Search For Treasures

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jack Davis: World's Greatest Cartoonist

Jack Davis is a fantastic cartoonist who is an inspiration to all cartoonists who have come after him, especially those who work at MAD Magazine. His influence can be seen in the above illustration is done by Tom Richmond, a caricaturist in the same vein as Davis and Mort Drucker. The use of thick lines to define form and cross-hatching to define mass and shadow is definitely a Jack Davis trait. If used correctly, it is absolutely stunning to look at. You can also see his influence on R. Crumb, with his caricatured looking people with cross-hatched shadows.

A big part of what I love about his work is that it's full of personality and life. The drawings suggest constant movement and emotion. The exaggeration of movement and expression gives the stories he draws an extra dimension of appeal. Al Feldstein is quoted as saying, "He gave a lighter touch to some pretty grisly stories."

His drawing style could be very well adapted for animated cartoons, whether it'd be for a more dramatic feature or a wild, laugh-out comedy.

Last, but not least, is his mastery of watercolors. All of the colors in the above image are so well blended, and no primary or secondary colors. If only modern designers could recognize the use of these type of colors. I hope to find these comic books so I can study his work and improve my own. Jack Davis, thank you for all of the wonderful things you've drawn. We are much obliged.

See You Later

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bakshi Needs Our Help

Would you like to see some ACTUAL ADULT Animation?

Do you want to see this beloved artform rise from the ashes of mediocrity?

To start it, Bakshi must be able to complete his latest film, "The Last Days of Coney Island". His budgets were all used up and he needs more money.

This might just happen if we buy Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. The sales of this upcoming book might just convince someobody to give Bakshi some money to finish what he started.

Until Next Time

Merry Christmas to All

Merry Christmas!

Santa brought me what I wanted, how about you?

See You Later!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bakshi Review: The TV Years

While a lot of attention is paid towards Bakshi's film work (as people should), people forget the wonderful work that he has done for television over the past forty years. I am here to give my review of each television show he has done.

The Mighty Heroes (1966)

Description: The misadventures of five superheroes against such fiendish villains as The Junker, The Monsterizer, and The Plastic Blaster. Bakshi's first TV cartoon. Produced by Terrytoons for CBS. Five episodes are available on YouTube.

Review: A good cartoon. It is very lively with great poses and cool character designs. However, most of the gags come from the heroes bumping into each other and apologizing to each other. One of the coolest things Terrytoons ever put out, which isn't saying much.

The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse (1987)

Description: The further advntures of the famous Terrytoons character. Produced by Bakshi Animation for CBS. Bakshi was just the producer. Most of the hands-on stuff was done by John Kricfalusi and crack team of hilarious cartoonists. This was seen as the beginning of the "Renaissance of Animation". Cancelled for accusations of inappropriate material (Mighty Mouse supposedly sniffing cocaine). Nine episodes are available on YouTube.

Review: Hilarious animation. Tamer than John K.'s later work, but just as funny. Full of cool cameos by other Terrytoons characters like Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, Hashimoto-San, Deputy Dawg etc. Awesome cartoon in general.

Christmas in Tattertown (1988)

Description: A human girl finds herself in a place called Tattertown looking for her lost doll, Muffet, who has become a despot. Produced by Bakshi animation for Nickelodeon.

Review: I've actually never seen this, but Mr. Bakshi has acquired the rights to this and has confirmed that there will be a DVD release.

The Butter Battle Book (1989)

Description: Two countries try to one up each other by building ever more powerful weapons. Dr. Seuss' satire of the Cold War. Produced by Bakshi Animation for Nickelodeon.

Review: Very faithful adaptation, but not all that great animation. Very limited animation.

Malcolm & Melvin/Babe! He Calls Me (1997)
Description: The adventure of a nerd named Melvin and his friend, a cockroach named Malcolm. Both achieve fame when Malcolm plays trumpet inside Melvin's mouth. However, they have to watch out for Batlaw, a superhero trying to wipe out perversity in the city. Produced, written, and directed by Bakshi for Cartoon Network. Both cartoons are available on YouTube.

Review: Excellent cartoons. Babe! He Calls Me has a more structured narrative. Both are wonderfully animated and have great voice work, including Bakshi as Batlaw.

Spicy City (1997)

Description: A sci-fi show set in a futuristic world known as Spicy City. Each episode is introduced by a host named Raven, a beautiful woman voiced by Michelle Phillips (The Mamas & The Papas). Each episode is a morality tale, full of crooked cops, weirdos, hookers, and other unlikeables. Produced by Bakshi for HBO. All six episodes are available on YouTube.

Review: Excellent show with great character designs, fabulous music, and fantastic stories. The stories are a mixture of Blade Runner, Sin City, and the classic EC Comics. This is an all around success. A shame they cancelled it.

Final Grade: 8.5 out of 10

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bakshi Review: Cool World (1992)

Plot: An underground cartoonist, recently released from jail, is seduced by his own creation. However, sex between noids (humans) and doodles (cartoons) is strictly forbidden. When they do have sex, the girl becomes real and all hell breaks loose. This was Bakshi's last completed film.

Virtues: This film is filled with creativity and wonderful art that almost makes up for its low budget. The backgrounds by Barry Jackson add a nightmarish feeling to the film. This is not the kind of Toontown that you'll find at Disneyland. The characters here are much like other Bakshi film stars: everybody is a complete asshole. The only difference in Cool World is that there are actual good guys, people with heroic attributes. The character designs are excellent, done by great cartoonist Milton Knight. The characters look like they popped out of an old Fleischers or Terrytoons short. The voice actors do terrific jobs with their characters, especially Charlie Adler as Nails the Spider. The animation of the doodles is excellent. It's very cartoony.

Vices: Where to start. Let's start with the actors. The live-action people were horribly miscast. Kim Basinger was not meant to play the kind of woman that Holli Would is. Bakshi said he would have preferred to have had Drew Barrymore play the part. By the way, Kim Basinger is not that attractive as a noid. Also, Brad Pitt was too young to play the kind of grisled detective he played. Maybe if he redid the role today it would be better. Also, as cartoony as the animation is, it's also just pure chaos like the old Terrytoons. Nothing ever stops and there's no structure to it. The plot is so full of holes that you could market it as a new type of cheese. Lastly, the mixture of live-action and animation is not that convincing. It doesn't feel like they're touching.

Best Scene: The ending, where Detective Harris (Brad Pitt) is revived as a doodle and is reunited with his love, fellow doodle Lonette. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a happy ending.

Final Grade: 5.5 out of 10

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Bakshi Review: Fire and Ice (1983)

Plot: The evil Queen Juliana and her son, the sorcerer Nekron, sends forth their glaciers and force humanity to retreat southward. As a way to coerce surrender, Queen Juliana captures the Lord of the Firekeeps daughter Teegra. Now Larn, a survivor of the glaciers, and the warrior Darkwolf must rescue her and stop Juliana.

Virtues: This is the film that has the best use of rotoscope of all of Bakshi's films. They try for more emotion. It makes for better performance and stronger characters. There is fantastic background, based on Frank Frazetta's fantastic work. It suggests a real prehistoric world. The characters also look like they've come out of a Frazetta painting. The story also adds to that feeling seeing as how it was written by legendary comic book scribes Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. Also, Teegra was HOT! (Hey, I'm an 18 year old guy)

Vices: The film doesn't seem to have the same energy or personality as Bakshi's other films. I know I complain about his films' lack of story structure, but Will Finn mentioned to me about how it was just Bakshi's attempt to get rugged personality into his films. There wasn't as much as that in here. Also, rotoscope is nothing compared to that beautiful full animation used in his earlier films like Hey Good Lookin', Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin.

Best Scene: The battle scenes. Those grotesque monsters were way cool.

Final Grade: 7.0 out of 10

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bakshi Review: American Pop (1981)

Plot: The story of four generations of a Russian-Jewish family and their legacy of Music. Taking place from the 1890's to the 1980's, it sets the characters against the changing popular culture of America, starting with vaudeville and ending with the punk movement.

Virtues: A masterfully artistic art. There are background paintings by Barry Jackson and Louise Zingarelli that are absolutely beautiful. It has a Edward Hopper feel to it, very reminiscent of the Ashcan School of Painting. In one scene, where Pete is selling cocaine to people, Barry Jackson (I assume) did some backgrounds that satirized the punk movement. Besides the art, it has a fantastic story behind. There is a sense of tragedy of how the first three generations are so close to fame, but are tragically struck down in their prime. Zalmie (first generation) has his vocal chords sot out by biplanes. Benny (second generation) is killed by a German in WWII. Tony (third generation) is strung out after the sixties due to the death of his group's lead singer (a mixture of Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin) who is also his lover. At the end, there is a sense of fulfillment when Pete (fourth generation) becomes famous.

Vices: Like The Lord of the Rings, the use of rotoscope in American Pop really limits the emotional performance of the characters. I would have preferred it if they had used the more cartoony/expressionistic art of Barry Jackson or Louise Zingarelli, like the art used in the opening credits. Actually, I would have liked to have seen Mort Drucker-like character design. It would have added more appeal and life into the characters.

Best Scene: The scene where Pete shows off his songs to the record producers. He plays them "Night Moves" by Bob Seger and then it gets really trippy.

Grade: 8.0 out of 10

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bakshi Review: Hey Good Lookin' (1982)

Plot: In 1950's Brooklyn, two members of a gang called The Stompers named Vinnie and Crazy Shapiro roam around town hanging with their ladies Roz and Eva and getting into rumbles with their rival gang, The Black Chaplins.

Virtues: To me, this is one of Bakshi's best. This is a return to the cartoony style of Bakshi's early films. However, this goes one better because of the great character designs by David Jonas (who designed the main characters) and Louise Zingarelli (one of Bakshi's best artists who designed the side characters) . Every character is distinct in their looks and movement. Their is also some fantastic animation throughout the film. In particular, the scene where we first meet Roz is great. It has a great homage to Tex Avery's Red cartoons. The story behind the animation is also one of Bakshi's best. It flows from scene to scene like a river. Also, the character add to the story. I cannot think of one character who detracts from the entertainment value of this film. However, the greatest character in this movie has to be Crazy Shapiro. Wonderfully played by David Proval (Peace in Wizards), this character definitely lives up to his name.

Vices: What the hell is the talking garbage can doing in this movie? The only other problem is a big one that the film hinges on. I wasn't convinced by the love story. I don't know why Roz fell in love with a lug like Vinnie. However, I did actually feel a love vibe coming from Roz. Vinnie, not so much. The animation didn't support the idea, not until the end, when Roz and Vinnie are reunited nearly 30 years later. However, there's a lot more going on in the film that tries to make up that fact. My final point is that the film switches tone, often too fast for it to feel natural. Heavy Traffic had a more consistent feel to it. However, still highly entertaining, which counts for a lot here.

Best Scene: When Crazy Shapiro and Vinnie wake up on the beach and find they woke up near some showering wives of Italian mobsters. Crazy Shapiro fighting those mobsters and actually winning is hilarious.

Final Grade: 9.0 out of 10

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bakshi Review: The Lord of the Rings (1978)

Plot: A fellowship of nine must lead a young Hobbit named Frodo Baggins to the land of Mordor to destroy the One Ring created by Sauron before his armies get a hold of it. Originally meant as the first of three films, the project was cut down to two films until the whole operation was scrapped entirely after the first film was completed.

Virtues: There is a stronger story in this one, mainly because Bakshi didn't write the script. The film also has to follow the guidelines of the original Tolkien novels. The artwork adds an aura of darkness and despair to the imagery of the movie. Everything looks like they added black to the original colors. The animation in this movie is good in parts, adding some emotion to the performances, but either than that, nothing really stands out.

Vices: While there is good animation in some parts, the intense use of rotoscope limits the scope of the performances. Besides that, the use of rotoscope doesn't make for good special effects. The Ringwraiths and the Balrog are not really terrifying. The other characters look kind of bland. I've seen some of the original storyboards by David Jonas, and I would have liked to have seen that style animated. This may be a little bias since I saw Peter Jackson's version before I saw Bakshi's version and Bakshi had a shorter schedule than Jackson did. However, I do have to say the story moves a bit slowly and doesn't quite have the grab that the original story has. It's an ambitious, yet ultimately failed experiment.

Final Grade: 6.0 out of 10

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bakshi Review: Wizards (1977)

Plot: Two wizard brothers, one good and one evil, fight for supremacy over the world. One uses nature, the other technology. The good broher, Avatar, must defeat his brother, Blackwolf, along with his companions: Weehawk, an elfin warrior, Elinore, the warrior princess and Peace, a reformed assassin.

Virtues: I like the aura of this movie. It has a darker feel about it, and this was Bakshi's family movie. It feels like a science-fiction/fantasy comic book, but more like the underground works like Slow Death Funnies or any of Wally Wood's independent work. The character designs are both appealing and cartoonish. It's like a mixture of Vaughn Bode and Wally Wood. Along with that, the rest of the artwork in the movie is first rate, particularly the background work of Ian Miller (he designed the backgrounds for Scorch) and Mike Ploog (he made the drawings that told the prologue of the movie). One of the coolest things about this movie is the rotoscoping used for the battle scenes. It adds an ominous feeling to the feeling, seeing these faceless ghouls coming towards our heroes. It adds excitement to the adventure.

Vices: Story does Bakshi in again. he has so many ideas that he wants to explore in this movie, like over-dependence on technology to the plight of Jewish and their search for a homeland. Unfortunately, he has no way of organizing them all. It would have been better if he had taken one theme and dealt with that by itself. It may have made the movie a little easier to comprehend. The film was filled with moments that added nothing to the movie, such as when Weehawk is fighting something in the darkness of the mountain fairies' cave. Also, the love story of Avatar and Elinore is never established or explored in this movie. Not to mention there are a few plot threads that go nowhere at all 80 minutes is just not quite enough time to tell the story that Bakshi wanted to tell. Then again, this was meant to be the first of a trilogy, but it still feels incomplete as a starter film. In spite of that, I still enjoyed it.

Best scene: The scene where Blackwolf first shows his uncovered propaganda films to his goons and soldiers. The animation by Brenda Banks is both crazy and quite eerie at the same time with the music added. You can obviously see that these goons were out of their bloody minds.

Overall Grade: 7.5 out of 10

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bakshi Review: Coonskin (1975)

Plot: While planning to escape from prison, a young man is told the updated version of the classic "Uncle Remus" meant for the seventies. Heavy use of satire to blast away through stereotypes.

Virtues: This film has the funniest and most blistering satire in all of Bakshi's films. Like the rest of Ralph Bakshi's ventures, it has an element of truth about humanity in it. It shows mankind as a group of swindlers, pushers, and prejudiced morons (not that far off from reality). It has a cast of strong characters. Brother Rabbit is a clever, manipulative mastermind. Preacher Fox is the false preacher, full of false piety all the while ready to make a few good bucks. Brother Bear is the everyman, the average black man who simply wants to live his life. It has beautiful animation attached to some wonderfully poignant and hilarious scenes. A highlight is a scene by Mark Kausler where a cockroach leaves a woman he loves because he can't support her. This was meant as a tribute to the archy and mehitabel stories, illustrated by Creole cartoonist George Herriman. It was also drawn in Herriman's style. The use of live-action backgrounds give authenticity to the urban feel of the film. The story is now more connected, centered around the three characters adjusting to the city and finally taking out the Godfather. What some have deemed as racist about this movie are indeed its strongest. it forces everybody who views it to confront the ugly stereotypical imagery of America's past head on. It uses the weapon of caricature, one of the tools of animation, as a satirical weapon with a savage bite.

Vices: While this film has a more connected story, it still has a disjointed feeling about it. It tries too hard to focus on all three main characters. In some parts, it feels like Bakshi should have stuck to one character and have the film revolve around him. Also, the live-action scenes don't really add anything to the movie. The ending is very confusing and should have been told with more clarity.

Best Scene: There are so many good scenes throughout this movie, it's hard to choose just one.

Overall Grade: 9.0 out of 10

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bakshi Review: Heavy Traffic (1973)

Plot: The adventures of 24 year old virgin living with his warring parents. He meets all sorts of pimps, pushers, mafiosos, and other assorted colorful characters along the way.

Virtues: This film has a very personal, if fragmented, story. Some will say that it's about Ralph Bakshi's life in the city. I am going to say it's probably based off of many people's experiences, but I digress. There are very funny and poignant scenes, one scene involving Michael's mother Ida reminiscing about her lost youth. Along with that, there are wonderful pieces of character animation, like the animation of Snowflake. Every perverse thought that crosses his mind is simultaneously shown on his face and body language. It is a blatantly honest film about life in the city, complete with gays and mafia men. It doesn't hide anything (every person has a dark side). No film of recent time has had this kind of naked honesty. perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay this film is that it is unashamedly animated. What I mean by that is the film takes advantage of what can only be done in animation. It uses caricature and surreal imagery to show a character's state of mind. It caricatures life , not emulate it. I liken this to a James Gillray etching ints grotesque honesty. It's too bad not many other films have followed his example.

Vices: The fragmented often leaves one very confused on where the film is actually going. It takes several viewings to understand the actions and plot. There is also the annoying philosophical references to pinball and arcade games that make no sense. It's like Bakshi is trying to convey his thoughts, but really doesn't know how. The violence in this film almost tops Fritz the Cat. In a crazy psychedelic sequence, you can see Ida chopping off her husband's manhood (all three of them). Then, there are the times when Ida's breast falls out of her nightgown, and we really don't need to see that.

Best scene: Any scene with Angie and Ida combined in it. They are both hilarious and kind of scary when these two whackjobs go at it. I particularly like the scene when Ida tries to kill Angie by putting his head in their gas oven. These two play off so well together. It's like Al and Peg Bundy but to another level.

Overall Grade: 8.5 out of 10

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Bakshi Review: Fritz the Cat (1972)

Here is my review of the very first animated film to be rated X and the first feature film done by Ralph Bakshi. I'm not very good at this, so bear with me.

Plot: From New York City to the American Desert, a young college-age (also known back then as draft-age) cat named Fritz gets himself caught up in the politics and free love so prevalent of the 1960's.

Virtues: The satire in this film is one of the most biting in all of Bakshi's films. You just have to look at the early scenes with Fritz and the college girls and you understand the feel of the entire movie. It's one of the best satires of the 60's flower-children. Also, the characters in this movie are so very human. They show the dark underbelly of humanity (albeit in anthropomorphized animal form). There is no real villain in this movie, because everybody is an unbearable asshole, from the pig cops to the main character. Also, the animation is quite good. It's nice and cartoony, and it feels honest, if you can understand that.

Vices: For every ying, there is a yang. While the characters are very human, that's the reason there is nobody to root for. By the end of the movie, I wanted to strangle Fritz with my bare hands for how he treated his girlfriend and everybody else. He had a complete disregard for everyone's life. Besides that, there was an overabundance of over-the-top violence in his movie, especially towards the girlfriend of the heroin-addicted Neo-Nazi rabbit, a voluptuous horse-girl in the R. Crumb tradition. I felt it was all a little overdone, but the violence was very true to the sixties, so I'll leave it up to the individual viewer. A really big problem with this movie is the occasionally poor juxtaposition of sound and image. What I mean is the musical score and the animation don't always match. For example, the horse-girl is about to be savagely raped by the revolutionary terrorist group (which her boyfriend is a part of) and the music starts to build toward that moment, but the animation slows the momentum down because the characters just stop in mid-frame.

Best Scene in the Film: Any scene with Duke the Crow. A good example of race relations in the sixties. In reality, a lot of black people were not that friendly with the hippies. I think it had to do with the fact that the flower children made the cost of rent go up, and maybe the fact that the blacks thought hippies attracted a lot of bad people (drug dealers etc.). To me, he was one of the true voices of sanity in the movie. When Fritz is trying to start the riot (while very stoned), Duke tries to calm the crowd down, knowing that a riot will not help anything. It was just too bad that he got killed.

Overall grade: 7.5 out of 10

Well, That's All Folks

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Ralph Bakshi: King of Adult Cartoons

I have nothing but respect for Ralph Bakshi ("The Man " as he is called on his website) and the work that he has done. I think that he has made some wonderful films, but none of them are perfect. However, perfection is an illusion and an unattainable ideal, so we must take them as they are. I'm not going to cover any of his live-action films (mostly because I haven't seen any of his live-action works).

His animated films have to me always felt honest and that they were a part of him (except Cool World, but that's a different story). However, with that honesty comes a sense of incoherent storytelling (some call it stream of consciousness). You can definitely see this in Heavy Traffic, where some events seem to happen for no reason.

However, I love the animation in his films. He had great stuff from Irv Spence, Brenda Banks, Virgil Ross, John Gentilella, and others.

My list of best to worst of his films are:

1. Hey Good Lookin'

2. Wizards

3. Coonskin

4. Heavy Traffic

5. American Pop

6. Fritz the Cat

7. Fire & Ice

8. Cool World

9. The Lord of the Rings

All of these films have fantastic artwork by great artists like Johnny Vita, Barry Jackson, Louise Zingarelli (she's one of the best artists I've ever seen) and Milton Knight. He always took great advantage of the artists he had. He didn't let their work go to waste.

I will cover his TV work in another post, and later will do a review for each of his animated films.

See you next time,
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