally pleased with what we saw considering these were scans of old newspapers and fine lines – a tip of nose here, a partial jawline there – disappeared in both the original printing process and the aging of the materials over the last 75 years. We would make special note of the coloring job, which we found to be more subtle and readable than the highly-saturated colors in, say, the Checker Books editions of a few years ago. Everything is printed on heavy, crisp white matte paper making for a sumptuous end product.
Once again, LoAC goes out of its way to present wonderfully detailed supplemental essays to place Flash Gordon, and his creator Alex Raymond into historical context. Beyond the de rigueur Raymond biography, it was also much appreciated that they attempted to give Flash Gordon's writer, Donald W. Moore, his just and due credit in spite of the fact that no clear records exist on what the extent of his contribution was during the twenty-odd years he worked on the strip. Different expert suppositions are presented and all appear to have validity, but for us, it seems clear that Alex Raymond was always in the driver's seat and created the characters and the broad strokes of the story for Moore to script. We say this because the layout of the strip changed over time as Raymond began using fewer and fewer panels to showcase his growing artistic ambitions, and it would seem to be a case of the tail wagging the dog to suggest that Raymond began drawing larger panels simply to accommodate shorter scripts from Moore. In our estimation, the relationship between Raymond and Moore likely followed a template similar to the way daytime television serials are written using a tiered approach that starts with a head writer who comes up with all of the plot machinations and story beats followed by breakdown writers and script writers who structure the specific episode scenes and lay in the dialogue. Whatever the case, the Raymond-Moore combo made for some memorable and thrilling all-ages fun.
Today, we are truly fortunate to be in a time where printing techniques and publisher resolve have combined to present the classics of the American comic strip to a new audience in the formats that they deserve. Through the efforts of the Library of American Comics and other publishers, new readers can be exposed to classic writers and illustrators such as Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, Frank Robbins, Harold Gray, Lee Falk, Chester Gould, and so many others.
Creators like these are to be admired for their devotion to their craft and for their perfectionistic work habits because they could not possibly have known at the time that their efforts would be seen, discussed, collected, and admired 70 to 80 years after they wrote and drew it – that dedicated book editors would scour the countryside looking for the best possible samples of the strips and doing painstaking digital restoration and remastering of them in order to keep their work alive for a new generation of readers. All Alex Raymond, for example, could count on is that each Sunday strip would be seen for a single day and then it was highly likely that it would disappear forever after that.
Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim volume 1 by Alex Raymond is an important record of the artist's versatility as an illustrator as he moves deftly from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the outermost reaches of space without missing a step. And the stories are just plain fun reading to boot.
USTownhall RealStories presents NICOLINA ROYALE of PROJECT ACCESSORY
Written by Scott Katz
Saturday, 10 December 2011 14:32
On Sunday, December 4, we spoke to Nicolina Royale, one of the contestants on the new Lifetime Television cable series Project Accessory. Nicolina was eliminated after the third episode, which aired on November 10, but not before she became a fan favorite among the viewers of the series.
Just 30 years old, Nicolina has made a transformative journey throughout her life from her beginnings as a high school student instrumental in helping to pass anti-hazing laws in Minnesota to striking out on her own in Hollywood and starting her own accessory design business. Nicolina's story is both touching and inspirational, and her never-say-die attitude and strong work ethic are always evident when speaking with her.
Ms. Royale's most recent accomplishment was being chosen as one of the twelve finalists, among thousands of people who auditioned, to appear on the inaugural season of Project Accessory, a spinoff of the successful reality competition, Project Runway.
On the series, contestants are given challenges to make accessories – whether it be a hat, shoes, a handbag or jewelry – in a set amount of time with a given set of materials. Their creations are then shown to a judging panel which includes Kenneth Cole, Ariel Foxman, and celebrity judges ranging from Debra Messing to Kelly Osbourne. Each episode at least one contestant is eliminated.
Now that Nicolina has returned home to California, she was free to stop by our show and chat with us about all the behind-the-scenes events and what her experiences were like as a contestant on reality television.
What was her audition process like? What was it like shooting the series in New York City? Was she surprised to be eliminated so early in the competition? Which contestants did she make friends with and which ones drove her crazy? What would she change about the show's format if she could? Who would she like to see in the finale? In contrast, who does she feel does not deserve to be there? What advice would she give to an aspiring designer just starting out? Did she feel that the way she was edited for the series was an accurate portrayal of who she is as a person?
Always fun, effervescent, and outspoken, Nicolina dishes about all of that and so much more in our exclusive longform interview that clocks in at just over an hour. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy Ms. Royale at her most "ah-may-zing."
To learn more about Nicolina Royale and her line of affordable, chic accessories with a rock-and-roll edge, please visit http://www.nicolinaroyale.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @nicolinaroyale.
Click on the "play" button below to listen to the interview...
US Townhall RealStories presents BRUCE CANWELL of The Library of American Comics
Written by Scott Katz
Sunday, 13 November 2011 13:39
On Friday, November 11, we had Bruce Canwell, Associate Editor of The Library of American Comics, back on our show to give us the scoop on the upcoming projects that the Library will have available in time for the upcoming holiday shopping season and beyond.
Highlights include what promises to be the definitive version of Alex Raymond's classic comic strip Flash Gordon as well as Milton Caniff's masterpiece Steve Canyon. And what's this about a book featuring Chuck Jones' little-seen brief foray into the world of comic strips? Listen in and find out.
Steve Canyon vol. 1 1947-1948
The Definitive Flash Gordon &
Jungle Jim vol. 1
Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was
During our chat, we also run down the current status of each of the major book series from the Library of American Comics and when readers can expect the next volumes to arrive in stores. As Mr. Canwell is also a comic book fan, we also take a few detours to reminisce about some childhood favorites from Marvel and DC.
Pop some popcorn and settle in because this interview clocks in at almost 3 hours, and we think you'll agree that it's time well spent. For more information, about The Library of American Comics, please visit http://www.libraryofamericancomics.com
Click the triangular "play" button on the widget to listen to the interview:
To listen to the first interview we did with Mr. Canwell back in 2010, click here...