Why the Short-Lived Calvin and Hobbes Is Still One of the Most Beloved & Influential Comic Strips

If you know more than a few mil­len­ni­als, you prob­a­bly know some­one who reveres Calvin and Hobbes as a sacred work of art. That com­ic strip’s cul­tur­al impact is even more remark­able con­sid­er­ing that it ran in news­pa­pers for only a decade, from 1985 to 1995: bare­ly an exis­tence at all, by the stan­dards of the Amer­i­can fun­ny pages, where the likes of Garfield has been lazi­ly crack­ing wise for 45 years now. Yet these two exam­ples of the com­ic-strip form could hard­ly be more dif­fer­ent from each oth­er in not just their dura­tion, but also how they man­i­fest in the world. While Garfield has long been a mar­ket­ing jug­ger­naut, Calvin and Hobbes cre­ator Bill Wat­ter­son has famous­ly turned down all licens­ing inquiries.

That choice set him apart from the oth­er suc­cess­ful car­toon­ists of his time, not least Charles Schulz, whose work on Peanuts had inspired him to start draw­ing comics in the first place. Calvin and Hobbes may not have its own toys and lunch­box­es, but it does reflect a Schulz­ian degree of thought­ful­ness and per­son­al ded­i­ca­tion to the work. Like Schulz, Wat­ter­son eschewed del­e­ga­tion, cre­at­ing the strip entire­ly by him­self from begin­ning to end. Not only did he exe­cute every brush­stroke (not a metaphor, since he actu­al­ly used a brush for more pre­cise line con­trol), every theme dis­cussed and expe­ri­enced by the tit­u­lar six-year-old boy and his tiger best friend was root­ed in his own thoughts.

“One of the beau­ties of a com­ic strip is that peo­ple’s expec­ta­tions are nil,” Wat­ter­son said in an inter­view in the twen­ty-tens. “If you draw any­thing more sub­tle than a pie in the face, you’re con­sid­ered a philoso­pher.” How­ev­er mod­est the medi­um, he spent the whole run of Calvin and Hobbes try­ing to ele­vate it, ver­bal­ly but even more so visu­al­ly. Or per­haps the word is re-ele­vate, giv­en how his increas­ing­ly ambi­tious Sun­day-strip lay­outs evoked ear­ly-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry news­pa­per fix­tures like Lit­tle Nemo and Krazy Kat, which sprawled lav­ish­ly across entire pages. Even if there could be no return­ing to the bygone gold­en age of the com­ic strip, he could at least draw inspi­ra­tion from its glo­ries.

Iron­i­cal­ly, from the per­spec­tive of the twen­ty-twen­ties, Wat­ter­son­’s work looks like an arti­fact of a bygone gold­en age itself. In the eight­ies and nineties, when even small-town news­pa­pers could still com­mand a robust read­er­ship, the comics sec­tion had a cer­tain cul­tur­al weight; Wat­ter­son has spo­ken of the car­toon­ist’s prac­ti­cal­ly unmatched abil­i­ty to influ­ence the thoughts of read­ers on a dai­ly basis. In my case, the influ­ence ran espe­cial­ly deep, since I became a Calvin and Hobbes-lov­ing mil­len­ni­al avant la let­tre while first learn­ing to read through the Sun­day fun­nies. It took no time at all to mas­ter Garfield, but when I start­ed get­ting Calvin and Hobbes, I knew I was mak­ing progress; even when I did­n’t under­stand the words, I could still mar­vel at the sheer exu­ber­ance and detail of the art.

Calvin and Hobbes also attract­ed enthu­si­asts of oth­er gen­er­a­tions, not least among oth­er car­toon­ists. Joel Allen Schroed­er’s doc­u­men­tary Dear Mr. Wat­ter­son fea­tures more than a few of them express­ing their admi­ra­tion for how he raised the bar, as well as for how his work con­tin­ues to enrap­ture young read­ers. Its time­less­ness owes in part to its lack of top­i­cal ref­er­ences (in con­trast to, say, Doones­bury, which I remem­ber always being the most for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge in my days of incom­plete lit­er­a­cy), but also to its under­stand­ing of child­hood itself. Like Stephen King, a cre­ator with whom he oth­er­wise has lit­tle in com­mon, Wat­ter­son remem­bers the exot­ic, often bizarre tex­tures real­i­ty can take on for the very young.

He also remem­bers that child­hood is not, as J. M. Coet­zee once put it, “a time of inno­cent joy, to be spent in the mead­ows amid but­ter­cups and bun­ny-rab­bits or at the hearth­side absorbed in a sto­ry­book,” but in large part “a time of grit­ting the teeth and endur­ing.” Being six years old has its plea­sures, to be sure, but it also comes with strong dos­es of tedi­um, pow­er­less­ness, and futil­i­ty, which we tend not to acknowl­edge as adults. Calvin and Hobbes showed me, as it’s shown so many young read­ers, that there’s a way out: not through stu­dious­ness, not through polite­ness, and cer­tain­ly not through fol­low­ing the rules, but through the pow­er of the imag­i­na­tion to re-enchant dai­ly life. If it gets you sent to your room once in a while, that’s a small price to pay.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Make Comics: A Four-Part Series from the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art

George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Praised as the Great­est Com­ic Strip of All Time, Gets Dig­i­tized as Ear­ly Install­ments Enter the Pub­lic Domain

17 Min­utes of Charles Schulz Draw­ing Peanuts

The Dis­ney Artist Who Devel­oped Don­ald Duck & Remained Anony­mous for Years, Despite Being “the Most Pop­u­lar and Wide­ly Read Artist-Writer in the World”

The Comi­clo­pe­dia: An Online Archive of 14,000 Com­ic Artists, From Stan Lee and Jack Kir­by, to Mœbius and Hergé

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

17 Minutes of Charles Schulz Drawing Peanuts

Any­one can learn to draw the cast of Peanuts, but few can do it every day for near­ly half a cen­tu­ry. The lat­ter, as far as we know, amounts to a group of one: Charles Schulz, who not only cre­at­ed that world-famous com­ic strip but drew it sin­gle-hand­ed through­out its entire run. He was, as a nine­teen-six­ties CBS pro­file put it, “a one-man pro­duc­tion team: writer, humorist, social crit­ic.” That clip opens the video above, which com­piles footage of Schulz draw­ing Peanuts while mak­ing obser­va­tions on the nature of his craft. “When you draw a com­ic strip, if you’re going to wait for inspi­ra­tion, you’ll nev­er make it,” he says. “You have to become pro­fes­sion­al enough at this so that you can almost delib­er­ate­ly set down an idea at will.”

Schulz’s ded­i­ca­tion to his work may have been an inborn trait, but he did­n’t find his way to that work only through his par­tic­u­lar abil­i­ties. His par­tic­u­lar inabil­i­ties also played their part: “I stud­ied art in a cor­re­spon­dence course, because I was afraid to go to art school,” he says in a lat­er BBC seg­ment.

“I could­n’t see myself sit­ting in a room where every­one else in the room could draw much bet­ter than I.” With bet­ter writ­ing skills, “per­haps I would have tried to become a nov­el­ist, and I might have become a fail­ure.” With bet­ter draw­ing skills, “I might have tried to become an illus­tra­tor or an artist. I would’ve failed there. But my entire being seems to be just right for being a car­toon­ist.”

In draw­ing, he also found a medi­um of thought. “The real­ly prac­ti­cal way of get­ting an idea, when you have noth­ing real­ly to draw, is just tak­ing a blank piece of paper and maybe draw­ing one of the char­ac­ters in a famil­iar pose, like Snoopy sleep­ing on top of the dog­house,” he says. Then, you might nat­u­ral­ly “imag­ine what would hap­pen if, say, it began to snow. And so you’d doo­dle in a few snowflakes, some­thing like that. Per­haps you would be led to won­der what would hap­pen if it snowed very hard, and the snow cov­ered him up com­plete­ly.” If you con­tin­ue on to draw, say, Snoopy­’s loy­al friend Wood­stock being sim­i­lar­ly snowed in, you’re well on your way to a com­plete strip. Now do it 17,897 times, and maybe you’ll qual­i­fy for Schulz’s league.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Charles Schulz Draws Char­lie Brown in 45 Sec­onds and Exor­cis­es His Demons

Hayao Miyazaki’s Sketch­es Show­ing How to Draw Char­ac­ters Run­ning: From 1980 Edi­tion of Ani­ma­tion Mag­a­zine

Umber­to Eco Explains the Poet­ic Pow­er of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

Hergé Draws Tintin in Vin­tage Footage (and What Explains the Character’s Endur­ing Appeal)

Car­toon­ists Draw Their Famous Car­toon Char­ac­ters While Blind­fold­ed (1947)

The Endur­ing Appeal of Schulz’s Peanuts — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #116

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Disney Artist Who Developed Donald Duck & Remained Anonymous for Years, Despite Being “the Most Popular and Widely Read Artist-Writer in the World”

Don­ald Duck first appeared in Dis­ney’s 1934 car­toon The Wise Lit­tle Hen (below). In his sub­se­quent roles, he quick­ly devel­oped into that still-famil­iar fig­ure the New York­er once described as “per­son­i­fied irri­tabil­i­ty.” But it would take him anoth­er decade or so to become more than an incom­pe­tent, quick-to-anger foil for Mick­ey Mouse. It would also take the mind and hand of Carl Barks, a for­mer Dis­ney artist who’d retreat­ed to the edge of the Cal­i­for­nia desert to raise chick­ens and draw a few com­ic books for extra mon­ey. That osten­si­ble side gig last­ed thir­ty years, dur­ing which Barks wrote and drew about 500 Don­ald Duck sto­ries, build­ing an entire world around him now regard­ed as one of the great­est works of Amer­i­can com­ic art.

Even as Barks’ comics became enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar, he labored on them in total anonymi­ty; fans called him “the Good Duck Artist” (which now seems more of a com­men­tary on the artis­tic stan­dards of Dis­ney comics at the time) or “the Duck Man.” As comics Youtu­ber matttt puts it in the video above, “in the ear­ly nine­teen-fifties, the Duck Man was sell­ing three mil­lion comics every sin­gle month, and yet no one knew his name,” because “Dis­ney was intent on keep­ing alive the myth that Walt Dis­ney him­self per­son­al­ly drew the comics.” Despite that, it was clear to many read­ers, young and old, that one par­tic­u­lar Don­ald Duck artist was pro­duc­ing mate­r­i­al of excep­tion­al ambi­tion and “astound­ing­ly high qual­i­ty.” It would take the espe­cial­ly ded­i­cat­ed among them years and years of repeat­ed attempts before find­ing out his name.

“The duck comics were, at their best, rip-roar­ing, edge-of-your-seat, globe-trot­ting com­ic adven­tures,” says matttt. “They feel less like Steam­boat Willie and more like Indi­ana Jones or Star Wars — or, should I say, Indi­ana Jones and Star Wars feel like the duck comics, because both George Lucas and Steven Spiel­berg grew up read­ing, and are vocal fans of, the Duck Man.” Oth­er avowed Barks enthu­si­asts include R. Crumb, Matt Groen­ing, and even Osamu Tezu­ka, the “God of Man­ga” him­self. “Even when I open man­ga from much lat­er, like Drag­on Ball or One Piece, by artists who, to my knowl­edge, have nev­er read a Don­ald Duck com­ic, I see the Duck Man’s influ­ence: in those half-page scene-set­ting splash­es, the big eyes, expres­sive faces, the sense of motion and pac­ing.”

Barks only came into the pub­lic eye after his actu­al retire­ment, and in his lat­er decades found him­self fêt­ed around the world. Gen­er­a­tions of read­ers had grown up famil­iar with not just his sophis­ti­cat­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of Don­ald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, but also the city of Duck­burg he cre­at­ed and the char­ac­ters with whom he pop­u­lat­ed it: Gyro Gear­loose, the Bea­gle Boys, Mag­i­ca DeSpell, and most dis­tin­guished of all, Don­ald’s impos­si­bly wealthy uncle Scrooge McDuck. Like most mil­len­ni­als, I first encoun­tered them all through Duck­Tales, the Dis­ney TV series with a Bark­sian pen­chant for exot­ic trav­els and iron­ic end­ings; this pre­pared me to appre­ci­ate Barks’ orig­i­nal sto­ries as Glad­stone Comics sub­se­quent­ly reprint­ed them in the nineties. And like all for­mer young Barks fans, I’ve only come to appre­ci­ate them more in adult­hood.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons Are Made: 1939 Doc­u­men­tary Gives an Inside Look

Don­ald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream and Four Oth­er Dis­ney Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons from World War II

An Ear­ly Ver­sion of Mick­ey Mouse Enters the Pub­lic Domain on Jan­u­ary 1, 2024

Watch 13 Exper­i­men­tal Short Films by Tezu­ka Osamu, the Walt Dis­ney of Japan

George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Praised as the Great­est Com­ic Strip of All Time, Gets Dig­i­tized as Ear­ly Install­ments Enter the Pub­lic Domain

The Comi­clo­pe­dia: An Online Archive of 14,000 Com­ic Artists, From Stan Lee and Jack Kir­by, to Mœbius and Hergé

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Beautiful Anarchy of the Earliest Animated Cartoons: Explore an Archive with 200+ Early Animations

Ear­ly in his col­lect­ing odyssey, ani­ma­tion his­to­ri­an, archivist, and edu­ca­tor Tom­my José Stathes earned the hon­orif­ic Car­toon Cryp­to­zo­ol­o­gist from Cinebeasts, a “New York-based col­lec­tive of film nerds, vid­iots, and pro­gram­mers inves­ti­gat­ing the fur­thest reach­es of the mov­ing image uni­verse.”

More recent­ly, George Wille­man, a nitrate film expert on the Library of Con­gress’ film preser­va­tion team dubbed him “the King of Silent Ani­ma­tion.”

The seed of Stathes’ endur­ing pas­sion took root in his 90s child­hood, when slapped togeth­er VHS antholo­gies of car­toons from the 30s and 40s could be picked up for a cou­ple of bucks in gro­ceries and drug­stores. These finds typ­i­cal­ly includ­ed one or two silent-era rar­i­ties, which is how he became acquaint­ed with Felix the Cat and oth­er favorites who now dom­i­nate his Ear­ly Ani­ma­tion Archive.

He squeezed his par­ents and grand­par­ents for mem­o­ries of car­toons screened on tele­vi­sion and in the­aters dur­ing their youth, and began research­ing the his­to­ry of ani­ma­tion.

Real­iz­ing how few of the ear­ly car­toons he was learn­ing about could be wide­ly viewed, he set out to col­lect and archive as many exam­ples as pos­si­ble, and to share these trea­sures with new audi­ences.

His col­lec­tion cur­rent­ly con­sists of some 4,000 ani­mat­ed reels, truf­fled up from antique shops, flea mar­kets, and eBay. In addi­tion to his Car­toons on Film YouTube chan­nel, he hosts reg­u­lar in-per­son Car­toon Car­ni­vals, often curat­ed around hol­i­day themes.

Stathes’ pas­sion project is giv­ing many once-pop­u­lar char­ac­ters a sec­ond and in some cas­es, third act.

Take Farmer Alfal­fa, (occa­sion­al­ly ren­dered as Al Fal­fa), the star of 1923’s The Fable of the Alley Cat, an install­ment in the Aesop’s Fables series, which ran from 1921 to 1929.

His first appear­ance was in direc­tor Paul Ter­ry’s Down on Phoney Farm from 1915, but as Stathes observes, baby boomers grew up watch­ing him on TV:

Near­ly all of these folks who men­tion the char­ac­ter will also ref­er­ence ‘hun­dreds’ of mice. Few may have real­ized that, while the Farmer Alfal­fa car­toons run­ning on tele­vi­sion at that time were already old, the films starred one of the ear­li­est recur­ring car­toon char­ac­ters, and one that enjoyed an incred­i­bly long career com­pared with his car­toon con­tem­po­raries.

The Fable of the Alley Cat honks a lot of famil­iar vin­tage car­toon horns — slap­stick, may­hem, David tri­umph­ing over Goliath… cats and mice.

Stathes describes it as “a rather sin­is­ter day in the life of Farmer Al Fal­fa — It’s clear that the ani­mal king­dom tends to despise him! — and his doc­u­men­ta­tion is metic­u­lous:

The ver­sion seen here was pre­pared for TV dis­tri­b­u­tion in the 1950s by Stu­art Pro­duc­tions. The music tracks were orig­i­nal­ly com­posed by Win­ston Sharples for the Van Beuren ‘Rain­bow Parade’ car­toons in the mid-1930s.

The mis­matched duo, Mutt and Jeff, got their start in dai­ly news­pa­per comics, before mak­ing the leap to ani­mat­ed shorts.

Ani­ma­tion con­nois­seurs go bananas for the per­spec­tive shift at the 14 sec­ond mark of Laugh­ing Gas (1917), a rar­i­ty Stathes shares as a ref­er­ence copy from the orig­i­nal 35mm nitrate form, with the promise of a full restora­tion in the future.

(A num­ber of Stathes’ acqui­si­tions have dete­ri­o­rat­ed over the years or sus­tained dam­age through improp­er stor­age.)

Dinky Doo­dle and his dog Weak­heart were 1920s Bray Stu­dios crowd­pleasers whose stint on tele­vi­sion is evi­denced by the mid­cen­tu­ry voice over that was added to Dinky Doo­dle’s Bed­time Sto­ry (1926).

The char­ac­ters’ cre­ator, direc­tor Wal­ter Lantz appears as “Pop” in the above live sequences.

Car­toons On Film has coaxed Koko the Clown, Flip the Frog, Bon­zo the Pup, and Mick­ey Mouse pre­cur­sor, Oswald the Lucky Rab­bit, out of moth­balls for our view­ing plea­sure.

Stathes’ col­lec­tion also dredges up some objec­tion­able peri­od titles and con­tent, Lit­tle Black Sam­bo, Red­skin Blues, and Korn Plas­tered in Africa to name a few.

Stathes is mind­ful of con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­i­ties, but stops short of allow­ing them to scrub these works from the his­toric record. He warns would-be view­ers of The Chi­na­man that it con­tains a “racist speech bal­loon as well as an inter­ti­tle that was cut from the lat­er TV ver­sion for obvi­ous rea­sons:”

Such was the vul­gar ter­mi­nol­o­gy in those days. To ques­tion or cen­sor these films would be deny­ing our his­to­ry.

Begin your explo­rations of Tom­my José Stathes’ Ear­ly Ani­ma­tion Archive here and if so inclined, con­tribute to the cost­ly stor­age of these rar­i­ties with a Ko-fi dona­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917 to 1931)

The First Ani­mat­ed Fea­ture Film: The Adven­tures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger (1926)

Watch Dzi­ga Vertov’s Unset­tling Sovi­et Toys: The First Sovi­et Ani­mat­ed Movie Ever (1924)

The First Avant Garde Ani­ma­tion: Watch Wal­ter Ruttmann’s Licht­spiel Opus 1 (1921)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Evolution of Bugs Bunny’s Appearance Over His Eight Decade Career

Bugs Bun­ny is a quick-think­ing, fast-talk­ing, was­cal­ly force of nature, and a preter­nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed phys­i­cal come­di­an, too.

But unlike such last­ing greats as Char­lie Chapin and Buster Keaton, it took him a while to find his icon­ic look.

His first appear­ance, as “Hap­py Rab­bit” in the 1938 black and white the­atri­cal short, Porky’s Hare Hunt, might remind you of those year­book pho­tos of celebri­ties before they were famous.

In a video essay con­sid­er­ing how Bugs Bunny’s look has evolved over his eight-decade career, ani­ma­tion fan Dave Lee of the pop­u­lar YouTube series Dave Lee Down Under breaks down some ear­ly char­ac­ter­is­tics, from an unde­fined, small body and oval-shaped head to white fur and a fluffy cot­ton ball of a tail.

His voice was also a work in progress, more Woody Wood­peck­er than the hybrid Brook­lyn-Bronx patois that would make him, and voice actor Mel Blanc, famous.

The fol­low­ing year, the rab­bit who would become Bugs Bun­ny returned in Prest‑o Change‑o, a Mer­ry Melodies Tech­ni­col­or short direct­ed by Chuck Jones.

A few months lat­er char­ac­ter design­er (and for­mer Dis­ney ani­ma­tor) Char­lie Thor­son sub­ject­ed him to a pret­ty notice­able makeover for Hare-um Scare-um, anoth­er rab­bit hunt­ing-themed romp.

The two-toned grey and white coat, oval muz­zle, and mis­chie­vous buck-toothed grin are much more aligned with the Bugs most of us grew up watch­ing.  

His pear-shaped bod’, long neck, high-rumped stance, and pon­toon feet allowed for a much greater range of motion.

A nota­tion on the mod­el sheet allud­ing to direc­tor Ben Hard­away’s nick­name — “Bugs” — gives some hint as to how the world’s most pop­u­lar car­toon char­ac­ter came by his stage name.

For 1940’s Elmer’s Can­did Cam­era, the pink-muz­zled Bugs dropped the yel­low gloves Thors­en had giv­en him and affect­ed some black ear tips.

Tex Avery, who was in line to direct the pair in the Acad­e­my Award-nom­i­nat­ed short A Wild Hare, found this look objec­tion­ably cute.

He tasked ani­ma­tor Bob Givens with giv­ing the rab­bit, now offi­cial­ly known as Bugs Bun­ny, an edgi­er appear­ance.

Ani­ma­tion his­to­ri­an Michael Bar­ri­er writes:

In the Givens design, Bugs was no longer defined by Thor­son­’s tan­gle of curves. His head was now oval, rather than round. In that respect, Bugs recalled the white rab­bit in Porky’s Hare Hunt, but Given­s’s design pre­served so many of Thor­son­’s refinements—whiskers, a more nat­u­ral­is­tic nose—and intro­duced so many others—cheek ruffs, less promi­nent teeth—that there was very lit­tle sim­i­lar­i­ty between the new ver­sion of Bugs and the Hare Hunt rab­bit. 

Bar­ri­er also details a num­ber of sim­i­lar­i­ties between the tit­u­lar rab­bit char­ac­ter from Disney’s 1935 Sil­ly Sym­phonies short, The Tor­toise and the Hare, and for­mer Dis­ney employ­ee Givens’ design.  

While Avery boast­ed to car­toon his­to­ri­an Milt Gray in 1977 that “the con­struc­tion was almost iden­ti­cal”, adding, “It’s a won­der I was­n’t sued,” Givens insist­ed in an inter­view with the Ani­ma­tion Guild’s oral his­to­ry project that Bugs wasn’t a Max Hare rip off. ( “I was there. I ought to know.”)

What­ev­er par­al­lels may exist between Givens’ Bugs and Disney’s Hare, YouTu­ber Lee sees A Wild Hare as the moment when Bugs Bunny’s char­ac­ter coa­lesced as “more of a lov­able prankster than a mali­cious deviant,” non­cha­lant­ly chomp­ing a car­rot like Clark Gable in It Hap­pened One Night, and turn­ing a bit of region­al Texas teen slang — “What’s up, Doc?”- into one of the most immor­tal catch phras­es in enter­tain­ment his­to­ry.

A star was born, so much so that four direc­tors — Jones, Avery, Friz Fre­leng and Bob Clam­pett — were enlist­ed to keep up with the demand for Bugs Bun­ny vehi­cles. 

This mul­ti-pronged approach led to some visu­al incon­sis­ten­cies, that were even­tu­al­ly checked by the cre­ation of defin­i­tive mod­el sheets, drawn by Bob McKim­son, who ani­mat­ed the Clam­pett-direct­ed shorts. 

His­to­ri­an Bar­ri­er takes stock:

Bugs’s cheeks were broad­er, his chin stronger, his teeth a lit­tle more promi­nent, his eyes larg­er and slant­ed a lit­tle out­ward instead of in. The most expres­sive ele­ments of the rab­bit’s face had all been strength­ened …but because the tri­an­gu­lar shape of Bugs’s head had been sub­tly accen­tu­at­ed, Bugs was, if any­thing, futher removed from cute­ness than ever before. McKim­son’s mod­el sheet must be giv­en some of the cred­it for the marked improve­ment in Bugs’s looks in all the direc­tors’ car­toons start­ing in 1943. Not that every­one drew Bugs to match the mod­el sheet, but the awk­ward­ness and uncer­tain­ty of the ear­ly for­ties were gone; it was if every­one had sud­den­ly fig­ured out what Bugs real­ly looked like.

Now one of the most rec­og­niz­able stars on earth, Bugs remained unmis­tak­ably him­self while spoof­ing Charles Dick­ens, Alfred Hitch­cock and Wag­n­er; held his own in live action appear­ances with such heavy hit­ters as Doris Day and Michael Jor­dan; and had a mem­o­rable cameo in the 1988 fea­ture Who Framed Roger Rab­bit, after pro­duc­ers agreed to a deal that guar­an­teed him the same amount of screen time as his far squar­er rival, Mick­ey Mouse. 

This mil­len­ni­um got off to a rock­i­er start, owing to an over-reliance on low bud­get, sim­pli­fied flash ani­ma­tion, and the tru­ly exe­crable trend of shows that reimag­ine clas­sic char­ac­ters as cloy­ing tod­dlers. 

In 2011, on the strength of her 2‑minute ani­mat­ed short I Like Pan­das, an ini­tial­ly reluc­tant 24-year-old Jes­si­ca Borut­s­ki was asked to “fresh­en up” Bugs’ look for The Looney Tunes Show, a series of longer for­mat car­toons which required its cast to per­form such 21st-cen­tu­ry activ­i­ties as tex­ting:

I made their heads a bit big­ger because I did­n’t like [how] in the ’60s, ’70s Bugs Bun­ny’s head start­ed to get real­ly small and his body real­ly long. He start­ed to look like a weird guy in a bun­ny suit.

Lee’s Evo­lu­tion of Bugs Bun­ny- 80 Years Explained was released in 2019. 

He has­n’t stopped evolv­ing. Giz­mod­o’s Sabi­na Graves “sat down with the cre­ative teams shep­herd­ing Warn­er Bros.’ clas­sic Looney Tunes char­ac­ters into new and reimag­ined car­toons” at San Diego Com­ic-Con 2022: 

In a push led by Looney Tunes Car­toons’ Alex Kirwan—who spear­heads the franchise’s cur­rent slate of shorts on HBO Max—the beloved ani­ma­tion icons will soon expand into even more con­tent. There’s the upcom­ing Tiny Toons Loooniver­si­ty revival, a Hal­loween spe­cial, Cartoonito’s Bugs Bun­ny Builders for kids, and two fea­ture-length ani­mat­ed movies on the way—and we have a feel­ing that’s not all, folks!

…to quote Bugs, “I knew I shoul­da tak­en that left turn at Albu­querque!

Relat­ed Con­tent

How to Draw Bugs Bun­ny: A Primer by Leg­endary Ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones

The Strange Day When Bugs Bun­ny Saved the Life of Mel Blanc

The Proof That Mel Blanc–the Voice Behind Bugs Bun­ny, Daffy Duck & Porky Pig–Was a Genius

Kill the Wab­bit!: How the 1957 Bugs Bun­ny Car­toon, “What’s Opera, Doc?,” Inspired Today’s Opera Singers to First Get Into Opera

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

A New Horror-Themed Tarot Deck Draws on a Century’s Worth of Scary Movies, Comics & Magazines

Hal­loween looms.

Have we got a tarot deck for you!

Todd Alcott, the mad sci­en­tist respon­si­ble for Open Culture’s favorite mid­cen­tu­ry graph­ic mashups, infus­es his Hor­ror Tarot with a century’s worth of hair-rais­ing, spine-tin­gling imagery.

The artist admires the genre’s capac­i­ty for con­vey­ing sub­ver­sive mes­sages, explain­ing that “hor­ror is where we think about the unthink­able and rev­el in the things that are bad for us:”

Dra­ma can exalt the finest in human­i­ty, but hor­ror shows us who we real­ly are. From The Golem to Franken­stein to The Shin­ing to The Silence of the Lambs, hor­ror uses metaphor to explore the dark­est and most unfor­giv­able aspects of human nature.

As he did with his Pulp Tarot deck, Alcott put in hun­dreds of research hours, study­ing movie posters, pulp mag­a­zines, fan mags, paper­back books, and clas­sic comics to get a feel for peri­od design trends and exe­cu­tion:

I love see­ing the dif­fer­ent devel­op­ments in print­ing, from etch­ing to lith­o­g­ra­phy to silkscreens to off­set print­ing. All those dif­fer­ent meth­ods of cre­at­ing images, all ridicu­lous­ly com­pli­cat­ed back then, are now tak­en care of eas­i­ly with a few mouse clicks. In my own per­verse way, I want to bring those days back. I want to see the flaws in the process, I want to see the lim­i­ta­tions of repro­duc­tion, and, most of all, I want to be able to feel the paper the images are print­ed on.

The cards of the Major Arcana are inspired by film posters span­ning the silent era to the present day. Each card has close ties to Hor­ror Tarot Stu­dios, a fic­tion­al pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny that pur­ports to have been in busi­ness since the dawn of the motion pic­ture.

The Jus­tice card ref­er­ences mar­ket­ing tac­tics for grit­ty 70s dri­ve-in sta­ples like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. The deck’s instruc­tion book­let con­tains a few anec­dotes about the pro­duc­tion of these movies, a help­ful bit of con­text for those who might have missed (or skipped) that fer­tile era of women’s revenge pic­tures:

I want­ed the Hor­ror Tarot Jus­tice to be some­one the read­er can root for, even if they’re hor­ri­fied by what Jus­tice promis­es: not death, but “what you deserve.”

Famous Mon­sters of Film­land, a prime pre-inter­net resource for hor­ror fans, was Alcott’s jump­ing off place for the Minor Arcana’s Suit of Wands.

You may have no knowl­edge of that sem­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion, but you’d prob­a­bly rec­og­nize some of the cov­er art­work by painter Basil Gogos, fea­tur­ing such MVPs as Frankenstein’s mon­ster, the Crea­ture from the Black Lagoon, the Phan­tom of the Opera and Drac­u­laAlcott says that many of Gogos’ icon­ic mon­ster por­traits are more deeply ingrained in the pub­lic mem­o­ry than the art the stu­dios chose to pro­mote their movies:

…for the Suit of Wands I want­ed to cre­ate a series of por­traits done in his style, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters he nev­er got around to paint­ing. The Four of Wands is a card about home­com­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and I had the idea to paint Fred­er­ick March’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as two sep­a­rate men, meet­ing for the first time in a back alley in Vic­to­ri­an Lon­don. 

A home­com­ing does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly require a phys­i­cal return to a phys­i­cal home — it can be com­plete­ly inter­nal. I want­ed to show Dr. Jekyll com­ing to terms with his inner strug­gle.

The Suit of Swords recre­ates the look of anoth­er indeli­ble hor­ror trope — the EC comics of the 1950s:

These comics were so lurid and per­verse that they actu­al­ly sparked a con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion, which end­ed up putting them out of busi­ness. Again, before the inter­net, this is what hor­ror fans had avail­able to them, and comics pub­lish­ers had to keep push­ing the lim­its of what was accept­able in order to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion. 

For the Five of Swords, I par­o­died and gen­der-swapped the infa­mous cov­er of Crime Sus­pen­Sto­ries #22. The Five of Swords is a card about being a bad win­ner, about gloat­ing at your oppo­nen­t’s defeat, about overkill. I fig­ured that a house­wife mur­der­ing her hus­band and then behead­ing him with a sword count­ed as overkill.

Todd Alcott’s Hor­ror Tarot is avail­able here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch the Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Film, The Golem, with a Sound­track by The Pix­ies’ Black Fran­cis

Behold the Sola-Bus­ca Tarot Deck, the Ear­li­est Com­plete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Al Jaffee, the Longest Working Cartoonist in History, Dies at 102: Discover How He Invented the Iconic “Folds-Ins” for Mad Magazine

Note: Yes­ter­day, Mad Mag­a­zine leg­end Al Jaf­fee died at the age of 102. Below, we present our 2016 post fea­tur­ing Jaf­fee talk­ing about how he invent­ed the icon­ic Fold-ins for the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine.

Keep copy­ing those Sun­day fun­nies, kids, and one day you may beat Al Jaf­fee’s record to become the Longest Work­ing Car­toon­ist in His­to­ry.

You’ll need to take extra good care of your health, giv­en that the Guin­ness Book of World Records noti­fied Jaf­fee, above, of his hon­orif­ic on his 95th birth­day.

Much of his leg­endary career has been spent at Mad Mag­a­zine, where he is best-known as the father of Fold-ins.

Con­ceived of as the satir­i­cal inverse of the expen­sive-to-pro­duce, 4‑color cen­ter­folds that were a sta­ple of glossier mags, the first Fold-In spoofed pub­lic per­cep­tion of actress Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor as a man-eater. Jaffe had fig­ured it as a one-issue gag, but edi­tor Al Feld­stein had oth­er ideas, demand­ing an imme­di­ate fol­low up for the June 1964 issue.

Jaffe oblig­ed with the Richard Nixon Fold-in, which set the tone for the oth­er 450 he has hand-ren­dered in sub­se­quent issues.

Al Jaffee Mad

For those who made it to adult­hood with­out the sin­gu­lar plea­sure of creas­ing Mad’s back cov­er, you can dig­i­tal­ly fold-in a few sam­ples using this nifty inter­ac­tive fea­ture, cour­tesy of The New York Times.

With all due respect, it’s not the same, just enough to give a feel for the thrill of draw­ing the out­er­most pan­el in to reveal the visu­al punch­line lurk­ing with­in the larg­er pic­ture. The print edi­tion demands pre­ci­sion fold­ing on the reader’s part, if one is to get a sat­is­fac­to­ry answer to the rhetor­i­cal text posed at the out­set.

Jaffe must be even more pre­cise in his cal­cu­la­tions. In an inter­view with Sean Edgar of Paste Mag­a­zine, he described how he turned a Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry stage shared by Nel­son Rock­e­feller and Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter into a sur­prise por­trait of the man who would become pres­i­dent five years hence:

The first thing I did was draw Richard Nixon’s face, not in great detail, just a very rough estab­lish­ment of where the eyes, nose and mouth would be, and the gen­er­al shape. I did an exag­ger­at­ed car­i­ca­ture of Nixon and then I cut it in half, and moved it apart. Once the face was cut in half, it didn’t have the integri­ty of a face any­more — it was sort of a half of face. Then I looked at what the eyes were like, and I said, ‘what can I make out of the eyes?’ He had these heavy eye­brows. I played around with many things, but I had to keep in mind all the time what the big pic­ture was. So there they (Gold­wa­ter and Rock­e­feller) were up on a stage some­where, doing a debate, and I thought, ‘What kind of stage prop can I put along­side these guys that would seem nat­ur­al there?’ I decid­ed that I could make eyes out of the lamps, and as far as the nose was con­cerned, that could come out of the fig­ures — their cloth­ing. Then I fig­ured the mouth; I could use some sort of table that could give me those two sides. That’s how it all came about. You have to have some kind of visu­al imag­i­na­tion to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties. I had to con­cen­trate on stuff that looked nat­ur­al on a stage.

Each Fold-In is a reflec­tion of the zeit­geist. Past pre­oc­cu­pa­tions have includ­ed Viet­nam, fem­i­nism, ille­gal drug use and, more recent­ly, the Jer­sey Shore.

via Gothamist

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Gallery of Mad Magazine’s Rol­lick­ing Fake Adver­tise­ments from the 1960s

Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Nev­er-Aired TV Spe­cial (1974)

A Look Inside Char­lie Heb­do, Their Cre­ative Process & the Mak­ing of a Fate­ful Car­toon

Chuck Jones’ 9 Rules For Draw­ing Road Run­ner Car­toons, or How to Cre­ate a Min­i­mal­ist Mas­ter­piece

Car­toon­ists Draw Their Famous Car­toon Char­ac­ters While Blind­fold­ed (1947)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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The March of Intellect: Newspaper Cartoons Satirize the Belief in Technological Progress in 1820s England

Before the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, few had occa­sion to con­sid­er the impact of tech­nol­o­gy on their lives. A few decades in, how­ev­er, cer­tain seg­ments of soci­ety thought about lit­tle else. That, in any case, is the impres­sion giv­en by the debate over what the Eng­lish press of the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry called the “March of Intel­lect,” a label for the appar­ent­ly polar­iz­ing dis­course that arose from not just the devel­op­ment of indus­tri­al tech­nol­o­gy but the dis­sem­i­na­tion of “use­ful knowl­edge” that fol­lowed in its wake. Was this sort of edu­ca­tion an engine of progress, or sim­ply of dis­or­der?

The March of Intel­lec­t’s most vivid lega­cy con­sists of a series of news­pa­per car­toons pub­lished in the eigh­teen-twen­ties. They depict a world, as Hunter Dukes writes at the Pub­lic Domain Review, where “extrav­a­gant­ly dressed ladies win­dow-shop for pas­tel fin­ery and for­go stair­wells in favor of belt-dri­ven slides” while “a child is moments away from being paved into the road by a car­riage at full gal­lop”; where “men gorge them­selves on pineap­ples and guz­zle bot­tles at the Cham­pagne Depot” and “post­men flit around with winged capes”; where “even con­victs have it bet­ter: they embark for New South Wales on a gar­goyle zep­pelin, but still have panoram­ic views.”

So far, so Vic­to­ri­an. One could argue more or less in favor of the world described above, as ren­dered by artist William Heath. But in the future as envi­sioned in the car­toon at the top of the post by Robert Sey­mour (now best known as the orig­i­nal illus­tra­tor of Charles Dick­ens’ The Pick­wick Papers), the March of Intel­lect takes on a flam­boy­ant­ly malign aspect.

In it “a jol­ly automa­ton stomps across soci­ety,” writes Dukes. “Its head is a lit­er­al stack of knowl­edge — tomes of his­to­ry, phi­los­o­phy, and mechan­ic man­u­als pow­er two gas-lantern eyes. It wears sec­u­lar Lon­don Uni­ver­si­ty as a crown.” It sweeps away “pleas, plead­ings, delayed par­lia­men­tary bills, and obso­lete laws. Vic­ars, rec­tors, and quack doc­tors are turned on their heads.”

Near­ly two cen­turies lat­er, most would side instinc­tive­ly with the par­tic­i­pants in the March of Intel­lect debate who saw the pro­vi­sion of tech­ni­cal and sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge to then-less-edu­cat­ed groups — women, chil­dren, the work­ing class — as an unam­bigu­ous good. Yet we may also feel trep­i­da­tion about the tech­nolo­gies emerg­ing in our own time, when, to name a cur­rent exam­ple, “arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent chat­bots have fueled ongo­ing anx­i­eties about the mech­a­niza­tion of intel­lec­tu­al labor.” Every day brings new apoc­a­lyp­tic spec­u­la­tions about the rise of pow­er­ful think­ing machines run­ning roughshod over human­i­ty. If no artist today is illus­trat­ing them quite so enter­tain­ing­ly as Heath and Sey­mour did, so much the worse for our time.

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed con­tent:

Jules Verne Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts What the 20th Cen­tu­ry Will Look Like in His Lost Nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (1863)

How Futur­ists Envi­sioned the Future in the 1920s: Mov­ing Walk­ways, Per­son­al Heli­copters, Glass-Domed Cities, Dream Recorders & More

19th Cen­tu­ry Car­i­ca­tures of Charles Dar­win, Mark Twain, H.M. Stan­ley & Oth­er Famous Vic­to­ri­ans (1873)

The Charles Dick­ens Illus­trat­ed Gallery: A New Online Col­lec­tion Presents All of the Orig­i­nal Illus­tra­tions from Charles Dick­ens’ Nov­els

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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