Saturday, June 1, 2013

The art and animation of the McKimson Brothers...

I was tempted to title this blog entry 'Pay attention, I attention, son, This is a great book!!' but I decided against it basically because the title probably wouldn't appear completely in the blog listings and so I decided on the title you see above. This book, titled I Say, I Say...Son! looks at the animation/illustration careers of the McKimson brothers: Robert, Tom, and Chuck. Considering that the book's written by Robert McKimson, Jr. there's an understandable main focus on Robert Sr. and his life and times but it also covers the careers of Tom and Chuck, just as the book indicates. I purchased the hardcover book and I did this simply for posterity. Some may opt to purchase the on-line Kindle version for economical reasons or to simply receive the book faster than standard mail shipping. Whichever version you purchase is fine as long as you purchase it. It's one of those kind of books that I think will go out of print and be a rare find in months and years to come. The on-line version, who knows, may be around for eternity but the actual book won't be.

There are a few thorough reviews of this book already and so I'll by-pass re-writing what's already been said. Animation fans and cartoon fans will enjoy the book a whole lot. Anyone aspiring to be a cartoonist or work in the animation industry should purchase the book if only to grasp how far the industry has come since those earliest days and appreciate the technological advances that have come along. As others have mentioned, the book is chock full of illustrations and pictures of behind the scenes workers. There are several moments in the book where the story of the McKimson's is broken up between pages of illustrations. It can be a difficult read if you're not as familiar with these kind of books but the illustrated pages, as I noticed, have a light blue background and so if you look at the side of the book's pages you'll see how many blue pages to turn through before picking up where you left off reading...but, for me, I loved looking through the illustrated pages and I'd simply flip back to where I'd left off reading and then pick up reading once the images had ended.

One reviewer mentioned that the book comes across bitter but I didn't see it that way. In my way of thinking, being bitter means that you're holding a grudge or have a sour mood about whatever it may be. However, if one is familiar with the Warner Brothers cartoons and have some sort of knowledge about various erroneous credits over who created what or who designed what character, etc. etc. then you'll understand the reason for including, for example, images of copyright registrations showing Robert McKimson as the artist who came up with the physical appearance of the Bugs Bunny that we all know and recognize.

If you're familiar with the cartoons of Robert McKimson, or any of the McKimson brothers, but have a hard time finding anything about them on-line then this book is a definite must-have. As far as Chuck McKimson goes, his career as an animator and artist is tied in mostly with his brother's animation unit at Warner Brothers. If you look at any number of Robert McKimson cartoons you're bound to see Charles McKimson listed as one of the animators. The book features illustrations that Chuck did...especially a watercolor rendering of Miss Prissy. Among the pictures in the book is one of Robert and company examining what's referred to as a pencil test.

Chapter Six is titled 'Western Publishing' and it looks at the careers of both Tom and Chuck McKimson. While throughout the book you'll see illustrations credited to Tom and Chuck, as well as pictures of the two, it's mostly in Chapter Six where their individual contributions to animation and art is discussed. In this chapter it mentioned Tom's preference with illustrating comic books, coloring books, and other kinds of book-related media. The author relays the reasoning behind why Tom preferred book illustration to animation. Did you know that Tom and Chuck worked on the Roy Rogers comic books of the late '40s and early '50s? That is just one of the various bits of information found in the book.

The cover art, as you see, depicts a scene from any number of cartoons featuring Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk. What you don't see is the image on the back of the book. It's of the character simply known as Barnyard Dawg and he's in a very familiar pose. The full image is seen on pages 114 and 115. Foghorn was and continues to be one of my favorite characters. For many, many, MANY years I never knew the character's name. I only referred to him as "that big rooster". I was raised on the Warner cartoons that aired on TV throughout the 1980's and 1990's and as many already know the title cards would always be removed. Anyway, as I got older, I found out what a leghorn was after I saw the phrase 'Foghorn Leghorn' written in an issue of TV Guide. The name had appeared in connection with a Bugs Bunny holiday cartoon that was going to air. So, I made the connection that Foghorn Leghorn must mean "loud chicken".

In the late '90s I was listening to an AM radio station that aired a show called When Radio Was. The show, hosted by Stan Freberg, consisted of Stan introducing and giving some insight about old-time radio programs that were to be re-aired during the hour. I knew of Stan Freberg from a few Christmas comedy CD's that I owned featuring various artists, Stan being one of them, but I didn't exactly know his ties with cartoons and advertising, etc. etc. until several years later. I didn't know he was the voice of Pete Puma, the character that appears on Robert McKimson's cartoon "Rabbit's Kin", until sometime in the 2000's.

Anyway...that particular episode of When Radio Was featured a re-airing of a Fred Allen radio show. This one featured a segment known as Allen's Alley and it had a character in it named Senator Claghorn, played by Kenny Delmar. As soon as I heard Claghorn speak for the first time I assumed they'd patterned the character after "that big rooster" but I learned it was the other way around.

The author, on page 119, goes into detail about Foghorn's creation and it's inspiration. Notable characters from Robert McKimson include Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, Miss Prissy, and Barnyard Dawg. Yes, Robert McKimson created Speedy Gonzales and directed the character's debut cartoon, "Cat Tails For Two", in 1953. There's an image of the character in the book indicating that his creation happened in 1951 but didn't make it onto the big screen until 1953.

The character was re-designed by the Friz Freleng unit after that first appearance. The Speedy cartoons were non-exclusive. Whereas Robert pretty much had exclusive use of Foghorn Leghorn, both the Freleng and McKimson units issued Speedy cartoons throughout the late '50s and into the mid '60s.

Robert McKimson's cartoons, for the most part, have been overshadowed by the directorial masterpieces and achievements of his peers, which included Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones. This isn't to say McKimson never directed any masterpieces of his own. McKimson's cartoons are just as great and just as popular but most of them never achieved the kinds of lofty acclaim, in later decades, that his peers cartoons have. McKimson did a series of hilarious cartoons featuring a nameless cat and dog. Once you see the character's faces you'll remember the cartoons I'm referring to. In one cartoon, "Early To Bet", the cat is constantly trying to win a card game. A character referred to as the Gambling Bug bites the cat at various moments throughout the cartoon...sending the cat into a delirious state of gambling fever. The dog, meanwhile, always wins. This causes the cat to have to pay a penalty for losing. The hook of the cartoon, and others in the series, is the cat's wild and outlandish reactions every time he reads a penalty that's about to be inflicted on him. The nameless cat and dog appear in another McKimson cartoon titled "It's Hummer Time" which tells of a the cat's desire to capture an elusive hummingbird. The joke is that the bird, much like the gambling bug in the other cartoon, continually leads up to physical trouble for the cat at the hands of the dog. This particular cartoon ends with some ironic justice for the cat.

The book gives great detail about the natural artistic talents of Robert, Tom, and Chuck McKimson and it goes a long way at examining Robert McKimson's contributions to the Warner Brothers characters as he was, at one time, in charge of checking everyone's drawings...from all units! He had his hand in a lot of cartoons that don't credit him simply because there's never been a "Reviewed and checked by" screen credit. If there had been such a credit, based on the information in this book, Robert McKimson's name would appear on a lot of cartoons.

Robert McKimson passed away too young, at the age of 66, in September 1977. His death came just weeks before his 67th birthday. Tom McKimson passed away in February 1998 at the age of 90. Chuck McKimson passed away in April 1999 at the age of 84.

The book contains a foreword by John Kricfalusi and an introduction by Darrell Van Citters. As mentioned, the book is a must-have for cartoon fans and those interested in reading about the brother's McKimson from one that would certainly know the most- Robert McKimson, Jr.

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