Saturday, February 27, 2016

An early screwball gem from Tex Avery

It's February 26th again, a day inwhich if Tex Avery had drank some kind of 'immortal live-for-ever juice' he would be celebrating his 108th birthday.  So, like I try to do every year around this time, I will once again reiterate how much of a genius Tex really was.  For this post I will do that by giving my impression of one of the first black & white Porky Pig cartoons Tex did: The Blow Out

But first I'll start with a very general definition of the screwball comedy.  Quite often the stories involve two or more impossibly ambitious characters whose individual ambitious pursuits interfere with each other.  The friction between the characters is heightened by their own rigid dedication to those pursuits and are thus blind to most anything else around them.  This causes many of them to jump to hasty conclusions based on their own quick observations and act immediately on those conclusions thus adding more chaos to the conflict.  Whether the ambitions are selfish or noble, whether the pursuits are of romance, money, glory, or even just their own safety, all screwball comedies have those same elements.

Of course, the undisputed champion of the screwball comedy is Mack Sennett:

He brought that genre almost to perfection more than 100 years ago with Charlie Chaplin coming along  bringing it to full perfection.

Tex Avery's The Blow Out is a great example of the screwball genre easily up there with anything Mack Sennet, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase, The Three Stooges or anyone else has ever done.

The cartoon starts with a newspaper headline introducing the first ambitious character.

His goal is to terrorize the city with his massive amounts of timed explosives.

It's a very lofty and vainglorious goal to say the least.

Next we are introduced to Porky Pig depicted here as a young innocent child.  His big ambition is to get an ice cream soda.

He's very excited to see that he has 5 whole pennies.  However, each ice cream soda costs 10 pennies.

At first Porky is distraught that he can't afford that thing he craves.

But when he picks up a cane for a kindly gentleman...

...he is then rewarded with a shiny new penny.

This action reinvigorates Porky's ambitiousness.  From this point on he takes every opportunity he can find to pick something up for someone in the hopes of receiving a penny in return.

So now the two characters are fully introduced with their own ambitions established.  As you can see, one ambition (Porky's) is small, noble, and innocent whist the other (the terrorist's) is grandiose, sinister, and malicious.  How this two characters will intersect in a screwball way will unfold quite soon.
But first I'd like to give a little background information about what inspired the terrorist character in this cartoon.  Since the big Communist revolution that encompassed Russia in 1917, there were bomb threats from communist anarchists all over the world.  By the 1930's, there were even threats of that nature in the USA.  So the bomb-wielding anarchist in this cartoon is not just some abstract concoction,  he was a direct spoof of a real threat to civilization.  That just shows how outrageous and daring Tex Avery and everyone at Termite Terrace was willing to be.  They even included a spoof of that threat in one of their Christmas gag reels.

The guy holding the bomb is an animator with the last name of Ignatiev I believe, here having fun making sport of his own ethnicity.  I'm not 100% sure of his identity.  If someone could help me out that would be great.

Now back to The Blow Out so you can see how their ambitions clash.  The terrorist starts to carry out his plan by planting the biggest bomb he's ever made at the steps of an important building.

Porky just happens to walk by and see this object.

Remember that Porky knows nothing about this anarchist's intentions.  All he cares about is earning enough money to get that ice cream soda.  So, to that end, Porky picks up the object and returns it to the terrorist hoping for a reward.

However, Porky is a little bit confused when the terrorist instead has more of a panicked reaction and of course no reward.

So, in true screwball tradition, Porky is relentless in his pursuit of his penny reward.  No matter where the terrorist runs to hide, Porky always shows up with the ticking bomb and politely waits for his gratuity.

They run through the street

There's Porky

He climbs a tall building

Porky's waiting for him at the top

and at the bottom

He tries to hide in a dark sewer

But Porky finds him in the darkness

He tries to trap Porky in the sewer

takes some time to address the audience through the 4th wall

Porky is willing to ride on the terrorist's coattails if necessary

The police spot him

He panics

and runs, all while Porky continues to hold on 

The cops even respect how Porky has "the nerve" to go after a villain like that

Porky even goes into the terrorist's hideout in order to achieve his goal.

This is the final straw for the terrorist as he wilfully gives himself up to the police.

But Porky is still not done.  So, he throws the bomb in the back of the paddy wagon FINALLY achieving his goal of returning the guy's property to him....

...and then politely waits for his penny.

KABOOM!!!  The villain is vanquished!

For his daring capture of this fiend, Porky receives a reward of $2000 (or 200,000 pennies).

And of course, we all know how Porky spends that money.

And that's The Blow Out, easily one of many of Tex Avery's underrated gems.

Like I've said here on this blog and in many other places, besides gags Tex Avery was also a genius at premises.  Really, gags are only as good as the premise they are in.  By themselves, gags can be nicely amusing but when placed within an ingenious premise they can easily be uplifted to many heights of hilarity.  I think that definitely happens in this case.  I love how Porky's innocent goal overpowers the terrorist's grand anarchistic goals just through sheer determination.  I can only hope to make something half as brilliant as this someday.

If you want to read more about this and other Tex Avery cartoons, I would recommend Frank Young's blog here.  He's been making posts about every cartoon Tex did at WB starting with Golddiggers of '49.  So far he's up to Land of the Midnight Fun but I'm sure there's much more posts to come.  Definitely check that out whenever you have time.

And do enjoy the full Blow Out cartoon embedded below.

Porky Pig - The Blow Out (B&W) by musicradio77

Monday, February 22, 2016

10th Anniversary Post

Looking through the archives of this little blog of mine I can see that my very first post on here was made on February 18, 2006.  So, that means that as of about today, this blog is now 10 years old.  Happy birthday, Bloggy!!!  In that time, my blog has been a showcase for my artwork, a place to plug the comic books I've created, my musings on any part of animation's history, and even sometimes as a soapbox for my unabashed opinions.  In that time, I also started my sister blog right here which I only use as an online soapbox.
I initially started this blog back then simply because I had heard that famed cartoonist John K. had just started one.  I had admired his work ever since I first saw Ren & Stimpy back around 1990 or '91 so I thought this would be a chance to express my appreciation for him in person.  I certainly did that.  I also had about 3 arguments with him, but if you've heard anything about his demeanour the you know that it's quite hard to NOT argue with him about anything.  Even his closest friends can attest to that.  In those early days, John's blog was always a beehive of fans giving their praise as well as non-fan trolls being irritants.  Some of his opinions on animation and society could really get the masses riled up on many occasions.  It was quite exhilarating to be a participant in all of that.
John doesn't update that blog of his as much anymore.  I suspect that's because he's finally found work. Conversely, with that drop in activity, so too I've found that the traffic for blogspot in general has dropped off somewhat.  But nonetheless I still find time to make posts here on my blog whenever I can.  Even though the traffic for this blog is at about a ghost town level I still like to update it whenever I can.  I feel an obligation to update because I still remember 2 trolls that attempted to silence me at some point.  My continued posting is in absolute defiance to them and any other haters lurking around.  But I also continue to blog for another reason that Nicole Arbor articulated when she answered a question of mine on one of her videos.  She said, "If I had 500,000 people mad at me and only 1 person that likes me, I would do it for that 1 person."  So that's what I'm doing here.  For that 1 person, whomever he or she may be in which ever country or territory on this planet, this post and this blog is for you.

Although I did notice that I got a huge amount of traffic from Russia back in January of this year.  I have no idea what could've caused that or what kept it going for the duration of January, but whoever the individuals were, thank you.  You could've left at least one comment though, maybe posted a borscht recipe or something.

The header at the top of this blog says "my art and anything else I like".  So, on this anniversary blogpost, I will now indulge in that very thing.  I intend to have lots of fun making sport of one of the stupidest online comics ever written and drawn.  Others have made fun of it elsewhere and now it's finally my turn.  It's the Adventures of Politically Incorrect Man by Alli Kirkham found on the web-site............. um......... Hooray for Estrogen or something like that.  Here is that comic in its entirety:

Yep, there is someone out there that thought making this was a good idea.  I won't be putting down the quality of the artwork here even though it is atrocious.  There are several comics, animated or otherwise, that do just fine with sub par artwork.  Dilbert's a good example.

Scott Adams would be the first to admit he's not tremendously skilled at drawing.  But at the very least the staging is still clear.  We can tell exactly what's going on and the dialogue flows naturally.  Not a trace of ambiguity.  In the PIC comic above there is much confusion.  In other people's criticism of it, they seem to be absolutely baffled by how the two opponents are even fighting each other.  Like this guy below:

I had to really examine the fight scene at the end myself to see what they were doing.  Eventually I figured out that PIC man is throwing things at the "Respectful" lady who is then deflecting them while she says her monologue.  When a reader sees your comic you have less than a second to grab their attention and present a scenario with your visuals.  If they have to squint and struggle for any length of time just to comprehend what's happening in a panel, they will get frustrated and bored and thus move on rather quickly.  When that happens, your audience is as good as gone.  The following panel is another example of poor staging:

No no no!  You can't just have a character say "you pushed me".  This is NOT ancient Greek theatre.  You can't just have actors describe the action in order to overcompensate for lack of ability to build elaborate sets or stage big action.  Show don't tell.  Comics are a visual medium with the ability to conjure up all sorts of fantastical environments where anything and everything is possible.  Don't just say it, DRAW IT!!!

Another major flaw I noticed is that the supposed menace of Politically Incorrect man doesn't seem all that menacing.  As you can see below, all he does is fly in and say stuff.

How is that a big threat in any way?  My guess is that this only feels threatening to anyone who actually equates words (most often found in critical tweets or facebook comments for example) to real physical violence.  If that were indeed the case, then why would someone such as Spiderman even bother to shoot webs or anything?  He could easily defeat his opponents like this:

OOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!! White-haired lady DESTROOOOOOOOOOOOOOYED!!!  Next Spiderman will defeat Dr. Octopus by saying some very mean things about Syrian refugees.

Now I have come to talking about the big elephant in the room that is my biggest objection to this comic,  which I'm certain would even be more than a little bit obvious to a blind hyena with a brain tumour in a cave on Mars and has been dead for 7 decades.   I am of course referring to the protagonist's attitude towards free speech.

I can't believe this needs to be explained at all but in this political climate it tragically must be done.  Look here:

That is the 1st Ammendment in the Constitution of the United States.  It states clearly its policies about keeping speech free.

This is from Canada's Bill of Rights.  It also lays the ground work for any laws about public speech in Canada.

The Council of Europe has a similar declaration.  These laws about free speech applies to every single country in Europe.

Here's what it says in Japan's constitution about free speech.  It is an absolute guarenteed right too.  You can find some iron clad law in every constitution of every free democratic nation on Earth.  Politically Incorrect Man has all of that on his side.  The only concepts that "Afro Lady" uses to combat PIC is "being rude" or "being a jerk".  Those are vague, nebulous ad hominums that mean different things to different people at different times.  There is no way that any concrete laws can be based on them.

She also condemns PIC Man for keeping these "rude" people free from consequences.  In her opinion, anyone who says "politically incorrect things" should fully receive all the consequences they deserve.  But, wait just a minute.  Just recently, noted 3rd wave feminist activist Anita Sarkeesian went to the actual United Nations begging for her to be able to post whatever opinion she wants WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES.  Another outspoken 3rd wave feminist type named Lena Dunham made a similar declaration.  She wants to be able to say anything she wants on Twitter without receiving any of the consequences and has even completely vacated Twitter until her demands are met.  So what exactly are you saying, Mx Cis Alli Kirkham?  Are you advocating the "consequences" for some speech but not for others?  That's rather anti-democratic I'd say.
 In fact,  here I fixed the comic's end so that it more adheres to what you're trying to accomplish:

Rat's all, folks!

You're welcome!

Now that that's done, I'd like to take Miss Kirkham to school once again.  This time I will show a comic of mine that I made many years ago.

You can find the full comic on this post right here.  Go ahead and put it through the same scrutiny I gave the PIC Man comic.  I triple dog dare everyone.  Comment on the artistry, the staging of the elements, the flow of the story, and the overall message.  I personally would say that my example is a better way to make a comic about "political correctness".

Well, that's my post.  It's been a fun 10 years.  I look forward to many many more.