Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi

Cartoon Modern is the story, told partly in words, partly in stills, of the animation revolution of the 1950s. While Ike kept us out of World War III and America tried to pretend it had no seamy underbelly (the idealistic view of the 50s as the perfect, Happy Days world is total crap, in case you didn't know), cartoons were experimenting with form and foundation.

If you are a fan of animation, you really owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Amidi has a great love for his subject, and it shows. He spends time with the big guys--Warner Brothers, Walt Disney, and Hanna-Barbera, just to name a few--but also deals extensively with people you may not have heard of before that, while not making things that survive into the DVD age, were no less innovative than the people working for Chuck Jones. Fine Arts films, Storyboard, and Terrytunes all have stories to tell as well.

In fact, some of those "lesser studios" paid better--Bill Melendez (the Charlie Brown guy) left United Picture artists to join John Sutherland Productions, and had his pay doubled! Those are just some of the little facts this book provides to those interested in reading it.

Most people will only think of this art as primitive, something to be parodied on the Simpsons or Family Guy. Heck, seeing modern Scooby Doo cartoons put the originals to shame in terms of art quality, if "as close to real as possible" is your definition for quality. But without these groundbreaking attempts to get out of the Disney-Warner Brothers mold, there would be no South Park, because that type of cutout stylings just would not exist. We'd all be watching soft pastels and perfect pictures, rather than, say, the Powerpuff Girls.

In fact, anyone who's a fan of anything from Cartoon Network owes it to themselves to read this book and see the men who made those shows possible. (I'm afraid it does appear to be almost exclusively male. I don't remember if there are any references to women cartoonists at all, come to think of it.) Flip to almost any page in Cartoon Modern and you'll see the designs that inspired the current crop of animators. That alone is worth the price of admission.

If there is a problem with this book, it's that there's no DVD to go along with it. While I realize that the author makes the reader aware that most of what he is discussing is not available on home video, I think a companion DVD with some snippets, at least, of what the publisher could find would have improved this book immensely. But that's like saying meeting the President would have been better if you could have talked to him for an hour instead of forty-five minutes. It's a minor quibble, but does make me wish they'd consider a documentary based on this book.

Cartoon Modern is an excellent addition for those, like me, who love classic animation and want to learn all they can about the work of those who were contemporaries--and sometimes collaborators--on the shorts we grew up with on television. It's a great find, and I urge you to read it. You should also check out the Cartoon Modern blog, for more pictures!

1 comment:

  1. This book is really a good read. I like the author, his books are almost always great in depth.