Saturday, November 8, 2008

more Famous frivolity: "Blackie the Lamb" from Animal Comics 13, 1945

For Kelly, here's a Stanley-written example of the Blackie the Lamb feature.

Some animation history is required here. When the Fleischer Studios metamorphosed into Famous, they were still based in Miami. (Paramount essentially used their ownership of the Miami studio as grounds for evicting the Fleischer family from the business.)

At this time, in the wake of two so-so animated features, the studio had only two series--both licensed properties. Their Superman and Popeye cartoons were popular.

Popeye, still in black-and-white, was by far the better of the two series. We are fortunate to now have the entire run of black-and-white Fleischer/Famous Popeye cartoons released on legit DVDs. Look in your local entertainment store (preferrably a privately-owned one), or get 'em off Amazon.

The remnants of the Miami Fleischer studio were moved back to New York in 1943. Once back home, the heat was on for the studio to create original characters.

Their goal: to compete with the new wave of brassy, self-referential West Coast cartoon stars, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry and the Fox & the Crow.

A new Technicolor series was created to showcase these stars-in-the-making. The early Noveltoons are gorgeously animated, expertly timed cartoons.

None of their early characters had much staying power. They did last long enough to be licensed funnybook fodder. This is where John Stanley, Walt Kelly, and others enter the picture.

It would appear that these stories (at least, those that Stanley wrote) had involvement from actual Famous staffers. Thad K. noted that Fleischer/Famous animator Rube Grossman signed the "Hector the Henpecked Rooster" story I most recently featured here.

Thus, it's highly likely that the art for this "Blackie" story was done by a moonlighting Famous animator. For comparison's sake, here are three frames from the first Blackie cartoon, No Mutton For Nuttin' (1943).

The characters in this story stay completely on-model to these 1943 screenshots. I would like to nominate either Grossman or Bill Hudson for the art credit on this story.

The penmanship in the story's lettering is quite similiar to that of a 1943 Famous model sheet, drawn by Bill Hudson and found on page 308 of Leonard Maltin's animation history Of Mice and Magic. It's known that other Famous staffers worked on comic-book stories in the 1940s, so my guess could be completely wrong.

Transparent a Bugs clone as Blackie was, he and the other early Famous characters did translate well to the funnybook page. This story benefits from wry, amusing dialogue.

Wolfie indulges in some "Tubby Talk" at the story's pathetic start, wherein he tries to eat a mop head, with the aid of some spaghetti sauce.

The story takes one absurd detour after another, and builds its morbid amusement entirely from strong characterizations. Stanley takes these characters much farther than the Famous cartoons ever did.

Of course, he had more dialogue at his disposal, and less expectation to provide the largely visual gags that fuel the animated cartoons. All the chatter in this story would be deadly on the silver screen. It works just fine on the poorly printed page.

Blackie the Lamb actually outlived the Animal Comics series, albeit by a matter of months. The next wave of Famous "stars" would exist outside of Dell's orbit. We are, perhaps, fortunate that there are not Herman and Katnip comics by John Stanley, nor Little Audreys by Walt Kelly.


Duck Dodgers said...

Thanks a million!

Unknown said...

Those little saps!!

Eric said...

Thanks for the commentary on this one, the context is fascinating. Animal Comics in general is just a weird book; other than Pogo and Uncle Wiggily it changed direction every few months. So any more info on what was going on with the book is very welcome.