A finely drawn history of a critical period in the history of animation.

WILD MINDS

THE ARTISTS AND RIVALRIES THAT INSPIRED THE GOLDEN AGE OF ANIMATION

Entertaining history of early cartoon animation.

Demonstrating impassioned research and technical know-how, Mitenbuler presents a series of historical anecdotes that, sequenced together, bring to life one of the world’s most beloved art forms. When Winsor McCay, creator of the “Little Nemo” comics, debuted his first moving drawings in 1911, he jolted an entire industry to its feet. During the next few decades, a network of feuding production studios emerged, each trying to one-up the other with their inventiveness and intellectual properties. It was a cutthroat business, often leaving animators at odds with their executives. Otto Messmer, for example, the artist behind Felix the Cat, was frequently overlooked while his producer, Pat Sullivan, basked in fame and merchandising success. A rivalry brewed between Walt Disney, whose new animation studio wowed audiences with shorts like the “The Skeleton Dance” (1929), and Max Fleischer, the man behind the Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons and inventor of technical marvels like the rotoscope. Mitenbuler chronicles the debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and the unusual production of Disney’s 1940 music-animation hybrid Fantasia while also giving ample time to the rambunctious crew behind Looney Tunes and the various hijinks on the Warner Brothers lot. The narrative crackles with captivating charm, adding color and nuance to a cast of familiar cartoon faces. The author is skilled at exploring historical context and tracks how most turns in the industry were reactionary, shifts in response to not just popular trends, but to labor politics, the Great Depression, and World War II. In the words of a Disney memo on his studio’s core philosophies, “we cannot do the fantastic things based on the real unless we first know the real.” Mitenbuler, too, proves adept at this tenet and, like a one-man animation department, effortlessly renders both celluloid and background.

A finely drawn history of a critical period in the history of animation.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2938-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

THE SECRET TO SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH

The acclaimed graphic memoirist returns to themes of self-discovery, this time through the lens of her love of fitness and exercise.

Some readers may expect Bechdel to be satisfied with her career. She was the 2014 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and her bestselling memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? both earned universally rave reviews, with the former inspiring a Broadway musical that won five Tony awards. But there she was, in her mid-50s, suffering from “a distinct sense of dread” and asking herself, “where had my creative joy gone?” Ultimately, she found what she was seeking, or at least expanded her search. In what she calls “the fitness book,” the author recounts, from her birth to the present, the exercise fads that have swept the nation for decades, from the guru-worship of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne through running, biking, hiking, “feminist martial arts,” yoga, and mountain climbing. “I have hared off after almost every new fitness fad to come down the pike for the last six decades,” she writes. Yet this book is about more than just exercise. Bechdel’s work always encompasses multiple interlocking themes, and here she delves into body image; her emerging gay consciousness; the connection between nature and inner meaning; how the transcendentalists were a version of the hippies a century earlier; and how her own pilgrimage is reminiscent of both Margaret Fuller and Jack Kerouac, whose stories become inextricably entwined in these pages with Bechdel’s. The author’s probing intelligence and self-deprecating humor continue to shimmer through her emotionally expressive drawings, but there is so much going on (familial, professional, romantic, cultural, spiritual) that it is easy to see how she became overwhelmed—and how she had to learn to accept the looming mortality that awaits us all. In the end, she decided to “stop struggling,” a decision that will relieve readers as well.

More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-544-38765-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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