Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fine art and cartoons


If 'Gertie The Dinosaur' (1914, McCay's second film) wasn't the first personality animation it was a milestone in it's development.

Last week the academy made an announcement that further defined exactly what constitutes an animated feature. Reading some of the replies it occurred to me that another debate, what exactly is a cartoon, is still raging today after over 100 years of the comic strip and 99 years after McCay first released his pioneering animation Little Nemo! I don't have the answer but I thought I'd transcribe the first half of McCay's letter to cartoonist Clare Briggs from 1926. Most of you probably already have this on your book shelf somewhere but it's a great early insight to the issue ...

Letter From Winsor McCay to Clare Briggs: 1926

The greatest contributing factor to my success was an absolute craving to draw pictures all the time. This was in me-I did not decide that I would draw pictures anywhere and at any time. I didn't say to myself, "I must keep in practice or I must improve my drawing." I just couldn't stop drawing anything and everything. I did not do this just to amuse someone else or show how good I could draw. I drew alone to please myself. I never cared at all whether anyone else liked my drawing, nor did I get discouraged when I made a bad one. I never saved my drawings. I would give them away to anyone who wanted them or I would throw them away. I drew on fences, blackboards in school, old scraps of paper, slates, sides of barns-I just could not stop-like a whistling boy. As I said before, this was not a set plan to be a great artist. I had no ambition to be anything-I drew to amuse myself, like the harmonica playing kid I used to know who is now a great musical director and arranger. I do not think I had any more talent for drawing than other kids had, but I think it was the interest I had in making them that brought out what perfection I have. I am just as interested today in drawing as I was when I was a kid-and that is some time back-but much as it might surprise those who know me, I never thought in my whole life of what I was going to be paid for the drawings I was making. I just drew and drew, the pay came automatically. I would never be where I am if I had not kept drawing all of the time, no matter how much talent I might have had.

Clare Briggs Old Gold ad from 1927. "Hasn't a cough in a carload" - now that's the kind of scientific research I can get behind! Click to enlarge.

McCay answers the age old question - which is better: skating or booze?
I never realized there were two different cuts of 'Little Nemo' (1911). As those who have seen it will know, the first half of the film consists of McCay demonstrating how he draws the Little Nemo characters (Impie, Nemo and Flip) with the second half consisting of the animation. The Cinematheque Quebecoise version (which was most recently issued on the 'Winsor McCay: Master Edition' DVD is missing the scene below wherein McCay is seen quickly thumb nailing the characters in charcoal at large scale. This is the Blackhawk version which is available on the Kino disc "Landmarks of Early Cinema".





The importance of an art education should be important, of course, but you cannot educate a man in music and make him a great composer unless he has the feeling of of music in him. If a man or a woman have no artistic feeling within, all the art education in the world will not make artists out of either of them, but they might be better artists than a cartoonist would be who had been educated in cartooning but had no humor in him. A cartoonist must act his characters. He must feel within him the characters he draws. He cannot draw a man laughing unless he laughs himself. He cannot draw an angry man unless he is angry himself. By this I mean he must feel the way clear to his fingertips just as the figure he is making is depicted. A man might go out and paint a beautiful landscape or a beautiful picture of the human figure, but he is copying nature. Men who paint or draw from life-roses, skies, objects of this and that, still life etc.-are merely copying what they see. They are called artists. The cartoonist must create, he must seein his mind a situation, maybe full of life and comedy, maybe still of dramatic or tragic. He must draw it with all the feeling he has in him-without models or other aids artists call to hand.


The Blackhawk version also differs from the Quebecoise version in what's missing. Namely all the footage between these two frames - including the dramatic truck in to the animation camera holding drawing 1. Another difference, of course, is that the Quebecoise version comes from a partially hand colored print whereas the Blackhawk version is totally B&W. On the other hand, the Blackhawk version has a bit more of Flip moving the cigar in his mouth immediately following 'Watch Me Move'. Maybe someday these two will get combined (and registered - a problem with the color section of the Quebecoise print) to give
us the full 'Little Nemo'.



I was too busy to do my usual 4th of July post. I even missed the Boston Pops which I never miss! Can't see how they could have topped Neil Diamond last year though. Oh, and click to enlarge this page from the 1945 Nemo reprint (originally published July 3, 1910)

This above page from the Fleischer Animated News addresses a similar issue as the McCay letter above. The responses are fascinating and I'm quite sure grist for lengthy debate. My opinion? These are all master entertainers. It's still interesting to think about the different contexts (letter to a young cartoonist/in-house newsletter), artistic mediums (comic strip/animation) as well as the difference in opinions. Click to enlarge.

Well, there you have it. I'd like to know if the original letter from Briggs to McCay still exists? I'd love to know it's contents! Stay tuned for part two. Okay, now clear out! We gotta squeeze in another five showings by 9! Don't make me take out 'Dutch Treat' again!

6 comments:

Kirk said...

Get off of my hand.

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

As soon as you stop kicking the back of my chair. BTW-what the hell are we talking about?

Kirk said...

Wasn't there an early McKay or Out of the Inkwell where a live action hand is drawing and a cartoon little boy is sitting on his hand, and the hand has written "Get off of my hand."-?

Anyway, thanks for these transcriptions of Windsor's relationship to drawing, - it's fortifying!-if I may call him Windsor.

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

I think you are thinking of Bobby Bumps. I'm glad you got something from McCay's letter. I don't ever hear it referenced when the much fractured 'what qualifies a cartoonist' or 'what is a cartoon' debate is raging. Strange, since McCay is pretty well the father of it all. Oddly, or perhaps not, Ray Harryhausen seems to share a similar outlook towards realism & stop motion animation. Just my opinion though.

Kirk said...

I particularly appreciate McCay's compulsion to draw, and refrain from distracting himself with qualitatives, or what drawing might bring him career wise, or anything which strays from the act itself.

Ran - Chan said...

The Characters look cute.i think they made a up to date movie of Little Nemo,But I think the Comic strip is more well known than the Japanese movie adaption.