Archive for cartoons

Tasteless

I want to talk about death.

No no, don’t worry, not in a morbid way.

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the great Mel Blanc, the legendary actor who gave life to countless cartoon characters, most notably the majority of the Looney Tunes characters at Warner Bros.

As most people who know even a little bit about me know, I am a huge Looney Tunes fan, and Mel had become one of my heroes. Ironically, my initial interest in acting and voice work had nothing to do with cartoons but rather because of my childhood fondness for comedian (and eventual Full House star) Dave Coulier, who at time starred on a short-lived but nostalgically remembered Nickelodeon show called Out of Control. When I was just six, Dave was the first celebrity that I ever met in person, and the idea of someone making a living off entertaining, doing funny voices, and making goofy sounds enamored me so. (I do have a Polaroid of us together, though it’s currently in storage. I may dig it out one day to add to this blog post.) – SEE EDIT AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY!

When I finally rediscovered the Looney Tunes cartoons in the late 1980s and started to truly appreciate the work of not only Mel but also all of the animators and directors, Mel was near the end of his life. I would have loved to been able to tell him how much his work has meant to me.

Mel died at age 81 while in the hospital undergoing some semi-routine check-ups. As a child, to me 81 seemed pretty old, and perhaps ghoulishly, I had used that as a baseline as far as thinking if someone else had died too young or too old. It’s so funny because now you have celebrities like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Dick Van Dyke still alive and actively working well into their nineties. It’s so weird how common it is to hear that someone like Billy Graham or Zsa Zsa Gabor lived to 99–99! (My own great-grandmother died when she was 102, while my great-aunt who is still alive turned 101 last year!) We’re now in a time where 80 is the new 60, I guess.

Anyway, Mel’s official cause of death was attributed to heart disease, although according to his son Noel, Mel had suffered a fall from his hospital bed (apparently the side rails were not put up) and broke his leg, resulting in an embolism. Whatever the cause of death, Mel was in the hospital to get his lungs looked at after a lifetime of smoking had given him emphysema.

Look, I don’t like to preach, but if you are to take away anything from this blog post, it’s this: don’t smoke. Please, just don’t. And if you do smoke now, please quit. I don’t care if it relaxes you; go get a massage or spend a day at a spa or listen to some ASMR on YouTube. I don’t care if it helps you maintain your weight; go exercise instead. I don’t care if you’ve simply done it for so long or whatever. Just stop it. It’s not worth it. I have lost far too many people close to me due to smoking-related illnesses. It’s just too dangerous of a vice.

Anyway, Mel’s death resulted in an outpouring of love and condolences from cartoon fans around the world. For many, it felt as if it wasn’t just Mel Blanc but also Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, etc. who had died. Warner Bros. was about to formally launch a fiftieth-birthday celebration for Bugs, and the company was suddenly having to scramble to figure out a way to promote and sell the character without his voice artist being at the ready for Bugs to make “appearances.” Central to the plans was a new theatrical Bugs Bunny short, Box Office Bunny, going into production, which now had to be (hastily) recast. In the three decades since Mel’s death, Bugs and the gang have gone through a laundry list of actors hoping to carry on in Mel’s place–with two notable names, Greg Burson and Joe Alaksey, even passing away themselves in the meantime–which just illustrates how irreplaceable Mel Blanc was and is and how much of a loss his death meant to the animation world.

Shortly following his death, Warner Bros. ran a simple, effective memorial in the Hollywood trade papers. Designed by animator and Box Office Bunny director Darrell Van Citters, the image featured nine of Mel’s characters solemnly bowing their heads to a vacant microphone under a spotlight. The caption was short but effective: “Speechless.”

The original “Speechless” image.

It was a moving tribute, and in the years after Mel’s death there was a growing demand from collectors to want to own a reproduction of the image. In 1993 the Warner Bros. Studio Stores obliged by offering “Speechless” as an open edition lithograph, meaning that no set number would be produced and that it would continue to be printed as long as there was consumer interest. (Speechless is still being sold to this day through the outsourced WBShop.com, which means it was so open of an edition that it actually outlived the existence of the Studio Stores by another eighteen years and counting!) Some animation fans have expressed the opinion that it’s crass of Warner Bros. to sell the memorial and turn it into just another higher-end product, which originally sold for $150 framed. I get that to a point, but to another point I understand the need for fans to want to memorialize someone without whom they likely wouldn’t be fans in the first place. I personally own a framed print of Speechless and to this day it still resonates with me. I have no interest in building any kind of Elvis-like shrine or anything, but as someone who has an interest in these films and particularly in voice acting, owning this piece to honor someone I greatly admire means a lot to me. And evidently it means a lot to other people as well, or otherwise at some point they’d stop printing and selling it.

This is, however, where my defense of commercialization and corporate greed ends. Because in the wake of the lithograph’s debut to the consumer public, Warner Bros. has turned that simple, effective tribute image into a whole frickin’ product line! Between 1994 and 2008, Speechless has spawned spin-offs, a plate, a figurine, a diorama, a cel, an interactive wall mural, and even a sequel lithograph! With almost each subsequent item being sold at a higher price point than the last, Warner Bros. has repeatedly tried to capitalize on fans’ sentimentality and turn it into an entire franchise in and of itself. Obviously that’s what major media conglomerates do and have always done, but Jesus, is there anything more ghoulish and unsettling as figures of the Looney Tunes characters in mourning??

The very stupid “Speechless Stage” from 1994.

I guess I’ll go more or less in chronological order here, because there was no progression to the release of these products that made a lick of sense. The first Speechless cash-in came about in 1994 with the Speechless Stage, which looks more like an action figure playset than anything meant to convey respect or sorrow. The Looney Tunes characters are recreated as resin figurines in their downcast poses, affixed onto a vaudeville-like stage complete with curtains and footlights. The whole thing is housed in a weird fishbowl-like plexiglass case, with the “Speechless” text printed on the outside. Oh, and of course, Warner Bros. had to clutter up the backdrop by slapping on the WB shield front and center.

The added visuals annoy me to no end. Part of the impact of the original “Speechless” image was the bare sparseness of it. The characters and the microphone are standing in an otherwise empty white void. There’s no floor or walls or anything. Your eyes can only focus on the gang and what they’re experiencing. But here in this oddball figure display they couldn’t just let the emptiness speak for itself; they had to add crap. An ugly tan floor and gold curtains and a black wall–yeah, that’s the change this image needed! From an empty white void to a cold black wall. And this is to say nothing of the fact that it’s all being done to create the look of a live theater stage, as opposed to…you know…an animation studio or radio booth or you know…anything Mel Blanc was actually KNOWN FOR.

Even if one gets past the tackiness of the additions, what the hell is someone supposed to DO with this? The original Speechless print you hang on a wall, but this is what? Does this go on a mantle or a fireplace or in a curio cabinet? (A case for a cased-in item?) It’s too bulky and three-dimensional to mount onto a wall at all, and too many of its elements are far too breakable to just leave out in the open for a kid or wandering cat to knock over. So, what purpose does it serve other than to collect dust?

The very stupid “Speechless 3-D” plate, 1997.

The idea of wanting to three-dimensionalize Speechless came again in 1997 with the release of a 3-D plate for $55. The Warner Bros. Studio Store gallery team loved the idea of plates, for some reason. Most of the ones that were sold over the years were basic flat plates with charmingly painted (and likely highly toxic) images of the studio’s various characters, but somewhere along the line someone thought people also really wanted thick, hard-to-display plates with lumpy figural images sticking out (such as one that essentially looked like someone glued a Batman Beyond action figure right onto the front of it). For the Speechless 3-D plate, the main figural image is the cluster of cartoon characters in mourning, with Mel’s vacant microphone shoved off to the side and into the background. No caption of any sort this time, but a very cartoony stage and red curtains were added to the picture. The WB shield again appears lined around the rim of the plate, alternating with the head of Mel’s microphone. Yuck.

There was one final (so far) attempt to create some sort of toy based on the “Speechless” image, and it came in 1998 from those two words that makes many an art collector’s eyes roll: Ron Lee.

Who is Ron Lee, some of you may say? Oh, consider yourself lucky that you are not aware.

The very stupid “Speechless” Ron Lee figurine, 1998.

Ron Lee made a name for himself with an endless series of miniature statuettes. If you’ve never seen one, they’re tiny pewter figurines with gold plating that are then painted over in glossy colors, then affixed onto a white onyx base. These were somewhat popular pseudo-art pieces in the late 1990s, usually owned by people who thought they were buying actual art sculptures.

Ron Lee thought of himself as some sort of three-dimensional Norman Rockwell artist, trying to convey whimsical scenes with a nostalgic slant. He specialized in figurines of hobo clowns in the Emmett Kelly style, but really, he whored himself out to whichever company or entity needed to push their designs (M&M characters, etc.). Some of his work also had a bit of a condescending right-wing slant to them, including a ridiculous sculpture depicting Ronald Reagan on the face of Mount Rushmore (another Rushmore piece also featured Yosemite Sam as a fifth head, so go figure). Lee died in early 2017 of a stroke and his family has been slowly liquidating the company since then.

For the Speechless Ron Lee, the characters become these lumpy globs, looking almost like something a child would make out of Play-doh for a school project. The microphone is present, but there is no indication of Mel’s name or even the otherwise obligatory “Speechless” tagline, which like on the 3-D plate are both missing again. Many other Ron Lee pieces include a small “title card” where such a notation would have been appropriate, so its removal here was either a curious aesthetic choice or–speculating here–was intentionally removed to bring costs down. I’m suspecting the latter, because you know, Warners can’t be bothered to spend money when it comes to milking Mel Blanc’s corpse.

The very stupid “Speechless Power Picture,” 2000.

In 2000 Warner Bros. teamed up with Animated Animations to produce the Speechless Power Picture, which sold for $195. AA had previously developed a number of products that in the loosest sense of the term could be called “animation art” but were really just expensive toys. They made these cel-shaped window box displays that invited you to push a button (you know, just like on all real artwork) and watch a scene play out. Typically, static cut-outs of the likes of Bugs, Tweety, etc. would have a quick, funny showdown with one of their nemeses, sliding back and forth into view while sound bites from classic cartoons come out of a speaker. Usually some cheapo “special effect” would be utilized: a flash bulb to approximate an explosion, or a blinking LED light to simulate gunfire, etc. But really these were just playthings for people with too much money. They buy it, hang it up in their den, and watch their kids run out of the batteries.

Thinking they had some kind of long-lasting niche going on, AA started developing what they called “Power Pictures,” which were these segmented images whose quadrants would spin around in a pattern to reveal hidden pictures and sound clips. Most of the Power Pictures produced were more pop-cultury in nature–The Simpsons, I Love Lucy, Snoopy, etc.–but someone thought that manufacturing one themed after “Speechless” would tilt things on the more prestigious end.

Parts of the main “Speechless” image (again enhanced with a garish red curtain as a backdrop) would rotate to show a photo of Mel and play a sound bite of him explaining the origin of one of his voices. Noel Blanc was able to provide interview clips and original voice sessions from his vast archive of his father’s outtakes and home recordings–quite an effort for such a cheesy product. The program’s finale would spin all four segments around to reveal an image of Mel surrounded by clip art of his various characters, while a medley of his voices played (including a quick “Beep beep!” from the Road Runner, who was voiced not by Mel but by Paul Julian…good job on research there).

At this point “Speechless” was just becoming a blanket name for any Mel Blanc product. Why couldn’t a Power Picture be made about Mel without having to theme it after the memorial image? Was he only worth celebrating because he was dead? Or was it all just some cold way for Warner Bros. to create a poorly planned product license, kind of like how all of the merchandise for their CW show Supernatural has to be called “Supernatural: Join the Hunt”? “Oh, this is our Mel Blanc merchandise. We call the line ‘Speechless.'”

(And whoring out Mel’s death went beyond mere product strategies. When the Warner Bros. Studio Stores began the process of shutting down following the AOL/Time Warner merger, individual stores were sent a preparations binder outlining what they had to do at certain intervals. The cover of the “store closing” binder was a close-up of the characters in mourning from Speechless. Keep it classy, Time Warner!)

AA promptly went out of business following not only the closure of the Warner Bros. Studio Stores but then also the Disney Store’s decreased focus on selling animation art, which left the company without its two biggest clients. In 2011 AA founder Marc Segan unsuccessfully sued FarmVille developer Zynga over a vague claim of patent infringement concerning an animated web-browsing icon, with Segan ending up being ordered to pay nearly two million dollars in court costs.

When you have such a successful franchise as Speechless–making money off variations of the same image that wouldn’t have existed in the first place if not for someone’s death–it only stood to reason that Warner Bros. would ghoulishly look at their other, aging animation legends in the hope of expanding the line beyond Mel Blanc.

“Friz,” who deserved a better memorial.

Warners unfortunately got their wish with the passing of legendary director Friz Freleng in 1995, and sure enough, tribute products soon followed–almost in a concerningly short amount of time, as if things were already prepared. A rather jubilant, colorful lithograph was offered called Salute to Friz, depicting Yosemite Sam cheerfully riding a horse off into a glorious sunset. Since Sam was modeled after Freleng himself and was said to be the closest to his personality than the other characters, it made for a rather celebratory tribute to the director.

But alas, the tasteful salute was more or less overshadowed by a more mass-market item: “Friz.” Clearly done in the same vein as Speechless, and even marketed to be intended as a companion piece to it, the Looney Tunes cast (almost the exact same lineup as seen in Speechless, minus non-Freleng characters Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe le Pew) is again seen against a white background, this time surrounding an empty animation desk, with Bugs gracefully placing down a carrot. Freleng’s formal full name, Isadore Freleng, is shown with his birth and death years, while the “Speechless”-like caption simply refers to his iconic nickname: “Friz.”

Despite being a thematic cousin to Speechless, the differences between the two pieces are quite stark. The former’s bareness of the characters and single microphone are replaced by the large, rather detailed animation desk. I’m not sure what an appropriate alternative would be, but the desk provides too much clutter for what should otherwise be an empty void. Even the use of the Looney Tunes characters themselves leaves something to be desired. The group shot from Speechless has the gang clustered together, sharing a single, static pose. Their facial expressions aren’t excessively detailed, just closed eyes and the occasional slight frown. In “Friz,” however, almost all of them are in these odd mid-action poses. Bugs is in the middle of setting down his carrot, Sam and Speedy are clutching their respective hats and crouching down, and Daffy is jerking back in grief with an almost comical expression. The static subtlety of the original lithograph is replaced by what looks like a badly timed screen grab from from an actual cartoon. It betrays the depth and gravity of Freleng’s death.

Unlike the open-endedness of Speechless, both Salute to Friz and “Friz” were strictly limited pieces. And thankfully, neither image has subsequently been turned into toys.

Unfortunately(?) for Warner Bros., there weren’t too many remaining living legends of their animation history whose eventual deaths they could immediately capitalize on. At this point Chuck Jones was still alive, and to a lesser (historical) extent so were Arthur Davis, June Foray, and Stan Freberg, but that was about it. Robert McKimson had died back in 1977, Tex Avery followed in 1980, and then Bob Clampett in 1984. The morbidly proverbial well was drying up.

Chuck Jones was in fine health for a man his age at this point, even creating his own “85th birthday” limited edition cel and cranking out a series of other releases through his daughter’s company. I remember a conversation I had with a colleague at Warner Bros. around this time, where we were joking that Jones had created so much of these limited pieces that he likely had already drawn his own “Speechless” image for himself for when the time comes.

“So,” I asked, “is his tribute print going to be thanking himself?”

“Nah,” my friend replied. “His will probably say ‘You’re welcome.'”

It was also around this time that a rumor was circulating that Jones’s company kept a warehouse stockpile of blank cels already signed by Jones to be at the ready for future limited edition pieces. Linda Jones Enterprises emphatically denied this cache of blank cels existing, but strangely a couple of new, signed limited editions nevertheless were released in the years following Jones’s eventual 2002 death, so make your own conclusions.

But anyway, things were looking up a little for Warner Bros. in 1996 with their acquisition of Turner Entertainment, resulting in Warner controlling the Hanna-Barbera library and characters. The company made quick use of Scooby-Doo, marketing the hell out of the character and turning him into an even bigger brand than Bugs and friends. The celebration was short-lived, though, as in 1997 Scooby voice actor Don Messick died following a number of strokes. A legendary voice actor whose characters are now a hot commodity for a massive media conglomerate? Now, you just KNOW what’s going to happen, right?

“Farewell” to Don Messick, who as we all know was famous for saying “farewell” in Shaggy’s voice.

Issued just in time for Christmas of 1997 (how considerate of Don), the Farewell lithograph attempted to follow the same mold set by Speechless and “Friz,” but it’s about as half-assed as it could possibly be. With their backs to the viewer, Shaggy and Scooby are looking off into the distance, with Scooby’s head downcast and Shaggy consoling him. And of course, the obligatory caption, “Farewell,” is present.

That’s it.

Don Messick was with Hanna-Barbera for four decades. In addition to Scooby-Doo, Don ALSO voiced Bam Bam Rubble, Astro, Boo-Boo, Ranger Smith, Dr. Quest, Bandit, Papa Smurf, Muttley, Scrappy-Doo, and countless others. Where were any of these other characters? Did Warner Bros. seriously believe any fan of Hanna-Barbera animation would only know Don for Scooby-Doo?

To add insult to injury is the inclusion of Shaggy, a character that Messick never voiced. Warner’s merchandising and marketing at the time certainly didn’t always depict Scooby and Shaggy together at all times, so it’s not like there was any precedent to suggest that they were joined at the hip. Besides, considering that Don also voiced Scooby’s own nephew, there was no reason for Shaggy to be the one consoling him. Two of Don’s characters mourning together as a family that suffered a major loss would have been meaningful enough.

The capper to the laziness of the piece is the caption: “Farewell.” How very specific and well-thought. I don’t know off the top of my head what would be an appropriate alternative that would have a better connection to Don Messick, but then apparently people being PAID to do just that couldn’t be bothered to come up with one, either. The whole image comes off as an afterthought, likely much as how acquiring Hanna-Barbera as part of the Turner deal was for Time Warner, too.

One would think the 2001 closing of the Warner Bros. Studio Stores would also mean the end to the Speechless line of products. We never did get that Chuck Jones “You’re Welcome” cel (though a rather tasteful, completely original memorial for Jones was placed in the Hollywood trade papers, showing a flurry of his original pencil drawings scattered across his animation desk, with the caption “Drawn to a Close.”). But you can’t keep a good product line (and somewhat gullible consumer base with deep pockets) down. In 2002 Ruth Clampett, Bob’s daughter and former supervisor of Warner’s gallery division, created her own company–Clampett Studio Collections–and struck a deal with Warner Bros. to continue producing gallery-quality pieces of artwork featuring the company’s characters.

Unfortunately, times were changing. Chuck Jones’s company had no interest in dealing with an outside vendor (especially a Clampett), preferring to sell directly to animation galleries themselves (selling through the Warner Bros. Studio Stores was likely a mere courtesy as a part of their licensing agreement), and there was no longer any entity offering Friz Freleng limited edition artwork. The collectable animation art industry was caving in on itself, and online galleries and eBay were quickly making any remaining physical galleries obsolete. This meant Clampett had to hire the services of more anonymous modern day Warner Bros. artists to provide the cel artwork, and images were less reminiscent of iconic Looney Tunes cartoons as they were just mere comical panels featuring the characters. This gave new releases a rather cold, hollow look about them. Whatever flair or uniqueness the Jones and Freleng cels gave the characters was traded in for generic poses seemingly taken direct from a licensing model sheet. The artwork had the same aesthetic as a Looney Tunes t-shirt, and had the same level of desirability among collectors.

The original Speechless lithograph was still being offered through WBShop.com, the rather generic post-Studio Store online site that would become better known as the home to the Warner Archive Collection of DVDs. But oh no, simply reprinting their most popular piece of artwork is never enough for a corporation that was still trying to justify the AOL merger and subsequent closing of their retail operations.

Hence the Speechless Deluxe Edition, issued in November 2005.

The very stupid “Speechless Deluxe Edition” cel, 2005.

Like all redos of the original Speechless, Speechless: Deluxe takes the main character image and strips away all of its depth and solemnity by slapping it in front of a multi-colored background (again a theatrical stage, for some reason). Even Darrel Van Citters’s original artwork of the characters gets sullied, with Sylvester’s closed eyelids now being inexplicably colored white (looking like a pupiless ghost instead of someone in mourning), the white of Pepe’s chest and stomach has been changed to jet black (making him look like he’s on a break from performing in a kabuki puppet show), and gaps between characters are left white and opaque rather than transparent. It’s just a lazy, sloppy translation of a well-crafted, and at this point almost iconic, image.

The original lithograph’s signature inscription has been moved to a brass plaque to be glued onto a frame, while the cel itself has been signed by Noel Blanc. Only a hundred pieces of this monstrosity were produced, with each one priced at $2,595 unframed!

And speaking of Noel, we need to go back in time a small bit to focus on one of the more embarrassing pieces of Speechless-related merchandise, the Passing the Baton lithograph from 2003. Sold as a limited edition of 500 pieces for $495, press releases announce that the new art “celebrates the life of world-renowned character voice artist Mel Blanc and his son Noel.”

Um, why?

The very stupid “Passing the Baton,” 2003.

Look, I’ve met Noel. He’s a nice, funny, down-to-earth guy, but as far as any kind of animation career goes, what is there to celebrate? His actual vocal contributions to the Looney Tunes characters following his dad’s death were minuscule–mainly just filling in a very small void before Jeff Bergman was hired in the fall of 1989. Noel has in actuality done wonders in preserving Mel’s legacy and making hundreds of hours of recordings available for commercial use–at times even developing software to adapt and customize Mel’s voices to fit specific product needs (perhaps most famously by creating a singing clip for a “Macarena Tweety” plush doll). Keeping his dad’s legacy alive and relevant is important, of course, but do we really need to celebrate that?

Passing the Baton was in fact marketed not as merely a “salute” to Noel Blanc but in fact as an actual companion piece (they literally used that phrase in marketing the litho) to Speechless, hoping those morbid collectors out there would display them on their walls side by side.

The image features all of the characters from the original “Speechless” plus the addition of the Tasmanian Devil, who was just starting to become a major licensing character at the time of Mel’s death but likely then still wasn’t seen as popular or mainstream enough to depict in the original memorial…but hey, it’s 2003 and we gotta slap on a hot merchandising character to drive sales (surprised Marvin the Martian wasn’t added, too). Anyway, the gang is all decked out in tuxedos and joyfully playing various instruments as if in an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. Behind them is a large black and white photograph of Mel and Noel as a child, with the younger Blanc “conducting” the music with a baton. GET IT?!?

According to the original press release for Passing the Baton, “Clampett Studio Collection…has done it again.” Ugh, yes, they have, and it’s despicable.

Whether or not Mel actually intended Noel to carry on his voices is kinda irrelevant. The fact remains is that Noel didn’t, and a product like this feeds into that general public ignorance that he did. It’s the same lazy phony knowledge that make people think Brian Henson ever performed Kermit the Frog after Jim died (a “fact” that I swear was actually repeated by a reporter in a newspaper interview with Noel). I’ve complained before about how newspaper comic strips for whatever reason get passed onto children whenever a creator dies (and I’ve yet to hear an actual believable reason as to why), and I in a way blame that trend for this mass stupidity when it comes to newer voice artists taking over classic roles. I mean, we don’t really think Alec Guinness’s son played young Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels, do we?

So after toys, figurines, plates, deluxe cels, spin-offs, and sequels, what is there left to mine from Speechless to “salute”? Well, in 2008 the always reliable Clampett Studio Collections came through by creating a new version of Speechless that saluted Speechless itself!

2008’s “Timeless…,” the very stupid tribute to “Speechless.”

Titled Timeless… and timed around what would have been Mel’s 100th birthday, it was a newly created cel limited to only one hundred editions, with each piece priced at $1,375 framed. Yikes! Eschewing any kind of pretense as to its intentions, the cel’s certificate of authenticity actually explicitly calls it a “sequel tribute.” Hey, animation collectors! Plunk down nearly $1,400 for a sequel!

Timeless… tries to recall the original emotions that Speechless brought, even enlisting Darrel Van Citters to design the new image. But instead of the Looney Tunes gang being mournful and solemn, this new artwork was (I guess) meant to be the inverse and instead be a celebration of life, a jubilant acknowledgement of Mel’s career. A concept like that could actually work, but why even tie it to the original Speechless piece? Why use the same cluster of characters? What would have been wrong with, say, an energetic piece with all of Mel’s Warner-owned characters (Hanna-Barbera guys included) bursting from the glow of a central microphone? Or even, daresay, make the extra effort to also license the images of other Blanc characters like Heathcliff, Twiki from Buck Rogers, or even something out there like the Frito Bandito or Go Go Gomez from Dick Tracy? Call it “The Man of a Thousand Voices” and avoid putting birth and death years on it; just let Mel’s body of work speak for itself for once. I have a feeling such a piece would sell in considerable numbers and would appeal to collectors who maybe have felt the last two decades of derivative products have been too ghoulish.

But no, Timeless… doesn’t take any risks but wants the same reward. This time, the characters aren’t so much just honoring Mel Blanc as they are also perversely commemorating the release of the original Speechless lithograph. A facsimile of the print is depicted on the outside of the theater the way one would see a movie poster for an upcoming release. The rest of the image has generic trappings of a “Hollywood movie premiere” setting, including a drawing of Mel’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a parody of the iconic Hollywood sign reading “ACMEWOOD.” And of course, not only Van Citters but also Ruth Clampett had to sign the cel saluting Mel Blanc. Lame.

Like every other piece of Speechless-related merchandise, one begs to question who the intended audience is or what purpose is it meant to serve. The original Speechless is still being printed and is readily available to purchase at this point, so why would one need to purchase an item that is simply recalling a better, and more meaningful, piece of art? Especially one that was initially a memorial piece to begin with? I don’t even know if the word “morbid” is appropriate here. This lithograph is a celebration of morbid commercialism.

So as we are now at the thirty-year mark of Mel’s passing, I have to wonder if we’re simply past the point of no return. Are we just going to keep seeing regurgitations of the “Speechless” imagery and sentiment courtesy of whichever third party “art” vendor holds the Looney Tunes license at any given moment? Will we soon see a holographic version of Speechless? Or a laser-cut crystal version? Or a talking music box? Or are we just a Comic Con away from seeing a Funko Pop version of Speechless?

And this just goes back to what I asked earlier. With all of his work and creations at their disposal, why is Warner Bros. so intent on just focusing on Mel Blanc’s death? Apart from DVD releases of the actual cartoons (which themselves are few and far between lately), what are they doing to celebrate his actual talent? Individual people working on Looney Tunes productions have made attempts–from Mel’s Jack Benny Show Maxwell sound effects turning up in Looney Tunes: Back in Action to his vintage Capitol Records songs being used for recent CGI cartoons–but what exactly has the Warner Bros. company done apart from constantly reminding us that he’s dead? There was a long life before that death, you know. Over eighty years. I still think that’s a pretty long amount of time.

Mel’s own tombstone famously says, “That’s all, folks!” I really wish that was the case.

EDIT – ADDITION ON 7/11!
As I had hoped, I found the picture of me and Dave Coulier, taken at the Cleveland Comedy Club before his set…during a blizzard.

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The Looney Tunes DVD+R Project Part Two: The Saga of Duck Dodgers

Hey, who wants to hear the latest on my ongoing project to transfer all of my Looney Tunes video cassettes to digital DVD files?? Of course you all do!

One of the littleĀ side things I wanted to do for this project was something that, curiously, Warner Bros. themselves has yet to attempt: edit together a complete version of Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century. Now, if you’re not a cartoon fan, your response might be, “What?” And if you are a cartoon fan, your response will most likely be, “Why waste your time, Greg?”

Duck Dodgers and the Return… is a 1980 sequel to the much more known and celebrated theatrical short Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century. The cartoon was the result of a recent re-appreciation of the original film in the wake of the big-budget sci-fi movies of the late 1970s such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and of course Star Wars. In fact, George Lucas even reportedly had the cartoon shown before one premiere screening of his movie. Since it seemed as if a Star Wars sequel was all but inevitable, Warner Bros. commissioned the one and only Chuck Jones to produce and direct a sequel to his 1953 classic. Though it was never officially stated anywhere, it seemed as if the goal was to produce something that could be paired theatrically with Lucas’s eventual The Empire Strikes Back.

Sequels are usually so hard to pull off anyway; it doesn’t matter which franchise or director one’s speaking of. It is the rare follow-up that can even possibly live up to the expectations of the original. Off the top of my head I can only think of a very few: The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, The Dark Knight, X2: X-Men United (or whatever that one was called), Aliens, Terminator 2, Toy Story 2. Consider that small selection versus the countless Madea movies, the endless American Pie spin-offs, and the increasingly tiresome Scary Movie sequels and spin-offs and rip-offs that seem to come out on an annual basis. The odds are stacked against a sequel from even being entertaining let alone worth the time and effort…to say nothing of the money wasted, which is quite ironic considering the raison d’etres for sequels are almost always financial in nature.

If this had been the Chuck Jones of the mid-1950s then he probably could have pulled off a Duck Dodgers sequel with little to no fuss. In the early part of the decade he directed an entire trilogy of cartoons in which Bugs and Daffy square off before Elmer Fudd’s hunting rifle, all three of which are usually considered among the director’s best. And really, Jones had already sorta done a follow-up to Dodgers with the 1956 Rocket Squad, which obstensively was meant to be a Dragnet spoof but contained many of the same visual and comedic trappings of the earlier sci-fi film. But unfortunately, starting around about 1962, Chuck’s films took on a slower, more pedestrian approach. The speed and quick cutting that defined the Road Runner series was traded in for extended pointless monologues and micromanaging of otherwise incidental characters or story elements. Such over-examining of things wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the stories in Jones’s shorts started to suffer as well. Longtime writer Michael Maltese had fled Warner Bros. for the higher salaries of Hanna-Barbera by the end of the ’50s, leaving Jones with newcomer John Dunn, whose skills as a Looney Tunes gagman varied wildly at best. Even when Jones was fired from Warner in 1962 and was able to recruit Maltese to write for him again while directing Tom and Jerry for MGM, some creative spark was missing. Jones’s humor was becoming more literal; he wanted his films to become more intellectual, but his evolving style was clashing horribly with the characters he was directing. This was most evident when Chuck went back to working on Warner Bros. productions in the late 1970s. Bugs Bunny started becoming a wandering philosopher, a poet who would name-drop Ray Bradbury almost randomly. This was no longer the Chuck Jones to handle a fast-paced, whiz-bang follow-up to a film that supposedly helped influence Star Wars.

Jones hired the irreplacable Michael Maltese to help pen a script for Duck Dodgers and the Return…, not to mention bringing back many of the same animators from back in the day; optimistically hoping to collect lightning in a bottle once again. There has yet to be any definitive answer, but somewhere along the way Jones and Maltese had something of a falling out over the final script, with Jones throwing out most of Maltese’s material for a new story in which Dodgers is sent go after a meteor containing the last remaining source of yo-yo polish…a very derivative variation of the original Duck Dodgers storyline. Naturally, once at the meteor, Dodgers and Porky (as the Eager Young Space Cadet) run into Marvin the Martian, who is there setting up a missile to blow up the Earth. Dodgers makes a half-hearted attempt to stop him, but Marvin sics Gossamer (the giant, red, hairy monster Bugs occassionally bested) after him. The short quickly devolves into a weird pun-based miscommunication between Daffy and Porky, and the former soon chases after the latter, firing laser blasts into his ass. Meanwhile, Marvin is free to go on his merry way…to destroy our planet. Though Marvin pops up during the “That’s all Folks!” end tag to assure us, “Don’t worry, folks. After all, it’s only a cartoon,” the depressing cynicism in the short has won out. Chuck set out to repeat the triumph of one of his greatest cartoons, and the best he could come up with was a weak story that plodded between obscure gags and lame puns…capped with not only no resolution whatsoever but with our own supposed imminent destruction.

For SOME reason, Warner Bros. backed out of its plans to release the film theatrically, instead allowing Jones to construct a half-hour TV special called Daffy Duck’s Thanks-for-giving, with the new Dodgers short as its centerpiece. The special premiered in 1981 and would repeat a number of times, most recently in 1991, before being offered on home video. The actual Duck Dodgers and the Return… short, however, would quietly be added to the various television packages of the shorts over the years. I first discovered it as a part of Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon, which at time was stuck with all the leftover, undesirable cartoons that weren’t being used either in syndication or on (what was then) ABC’s The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show on Saturday mornings.

But here’s where it gets strange. Jones’s original cut of Duck Dodgers and the Return… hovers around the nine-minute mark, about two to three minutes longer than the average Looney Tunes cartoon. When the short was sent to television packages on its own, about a third of the footage was removed from it so that its length would conform with the rest of the library. The only place the missing scenes would ever be shown was within the Thanks-for-giving TV special. Even more frustrating, the short as seen in that special doesn’t include a title sequence, yet Jones clearly created one for it…it’s seen when the short is played on its own! Warner Bros. considers the shorter version of the cartoon as the “uncut” version, and it is the shorter version that has been included on various VHS and DVD releases over the years. All the removal of the footage does is make a bad cartoon all the more incomprehensible. Marvin is more or less removed from the third act of the story, including his final act of blowing up the Earth…thus making his end-tag plea for us not to worry a completely baffling non-sequitur.

Unlike with such classic shorts as Have You Got Any Castles? and Hare-um Scare-um, Warner Bros. seems to have no desire to edit together a “director’s cut” of the cartoon for release. All one would essentially need to do is glue the credit sequence from the shorter “uncut” version onto the footage as seen during the Thanks-for-giving TV special. Both the stand-alone short and the special have individually been remastered for DVD release, so it’s not as if any extensive restoration work is required. One could easily do it on their PC video-editing software.

So I did.

I was hoping this would be as easy as one, two, three. I already own the DVDs contain both the “uncut” short and the TV special. Theoretically for me it would just be a matter of ripping the respective files from the discs and plugging them into my editing software. This way not only would there be no risk of losing a generation from the transfer but also I would end up with a finished product that looked as good as what the studio had already released. The only thing I didn’t–couldn’t–anticipate was Warner Bros.’…gosh, how can I put this? Not giving a shit?

Upon ripping the digital files from the Thanks-for-giving special, I came upon a curious abnormality. The video for the special was rendered in thirty frames per second, but the audio was rendered in twenty-four frames per second! When presented together as-is on the Warner Bros. DVD they play fine, but if one was to take them apart they would end up with two incompatible frame rates, resulting in audio material that is out of sync with its own visual!

I sadly lack the technical knowledge to either understand or convey how such a difference could occur. I can’t say I’m a frequent “ripper” as far as DVD files are concerned, but even with my small amount of experience–including working with other Warner Home Video DVDs–I have never come across an issue like this before. My guess–and again, this is based on nothing tangible–is that the video and audio elements were taken from two different sources; most likely one mastered for television and another mastered for some other form of distribution (maybe even international). It’s not impossible to master one product into two different frame rates, but it’s pointless, costly, and time-consuming. These had to have been sitting on the shelf as-is. But because these were latter-day Looney Tunes productions from the 1980s, the studio doesn’t care. It doesn’t consider this era of the studio’s cartoon library worthy of any real attention, even though they represent some of the final projects Mel Blanc had worked on.

My initial focus was trying to get the audio and video files back in sync with each other, but there was no good solution. I tried slowing down and then even speeding up audio in Audacity to no effect. There is probably some super-expensive, or super-complicated, professional-grade software that can correct this sort of thing, but my desire to seek such a program out rapidly faded; it would have been too much trouble tracking something like that down just for the sake of one project. I decided instead to go the long route: capturing the TV special and the short off the DVDs as I would a VHS recording. At least this way the corresponding audio and video elements would be in sync if maybe not in absolute perfect quality.

Sadly, doing it that way only solved a part of the problem. There was still a slight difference in the frame rates between the TV special and the stand-alone short; nothing too severe, but noticeable at the part where I needed to edit the two together. In the end I maybe lost a half-second of music at the edit. I am clearly not satisfied with the way it all turned out, but the considering some of the problems actual commercial-release Warner Home Video products have had, it could have been a lot worse, too.

But don’t worry, folks. After all, it’s only a cartoon!

TRANSFERRED DIGITALLY SINCE LAST UPDATE: The Fair-Haired Hare, Captain Hareblower, A Street Cat Named Sylvester, The Jet Cage, Greedy for Tweety, Tweety’s Circus, Catty Cornered, Muzzle Tough, Design for Leaving, Stork Naked, Zip ‘n Snort, Ready, Woolen and Able, Hip- Hip- Hurry!, Ain’t That Ducky, Racketeer Rabbit, Daffy Doodles, Little Orphan Airedale, A Feud There Was, Along Came Daffy, The Hardship of Miles Standish, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, People are Bunny, Bonanza Bunny, Wet Hare, Hare-Breadth Hurry, Devil’s Feud Cake, Dumb Patrol (1964), The Impatient Patient (1967), The Daffy Duckaroo (B&W), Mucho Locos, Snow Excuse, Feather Finger, The Music Mice-tro, Skyscraper Caper, See Ya Later Gladiator, Rushing Roulette, The Village Smithy (B&W), The Lone Stranger and Porky (B&W), Chicken Jitters (B&W), The Chewin’ Bruin (B&W), Porky’s Hired Hand (B&W), Porky’s Midnight Matinee (B&W), Porky’s Railroad (1967), Porky’s Spring Planting (1967), Ali-Baba Bound (1967), Notes to You (1967), Porky Pig’s Feat (1967), Porky in the North Woods (1995), Porky’s Building (1995), Porky’s Double Trouble (1995), Porky at the Crocadero (1995), Porky’s Tire Trouble (1995), Chicken Jitters (1992), Porky the Giant Killer (1992), Pilgrim Porky (1995), Porky’s Poor Fish (1992), The Sour Puss (1995, edited), Meet John Doughboy (1995), We the Animals Squeak (1992), Peck Up Your Troubles, Mr. and Mrs. is the Name, Big Game Haunt, Hippydrome Tiger, Feud with a Dude, Bugged by a Bee, The Mouse o 57th Street, A-Lad-in Bagdad, The Curious Puppy, Stage Fright, The Organ Grinder, I Like Mountain Music (redrawn by Turner), Honeymoon Hotel, The Lady in Red, Boulevardier from the Bronx, I Only Have Eyes for You, Clean Pastures, My Little Buckeroo, You’re an Education (edited), Gold Rush Daze, Hare-um Scare-um, Mighty Hunters, Saddle Silly, The Bird Came C.O.D., Tin Pan Alley Cats, Angel Puss, Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears, Bone Sweet Bone, The Shell Shocked Egg

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The Looney Tunes DVD+R Project Part One

Wow, 2013, here we are! I have got so much coming up in the next twelve months that I should really use this blog that I was so happy to start well over a year ago.

I’ve got some rants, stories, commentaries, work projects, and other things that will come up in the future. But for today, I will be blogging updates on what will (hopefully) be my major non-work-related creative hobby of the new year. I won’t begin to pretend that this will interest everyone, and frankly I don’t care if it does or not. Get your own bloody blog.

This was actually something I had started well over a year ago and was well into the process of working on, but numerous life events–moving, releasing a feature-length movie, moving again, getting married, and then being indirectly involved in a drawn-out criminal matter dealing with truly one of the scummiest people on the planet–kept me a little preoccupied. But I like to think I can start this all up again at a comfortable, leisurely pace.

As all of my closest friends and family know about me–as do many of even my most casual of friends–one of my passions is classic theatrical animation, particularly the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons produced and/or released by Warner Bros. from 1929 to 1969 (and then some). I have been an avid fan and collector of not only the cartoons themselves but also of the characters for nearly a quarter-century now, and I am happy to say that my collection contains everything from half-inch Mexican plastic figurines to original animation cels from the actual productions.

But through it all, my true fandom lies with collecting the shorts themselves on home video. Warner Bros. has done an above-average job releasing them on DVD for the last ten years–in both multi-disc boxed sets and a handful of single-disc odds and ends–but there is still so much more left unreleased on disc. There are over a thousand shorts total in the Looney Tunes series, and about six hundred of them are still unreleased on DVD (or Blu-ray). I was always happy to supplement my collection with not only the previous VHS releases Warner had produced a generation ago but also my numerous, numerous recordings made off TV on both Beta and then VHS over the last two decades. I have always tried to store and archive my videos in the best conditions possible, but the fact of the matter is that tape simply doesn’t last forever. Unfortunately, I can’t play the waiting game any longer. These recordings will soon become goo even if I had them sealed underground in a temperature-controlled salt mine alongside the Johnny Carson vault. Although I’m fairly optimistic that Warner Bros. will eventually release everything on DVD over time–either through retail or through the awesome Warner Archive–I have twenty-plus years of videotaped material that I could be transferring to disc myself…just in case.

Please understand, this project and these updates are not advocating piracy, bootlegging, or whatever you want to call it. If Warner Home Video tomorrow was to announce that they will release the entire collection of shorts in one huge, 500-dollar boxed set, I would pre-order it without thinking twice (in fact, the studio has already made some of my work on this project moot, as you will read later). This is me trying to find a way to make over a hundred videos with over four hundred hours of material more compact and easier to access. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but VHS tapes are thick and bulky. If I can squash an entire bookcase of videos down to fifteen or twenty discs, well, to me that sounds like an insanely fun goal to pursue.

And while I’m offering caveats and warnings and the like, this is also not meant to be any sort of “advertising” for bootlegs. I’m not interested in selling copies of what I will end up with, nor is this some sneaky wink-wink way to promote a YouTube channel or anything. I’m also not really interested in trades for the discs unless you had something extremely super-rare like a pristine 35mm-sourced transfer of 1969’s Injun Trouble or the rest of the redrawn-colorized Porky Pigs or something. If all you’re going to say is, “I got a bad VHS dupe of Coal Black. Do you want it so I can get copies of your DVDs?”, then I will merely wish you a good day, sir.

I’m usually not one to even want to do this kind of thing. I remember buying a computer years and years ago just as DVD burning drives were becoming quasi-popular. The salesman tried in vain to talk me into getting one installed, promising that “Oh, you’ll be able to convert all of your VHS tapes to DVDs and blah, blah, blah….” I was unconvinced for one major reason: knowing the technology at the time, I would most likely have lost a generation in video quality. The salesman seemed to have thought that merely possessing a video recording of a broadcast was the same thing as owning or having access to a studio master tape, film negatives, remastering tools, etc. Or let me rephrase that: he either assumed that I did or he knew that I didn’t but was trained to act otherwise. I strongly believe that a lot of early “transfer to DVD” programs and hardware were marketed and sold intentionally ignoring the fact that no matter what–no matter how much disc space you use or how little tinkering you do with the files–your end result would have in almost all cases looked worse than your source recording.

Thankfully, times have changed a little and the technology in all areas has improved. I am still not 100 percent convinced that there won’t be some loss of quality, but like I said, I now feel like I am running out of time. I can now take that chance. I’m ready to say good-bye to one dead format and move everything over into another, dying format.

Actually, the technical process is one I’m already well used to. Digging through video tapes and the like and converting them into digital files was how I acquired some of the stock footage that I used in my documentary feature Yankoheit 27. I also performed an archival dig through my ancient recordings of The Ren and Stimpy Show in order to supply research materials for my friend Thad and his awesome, awesome, awesome book on the history of the series coming out this year. And two years ago, I took a dozen of then-gridlocked-by-copyright episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and made DVDs of them for birthday gifts (a huge task now since negated by Shout! Factory’s recent deal to release MST3K episodes based on Universal Studios’ classic ’50s sci-fi movies). So I’m quite comfortable and familiar with the actual physical task involved; it’s mostly of matter of getting organized.

The first step in this whole endeavor was, naturally, seeing what had already been released on disc by Warner Home Video, which shorts were still unreleased, and then seeing which of those shorts I already had on tape. Getting a list of shorts not on DVD was relatively easy; my fan site The Bugs Bunny Video Guide was formed with that essential purpose in mind. The real task was cross-referencing that information with the 160 VHS and Beta tapes in my collection; some store-bought retail items, some fan tapes from trades, and many more recordings made off TV.

Luckily for me, I suppose, I had already logged all of my Looney Tunes tapes and recordings and made a running total of what I still needed, what was available where, which versions of shorts I had, etc. After all, you don’t get to be considered obsessed about anything unless you’re ready to make many tedious, mind-numbingly long lists.

By my count, I had 572 cartoons on tape that had not been released on DVD or Blu-ray. Now, that doesn’t complete the studio’s filmography at all; there are still many, many shorts and variations that I simply was never able to acquire for one reason or another. That’s not really the point of the project anyway; it’s merely to transfer what I do have so that I can still enjoy it until the time that the material gets released officially. And I should add that my number includes alternate versions of some of the same shorts: all the black and white Porky Pig cartoons, for example, were colorized at least once–a batch in 1967 and then all of them throughout the 1990s. I am a completist. I love the black and white versions; they are the original, authentic versions of these cartoons and they are a joy to watch…but I also get a kick out of being able to compare them to the computer-colorized attempts of the 1990s. As for the 1967 redrawn versions…well, they are a perverse guilty pleasure for me. If you have never seen one of these abominations, you can’t possibly call yourself a movie fan. These Korean-made monstrosities are what people imagined in their heads back in the 1980s when Ted Turner first started colorizing the classic movies he owned.

Also in my count are my copies of shorts that Warner themselves had botched on their own official releases. In 2010, to cite the major example, two single-disc DVDs were released–Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl–in which cartoons originally released after 1953 were cropped to be presented in a fake “widescreen” format. The Looney Tunes cartoons were always produced and animated in full frame, but because the widescreen format was the big new thing in the late ’50s many theaters projected them matted in order to conform with the rest of the program. In the process, visual gags get clipped off, characters’ heads and feet got lopped off, and a lot of the backgrounds and visual designs that were so crucial to the artistic quality of the shorts in that era were compromised. These DVDs marked the first time Warner Home Video has ever “experimented” with the formatting of the cartoons, and only after six entire boxed sets had been released in full frame with most of the major entries from the “widescreen era”–What’s Opera, Doc?, One Froggy Evening, Robin Hood Daffy, etc.–presented in their intended full frame aspect ratio. It’s not like the studio offered a choice; it just simply said, “Okay, four hundred cartoons in, and we’re switching to widescreen versions.” I’m sure collectors of anything reading this understand and agree that collections need to be uniformed. To suddenly tinker with something mid-stream is a bit of a cheat. To use an obvious example, it would have been like if the recent remastered Beatles CD were only in mono up until “the white album” and then only in stereo after that. I like to believe that Looney Tunes fans are as passionate about the shorts as Beatles fans are about their music, so if Apple was smart enough to offer a choice between mono and stereo versions, then why wasn’t Warner smart enough to offer a choice between widescreen and full frame?

But I digress. So, between five to six hundred. Where the heck do I begin? I’m dealing with cartoons spread out over 160 videos–not to mention all the other numerous bumpers, commercials, title cards, and other miscellaneous items that would make great “bonus features.” I needed to see what all I was going to work with and find out how to best arrange them. Before I even started copying and burning, I wanted to program the DVDs and lay them out.

I thought this was going to be the hardest step, because surely I just have too many odds and ends…they couldn’t POSSIBLY be organized into single-disc DVDs with any individual themes, right? I just knew I was going to be stuck with some crazy layout like a disc with three Bugs shorts, a Tweety, a solo Elmer Fudd, and ten random Merrie Melodies from the 1930s. But surprisingly, utilizing a skill only those of us who assemble Songographies and cartoon video guides possess, I was able to sort them all out and put them into a rough draft of disc lineups as good as anything found on any of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection sets.

Allowing some wiggle room for disc space, tape problems, and the like, here is approximately how the discs are going to be laid out:

1. Bugs Bunny: The 1940s and 1950s
2. Bugs Bunny: The 1950s and 1960s
3. Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam
4. Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer
5. Daffy Duck and Porky Pig
6. Daffy Duck: The 1940s
7. Daffy Duck: The 1950s and 1960s
8. Speedy Gonzales
9. Speedy Gonzales vs. Daffy Duck
10. Road Runner
11-12. Black and white Porky Pig
13. Colorized Porky Pig (1967 versions)
14-19. Colorized Porky Pig (1990s versions)
20. Tweety: The 1950s
21. Tweety: The 1950s and 1960s
22. Hippety Hopper and Sylvester Jr.
23. Porky Pig and Sylvester (as in solo shorts of each)
24. Bosko and Buddy
25. Buddy
26. Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk
27. Cool Cat and the Seven Arts era
28. Chuck Jones Mini-Series: Ralph Wolf/Sam Sheepdog, Inki, and the Three Bears
29. The Evowution: Egghead to Elmer Fudd
30. Looney Tunes All-Stars
31-35. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1930s (one-shots)
36. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1930s and 1940s (one-shots)
37-39. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1940s (one-shots)
40. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: The 1940s and 1950s (one-shots)

In the process of assembling the lineups for these discs, I was already picturing the menu designs and disc artwork in my head. I wanted both to be simple; again, something uniform. I will most likely be utilizing the iconic concentric circles of the Warner Bros. bullseye opening. It’s not the most mind-blowing concept for a Looney Tunes DVD, but those rings can be presented in a variety of different colors for each disc, giving each DVD its own identity while make it all (hopefully) pleasing to the eye as a whole.

BUT, all of this cloudtalk was meaningless if I didn’t actually sit down and start transferring cartoons into files for burning. I decided to do the most logical thing (to me, anyway): start with the oldest videos and work my way up. Some of my Warner Home Video cassettes date back to 1982, and a few are about as rare of Kryptonite (I’m talking Looney Tunes Video Show #4 and 5 rare). I suppose it could be argued that I should have started with my own recordings first because any commercial release is replaceable, but my attitude is that if there is something wrong with one of my own tapes then it’s a problem no matter when I get to it. I’m willing to accept a loss of one of my tapes; replacing a VHS tape in 2013 that was hard to find ten years ago is another story.

In cases where the same cartoon appears on numerous Warner VHS tapes, I am deferring to the more recent releases, as the studio attempted to make better video masters for commercial release in preparation for their eventual DVD release (restoring title sequences, etc.). For the former Turner-owned package of pre-1948 cartoons, whenever possible I am sticking with the MGM Home Video VHS releases of the early-to-mid-1990s, as they used complete prints with the bullseye sequence and had not yet replaced the end tags with the “Dubbed Version” endings as seen on Cartoon Network from 1995-on. The only thing that would prevent me from using the MGM videos would be their occasional knack to somehow “read” when they’re being copied and therefore fade the contrast in and out again and again. In all cases, I am trying to use the best known VHS-era master in my possession.

Yes, it does sound like a lot of fuss, but you have to understand how cartoon fans think. Most of us want perfection or, barring that, at least a clean picture without logos, interruptions, or edits. Some collectors were so paranoid about this that–I kid you not–a number of them were convinced that Warner releases manufactured on leftover VHS stock (as in duplicating a Bugs Bunny release over, say, an unsold Superman II cassette) meant a lesser picture quality. There was a very brief time in collector circles where people were actively avoiding “rainbows” at the beginning of the Warner VHS releases, a clear indication of a reused cassette.

My first goal was to get the 1982 Looney Tunes Video Show releases and then the 1985-86 Golden Jubilee tapes done with. My Golden Jubilee videos in particular had been heavily replayed over the years, so I wanted to make sure those were transferred over before they melted before my eyes.

In my first batch, I was able to get eight cartoons from the various Golden Jubilee videos transferred, nine from the Looney Tunes Video Show volumes, and even five from the 1988 Cartoon Cavalcade series and two more from two 1990s Bugs collections. Funny enough, since I had transferred these shorts, Warner Home Video released two DVD collections–Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles and Porky & Friends: Hilarious Ham–that covered four of the shorts I had converted. As I said, I am more than happy to see that happen. If more releases get announced for this year that take some more off my list, I’ll be a happy camper. It will result in less work for me, more space on my own discs for my project, and high quality copies of more cartoons out on the market.

I have got a very, very, VERY long way to go. I will keep posting updates big and small here on my blog. Again, I don’t know who exactly will find interest in this project. If you’re one of them, then stick around. This is only the beginning, folks!

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