A Cartoon Obsession

I was blessed with permissive parents. Unlike the more responsible mothers and fathers of this modern age who monitor their offspring's access to the demon television, mine would let me watch until my eyes bled. And none of it seems to have done me any harm. (Those who know me well are either snickering or shaking their heads in sadness at this point.)

Despite my advanced years, I still love a good, clever cartoon, the more subtly subversive the better. And now that I'm blessed with that greatest benefit that age, experience and the respect of my peers may bring (a healthy disposable income), I can revert just a little (okay, a lot) and capture images of my favorite characters. Herewith, some images from my collection of cartoon cels.

Yogi & Boo Boo Bear

This is the first cel I ever owned, purchased from a tiny ad in the Los Angeles Times. As I recall, Hanna Barbera donated a bunch of these to Compton High School in L.A., which then sold them as a fundraiser. I've always had a soft spot for Hanna Barbera. (Huckleberry Hound is the first HB show I can remember, with Yogi Bear close behind.) Unlike the Warner Brothers cartoons, mostly theatrical productions that were old long before I got to them, Hanna Barbera created new characters and new cartoons for television. The quality was inferior, owing to the economics of animation for the tube, but of course I was far too young and undiscriminating to care or even notice. In fact, I recall one series of the time called Space Angel that was really low budget: instead of frame-by-frame animation, they used a series of paintings onto which they superimposed a real actor's lips moving to the dialogue!

Rocky & Bullwinkle

I became hooked on Rocky, Bullwinkle et al. long before I understood more than a fraction of what Jay Ward and company were pulling off. I knew that there was major silliness going on, which was all I needed to know. Years later I heard about the Dudley Doright Emporium, still plugging away on Sunset Boulevard. And I knew that someday I'd have to make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles and stand under the giant Bullwinkle. When I eventually moved to L.A. I did visit the Emporium. And this cel is the result. The proprietress (I believe she was Jay's wife) asked if I wanted it autographed, since Jay was working in the studio next door. I said yes. (I didn't have it personalized, since I was thinking of it as a baby gift for my manager. In the end I kept it, which was just as well: said manager was a selfish jackass.) Jay Ward died just a couple of months after my visit to the Emporium. The world is a far duller place without him.


I discovered DangerMouse on Nickelodeon. (Yes, I used to watch Nickelodeon. I might do so today if my local cable company didn't have such high prices and a miserable selection of channels. But that's beside the point.) On the one hand, DangerMouse is a remarkably low budget, limited animation cartoon with frequently incomprehensible dialogue. (I'm pretty good at understanding foreigners speaking English. But some of those Scots accents defeat even me.) On the other hand is its sense of humor, which is decidedly low. (This is a good thing.) And on a third hand are all the references I love: to James Bondian superspies, megalomaniacal villains and plots and improbable gadgets, to Sherlock Holmes (DangerMouse and his cowardly hamster sidekick Penfold live in a letterbox in front of 221B Baker Street) and to all that is wonderful about the British (Gilbert & Sullivan, plots to drown the world in custard). Even the theme music is perfectly overblown. So when I found a collection of DangerMouse cels in a movie memorabilia shop in London's Soho, I couldn't resist. (Apologies for the quality of the scan. The low budget of this cartoon extends to the cels used to produce it. I had to scan the cel from a variety of directions and then try to put together an image from the bits that didn't create strange lighting problems.)

The Animaniacs

Thank you, Steven Spielberg. Thank you for bringing new cartoons to weekday afternoons. (And thank you, Akio Morita, for giving us VCRs so those of us with jobs can watch them.) In addition to Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and such, Spielberg was responsible for Tiny Toon Adventures and the subtler, more adult and far more subversive Animaniacs. A 90s version of Rocky & Bullwinkle with much better production values, this is a series to keep both kids and adults on their toes. From historical references (a episode concerning Rasputin's toothache has a character calling for anesthesia; a little girl in a Russian dress comes out) to musical theatre parody (the Goodfeathers doing Pigeon On The Roof; Rita & Runt as Les Miseranimals), this is a show that swings for the rafters. And there are jokes hidden everywhere; I'd suggest taping it and watching with your finger on the pause button. The cel on the left is from Space Probed, a satire on every alien abduction plot ever made. I bought it and had it autographed during the voice actors' visit to my local Warner Brothers Studio Store. (Here's the bit of autograph cut off from the image.) The cel on the right was made for the studio store and not for an episode. That means that it's not much of an investment. But then that's not why I started collecting nor why I keep at it.

Pinky & The Brain

Pinky & The Brain, two lab mice with dreams of world domination. Well, one dreams of world domination. The other's interests head in a rather different direction:

The tone here is just a little more adult than Animaniacs, from which these two spun off to their own show. Takeoffs on The Shadow radio series, a black & white tribute to The Third Man, a parody of Man Of La Mancha. (Brain sings of his quest To Scheme The Improbable Scheme.) Clearly too sophisticated for the WB Network's prime time audience. Then again, who expected Fox to have a hit with The Simpsons?

The Simpsons

I think The Simpsons has the most inspired humor on television today. (Which either says a lot for their writers or very little for the competition.) This is a program that's so clever on so many levels: as a look at the contemporary American family that's far more accurate for its time than Leave It To Beaver or Donna Reed was for the 50s, no matter how hard we try to romanticize it; as a consideration of our relation to our concept of God and religion; as media and political satire, with a special mention to the annual Halloween episodes; as a revival of musical comedy, although not necessarily in a form that Rogers & Hammerstein would appreciate. Bart and Lisa may be extreme examples of childhood archetypes, but they're far more believable as children and siblings than anything the other networks have created. And I never know what to expect, as when Homer's birthday gift to Marge of a bowling ball (engraved with his name) turns into a brilliant recreation of the final scene of An Officer And A Gentleman, from which the cel at right comes. You have to admire a family that works. And The Simpsons, for all their antisocial or just asocial tendencies, work better than most.

(A small admission: unlike the rest of my collection, the two Simpson cels were purchased in part so I could write about the series. And it also gave me a change to experience first hand the excitement of an eBay auction. If you haven't been bitten by the eBay bug you don't know what you're missing!)

Take me home: Let's go traveling:

Comments to Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California

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