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From San Francisco And The Immediate Environs

News and things! Things and news! Let’s see what there is to see out there.

  • I believe I’ve mentioned the excitement that we at Fleen have for the imminent release of Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock’s Compass South (that would be in just under a week). I don’t know if I mentioned that a chunk of the story involves twins Cleo and Alex trying to make their way to San Francisco (by steamer and train, in the mid-1800s, when such successes were not guaranteed and plagued by greater dangers than a lack in in-flight WiFi), thus tying into today’s theme.

    What I know that I haven’t mentioned is that Larson and Mock will be taking a virtual book tour in support of Compass South, visiting on-line and in the [virtual] cafés talk about how Compass South was created. The blogtour kicks off Monday (the day before release) at Supernatural Snark, and in subsequent days will make daily port calls at Love is not a Triangle, Forever YA, YA Bibliophile, Sharpread, and finishing up at Watch. Connect. Read. on Saturday.

  • And while Cleo and Alex might have to wait a century or so before the Cartoon Art Museum gets organized in San Francisco, we need not engage in any such temporal chicanery, and CAM has plenty of events in the coming weeks, just in case you missed their just-closed exhibitions with the Queer Cultural Center at SOMArts Cultural Center and were wondering what’s up next.

    The highlight, at least in my opinion, will be A Salute to Chuck Jones¹ at the Castro Theater. Jones, naturally, is best defined by his cartoons and so the salute will be a screening of over a dozen shorts, including One Froggy Evening, Feed the Kitty, Duck Amuck, Rabbit of Seville, and motherscratching What’s Opera, Doc?.

    You have probably never seen these on the big screen. You need to see these on the big screen, with a big, booming sound system². If you are anywhere near San Francisco on Sunday, 10 July from noon to 3:00pm, you must see these cartoons on the big screen. Packages run from US$17 to US$150 (with various goodies and perks on top of admission, naturally) and may be purchased in advance through Guestlist. Presenters from the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity — conservators of Chuck’s³ legacy — will be on hand to talk about the films and memories of their creator.

  • Should you find CAM’s efforts to continue to bring you the finest in cartoon art laudable (and really, you damn well better), there’s a new channel by which you can indicated your support. Check out their new Patreon, where you can help unlock curator blogs, online exhibitions, member pricing for events, and the general running of the museum.

    Granted, they only just launched it, but at the moment the Patreon has a shamefully insufficient eleven (11) backers pledging US$33 (thirty-damn-three dollars) per month. The people who love cartoons and comics (and who do you know that doesn’t?) can do better, and CAM deserves better. Support, and spread the word.

Spam of the day:

Re:Scelerisque Dui Suspendisse Corp. Please find attached the bill

I’m supposed to believe that your company is actually named after a section of lorem ipsum text? Nnnnope.

¹ Very possibly the greatest animator America’s produced yet, and definitely a dominant influence on every comicker, animator, filmmaker, and teller of stories and jokes for the past 60 -70 years.

² Not that I ever have, at least not by actual modern theater standards, but even a poor imitation was life-changing. Below the cut, a small story how how life-changing, adapted from a letter I wrote in 2001 to be included in a collection of letters from Chuck’s fans as a birthday present for the master.

³ It is Fleen’s editorial policy to refer to people by given and family name on first reference, and family name thereafter. There are two exceptions to this rule, namely Chuck (because he is always Chuck) and George (because he is always George).

I discovered cartoons early, and the best were always the Bugs Bunny ‘toons. Over time, though, I started to get a little annoyed with the guy that made them … sometimes he was funny, and the colors were bright and the humor was subtle — a raised eyebrow here, a slight musical cue there — and sometimes he was off his game. Bugs seemed a little dull and lifeless, the jokes a bit obvious. I didn’t let it worry me too much, though, since even the weakest Bugs cartoon
was better than the best Tom & Jerry.

When I learned to read, I noticed something … it wasn’t one guy that did the cartoons, it was a bunch of them. And when the guy’s name was Chuck Jones, I knew the cartoon would be great!

Fast forward about 15 years. I’m in college, a serious student of electrical engineering, and I notice something … all of my fellow students have had the same experience growing up. All of us have watched way too many cartoons, and all of us found Chuck’s to be the best.

At the time, my college didn’t admit women into the undergraduate program, so there were a number of shared activities with the local Catholic women’s college (which has recently started admitting dudes). Sometimes, balancing the entertainment tastes of the two student bodies was a challenge, especially if you wanted to get either group to drive 20 miles to the other campus for fun. Case in point: one night, the women of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College decided to show the then-recent Dirty Dancing. The collective response from the men of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology was, Have fun, we’ll be watching basketball on TV.

Then the women of St. Mary’s said, … and we’ll have three Bugs Bunny cartoons after the movie.

And the men of Rose-Hulman said, Seven thirty, on Saturday, got it. We’ll be there.

I went with a group of two dozen friends or so, ready to suffer through a seriously bad movie in order to get to the cartoons. Then, a miracle occurred: about 20 seconds into Dirty Dancing, the film broke and they decided to show the cartoons while it was spliced.

Up first: Ali Baba Bunny. It’s almost frightening to remember what it sounds like when 50 voices shout HASSAN CHOP!! at the same time. We laughed at Bugs and nutured our inner Daffys, and thanked Chuck for giving us six minutes of seriously funny respite from a bad movie.

Second: The Rabbit of Seville. Two for two on the Chuck vs Everybody Else count, and it was the uncut version, too! None of us had seen the full cartoon in our formative years of afternoon TV — various network censors had clipped entire scenes and seriously disrupted the flow of the music, but here it was in all its glory.

We were in Engineer Heaven, but primed for disappointment … after all, what could they show that would hope to match up to the first two ‘toons? We didn’t dare hope for three Chucks in a row.

Then the reel started turning, and we heard an orchestra tuning up, and unbelieving, we saw the words on the screen:

What’s Opera Doc?

And 100 engineers stood and cheered the opening credits, before hurriedly sitting down and shushing one another. For the first time in our lives, we saw the greatest cartoon ever made as it was meant to be seen — projected onto a screen with separated speakers behind it, a step up from the 17″ cabinet TVs we’d grown up with. It was only a stand-up movie screen with somebody’s stereo speakers ten feet apart and it was still the finest quality projection we’d ever seen for a Chuck Jones cartoon. Despite the stares of girlfriends and just-friends, a full-bore male chorus spontaneously formed, bellowing out with operatic majesty, Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Yo-to ho-oh!

We laughed until we cried, and at the end of the cartoon we waited for the lights to come up, for the Movie Committee Chairwoman to reintroduce Dirty Dancing, and those of us without girlfriends expecting us to stay got up and left.

That was twenty six years ago, and I know a bit more about why I love Chuck’s work so much. The exquisite timing of a gag; the incredible understated humor of a Morning Ralph/G’morning Sam; the subtle care to ensure that although there really aren’t any six-foot Grinches walking around, if there were, they’re moving as their lumpy green anatomy would dictate; the technical wizardry hanging on my wall, where a mongoose smears across a cell to make his motion appear more fluid … I know all of these things now.

But I’m writing this today because in a sense, all that knowing doesn’t matter. I’m writing to thank Chuck from the bottom of my heart because there’s a magic in his work. It brightened up every dreary day that a five year old could suffer. It made 100 weary engineers drive out of their way when they should have been studying, and sent them home singing.

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