Progresive Boink's Forty Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings is a hilarious demolition job, leveling a target both deserving and inexplicably successful, allowing guilt-free pleasure in the invective:
The most important thing you need to know before reading about all the terrible things Rob Liefeld has drawn is that he has never seen or talked to a woman in his life and has no idea what they look like or how their bodies operate. If you asked Rob Liefeld to draw a diagram of the uterus he'd put on a pair of gauntlets and punch the shit out of your chalkboard. This is how the man operates, and though I know it sounds like a lot, you have to believe me. I don't want you looking at the stuff he's drawing and think he's a conscious adult male with a creative job who can and has influenced the minds of young artists. The man is a pair of blue jeans with a face. He has on a backwards cap, and when he turns it around, it's still backwards.
The examples truly need to be seen to fully comprehend the stupendous awfulness that for a time made Liefeld not just the most popular artist in comics but a pop culture celebrity. I am providing just a piece of a few panels here -- each of them is cut from a larger panel in the actual piece -- concentrating on amazing anatomical monstrosities. Comments in quotes are from the original piece; comments in italics are mine.
"Also of note: the fingers of Stryfe’s left hand here all taper down in size from index to pinkie, you know, as fingers do."
Because manly superheroes wear their pants extra tight.
"Check out Spider-Man swinging in on a jungle vine. Jesus Christ Liefeld drew a dog’s hindquarters on him. Just straight-up a dog’s ass and legs."
Not actually supposed to be an emaciated calf.
"I'm not an expert on anthropomorphism and I'm the last person to consult when it comes to sexualizing an animal lady, but is the tail supposed to come out of the middle of the butt cheek like that?"
Not actually supposed to be an amputated leg (despite the sword).
"How many teeth are in a mouth? Like a billion, right? I’ll just draw a billion, all the same size and shape."
Not actually supposed to be a free-floating thigh... wait, I think it is supposed to be a thigh. How long is that thing??
And much more.
This style of character-drawing began when I was asked by the British advertising agency Mother to work on their campaign for the Observer Music Magazine. [. . .] When some of these drawings were exhibited at the Rock en Seine festival in Paris, I had a lot of fun secretly watching people try to guess who they are, so I've not labeled them here. If you do, however, need to know who each one is, just hover your mouse over the image for a couple of seconds and a label should appear.
The Lollipops are faceless yet cute, like dressed up Fisher-Price figures, defined by their accoutrements. I'm reproducing a few here just to give the flavor:
And lots more.
Trying to draw this one is completely beyond me right now:
Domestic cave scene. Surly cave husband sitting on cave couch, being addressed by standing cave wife:
"Does Grog think Grog can use pronouns while Grog's wife's family is here? Is that too much for Grog?"
Sports cartoons -- with the exception of Tank McNamara -- are almost uniformly awful. (Has there ever been a funny Bill Gallo cartoon?)
Anyway. Julio Franco* somewhere in the infield, surrounded by teammates warming up, taking ground balls, etc. Franco is waving a bat over his head like a cane and shouting "Get off my lawn!"
*If I can't even draw a recognizable doctor, I sure as hell can't draw Julio Franco.
The long-retired Guindon (at least, retired from non-local cartooning) is my favorite single-panel cartoonist. I've been going through his books again for the first time in years. One of them made me sigh:
Has anyone done a count of the incidence of "Jenkins" in New Yorker cartoons? Has the name become iconic for New Yorker-style captions because it was actually used a lot, or does it just feel iconic (and parodic)? Who used Jenkins first? And most? Do you personally know anyone named Jenkins?
I have been getting new cartoon ideas -- although two of them have been Callahan-style ideas, which are virtually unusable -- but I've had no success at drawing them. So, here's another old one:
Awesome duck, eh?
About ten years ago, I started being cursed with cartoon ideas. New Yorker-style ideas, mostly, with the occasional Guindon-style idea. This was a curse because I don't draw. I have no talent for drawing. I have very little visual memory for anything, and (among other problems) I don't see in three dimensions when I try to draw. Everything I try to draw tends toward the flatly vertical. Drawing straight out of my imagination is worse: I can't picture anything.
So I have these ideas, and nothing to do with them. The ideas flowed for a while, but dried up when my subconscious realized I wasn't doing anything with them. My job, now, has bits of downtime, but the downtime isn't that useful for writing; the open time for writing can be spaced hours apart, and it's hard to keep a flow going. And reading books at the desk is discouraged.
But I can practice cartooning; it does no harm to the slow slow learning process to be interrupted. I already have the cartoon in my head, after all.
I figue I'll post some of them here, and see if practicing gets my subconscious going again. This is one of the old ones:
I botched the caption when I drew it; it should say "I'm in rocket science", not "I'm a rocket scientist".
I'm going to see if I can manage two of these a week.
One of the many appealing things about the way Animaniacs was approached was the adherence to the Warner Brothers tradition of cartoon music. The music for Animaniacs was played by a 40-piece orchestra, coloring the cartoons in the old style, with many specific references for those who know the old stuff; it was even recorded in the same old soundstage, with the same piano.
Carl Stalling wrote most of the old Warner Brothers music, but of course a lot of it was borrowed from other sources, famous and otherwise; it's well known among aficionados that one of the best sources was the once obscure but now less so music of Raymond Scott. In particular, "Powerhouse" propelled many frenetic scenes.
But I don't think any of the old cartoons used "Powerhouse" for a whole cartoon. In volume two of the complete Animaniacs, at the very end of episode 50 (the second Christmas episode) there's a piece called "The Toy Terror" that is deliberately animated in the 1930s style, consisting almost entirely of a manic chase & destruction of a toy store by the Warners. The music throughout, with the exception of a few bars at a time of other musical references, is "Powerhouse": the whole song, in order, the first theme followed by the second theme (both of them would be familiar to old cartoon watchers whether they know Scott or not) and back to the first theme. (Here's a brief clip of both themes.) I thought it was terrific, but then I'm delighted just to see (and hear) it done at all.
Velma and I are fervid Animaniacs fans, and we finally received volume two on dvd yesterday. There was no way we were doing anything but coming straight home, making a 20-minute dinner, and sitting down to watch at least the entire first disc (five episodes), plus a couple other favorite cartoons ("In the Garden of Mindy", "Bubba Bo Bob Brain"). Sometime later I'll write a general post about Animaniacs -- it still surprises me how many fans of old-style Warner Bros cartoons never saw Animaniacs -- but this post is just about Mindy and Buttons.
The best stuff on Animaniacs centered on a few characters: the Warners, Slappy Squirrel (one of the great creations in cartoon history, and Sherrie Stoner is one of my heroes forever for creating and voicing Slappy), and of course Pinky and the Brain. [edit: And how could I forget Chicken Boo?] Rita and the Runt was somewhere between -- a good idea, inconsistently executed -- while Good Feathers and the hippos and Mindy and Buttons just weren't often very funny.
Mindy and Buttons, in particular, made a lot of people cringe -- hi Ellie! -- including me. It has funny repeating gags -- e.g. Mindy (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) calling her mother "lady", and her "okay I love you buh-bye!" -- and it's built on classic-style chase sequences, which are inventive enough. But the moral center of it is hard to like: Mindy is a toddler, and Buttons is a dog assigned to keeping Mindy out of harm, a task to which he is pathetically devoted. In virtually every cartoon, Buttons is instructed by the mother to behave, and not do some specific thing. Mindy sees something fascinating -- a butterfly, say -- and breaks out of her restraint to follow it. A host of things threaten to flatten her, and Buttons follows frantically rescuing her and getting smacked by things, until finally they are deposited back home with Mindy giggling happily and Buttons covered with evidence of whatever it was he wasn't supposed to get into, followed by him being admonished by the mother.
It's an interesting variation. I give them points for not doing the same old model of our hero getting chased by hapless bad guy who takes amusing abuse. Mindy is an interesting creation: she's a force of nature, apparently untouchable -- or maybe she's only untouchable so long as Buttons tries to protect her and takes abuse in her stead -- not malicious, an innocent vortex of trouble. Buttons is the problem. The poor dog is completely virtuous. He is heroic, and his labors go not only unappreciated but misunderstood. It is hard for an empathetic person to laugh at the things that happen to Buttons, and even at the end, you get your face rubbed in Buttons's distress.
I always thought this was a misstep, a misunderstanding of what fundamentally made Road Runner/Coyote cartoons funny, or Bugs Bunny cartoons once his character was fully formed (by 1940 or so). Slappy Squirrel, very much a Bugs character, follows the rule that Chuck Jones spelled out in Chuck Amuck: Bugs must be provoked. Otherwise he's just a meanie.
Animaniacs did a few cartoons where characters from one cartoon substituted for characters in another cartoon. The most inspired of these was "In the Garden of Mindy", pairing Mindy with the Brain. The Brain is used to being the dominant figure in his cartoon relationship, and he can't cope with Mindy's cheerful incomprehending cartoon power; when he tries his usual "stop it or I am going to have to hurt you", Mindy gleefully flings him into a manure pile.
The cartoon is funny mostly because of the interaction of the Brain with Mindy's world. But the abuse gags are funny, too; I laugh at them because the Brain deserves them. The Brain is pompous, bullying, and wants to rule the world; and at least the Brain can get off a funny line after he's smacked. Buttons is helpless in every way. I'd always thought that the hilarity of "In the Garden of Mindy" confirmed my opinion that the whole setup of Mindy and Buttons was a mistake.
But last night I thought: What if it's on purpose? What if they know that perfectly well? Maybe the whole point of Mindy and Buttons is a commentary on the form. Maybe they want people to be uncomfortable with the abuse humor. It wouldn't make me like the cartoons more, but it would make me more interested. Then, at the end of one episode that had (early in the show) featured a typical Mindy and Buttons episode, after the credits they showed a woebegone Buttons in casts and bandages, looking straight out at the audience accusingly. For some reason, that was funny.
We received junk mail from the Post Office yesterday, a post card encouragement to use their "premium forwarding service" on those occasions when we're out of town.
There is a dumb Cathy Guisewite comic strip on one side, and on the other a single panel that might be Guisewite as well; it's "drawn" in her "style". The single panel is titled "Vacation Mail", and shows two in-boxes, labeled "Hers" and "His". "Hers" is stuffed full of items, mostly catalogs and magazines; they are labeled with words like "Sale", "Gossip", and "Shop". "His" is a few neat letter-sized envelopes, labeled "Bills".
An unusual number of Peanuts characters started as babies. I remembered the babyhood of Linus and Sally, but I had forgotten that Lucy and Schroeder began as babies. Lucy talks in a childish syntax in several early strips, including referring to herself in the third person; the others pretty much pass from babyhood to adult talk directly.
Snoopy changes more than any other character (though Charlie Brown changes significantly as well). In the early strips he walks on all fours and has no thought balloons. He also doesn't belong to anybody.
Charlie Brown has more power in the early strips. The beginnings of the loser Charlie Brown character are there in the early strips -- there are many jokes about him being disliked, including the famous very first strip ("Good ol' Charlie Brown! . . . How I hate him."), and his losing thousands of consecutive games of checkers to Lucy presages his suffering at baseball -- but there are as many in which he is liked (one of the most persistent comic riffs in early Peanuts is the extreme changeability of childish affections). There are many jokes at Charlie Brown's expense, but he gets off many good lines at the expense of others, including a whole series of gags in which he pisses off Patty (the early Patty, of course) and is chased by her while he laughs some line ("I do have my fun!"). There are also a series of strips in which Charlie Brown is tiresomely opinionated in an adult way, of which my favorite is one that will be entertaining to most science fiction or comics fans:
Violet: This poem, "Three Blind Mice," is the best I've ever read. Gee, I enjoyed it...
Charlie Brown: I've heard about it... Animal poems drive me crazy! I don't believe in them... How can people read that sort of thing? To me it's just a waste of time! Life is too short, and this old world is too full of trouble, and.... [Violet wanders off]
One of the odd things about the early strips is that the later characters are much more vividly delineated, so the early strips are mostly about gags and less about character. Charlie Brown's character starts to firm up around the time that Lucy enters the strip. Snoopy's personality doesn't really emerge for years. Patty and Violet have some distinguishing characteristics, but none of importance; most gags with one of them could easily have the other instead (and indeed many have both). Shermy has no significant character at all. It's no surprise that of the first five characters, only Charlie Brown and Snoopy remained of importance to the strip.
For my birthday, my parents gave me the first boxed set -- the first two books -- of The Complete Peanuts, eventually to comprise 25 volumes.
I've been overflowing with thoughts about these strips, and I'm going to have to break it up into several posts. The first observation: Wow, Fantagraphics has done a magnificent job on these books. They have gorgeous dustjackets, and the book covers are covered with cartoon figures: the first volume is all Charlie Brown, the second one all Lucy. There are introductions by Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite, and an excellent lengthy interview with Schulz from The Comics Journal.
Best of all, though, are the indices, which feature not just appearances of the characters but of countless gags and features important to the strip, and it's a revelation just how many of them there are, how many things we associate with Peanuts. Just from the first two volumes, index entries include first appearances of "blockhead", the bust of Beethoven, the security blanket, "good grief", checkers, coconut (distastefulness of), "fussbudget", kite-flying, "wishy-washy", mud pies, etc.
Golf is as important to the early Peanuts strips as baseball.
Did you know that Lucy wasn't the first to pull the football away from Charlie Brown? It was Violet.