Monthly Archives: November 2011

“Batman” comics writer Alvin Schwartz dies at 84

Alvin Schwartz

Alvin Schwartz

Comic book writer Alvin Schwartz died October 28 from heart complications, the Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards Association announced Wednesday. He was 84.

Schwartz wrote the adaptation for the half-hour 1983 CBS cartoon special The Legend Of Hiawatha. Produced by Atkinson Film-Arts, it was originally presented as a Kenner Family Classics special.

Born in New York City on November 17, 1916, Schwartz moved to Canada after his contributions to comics. He was best known for writing Batman and other strips for DC Comics, and is credited as the creator of Bizarro. Schwartz lived in Chesterville, Ontario for decades, working mostly with the National Film Board and writing reports for the Federal Government.

Schwartz wrote his first comics for Fairy Tale Parade in 1939, and wrote extensively for Shelley Mayer, then an editor at Max Gaines’ All-American Publications (later purchased by National/DC in 1944). He had also done a short stint at Fawcett on Captain Marvel.

Schwartz wrote his first Batman story in 1942, and his first Batman newspaper strip in August 1944 (an assignment he continued on until 1958) and his first Superman newspaper strip in October 1944. He had a long association with Superman as the writer of both the Man of Steel’s newspaper strip and many of his comic book appearances, and one of his many enduring contributions to the Superman mythology was the first tale of Bizarro, a character who became a part of popular culture, quite apart from comics. While writing most of DC’s newspaper strips between 1944 and 1952, he also went on to do stories for many of their comics magazines, working on characters such as Aquaman, Vigilante, Slam Bradley, Date With Judy, Buzzy, House of Mystery, Tomahawk, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Newsboy Legion and numerous others.

After his 1958 departure from comics, Schwartz took on a whole new role in the corporate world, using the knowledge of plotting gained in comics to open new directions in market research, developing the now well-known techniques of psycho-graphics, typological identification and others, until, as research director for Dr. Ernst Dichter’s famed think tank, The Institute for Motivational Research, he provided structural and marketing advice to some of America’s largest corporations, ranging from General Motors to General Foods. He was subsequently appointed to an advisory committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Schwartz also authored three novels for Arco Press, one of which, Sword of Desire, a detective story, won praise for its successful takeoff on Reichian orgone therapy, a popular psychotherapeutic technique during the ’40s and ’50s. His Beat Generation novel The Blowtop was published by Dial in 1948. Under the title Le Cinglé, it became a best seller in France. He also wrote and lectured on superheroes at various universities and received a prestigious Canada Council grant for a study on the religious symbolism in popular culture, using Superman as a springboard.

Also in Canada, he wrote feature films and did numerous docu-dramas for the National Film Board for nearly 20 years and did a number of economic and social studies for the Canadian government.

His last two books, written in his 80s, were An Unlikely Prophet: Revelations on the Path Without Form (published in 1997) — a memoir dealing with some very off-the-wall experiences generated by his years doing Superman which led him to a unique understanding of Superman’s significance as well as some life-enriching possibilities available to every one of us, and the sequel A Gathering of Selves: The Spiritual Journey of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman (published in 2006).

Schwartz received the first Bill Finger Award for his contributions to comics via writing in 2006. The Finger Award was created by the legendary creator Jerry Robinson to honor his friend Bill Finger (the uncredited co-creator of Batman), and is given to comic book writers as part of the Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Awards each July.

Tangled (2010) – Walt Disney Pictures Feature Length Theatrical Animated Film

Tangled (2010) - Walt Disney Pictures Feature Length Theatrical Animated Film

Tangled (2010) - Walt Disney Pictures Feature Length Theatrical Animated Film

CotD: Now a year old… so, is “Tangled” one of the GREAT Disney films, or just another animated product?

Tangled (2010) – Walt Disney Pictures Feature Length Theatrical Animated Film

A Disney retelling of the classic fairy tale of the Princess imprisoned in an isolated, tall tower. The only way into or out of the tower is to climb up Rapunzel’s long hair.

Watch “Tangled” on video at Big Cartoon DataBase

Mark Hall, co-founder of Cosgrove Hall, dead at 74

Mark Hall

Mark Hall

Producer-Animator Mark Hall, co-founder with Brian Cosgrove of famed British studio Cosgrove Hall, died early Friday at his Manchester home after a battle with cancer. He was 74.

He died surrounded by his family, said his company, Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment.

The animation studio he founded was responsible for Danger Mouse, Vampires, Pirates and Aliens and The Wind in the Willows, among many TV series. It also produced such features as Cinderella (1979) and The BFG (1989).

Hall met Cosgrove while they were studying at Manchester School of Art in the 1950s. After graduation, they both joined TV, doing graphic design at Granada Television.

In 1971, Hall left Granada to start Stop Frame Productions, which, he said in a 2006 interview, was “where we cut our teeth.”

They created Cosgrove Hall Films in 1976, the year after Stop Frame was wound down. They had success around the world with their series, which included Danger Mouse spin-off Count Duckula, Jamie and the Magic Torch and Cockleshell Bay.

Hall had “a lifetime of achievement” in animation, recalled Cosgrove Hall operations director Adrian Wilkins. “He is one of life’s gentlemen.:

Voiced by Only Fools and Horses actor David Jason, Danger Mouse was joined by bumbling sidekick Penfold (voiced by Terry and June star Terry Scott) in his attempts to vanquish evil Baron Greenback.

In 2006, the series’ 25th anniversary year, Hall told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the secret to Danger Mouse’s success was the odd situations that the the pair found themselves in.

“The adults watched because of that kind of anarchy,” he said. “The kids watched it because they just loved the stories and the absolutely stupid gags.”

He praised Jason’s “fantastic” voicing of Danger Mouse and Scott’s “wonderful” Penfold.

Produced by Cosgrove Hall for Thames TV, Danger Mouse drew an average audience of 3.5 million when first aired in the Britain on ITV. Since then, it’s been broadcast in over 80 countries.

Although Cosgrove Hall went out of business two years ago, both co-founders came out of retirement this year to form Cosgrove Hall Fitzpatrick Entertainment with Francis Fitzpatrick, creator of the hit kids’ series Jakers!

The company has created a new character, Pip!, which, it says, could create at least 75 jobs in the Manchester area when production begins.

Cosgrove and Hall also created the new series The HeroGliffix, a group of “so-called super heroes” who have “paws with flaws that get in the way of their superpowers in the most inconvenient and comical ways.”

“Mark was instrumental in designing the two new TV shows which we’re taking to market now which are, if you like, his legacy,” said CHF’s Adrian Wilkins. “And he actually saw the Cosgrove Hall name resurrected which was the nicest tribute we could give to him.”

Added Wilkins: “One of our fellow directors summed it up the other day and said, when the history of animation is written, you’ll have the likes of Walt Disney up there, [Bob the Builder’s] Keith Chapman, etc. But Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall are going to be in the lifetime hall of fame for their contribution to the animation industry.”

Mark Hall is survived by his wife and two children. One of them, Simon, also works in the animation business.

Bedtime For Sniffles (1940) – Merrie Melodies Theatrical Cartoon Series

Bedtime For Sniffles (1940) - Merrie Melodies Theatrical Cartoon

Bedtime For Sniffles (1940) - Merrie Melodies Theatrical Cartoon

CotD: One of Chuck Jones’ first major characters, Sniffles from “Bedtime For Sniffles“, was voiced by a mystery woman.

Bedtime For Sniffles (1940) – Merrie Melodies Theatrical Cartoon Series

In his little sardine can house, Sniffles tries to stay awake and wait up to see Santa on Christmas Eve. Sniffles is sweeping up and singing “Jingle Bells” while he waits for Santa. In just an hour, Santa will be here. He makes a cup of Haxwell Mouse Coffee and reads “Good Mousekeeping” magazine while he waits, only to eventually fall asleep.

Watch “Bedtime For Sniffles” on video at Big Cartoon DataBase

Kress, McDuffie receive posthumous writing award

Earl Kress

Earl Kress

Animation writers Dwayne McDuffie and Earl Kress have been posthumously named co-recipients of the Writers Guild of America, West Animation Writers Caucus’ 14th Annual Animation Writing Award, recognizing their outstanding contributions to the craft of animation writing, as well as their work with the Writers Guild in organizing animation.

The AWC’s lifetime achievement award was presented to McDuffie’s and Kress’ widows, Charlotte (Fullerton) McDuffie and Denise Kress, at the AWC’s 2011 meeting, reception and awards ceremony Thursday night at WGAW headquarters in Los Angeles.

Mark Evanier, the 2003 honoree, presented this year’s award to Kress, and AWC member Matt Wayne made the presentation to (Fullerton) McDuffie. WGAW vice-president Howard A. Rodman introduced the evening.

“This year, animation lost two talented, hard-working people who have given much of themselves and their talent to our field. Dwayne McDuffie was a talented writer and creator of comics and animation who worked hard for others, particularly for minority writers. Earl Kress was a writer whose career included both feature and TV animation and hard work on behalf of all animation writers as a member of the WGA Animation Writers Caucus and the Animation Guild Board of Directors,” said AWC chair Craig Miller.

“Both were people I was glad to call friend and colleague, and whose efforts, it can truthfully be said, made all of us the better for them. They left us much too soon and too young, and I’m pleased we can commemorate their work and their memory with this year’s award,” Miller added.

“Earl Kress spent 30-plus years working tirelessly to improve the lot of animation writers. He leaves behind a legacy of iconic cartoons and well-deserved awards, along with scores of fellow animation writers who have health and pension benefits because of Earl, and Earl alone,” commented AWC member and 2009 AWC Animation Writing Award honoree Stan Berkowitz.

“Dwayne McDuffie came to L.A. to work on Static Shock, the animated adaptation of an African-American comic book hero he co-created, and it wasn’t long before he was one of the leading lights of superhero animation. Though his stories were often set at the edges of the universe and in other dimensions, they invariably reflected Dwayne’s all-encompassing humanity,” added Berkowitz.

Born on August 22, 1951, and a WGAW member since 1994, Kress died September 19, shortly after turning 60, of complications due to liver cancer.

Kress launched his career in 1975 with The Oddball Couple, his cartoon adaptation of The Odd Couple. His animation writing credits over four decades include Transformers, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain, Tom & Jerry Tales, The Smurfs, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Little Rascals, The Berenstain Bears, Ghostbusters, DuckTales, Pound Puppies, Tiny Toon Adventures, Kim Possible, Krypto the Superdog, and the memorable, final “Road Runner” Looney Tunes short Little Go Beep (co-written with Kathleen Helppie-Shipley), among many other animated programs.

Kress’ animated feature co-writing credits include story work on Disney’s The Fox and the Hound (1981), as well as several direct-to-video animated features, such as Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes (2010) and Wakko’s Wish (1999).

In 1998, Kress earned an Annie Award for his work on the Pinky and the Brain episode “The Family That Poits Together Narfs Together” (shared with co-writers Charles M. Howell IV and John Ludin). A five-time Emmy nominee, Kress shared two Daytime Emmys over the course of his career, one for Pinky and the Brain in 1999 (Outstanding Special Class Animated Program), the other for Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain in 2000 (Outstanding Children’s Animated Program).

Over the course of his career, Kress worked at studios such as Warner Bros., Universal and Disney, and animation production companies including Hanna-Barbera, Marvel, DePatie-Freleng and Filmation.

In 1995, Kress joined the Animation Guild’s executive board and was elected vice-president of the Animation Guild (Local 839) in 2004, a position he held until his death earlier this year.

In addition to writing comic books for The Simpsons and Looney Toons, Kress most recently “ghostwrote” Life is a Pic-a-Nic: Tips and Tricks for the Smarter Than Av-er-age Bear with Yogi Bear, published in 2010 as a tie-in for the recent big-screen animated feature Yogi Bear. He also co-authored the 2009 autobiography of voiceover legend June Foray, Did You Grow Up with Me, Too?, with co-writer and close friend Mark Evanier.

A man of diverse talents, Kress worked as a voice actor and a puppeteer for The Muppets, in addition to serving as a sought-after animated programming historian, playing a key role in producing several DVD box sets of classic Warner Bros. cartoons and contributing “special feature” supplemental materials to many animated TV series DVD collections, as well as working with Rhino Entertainment to release several CDs of vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoon soundtracks, among other animation-centric industry projects.

Well-respected comic book and animation writer McDuffie, who died February 21 at 49 of complications after undergoing emergency heart surgery, was co-founder of Milestone Media, a ground-breaking company that created multicultural comic lines which introduced black superheroes such as Hardware and Static.

As a comic book author, McDuffie contributed to Marvel’s Fantastic Four and DC’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Justice League of America, among other popular comic book titles. As a television animation writer, story editor or producer, his animated series writing credits include Static Shock (which he co-created with Christopher James Priest), Justice League, Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, What’s New, Scooby Doo?, Teen Titans and Friends & Heroes, among other animated programs.

McDuffie also penned the 2011 animated feature All-Star Superman, based on the comic book series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, as well as several animated features in the “DC Universe Animated Original Movies” series franchise, and the videogame Justice League Heroes. The last project McDuffie was working on prior to his death was Justice League: Doom, his videogame adaptation of Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” JL story slated for release in 2012.

Born on February 20, 1962, and a WGAW member since 2003, McDuffie attended the Roeper School for gifted children in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. Later, he earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan and attended film school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Launching his career in 1987 as a special comics editor at Marvel Comics, McDuffie wrote for Spider-Man and other major Marvel characters, and co-created the limited series Damage Control, centering on the novel idea of a firm that repairs property damages caused by epic battles between superheroes and supervillains.

In 2003, McDuffie shared a Humanitas Prize for penning the “Jimmy” episode of Static Shock (teleplay by McDuffie, story by Alan Burnett and McDuffie), which explored the topical issue of gun violence in schools. In 2004, McDuffie received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for Static Shock in the Outstanding Special Class Animated Program category (shared with Sander Schwartz, Burnett, Denys Cowan, Swinton O. Scott III, John Semper, Len Uhley and Andrea Romano), and in 2005, McDuffie shared a Writers Guild Award nomination for co-writing the Justice League episode “Starcrossed” (written by Rich Fogel, John Ridley and McDuffie, story by Fogel).

After several years spent freelancing as a comic book writer, in 1992 McDuffie co-founded Milestone Media, whose comics were distributed by DC Comics. The company, like McDuffie himself, championed a more multicultural and inclusive approach to comics.

The WGAW’s AWC Animation Writing Award is given to members of the Animation Writers Caucus or Writers Guild who have advanced the literature of animation in film and/or television throughout the years and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the animation writer. Founded in 1994, the WGAW’s Animation Writers Caucus represents over 600 animation writers and works to advance economic and creative conditions in the field.

Through organizing efforts, educational events and networking opportunities, the Guild’s AWC is a leading proponent for animation writers. Recent AWC Animation Writing Award honorees include Mike Scully, Al Jean, Michael Reiss, Brad Bird, Linda Woolverton and Berkowitz.

Beauty And The Beast (1991) – Disney Feature Length Theatrical Animated Film

Beauty And The Beast (1991) - Disney Feature Length Film

Beauty And The Beast (1991) - Disney Feature Length Film

CotD: Today is the twentieth anniversary of the release of “Beauty And The Beast“, a film so good and so important we deem it worthy of mention as the second cartoon of this day.

Beauty And The Beast (1991) – Disney Feature Length Theatrical Animated Film

In a small French village, the beautiful and intelligent Belle ignores her suitor, the vain and boorish Gaston, as she cares for her father, eccentric inventor Maurice.

On his way to the fair, Maurice stumbles upon a foreboding castle in the woods, and is thrown into a dungeon by the castle’s occupant-a huge savage beast. Belle comes to rescue her ailing father, and offers to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner. Belle discovers that the castle’s house staff has been transformed into objects by the same magic spell that made their master a beast. In order to break the spell, the Beast must learn to love another and be loved in return.

As she remains in the castle, Belle and Beast find their apprehension replaced by affection; but Belle misses her father, and the Beast reluctantly allows her to leave.

Gaston- incensed at Belle’s affection for the Beast- leads a mob of townspeople to storm the castle. Belle rushes back in time to confess her love for the Beast, and the spell is broken.

Watch “Beauty And The Beast” on video at Big Cartoon DataBase

Toy Story (1995) – Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story (1995) - Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story (1995) - Pixar Animation Studios

CotD: CGI Animated films really got their first big boost 16 years ago with PIXAR’s release of “Toy Story“, their first computer animated feature.

Toy Story (1995) – Pixar Animation Studios

A cowboy toy is profoundly threatened and jealous when a fancy spaceman toy supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

Watch “Toy Story” on video at Big Cartoon DataBase

Woody Woodpecker movie knocks at Universal’s door

Illumination Entertainment

Illumination Entertainment

Universal-based animation studio Illumination Entertainment is working on a feature film starring Woody Woodpecker.

John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, co-writers of the Will Ferrell comedy Blades of Glory, are in talks to develop a story about the mischievous bird, who first appeared in the 1940 Andy Panda short Knock Knock.

Illumination and the writers will try making a story that modernizes Woody in the hopes of starting a franchise.

Co-created by cartoonist Walter Lantz, Woody was first voiced by Mel Blanc. Later, Lantz’s wife, Grace Stafford, became the voice of the bird.

Woody Woodpecker cartoons first had a theme song in 1947. “The Woody Woodpecker Song” was heard in the following year’s Wet Blanket Policy. It was nominated for an Oscar for best song, becoming the only song from a short film ever nominated in the category.

In 1985, Universal bought the library of shorts and the rights to the Woody character from Lantz.

Altschuler and Krinsky were executive producers and writers on Fox’s King of the Hill. They also worked on the feature film incarnation of The Jetsons.

Illumination Entertainment made Despicable Me and next year’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

An American Tail (1986) – Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures

An American Tail (1943) - Amblin Entertainment

An American Tail (1943) - Amblin Entertainment

CotD: Amblin Entertainment released their first feature animated film “An American Tail” on this date in 1986.

An American Tail (1986) – Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures

Fievel is a young Russian mouse separated from his parents on the way to America, a land they think is without cats. When he arrives alone in the New World, he keeps up hope, searching for his family, making new friends, and running and dodging the cats he thought he’d be rid off.

Watch “An American Tail” on video at Big Cartoon DataBase

Happy Feet Two stumbling to second at box office

Happy Feet Two

Happy Feet Two

Warner Bros. might need a referral to the podiatrist.

Its penguin sequel Happy Feet Two made only $22 million during its opening weekend in North America, reaching No. 2 spot and collecting just half of what the original, Happy Feet, brought in during its debut weekend in 2006.

What’s more, the sequel had a leg up on the original, as it had screenings in 3-D, which cost a few dollars more than those in 2-D.

The family-oriented animation opened in Mexico and four smaller countries, making $2.6 million from 969 venues abroad. It reached No. 1 in Malaysia.

Featuring voice actors Elijah Wood and Robin Williams in return roles, Happy Feet Two received mixed to bad reviews. Nonetheless, Warner Bros. said that audiences rated it highly, which could give it legs over the next few weeks.

“We honestly feel we’ll pick up some steam and play some catch-up as we get into the holidays,” said WB’s head of distribution, Dan Fellman.

The big winner at the North American box office was the live-action The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1, which opened with an enormous $139.5 million domestically and another $144 million in 54 overseas countries, according to studio estimates Sunday.

In fifth place domestically was DreamWorks Puss In Boots, with $10.7 million. The Shrek spin-off made another $2.4 million at 1,191 locations in five overseas countries for a cumulatee foreign gross of $53.1 million.

North American business reached $222 million, up 14% from the same weekend last year, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 topped the box office with $125 million, according to box-office tracker

The animated Aardman-SPA holiday tale Arthur Christmasopens Wednesday for the all-important Thanksgiving weekend in the United States. The movie was in sixth place overseas this weekend with $5 million from 1,610 screens in five countries and has made $9 million so far. It opened at No. 9 this past weekend in Germany, making $1.06 million from 630 venues.

This and other new films could break the Thanksgiving record set in 2009, when New Moon led to a $273 million domestic result between Wednesday and Sunday.

“This could be one of the greatest movie-going weekends ever in the midst of a year that has really had its ups and downs at the box office,” said analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

Ticket sales were estimated for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Final domestic figures are scheduled for release Monday.

Meanwhile, Sony-Paramount’s The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicornwas No. 2 this weekend abroad, grossing $21.7 million from 13,039 venues in 53 countries. In China, it opened to $7.4 million from 7,030 locations.

Tintin‘s foreign gross has reached $187.6 million. The Steven Spielberg animation opens in North America on December 21.

[Via Associated Press —, The Hollywood Reporter]