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Interview

Jerry Beck talks about his books

Jerry Beck once watched hundreds of cartoons to co-write his book, LOONEY TUNES AND MERRIE MELODIES, a complete illustrated guide to the Warner Brothers cartoons. The author of a number of books on animation, including OUTLAW ANIMATION, he knows the history of cartooning back to front, has taught it, written about it, and practised it, so I asked him about cartoons and got some reading tips.

READERSVOICE.COM: First up, the tips question. If you could present yourself, aged say 17, with a reading list of must-read titles, whether fiction, history, biography, what would be on the list and why?

JERRY BECK: I would suggest a biography of Walt Disney – perhaps WALT DISNEY: AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL by Bob Thomas, and a history of American animation, OF MICE AND MAGIC by Leonard Maltin.

RV: Which, in your opinion, are the best books on cartoons?

JB: OF MICE & MAGIC is the perfect starting point. Any book by John Canemaker
(FELIX THE CAT, Disney’s NINE OLD MEN, WINSOR McCAY, etc). I also recommend THE FLEISCHER STORY by Leslie Cabarga, HOLLYWOOD CARTOONS by Michael Barrier, THE MOOSE THAT ROARED by Keith Scott, and TALKING ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE by Shamus Culhane. Also my book, THE 50 GREATEST CARTOONS.

RV: Can you tell a bit about some of the old timers you’ve met from the
cartoon industry and how you met them and what struck you about them?

JB: Well I’ve met quite a few. Most of them, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Ward
Kimball in particular, were young at heart. Their minds were as sharp and
active as a teenagers. Animation and cartooning keeps you young, I guess.
They all continued to draw and be creative right up to their last days. RV: I read your book LOONEY TUNES AND MERRIE MELODIES and enjoyed it. I was wondering how these classic era cartoonists constructed the plots for their
cartoons.

JB: A story artist would draw a story in separate panels, like a comic strip, pin
them up on a bulletin board – then the whole staff of cartoonists would come
in and gag it up even further. This storyboard would be the blueprint for the
cartoon – no writer sat in a room with a typewriter – it was all done through
artists drawing. That’s why the cartoons are so visually inventive.

RV: A lot of the classic cartoons were sexy, eg. Tex Avery’s, and REN AND STIMPY before it was white-washed. Are cartoons more prudish these days?

JB: The cartoons of the classic era – the 1930s, 40s, 50s – were designed for
adults and children, as most comic strips are done today – or The Simpsons.
They were shown in movie theatres where everyone saw them. Since the 1960s,
cartoons have been created for – and perceived as for – children. Today’s
cartoons try to push the envelope, but are held back by cartoon networks
aimed at kids. There are other outlets for adult animation – prime time Fox,
MTV and Comedy Central among others – but the perception that animation is
“for kids” must change before the field can expand. Feature length animated
films – like the films from Pixar – are really where the best work is
happening today.
RV: I read in an interview with you that one of your favorite cartoonists was
John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy. What is it you like about his work, and who are some of your
other favorite cartoonists and what is it that makes them great in your
opinion?

JB: John K. is an original. His work is inspired by past masters (Bob Clampett,
early Hanna-Barbera), but he’s created his own universe and his personal
style of comedy. A cartoonist’s personal style and vision makes them great.
Bill Plympton, John Lasseter, Mike Judge, Genndy Tartakovsky (DEXTERS LAB)
are the great animators of today.

RV: What do you like and dislike about cartoons being made these days?

JB: I don’t like trends. Once a show by an original is successful, all the other
networks copy it. Right now there are clones of HEY ARNOLD, THE POWERPUFF
GIRLS, POKEMON and SPONGBOB all over the place. The next big hit won’t be a
copycat.

RV: What projects are you working on related to cartoon research or anything
else at the moment?

JB: I’m working on the DVD release of Looney Tunes – and a new book, LOONEY
TUNES: THE ULTIMATE VISUAL GUIDE
, both of which will be out in November 2003.

Check out Jerry Beck’s website at www.cartoonresearch.com.

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