Giant robots. Cat girls. Teenagers from outer space. Sexually charged (and sometimes naked) warrior women vying with over-the-top villains for control of the planet. Not the usual Disney or Hanna-Barbera fare found on Saturday morning TV. But for a niche of fans, these odd characters were the future of animation, even if they all spoke Japanese and called this peculiar style of animation "anime".
It's hard to imagine today a world in which instant communication and instant downloads did not exist. At the dawn of anime, Fred Patten and his fellow anime enthusiasts were limited to VHS tapes acquired by trade from their counterparts in the Japanese-American communities of Los Angeles and other large U.S. cities. But Fred, in particular, kept at it, and he also began to write about these uniquely Japanese cartoons.
In Funny Animals, Fred Patten shares the history of anime in America, from the primitive VHS tapes to the blockbuster movies, as he experienced it, and often as he made it happen. You'll read about the major anime series, the talented (and often eccentric) artists who created them, and their success—or failure— in America. Fred also looks at the anime industries in other countries, such as India.
But Funny Animals is not just about anime. As an animation historian, Fred's interests are far-ranging, and he devotes chapters to Walt Disney (and the poisonous myths that plague Walt's legacy to this day), the big money to be made from Olympic mascots, how Japan coped with nuclear war through anime, the relative merits of animated rats, and the things that animators should be animating—but aren't.
In Funny Animals and More, you'll read about:
And many more stories, anecdotes, and historical vignettes from the front lines of Japanese anime, American animation, and beyond. Even if you've never watched a moment of anime in your life, or have no idea what "funny animals" are all about, you'll enjoy Fred's charming, wide-ranging tales of animation past, present, and future.
Ready to put some funny animals in your life? Grab a copy of Funny Animals and More.
Foreword by Jerry Beck
Introduction by Fred Patten
Chapter 1: America Discovers Anime
How Home Video Created Anime Fandom
Anime Fandom in North America
Anime Fandom in North America, Part 2
The “Teenagers from Outer Space” Genre
The Many Programs of Go Nagai
More Giant Robots!
The “Real” Giant Robots
Chapter 2: Anime from 1990 to the Present
Magical Little Witches
Super Sentai Shows
The Game Influence
Those Fighting Virgins
Chapter 3: Other Japanese Animation
Lost in Translation
Osamu Tezuka and Atomcat
Anime Adaptations of American and British Lit
The Horrors of World War II
Chapter 4: Debunking the Myths
Crusader Rabbit and Walt Disney
Leon Schlesinger/Eddie Selzer and Balto
Chapter 5: Indian Animation
Chapter 6: The Animated Olympics Mascots
Chapter 7: Cartoons, Real and Suggested
Animals That Should Be Animated
Rats in Animation
“Reynard the Fox” in Animation
Zootopia and Other Animal Worlds
Chapter 8: Fred Patten Stories
Me & Animation
Sanrio and Me
Fred Patten has been a friend and colleague of mine for over 30 years, a respected comics and anime historian, and a significant part of the pioneering “first fandom” of comic book and animation enthusiasts, without whom today’s mega Comic Cons, comics shops, and Hollywood’s current comic-book fixation would probably not exist.
Fred Patten knows a thing or two about international comics, print cartoons, and animation. In fact, he knows more those subjects than anyone else I know; his deep interest in science fiction and animation has led him to explore the whole world of fantasy media—literally, from Europe, Asia, and South America, and with animation now emerging in India and Africa, Fred is already ahead of the pack in documenting that work.
He is best known for his research and writings regarding anime. I dare say he might have been the first U.S. citizen to recognize the growing art and artistry of Japanese animation—in the 1970s—and then write about it for English-speaking readers.
Fred and I became pen-pals back then in the 1970s (back in the days of pens, paper, and communication through the mail service) and later wrote (separately) for some of the same fanzines and professional publications. His stewardship of the California-based Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO) was legendary on the East coast (where I was based then)—and we were quite jealous of all the goodies Fred was screening out there in Los Angeles.
With Fred’s blessing I helped organize a C/FO-NY in the 1980s, which brought together fans (and some professionals) of anime past and present. When I moved to L.A. in the late 1980s, and co-founded (with Carl Macek) a company called Streamline Pictures to distribute anime films to theatres and video), Fred was the first and only person we hired to help us run the operation. His knowledge of anime was invaluable.
Fred was a contributing writer to two of my book projects, Animation Art (2004) and The Animated Movie Guide (2005), overseeing the anime sections of both books. His professionalism and expertise were an important part in making those books successful—and his contributions, based on feedback from educators and enthusiasts who’ve used the books, were particularly vital.
To say Fred is a resource and a treasure would be an understatement. He has been an important link between those who create the works and those who consume and enjoy them.
So it was a no-brainer that Fred was one of the first people I enlisted as a contributor to my revitalized Cartoon Research blog. One of the goals of my blog was to not only to post about unknown and obscure pieces of animation history, but to give several knowledgeable friends—who, like Fred, had not taken the plunge online with their own blogs—a place to let loose with information they have gathered for many years and had yet to share with interested, like-minded readers.
I have been an animation enthusiast for all my life, and an animation scholar, writing articles about it, for over thirty years. I co-founded the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, the first American fan club for Japanese anime, in May 1977 (it’s still meeting), and I have written so much about anime that I have developed a reputation as being interested in that field only. I edited the best of my articles on anime into a book that is still selling nine years later, as an e-book after the trade paperback edition sold out: Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews (Stone Bridge Press, September 2004). But my interest has always been in animation without limits.
In early March 2013, Jerry Beck invited me to write a weekly column for his Cartoon Research website (“Dedicated to Classic Cartoons: Past, Present & Future”). My first “Funny Animals and More” column appeared on March 14. I was 31 columns and over 55,000 words into it when Jim Korkis, another Cartoon Research columnist, gave me the idea of using my “Funny Animals and More” columns as the basis for a book.
I have continued to write my column each week, and some of these later columns will be used as the basis for more books once there is enough material to fill them.
In many cases, I have continued to learn more about my weekly topics after the columns have been posted online. I have added the new information to the content in this book, so it is more complete and more up-to-date than my original columns.
Particular thanks are owed to Vinnie Bartalucci, DBenson, Charles Brubaker, John Paul Cassidy, Dwight Decker, Patrick Drazen, Eric Graf, Jim Korkis, Nic Kramer, Alain Mendez, Alfons Moline, Justin Mullis, Jay Pennington, Chris Peterson, Gilles Poitras, Poptique, Dan Riba, Steve Segal, Scott Shaw!, Chris Sobieniak, and Tony.
Here it is. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Fred Patten is a world-renowned historian and author in such fields as anime, manga, animation, and science fiction. In 1972, he became co-owner of the Graphic Story Bookshop in Long Beach, California, selling imported manga and comics from Japan, France, and elsewhere, and later worked for Streamline Pictures, one of the country’s first anime production companies. Fred has written for Animation World Magazine and Comics Buyer’s Guide, and writes a weekly column for the Cartoon Research website.
Fred Patten has edited:
In this excerpt, from Chapter 4 ("Debunking the Myths"), Fred shoots down the stubborn stories about Warner Bros. studio boss Leon Schlesinger's cavalier approach to this craft.
MYTH: The Warner Bros. cartoons were so great because studio bosses Leon Schlesinger and Eddie Selzer took no interest in them, and had no idea what their animators were turning out.
This myth is attributable directly to WB director Chuck Jones. He said so. He should know, shouldn’t he?
Leon Schlesinger (1884–1949) worked in East Coast movie theaters in his youth, and later moved to “Hollywood” where most of the cinema industry was located. In 1919, he founded Pacific Title & Art Studio in Burbank, to make title cards for silent movies. In 1930, he was contacted by Rudolph Ising and Hugh Harmon from a team of movie animators who had been making the Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit cartoons for producer Charles Mintz, who sold them to Universal Pictures. (Mintz had earlier hired the animators away from Walt Disney, who had created Oswald for Universal.) Universal had just fired Mintz and taken over producing the Oswald cartoons with its own studio, headed by Walter Lantz. Mintz had closed his studio and let all his animators go. Instead of dispersing, Ising and Harmon persuaded them to stay together long enough to see if they could sell their services as a complete animation studio to someone else. Ising and Harmon offered themselves and their fellow animators to Pacific Title & Art. Schlesinger, who could see the disappearance of movie title cards with the introduction of sound films, in turn offered the services of an animation studio to Warner Bros., the last major motion picture producer that did not have a cartoon department. WB hired him, and Schlesinger hired Ising and Harmon and the former Mintz animators as Leon Schlesinger Studios. In 1934, after a dispute with Ising and Harmon, the two left Schlesinger, taking their cartoon star Bosko with them. Schlesinger quickly hired back most of the other animators, plus some from other studios, and arranged with WB to set up his own studio on the WB lot, later dubbed “Termite Terrace” by the animators. (Schlesinger sold Pacific Title & Art Studio in 1935 to concentrate on his animation studio. PT&A is still in business as a general post-production house for the movie and TV industries.)
Schlesinger’s own offices were not in the ramshackle animation building, which helped to create a feeling of separation between the animators and management. The animators have told similar stories about Schlesinger briefly looking in upon them every so often, and saying approximately, “How are you boys doing? Is everything okay? Well, keep up the good work.” The plump Schlesinger, who wore an obvious toupee, reeked of cologne, and dressed nattily in a white suit, made no secret that he considered himself above his working-man animators. He owned a yacht, often spent all day at the horse races, and commented aloud about the Termite Terrace workshop, “I wouldn’t work in a shithole like this.” This increased the animators’ willingness to make fun of him.
But it was good-natured fun. Rather than not caring about the animators except for the money that their cartoons brought in, most of the animators agreed that Schlesinger kept a close eye on his studio and deliberately gave them maximum creative freedom. His attitude, openly expressed, was, “I pay you boys to make funny cartoons. As long as the public likes your work and you stay within budget, you can do whatever you think will bring in the laughs.” Schlesinger jovially agreed not only to let his animators make Christmas gag reels in 1939 and 1940, he participated in them. Schlesinger also agreed to star in a combination live-action/animated short directed by “Friz” Freleng, You Ought to Be in Pictures (May 1940), playing himself as the head of his studio with Porky Pig and Daffy Duck (animated) unhappy with their contracts. Other Schlesinger employees also appear in You Ought to Be in Pictures, including writer Michael Maltese as a WB studio guard, and Henry Binder, Schlesinger’s executive assistant, as a stagehand.
After Ising and Harmon left, it was Schlesinger who put Friz Freleng in charge of his studio, and hired such animators as Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, and Chuck Jones, and voice artist Mel Blanc and musician Carl Stalling. According to animation historians, it was Schlesinger who made the final decision to name Bugs Bunny. The character had already become a favorite at the studio among the animators, and was unofficially known as “Bugs” from being labeled as “Bugs’ Bunny” on a model sheet for Ben “Bugs” Hardaway, the first director to use him. In 1940 Tex Avery directed A Wild Hare, the first cartoon where the rabbit would have to have a name. Avery called him Jack Rabbit. (Mel Blanc said it was Happy Rabbit.) The rest of the cartoon’s animators wanted to make the Bugs Bunny name official. The argument grew so heated that both sides took it to Schlesinger to decide. Schlesinger said Bugs Bunny, definitely. It was already in use by most of the animators, it was a more striking name than the generic Jack Rabbit, and it fit the smart-aleck personality of the rabbit. The disappointed Avery quit and went to MGM. It was also Schlesinger who named Bob Clampett’s notorious Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs. Clampett intended to name it So White and de Sebben Dwarfs, but Schlesinger worried that that was too close to Disney’s original.
Tom Sito, a veteran animator and animation historian, and president of the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonist’s Local 839 (animation’s professional labor union) from 1992 to 2001, commented on a 2008 story on the Cartoon Brew website about Schlesinger’s obituary:
Many Termite Terrace vets who disparaged Leon’s leadership, all admit what Leon was best at was keeping the meddling suits from the main lot from annoying the artists with their “creative” opinions. We could use a lot more Leon Schlesingers today. Leon also was a champion of his animation unit and once complained to the Academy that Disney won the short film Oscar too many times.
More pertinently, was Daffy’s and Sylvester’s juicy lisp copied from Leon Schlesinger’s, and was Schlesinger ignorant of this? Maybe, maybe not. Besides Jones in Chuck Amuck, cartoon writer and gag man Michael Maltese is quoted in Joe Adamson’s Tex Avery: King of Cartoons (Popular Library, October 1975) as saying that Schlesinger lisped “a little bit”:
But we were not hampered by any front office interference, because Leon Schlesinger had brains enough to keep the hell away and go aboard his yacht. He used to lithp a little bit and he’d say, “I’m goin’ on my yachtht.” He’d say, “Whatth cookin’, brainth? Anything new in the Thtory Department?” He came back from Mexico once, he had huarachas on, he said, “Whaddya think of these Mexican cucarachas? Very comfortable on the feet.” He said, “Disney can make the chicken salad, I wanna make chicken shit.” He said, “I’ll make money.”
Blanc might have based his lisp for the duck’s and the cat’s speech on Schlesinger’s, and exaggerated it to such an extent that Schlesinger did not recognize it as based on his own lisp—or even if he did, he may have recognized that Blanc exaggerated it so outrageously that it was funny. Schlesinger has shown that he could go along with a gag. Basically, by the time Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, November 1989) was published, Schlesinger was long dead, Clampett was recently dead, and most people didn’t care. Jones’ story was too good not to repeat. The scenes of Schlesinger in You Ought to Be in Pictures and the 1939 & 1940 gag reels, where Schlesinger’s real voice is heard, although very brief, do not hint of any lisp on the sound track; though arguably, Schlesinger could have deliberately concentrated on not lisping since he knew that he was talking on camera.