Jerry Beck is The King of Cartoons–a rightly lauded animation historian, author, producer and with Amid Amidi a “brewmaster” for the Cartoon Brew blog. I visit the blog daily without fail for a fix of cool cartoons and lively news about the animated field. There, I first heard about a book Jerry was working on, and then was stoked to have Jerry ask me to contribute one of the essays for The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons. This fantastic book is out now, it’s an incredible read and eye-ball kick and is every bit as entertaining as the cartoons themselves! So, it is a good time to catch up with Jerry…
CRAIG: Jerry, I’ve always, through the years, got the idea that you strongly feel that the Looney Tunes cartoons are the best cartoons ever done and your personal favorite. Now that you’ve written many different books on animation, seen thousands upon thousands of non-Warner Bros. cartoons, run the terrific and religiously read and entertaining Cartoon Brew blog that shows cartoons from all periods and around the world every day for years now, are you STILL of that opinion?
JERRY: I find something to like, or love, about all animated films – but hands down, the original Looney Tunes are the funniest series of cartoons ever made. They set the standard for “funny” and are still inspiring animated films, shorts and TV shows today.
CRAIG: What makes these cartoons so great?
JERRY: What made them so great was the people who made them. I liken the classic 1940s-50s Looney Tunes to the Beatles – or Marvel Comics of the 1960s. It was those particular people, at that particular time that made them so great. What would the Looney Tunes be without Carl Stalling’s music and the Warner Bros. studio orchestra, Mel Blanc’s voices, Treg Brown’s sound effects, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and all the story artists and unique animators? The Looney Tunes were ahead of their time. They were Mad Magazine before Mad Magazine, they were Stan Freberg before Stan Freberg (and it should be noted that Freberg began his career as a voice actor for Warner Bros. cartoons). The artists and animators were left alone, without studio interference, to make what they thought was funny. And they didn’t aim down towards children.
These cartoons, like the best newspaper comic strips, appealed to all: adults and kids alike. Ultimately the studio produced an unprecedented series of classic comedy films – that, in my opinion, rank along side the all-time classics of Hollywood, up there with features like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind. Like all great art, you can watch them again and again and see something new and funny each time. Does anyone ever tire of watching ONE FROGGY EVENING or DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24th 1/2 CENTURY?
CRAIG: What was your first exposure to Looney Toons and how did that effect you?
JERRY: I was five when The Bugs Bunny Show premiered on ABC in primetime. I watched cartoons all my life and wanted to be a cartoonist. During my high school years I’d come home from school and watch the local syndicated Bugs Bunny cartoons in the afternoon, and it was during those years, as a teenager who should have outgrown them, that I began to appreciate how great they were. I never got the jokes until I was 16. From that point on I had to know everything about these great cartoons.
CRAIG: I’m sure with your passion and research, Jerry, that you met many of the people behind the Warner Bros. cartoons. Do any people, memories or anecdotes stand out?
JERRY: I’ve spent many memorable afternoons and meals with Chuck Jones (above), Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett. I’ll never forget that I had the chance to tell them personally, and sincerely, how much their work was appreciated by myself, and millions of fans. Clampett, in particular, was most appreciative of my efforts to document the Looney Tunes and would send me all sorts of newspaper clippings and gifts. Bob had asked me which other cartoonists I liked and I had mentioned Milt Gross. The next time I saw Bob, at a film convention in which he was a guest, he called me out of the audience during his speech to present me a copy of a unique Milt Gross drawing he had received personally from the cartoonist. Craig, that was a moment I’ll never forget.
CRAIG: Love the Gross! How did this The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes book come about? How did you determine the BEST cartoons? How did you chose the people who wrote about these cartoons.
JERRY: I had previously done two books for Insight Editions, and they informed me that they had just acquired the publishing rights to Looney Tunes. They asked if I had any ideas for a book that could be done quickly, for a possible Christmas release (last year). I had done a book 15 years ago called THE 50 GREATEST CARTOONS and it was long out of print. I proposed we do a Looney Tunes variant of that book, but this time up it to a hundred titles (as I knew there were over 400 really good ones out of the 1001 Looney Tunes created between 1930 and 1969). Warner Bros. agreed with my idea and off we went. This time, with the internet, my job was a lot easier.
I polled my readers on Cartoon Brew and spread the word throughout the blogosphere. I asked everyone to list their top ten Looney Tunes favorites – not historically important, or significant because it was the first of this or that – I was interested in the cartoons that were the funniest, the ones that were undeniably great in an art and entertainment way. I contacted a round table of friends and experts – animators, film critics, animation historians, etc. – to submit their choices and then asked those colleagues if they would write about one or two of their favorites. Everyone was happy to cooperate and in retrospect, it was one of the easiest, quickest book projects I’ve ever been involved with. The whole thing is just a love letter to the classic cartoons – and everyone wanted to sign their name to it.
CRAIG: Lightning round…rapid fire quick questions, with quick answers, Jerry, ready?
..OK, Favorite comic books?
JERRY: Mort Wesinger Superman Family titles (1958-1966), Stan Lee Marvel Comics (1961-1969), Harvey Comics (1952-1964), DC Funny Animals (1944-1965). If I had to pick one title: Jimmy Olsen #72.
CRAIG:..Ha Ha! I love the wonkiness of those Jimmy Olsen comics, too! Jerry, which cartoon character is most like you?
JERRY: I think I’m Bugs Bunny, but in reality I’m more like Porky…
CRAIG: PORKY PIG?!?! Son of a bbb-, son of a bbb-, son of a bbb-… gun! Next qustion, the one treasured collectable you’d rescue in a fire?
JERRY: Tough one… my autographed Bob Clampett Cecil cel…?
CRAIG: …Sounds good…what’s better than cartoons?
JERRY: Ruling out SEX from the choices, there’s nothing better than cartoons but The Three Stooges are a close second…
CRAIG:…Nyuk! Nyuk! …Dead animator you hope is cryogenically frozen that you could thaw out and interview.
JERRY:Jim Tyer (of Terrytoons)
CRAIG: >WHEW< , those lightning rounds go so fast, >PANT< , >PANT<…’m out of breath… So, Jerry, you are a busy man, it’s hard to keep up with all your exciting and important projects. Besides ITCH readers absolutely without a doubt getting this sensational book what else should we be sure not to miss that you’re doing now or going to be doing in the future?
JERRY: Right now, I’m working on some exciting future DVD releases with several companies, including Warner Home Video and Shout Factory. If you are ever in L.A. please attend my monthly classic cartoon screenings at the CineFamily/Silent Movie Theatre in the Melrose/Fairfax area or attend my live comedy/worst cartoons show CARTOON DUMP at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. And of course I’m posting each day on Cartoon Brew.
CRAIG: Thank Jerry, I LOVE this terrific book, The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons, and I’m sure each ITCH reader will, too. All’s they have to do is click on the cover below to order one, and I do mean to say, that’s all folks!
— C. Yoe (in the funny papers)