Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Madcap Puppets

Wow! I would love to see this! Playing at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Dec 8, 9, 15, and 16:
Adventures in Slumberland

Using the magic and wonder of Black Light Theatre Madcap vividly brings to life Winsor McCay’s creation of a young boy’s adventures. From the Golden Age of newspaper comic strips and in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Little Nemo in Slumberland, Madcap creates the surreal landscape of the Kingdom of Slumberland that Little Nemo can explore only in his sleep. We meet the astonishing characters that made his adventures famous and follow little Nemo in his quest to reach the Princess.

Come live the wonders of Little Nemo’s dreams as children around the world did a century ago. But reserve your seat soon! Adventures in Slumberland will leave Cincinnati at the end of December to tour the country!

Touring the country, eh? I wonder if we could get them to come our way! Check out Madcap Puppets here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Maurice Sendak's homage

Children's author Maurice Sendak pens the forward to John Canemaker's biography on Winsor McCay. In it he says:
"My book In the Night Kitchen is, in part, an homage to Winsor McCay."
I always thought this was figurative -- as in, "the spirit of McCay." But after taking a closer look, there are also super strong Visual parallels between "In the Night Kitchen" and "Little Nemo in Slumberland."

The most obvious similarity is Kitchen's opening image. Sendak starts his book the same way McCay ends every Nemo comic:

Nemo does lots of falling:

Spends some time nekid:

This one is probably a stretch:

And look what I found hiding in the Night Kitchen! Clever, clever me with peekings and seekings!

It's disguised well -- it actually says "Chicken Little, Nemo Mass..." Nicely hidden!

Monday, December 3, 2007

2007 Annie Awards

The folks at the Annie Awards just announced this year's recipients of the Winsor McCay Award for lifetime achievement which is "Animation's Highest Honor."

I am so excited by this year's recipients! The 2007 honors go to John Canemaker, Glen Keane, and John Kricfalusi.

Glen Keane has been the lead animator for many of Disney's best characters: Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, John Silver. Personally, he is my favorite artist of all time. He's been my hero since I first saw his Beast sketches 15 years ago.

John Canemaker is an Oscar winning animator and the author of many animation history books including the definitive Winsor McCay biography. Local reporter Terry Judd has been speaking to him in recent days about our Spring Lake McCay memorial plans and Canemaker's thoughts have been recorded in the Muskegon Chronicle. Congrats on the honor John!

Here's what the International Animated Film Society's page says about the Winsor McCay Award:
Since 1972, ASIFA-Hollywood has bestowed a very special award to individuals in recognition of lifetime or career contributions to the art of animation in producing, directing, animating, design, writing, voice acting, sound and sound effects, technical work, music, professional teaching, and for other endeavors which exhibit outstanding contributions to excellence in animation. The Winsor McCay Award stands as one of the highest honors given to an individual in the animation industry.

The list of recipients reads like a who's who in animation. From Max Fleischer to Daws Butler, and from Walt Disney to Gene Deitch, the honor's legacy to the history and craft of animation will continue to be a tribute to animation's finest.
You can read more about this year's recipients, and see a list of 35 years of winners here: Winsor McCay Award

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Buster Keaton

I had no idea there were also local Buster Keaton ties! Apparently he called Muskegon home. After our last McCay meeting I had the pleasure of talking with Ron, a Buster Keaton fan, who maintains the Actor's Colony site and helps organize the annual Buster Keaton festival in Muskegon. How could I not know there was an annual Buster Keaton festival in Muskegon? I am so there next year.

Ron was intrigued by the local McCay meeting because of a major Keaton/McCay tie. In Buster's first film "The Three Ages" he parodies Winsor's work. Buster makes his grand debut film entrance by riding in on a dinosaur, mirroring the way McCay exited his film masterpiece - riding out on Gertie the dinosaur:

Here's a quote from "Before Mickey: The Animated Film" by Donald Crafton:
"Even Buster Keaton paid homage to McCay, in his 1923 film The Three Ages. He asked his writer, Clyde Bruckman, 'Remember Gertie the Dinosaur? . . . The first cartoon comedy ever made. I saw it in a nickelodeon when I was fourteen. I'll ride in on an animated cartoon.' "
You can watch The Three Ages here, and you can watch Gertie four posts below...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dream Memorial

This is only dreaming, mind you...

There are quite a few ideas we've tossed around regarding how to honor Winsor McCay here in Spring Lake MI, his hometown. This is just one of them. You can't talk tribute without having statues come to mind. Here's a quick sketch by illustrator Aaron Zenz:

This is just a starting place to get some thoughts rolling. When the idea of a Winsor McCay memorial pops up, I think the universal first reaction is "Gertie statue!"

In my opinion, I think a Gertie statue would have to meet two requirements. Number one: it's got to be a real statue, like bronze. And number two: it has to be designed in such a way that kids are encouraged to climb all over it. You've gotta. I mean, even Winsor McCay got to ride Gertie, right? So keep it safe just like the sketch above (don't have Gertie's neck up high so kids are falling off). But at the same time, don't sacrifice number one - keep it real. It can't be some kind of foamy playground equipment.

The Central Park Alice in Wonderland statue in New York is a super example.

I think it's great that the above concept drawing also includes Little Nemo characters scattered around. And just as food for thought... at the park, wouldn't it be cool if you could also sit inside something like this:

Or if you could look in mirrors that do this:

Again we're at the very beginning here. This is just dreaming. But for Winsor McCay, wild Dreams are more than appropriate...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

(I could only find it online in French.... But it's the image of a giant house-eating turkey that counts, right?)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Great Quote

Not only did McCay come out of the character animation gate first, but he also did so with sheer technical brilliance. You would expect the first character animation to be clunky and crude and take time to work it's way up to what we know today. But no -- McCay's work still stands superior to much of what is produced today. Here's a quote from Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny, Looney Tunes) that says it better than I could:

"It is as thought the first creature to emerge from the primeval slime was Albert Einstein; and the second was an amoeba, because after McCay's animation, it took his followers nearly twenty years to find out how he did it."

found in a comment posted at Cartoon Brew

Animation History

Any time animation history is discussed, Winsor McCay will always be mentioned. And although it wasn't his first film, it's "Gertie the Dinosaur" that will be noted. This is due to the fact that for the first time audiences were seeing a real animated character, a real personality. Winsor McCay realized you could use film to do something New -- you could go beyond simple animated gimmicks that had already been seen in flipbooks for years -- you could use film to tell stories, to bring characters to life.

When talking about the chronology of animation history, the two names that get mentioned before McCay are J Stewart Blackton and Emile Cohl. I thought I would provide movies from all three filmakers here in one spot so you can see the progression -- and the HUGE leap between McCay's accomplishment and the few experiments that proceeded him.

First up is Blackton. He was an American artist and, like McCay, created his first film as a variation on his vaudeville speed-drawing act. "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces" was created in 1906 and is considered to be the first animated film. That is, it's on film and the pictures move. This was accomplished by drawing pictures on a blackboard, shooting a frame of film, then erasing and redrawing parts of the picture:

The next name that gets mentioned is Emile Cohl. This French artist created "Fantasmagorie" in 1908. This is considered to be the first example of "traditional hand drawn animation" because it was drawn on successive sheets of paper. It was shot on negative film however to make it look like white line on blackboard:

Then comes Winsor McCay. After now having seen what came before him, I hope appreciation for what McCay accomplished is greatly magnified. His first film was in 1911, but I'm going to show Gertie (1914) because, again, this is the film that gets mentioned in animation history because it's the first character driven personality to appear in animation. Again, think of what came before, now look at what Winsor did:

I marvel at how detailed and fluid the movement is. In terms of animation, this is more beautiful than a lot of cartoons being produced today! Gertie looks so dimensional, she has such a sense of weight - she looks real. In fact, the reason McCay chose a dinosaur was to prove he wasn't somehow just tracing live action. Notice how all those animation techniques taught today -- slow ins and outs, use of arcs, secondary actions, etc -- those principles are all there! Before those techniques were ever articulated, McCay intuitively worked all that in. Also keep in mind that this was before cels. When animation later advanced, backgrounds were painted on a separate surface, and all the frames of animation were created on transparent cels so the background could show through from beneath. But McCay is inventing all this from scratch, and no one has ever considered cels yet. That complicated background had to be redrawn by hand on every single frame --- drawn over and over thousand and thousands of times! "Gertie the Dinosaur" is a marvelous feat.

I think it depends on what your definition of animation is. If animation is simply "making something move," Blackton and Cohl did that. But if animation is "bringing something to life," McCay is first in my book.

Second Chronicle article

A second article by Terry Judd ran in the Muskegon Chronicle immediately following our meeting last week. I'm so thankful people recognize this is newsworthy! A few highlights from the article:

On Friday, a committee organized through the library considered several ways to honor McCay, including:

• Approaching the state about a possible historic marker for McCay in the village.

• Using a small park to the west of the library that was the site of McCay's Union School for a McCay tribute -- possibly a statue of Gertie the Dinosaur that could be used as a playground structure.

• Establishing a scholarship in McCay's name that could be administered through a local foundation.

• Gathering historical McCay documents for a permanent collection at the Spring Lake District Library.

Read the whole article here: Group considers ways to honor famous artist

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend

This is the next Winsor McCay book I would LOVE to see the Spring Lake Library acquire:

"Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" is a book that collects the entire run of McCay's comic of the same name. The strip pre-dates his Little Nemo comics but is parallel in its content. Every episode takes place inside a wildly fantastic dream and ends when the dreamer awakes. While the Nemo series continues its story from week to week, "Rarebit" episodes are self contained. Each episode has a new protagonist. And while Nemo fantasies are adventuresome, Rarebit's dreams are downright bizarre! Very creative and crazy. Like real dreams (or nightmares).

The book just came out and has been getting lots of nice reviews -- I came across some at Drawn and at BoingBoing and at CartoonBrew.

And there is a super video review put out by the Boston Globe -- definitely check that one out!

What is rarebit by the way? Take a look:

Monday, November 12, 2007

McCay meeting

Anyone is welcome to attend our next meeting to further discus possible ways to recognize McCay here in Spring Lake, MI. It will be held Friday, November 16 at 4:00 in the Spring Lake District Library.

Muskegon Chronicle article

The Muskegon Chronicle picked up on the news about the attempt to honor McCay here in Spring Lake. They even tapped McCay biographer John Canemaker. Here are some excerpts from a nice long article:
"This is not like having some aviator from Spring Lake. This is like having someone who invented manned flight," [Aaron] Zenz said. "Winsor McCay isn't just some animator. He's the guy who invented animation as we know it."

"What struck me is there was nothing in this town to commemorate him," [Kevin] Collier recalled. "It was pretty clear to me there was nothing. The district library had one book on him. For the most part, Spring Lake had no idea the guy existed."

"One of the things that really surprised us about him is he is so preeminent in his field that you can go to practically any illustrator any place in the world, and ask 'Who is Winsor McCay?' and he will be able to tell you," [Chris Davis] said. "But you walk down the street in Spring Lake and nobody will be able to tell you."

"We can truly say he was the first artist who started a type of animation that Disney would do later -- personality animation where they want you to believe the characters they have created are real. Disney did not try that until 20 years after Winsor McCay." [John] Canemaker said

"I'm glad people are trying to push this forward [a Spring Lake tribute to McCay]," said Canemaker.
Read the whole article here: Spring Lake man influenced Disney, Walter Lantz

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Arrival

I fell head over heels in love with illustration when I first laid eyes on the picture book "The Cinder-eyed Cats" in 1997. Looking at that cover -- those tigers staring back at me -- it touched something deeply intrinsic to who I am and drove me to be an illustrator.

I've not had that degree of inspirational excitement since then.

Until now.

"The Arrival" by Shaun Tan just came out, and flipping through it I was struck again with that same awe and inspiration. It is a story of Immigration, told through powerful images. The setting is a fantastical landscape, so the effect is that we journey with the immigrant, seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels, confused as we also see the odd arrangement of foods and buildings and modes of transportation for the very first time.

The illustrations are gorgeous -- mind-blowing in their detail and scope. The work is, in a word, "Epic." One of the most amazing books I've ever seen.

So why mention it here on this blog? Two reasons -- first, to plug the book! It's super!

And second -- there is a Winsor McCay tie. On the back cover in the midst of the praise quotes, Jeff Smith author of Bone says,
"Wordless, but with perfect narative flow, Tan gives us a story filled with city-scapes worthy of Winsor McCay."
So how far back do you have to go to find a comparison worthy of the decade's most wonderful book? Yep - you stop at Winsor McCay...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bad Luck!

A quote from Winsor McCay:
"Animation should be an art. That is how I conceived it. But as I see what you fellows have done with it, is making it into a trade. Not an art but a trade. Bad Luck!"
More at anim8ed

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Grand Haven Tribune Article

Wow! Things are moving fast! The Tribune ran an article today about the discussion that has started about publicly recognizing McCay here in the community.

Here are some excerpts:
"Village Council is preparing to give the artist his due by considering an historic monument between Spring Lake Township Hall and the Spring Lake District Library to honor Winsor McCay, who attended Union School, the first "graded" school that stood on that site in the 1800s.

Councilwoman Linda Albonico suggested the village consider an annual animation film festival to draw tourists and honor McCay. Councilman Mark Miller said McCay's legacy is a source of pride for Spring Lake. 'I think this (monument) is an incredible thing to pursue for the village,' Miller said."
I'd point out that technically McCay birthed "Character Animation." But the prospects are still exciting! Read the whole article here: Monument would illustrate village as 'birthplace of animation'

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Union School

Years ago I had asked someone at the Tri-Cities Museum if there was any way to know where McCay might have lived -- or even to determine a geographic location where we could say he had definitely been. She said she highly doubted it because the layout of Spring Lake is very different now because so many fires had destroyed the town since McCay's time. The fires had also destroyed most records from those days.

Recently, at the first meeting held to discuss all things McCay, a small group of us were gathered at the Spring Lake District Library and were recounting what stories we knew of Winsor's childhood. Someone was mentioning the time McCay drew the sinking of the Alpena on his school chalkboard. Librarian Chris Davis said, "Hey, I wonder if that's the same school that was in the empty lot next door?" It turns out there is a small strip of land right next to the library where the town's one-room schoolhouse used to stand. The school was later destroyed... yep, in the fires. There is nothing on the plot to call attention to this, but the town has never let anyone build there because it's a historical site. "You can still see the foundations of the school," Chris said. "I've tripped over them while walking through on my lunch break." He quickly slipped out of the room to check some village records (good thing we were in a library) and returned with confirmation. "Yep - Union School was still there when McCay was school-aged!"

I couldn't even remember there being an empty plot of land next to the library. So right there, we all jumped up and walked outside, and sure enough, there is a nice little grassy plot with some trees and a checkerboard table the boy scouts recently built. I could just imagine little Winsor running around, all those decades ago.

Here are some photos of the lot:

Here you can see the school's foundations both on the left and also in the upper rignt corner of the image:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

So Many Splendid Sundays

At the first meeting we had to discus possible steps to re-introduce the Spring Lake community to Winsor McCay, I did my best to impress upon the librarians present that they HAD to get "So Many Splendid Sundays." It's a pricey enough book that I knew I personally would never own it. But I thought perhaps I could convince the library of its importance.

They listened.

They purchased.

It came.

It is a thing of beauty. To approach the book is like being in the presence of a giant bowl of candy that you could never possibly finish in one sitting.

The book measures 16x22 inches and consists of original-size reproductions of 110 of the best "Little Nemo in Slumberland" Sunday comics, lovingly reproduced by Peter Maresca. I had first learned of this book online after its initial printing had already been quickly snatched up. Then when I went to Book Expo last year, I stumbled across the Re-print. I didn't know it even existed. I gasped and approached the table in wonder. "I've read so much about this..." I whispered. The booth-worker eyed me suspiciously. "I never thought I'd see one." The booth-worker hovered closer, obviously very protective of this display copy. I sensed that I should ask permission first if I planned to flip through it. She granted, but with a hint of disapproval. I flipped through quickly, not able to let my brain soak everything in. I walked away wondering if I could somehow sneak back in disguise so I could flip through it again.

As soon as I heard our library was interested in McCay, I made sure they knew about this book. It's a book that Every library system should have access to -- but especially the library in McCay's hometown.

Spring Lake District Library has their copy proudly out on display, and I encourage all you locals to take a look. If I'm around, I'll do my best not to protectively hover too closely.

You can check out reviews and see sample pages at Sunday Press

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spring Lake: The Birthplace of Character Animation

Think of all the animated cartoon characters running around out there. Mickey Mouse. Bugs Bunny. Fred Flintstone. Buzz Lightyear. SpongeBob. Scooby-Doo. Dora the Explorer. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of characters that have been brought into this world. Do you know who was the first - the very first animated cartoon character ever created? A dinosaur named "Gertie" holds that distinction, and she was created in 1914 by Spring Lake native Winsor McCay.

Winsor McCay was born in the 1860's and grew up in Spring Lake. His artistic talent was evident at an early age. Spring Lake historians know that the village was plagued by a number of fires in those days. One of these destroyed the McCay home. In the shelter of a neighbor's house, young Winsor drew his very first noted picture. It was a scene recounting the tragedy, etched in the frost of a window pane. Later the steamer Alpena sank in Lake Michigan, and Winsor drew a picture as he imagined the scene on the school chalkboard. It was so impressive that a photographer heard about it, took photographs, and sold them. The foundations of the school (Union School) can still be seen in the park to the west of Spring Lake District Library.

McCay knew national fame in his lifetime, first as a newspaper cartoonist. He authored several comic strips, the most famous of which was "Little Nemo in Slumberland." It is a highly inventive fantasy that takes place within the dreams of a little boy named Nemo. The artwork continues to be hailed today for its wild imagination, intricate detail, and archetectural brilliance. It was the first comic strip to enter the Louvre. Children's author Maurice Sendak says, "Little Nemo is nearly pure gold."

Later McCay became a pioneer of animated film. The scant handful of experiments in animation previously attempted were extremely crude and had been conceived as mere "tricks" or "gimmicks." McCay's "Gertie the Dinosaur" was the first animated cartoon character with a distinct and engaging personality. The film was an amazing five minutes long, the typical length of a one-reel film in those days. It was a huge endeavor with thousands of painstakingly full, detailed drawings and sophisticated, fluid animation.

Today both Winsor McCay and his creations are known around the world. In art, cartooning, and animation circles he is universally known, beloved, and praised. Each year at the Annie Awards, the "Oscars" of the animation world, the Winsor McCay Award is given for lifetime achievement. It is the highest honor given to an individual in the animation industry.

Although in the art world McCay is internationally recognized, in his own hometown of Spring Lake he is virtually unknown. No monument or memorial commemorates his life here.

Recently the Spring Lake District Library has expanded their collection of wonderful books and videos highlighting McCay's life and work, and has hosted programs spotlighting illustration and animation. Additionally, representatives of the community have been meeting to work on ways to recognize McCay and his work in Spring Lake.

So yes, of all the places of the world, Spring Lake could be called "The Birthplace of Character Animation," for it is the hometown of Winsor McCay, pioneer of animated film.