Cartoons and such.

*Odd dream last night. In it, I'd heard from somebody that the new P.T. Anderson film (There Will Be Blood) was playing at some sort of preview screening, but it turned out my sources were wrong. I wound up at some sort of church function, where everyone was getting onto a haunted house ride, like the sort you'd see in an amusement park. It was an ok ride, but at the end I wound up on a stage back in the church parking lot, in front of a lot of people. I was handed an envelope, inside which were instructions for me to perform a Mark Millar impersonation for the crowd. Luckily (as things tend to go in dreams), I recalled a dreamworld incident in which Millar had made comments on the internet regarding how much he liked American ice cream, so I based my impersonation around that. I didn't even do an accent, but everybody liked it, so I asked them all to buy Civil War and climbed off the face of the stage.

I then discovered that I could travel long distances upon jumping, so naturally the rest of the dream became devoted to that.

*Some of you will probably recognize John Kricfalusi as the creator of Ren & Stimpy, a Nickelodeon cartoon show that began airing in 1991 and swiftly captured the hearts and minds of 10-year olds across the nation, myself included. Oh, how I can still recall waiting (and waiting and waiting, given the copious reruns) for new episodes to appear, often to be rewarded with something like Powdered Toast Man, which had me doubled over in laughter at the bit where the title character burns the Constitution, a joke that would only ever appear on the episode’s first airing before being edited out due to watchdog complaints. You had to be on the ball with Ren & Stimpy in those days, since you never knew when something might just disappear.

Like Kricfalusi himself, for instance, who left the show (which Nickelodeon owned) in 1993.

Anyway, John K. has a blog, which has been on my sidebar for a while, and a lot of it has been devoted to exploring his personal vision for contemporary animation and his tastes in classic cartoons. This post, something of an internet adaptation of a multimedia lecture given on the topic of ‘What is a Cartoon?’ breaks the essence of true cartoon animation (which isn’t to say all animation is or ought to be ‘cartoon’ animation) down to five key elements: the funny drawing, funny motion, impossible gags, musical timing, and, of course, butt stabs (injuries to the rear).

But even if you’re not all that interested in animation the John K. way, I think you still ought to absolutely check out the post for all the great YouTube links to fun stuff, including Kricfalusi’s own music video for Björk’s I Miss You, and a pair of excellent Fleischer Brothers shorts, 1930’s Barnacle Bill and 1931’s Bimbo’s Initiation. The latter is kind of a famous piece, with Betty Boop sidekick Bimbo (at this early date the star of the series) wandering a boarded-up urban Depression street, getting bamboozled by an evil version of Mickey Mouse, and stumbling through a secret society’s chamber of tortures, all of it executed with consummate creativity and skill (also, I’m 95% sure Bimbo quickly exclaims “oh shit” during the bit with the candle and the spikes suspended above his head, when he finds his feet are stuck to the floor - never know what will turn up in the ad lib-heavy vocal performances of these cartoons). The former, meanwhile, concerns a proto-Bimbo as a horny sailor trying to get into bed with a proto-Betty. That’s almost the whole cartoon - the two leads trying to have sex, all of it set to a song (a Fleischer standard, given all the time they spent working on follow-the-bouncing-ball singalongs in the ‘silent’ era).

Nobody ever made ‘em quite like the Fleischers, who would also add a unique, indelible touch to their later comics-inspired Popeye and Superman works after the arrival of the Hayes Code gave Betty and Bimbo a cold shower. Also be sure you check out the awesome, Cab Calloway-powered 1932 animation quasi-adaptation of Minnie the Moocher, in which Betty ditches her immigrant parents and heads off with Bimbo into a dark cave of debauched drug ghosts and a rotoscoped Calloway phantom walrus.

*Boy, I read a crapload of comics today. I think I'll have Fun Home reviewed tomorrow, since lord knows I must be the last one getting around to that.

I also re-read The Filth, start to finish, in one sitting, which I think might be the best way to take it, despite writer Grant Morrison's best efforts to keep things simplified down to individual two-issue storylines for the first half of the book. This time through, I was struck by some of the obvious citations of Morrison's own prior works that I'd not caught the first time around (having read less of his material). In many ways it's a revision of concepts explored in The Invisibles and Flex Mentallo, with some bits merely evoked (the whole superheroes-emerging-from-fiction business from Flex gets another run-through, though in an even more self-referential manner) and some practically recreated (another Morrison stand-in character tries to kill himself with pills, drifting in and out of what's both reality and his own head, and once again he's saved by coming to terms with the truth of things).

It's probably the most resigned, most 'aging man facing mortality' of these works, and not just because the bald, vision-prone lead is now depicted not as a rock star but as a friendless, hopeless pornography addict whose only joy comes via his pets. In many ways it reminded me most of all of the later Seaguy, in that it's admitted that true transformation is a very gradual process, and that the system of the world isn't really inclined toward grand gestures of positive metamorphosis. But we're left to believe that such things are coming, whether they grow like seeds from the shit of human desire (note the title graphics on the trade dress of The Filth, with the title literally providing the dirt for all organic life that follows), or lay temporarily forgotten yet obviously present in a revamped-again superhero world. Neither Seaguy nor Greg Feely quite enter paradise at the end of their books, and their worlds seem very much the same as they were in the beginning, but we have love nonetheless.

Of course, Seaguy is a focused three-issue miniseries with a constant emphasis on comics industry satire, while The Filth is a swaggering 13-issue monster that seeks to be no less than a sprawling sci-fi metaphor for the whole of the human condition, which sort of invites messiness. Good thing it's often really funny, and that the microcosmic bits of allegory work as well as they do. I think almost everyone's favorite bit is the one with the mad porno director who wants to destroy LA with the world's biggest cumshot? That had a lot of great work in it. It's also interesting to see all of this in light of Seven Soldiers, a work that's largely preoccupied itself with small stories of transformation on a strictly individual scale - the work's very design (apart from its not-unlimited success) tries to keep Morrison focused on those smaller microcosmic moments, a whole world of little allegories and single Seaguys saving us all by being marginal.

Makes me want Halloween to arrive so I can read bloody issue #1, it does.