Archive for December, 2009

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Ren & Stimpy & Charactered Pieces

December 29, 2009

This is a guest post from Caleb J Ross, author of the chapbook Charactered Pieces: stories, as part of his ridiculously named Blog Orgy Tour. Though his book is in no way related to cartoons, I demanded he discuss the topic to make his pimping at least somewhat site relevant. Being a nice man with a pleasantly shaped head, he agreed.

Visit his website for a full list of blog stops. Charactered Pieces: stories is currently available from OW Press (or Amazon.com). Visit him at http://www.calebjross.com.

My childhood was essentially wallpapered in cartoons and video games. Rarely, I believe, does this come through in my writing. But, search outside the words, and the remnants of Saturday mornings spent worshiping the television do mysteriously appear like Gazoo to usher a Flintstones plot twist. The up-close, intricately detailed “gross shorts” from Ren & Stimpy, for example, definitely fueled my appreciation for the use of magnification to enhance interest. Also fueled by Ren & Stimpy: my yearning for, what I later learned are nonexistent, powdered breakfast foods.

Ren & Stimpy, generally a cartoon with traditional 2-D art and color palettes, would emphasize certain scenes with intricately rendered close-ups, often for gross-out purposes. A simply drawn fish head (a scene from an episode in which Stimpy’s fart marries a fish skeleton…seriously) would magnify to show the texture of the scales, the visual fumes wafting from the carcass, and would stress shadow contrast making for an even more disgusting image. These stills became one of the main draws to Ren & Stimpy, despite its brilliantly irreverent storylines and culturally aware character styles (Family Guy simply would not exist were it not for Ren & Stimpy).

The cover of my chapbook, Charactered Pieces, adopts this gross-out magnification, though perhaps not to a level noticeably similar by casual observers of both the book and the cartoon. Quite consciously, though, I referenced my memories of the demented cartoon in order to create an image that does three things, in a specific order: 1) intrigues, 2) confuses, 3) disturbs. The last item doesn’t happen until one reads the title story.

I’ve posted a few more words about the cover over at ArtJerk.net.

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Cartoon Hell #29 – “Red Riding Hood”

December 28, 2009

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome. 

Generic? HECK NO!

Fairy tales were an amazing resource for slacker cartoonist who needed to fill a yearly quota of shorts. All you do is add a few jokes to the tired formula, slap on ironic commentary, and people will assume you’ve done a clever thing. For those who doubt the formula’s durability, note the numbers they’re using after Shrek films these days.

 Little Red Riding Hood is a story that hasn’t just been exhausted, they’ve strip-mined it, the earth salted so nothing good might ever grow again. I’ve lost count of how many shorts I’ve seen based on its premise. Hell, entire movies have been made lampooning it. I can’t possibly imagine what this short could do that I haven’t already seen.

 Except maybe plagiarize Mickey Mouse. The protagonist is a dead-ringer for a Disney production, but this came out in a less litigious age. Hearing shrill mouse-singing on a soundtrack that sounds like it survived a bombing gives this film a solid first impression. 

Who n' the Hell am I looking at here?!

A grandmother lies in a bed embroidered with the word “Grandma”. She’s sick, you can tell because she’s wailing, a doctor at her side. This film not only assumes you’ve never heard this story before, but that you can’t recognize basic concepts without labeling. 

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Cartoon Hell #28 – “Uncle Tom and Little Eva”

December 24, 2009

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

Don't let the animals fool you, it's exactly what it sounds like.

Don't let the animals fool you, it's exactly what it sounds like.

The first feeling I got when I looked at this title was utter dread. It has “Uncle Tom” in the title, and as previous entries have shown, this Mill Creek collection isn’t shy about throwing in some blatantly racist cartoons. Seeing a title surrounded by friendly animals gave me some hope that they were referencing an entirely different sort of uncle.

 It begins on a steamboat, which of course moves to the music. A perilously familiar looking mouse is playing a series of wiener dogs like a musical instrument. I was going to include that innocuous image, but it was immediately replaced by this: 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the "good old days" of cartooning.

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Cartoon Hell #27 – “Time for Love”

December 14, 2009

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

That time is now, baby.

“Time for Love” sounds like a forgotten B-side to a Barry White album. I was shocked to discover that this cartoon is in no way a slow jam. It’s not even particularly smooth.

The credits aren’t promising, featuring that odd, Dudley Do-Right throat warbling. Singing like a muppet with a nasal problem was all the rage back then.

Swans are pretty freaky.

We begin with two swans a-swimming (tis the season, damn it!) who show their love by choking each other with their necks. The camera swings over, and I realize I’m watching a film in glorious STEREOPTICAL THREE-DIMENSIONS! Fleischer had a wonky process he used for years where they’d design a real, three dimensional diorama as the background for their animation. It’s a neat idea, but I think any special effect fails if you find yourself distracted by it, wondering why it doesn’t look right.

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Cartoon Hell #26 – “Toby the Pup In The Museum”

December 9, 2009

Cartoon Hell is TheKarpuk’s attempt to review every single installment in an awful $5 collection called “150 Classic Cartoons” purchased at his local Wal-Mart. Your prayers are welcome.

I think they forgot to finish this title card.

The first Bugs Bunny cartoon did not start with a title card proclaiming that he was the star. This would come later, of course, but a cartoon featuring an unestablished character probably shouldn’t start with such unearned familiarity. At best the title of this cartoon should be, “In the Museum” with a smaller bit of print at the bottom stating that it features one Toby the Pup. You, Toby, are no Popeye the sailor. You’re not even a Screwy Squirrel.

My suspicion is that the title card may have been added later, as the sound doesn’t seem to come from the same room the microphone is in, giving it that fresh, cable access quality. It has the scent of repackaging, making its appearance in the collection double repackaging.

We start with a lion sleeping at a desk next to an open window, a brass band playing music that doesn’t necessarily resemble brass instrumentation. While the lion sleeps, his fountain pen dances because, well, as we’ve established, things dance in old cartoons. In the world of old cartoons even the densest of masses would do a little soft shoe if you put on some ragtime.

The pen wakes the lion up with a healthy squirt of ink and he uses his own tongue to clean his face off as though it were a washcloth. I initially screen-captured this moment, but upon looking at the results, it looked visually nonsensical. It looks like he’s vomited in zero gravity.

A janitor at street level is playing his mop like a flute, which enrages the lion for some reason. It takes a few beats for me to put together the visual shorthand going on here. The lion has long, wild hair (as opposed to all the lions with crew cuts), a monocle, and a suit jacket. His anger at amateurish music must mean he’s a conductor. So far the cartoon is making me do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to characterizing. Hell, the only way we know the character he’s picking on is Toby is by the hat with “Toby” clearly written on the label.

The lion chastises Toby and sends him off on his cleaning duties, which involve mopping a room full of randomly placed statues. This confuses me further. I’m not sure if the lion is really a conductor, or just a snooty guy who hates music. Is it a college? A museum? A gentleman’s club? Gay brothel? Help me out here.

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