Interview: Ralph Bakshi Pt. 2

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Released in 1972, Ralph Bakshi still considers Fritz the Cat to be the major turning point in his career, the breakthrough film that helped the animator make the blind leap from the Heckle and Jeckle cartoons of his early career at TerryToons to gritty urban underground work like Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, which, to this day, are largely considered Bakshi’s masterpieces.

Adapted from a series of Robert Crumb strips, Fritz the Cat became the first animated film to be tagged with an X Rating, courtesy of the MPAA. Despite, or more likely because of this, the film also did gangbusters, becoming the first animated film to rack up more than $100 million at the box office.

In the wake of the film’s release, Crumb made public his aggressive disdain for the adaptation well-known, going so far as to file a suit to have his name removed from its credits and later killing off his reluctant Hollywood star in a subsequent strip.

Bakshi, for the record, would like it known that the feeling is mutual. As our conversation transitions from questions about his own jump from kids cartoons to the topic of Fritz’s subversive nature (or, to a degree, he might argue, lack thereof), Bakshi’s own feelings about Crumb quickly take the reigns of the conversation, along with a commentary how the press has long opted to report Crumb’s feelings on the matter while neglecting his own. And while, despite a bit of finger pointing at me on Bakshi’s part (referring to said press as a collective “you”), I can’t honestly take an credit for this perceived lopsided account (though, for the record, at the top of the interview I did mention Crumb’s name amongst a list of cartoonists whose work I admire).

That said, it’s hard to argue with Bakshi’s assessment that the press have been far more eager to print Crumb’s opinions on the subject than his own. The matter is certainly not due to a lack of passion on Bakshi’s part. A few months shy of 70, the animator is still more than happy to let his feelings be known, with a force that, to be totally honest, is a little frightening when sitting a few feet away.

I agree to print his opinions on the matter during the conversation, and to break some of the tension, I make some off-handed joke about having momentarily lost control of my bladder in the face of the fury that’s still alive and well in the heart of the Brooklyn animator,

Bakshi pauses for a moment and then smiles, “I like him.”

[Part One].

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Zines of the Cities

Categories:  News

A retrospective of zines made in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, during the 80s and 90s has been collected and attractively hung in the Stevens Square Center for the Arts gallery (1905 3rd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404). “Zines of the Cities” will be on display from June 28 – July 13. You could drop by for a visit, take a seat, and read zines any Thursday – Sunday from 1 – 5 pm until the show closes in July.

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Disquietville Vol. 2 by Daniel Spottswood

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Disquietville Vol. 2
by Daniel Spottswood

Daniel Spottswood‘s chunky mini-comic Disquietville is a love letter to wage-enslaved 20-somethings who haven’t stopped believing in a better life.

All anybody in Disquietville wants is everything; their chance to live the American Dream. Unfortunately, social and personal problems keep blocking the way. Through its characters, Spottswood’s mini-comic probes many of middle-class America’s current hot button issues: the glut of big business, career girls’ aversion to marriage, school bullies, alcohol abuse, self-obsession, self-loathing, and debt (to name a few). Sounds depressing, and it is when you’ve been there. Sigh.

While Disquietville empathizes with these problems, it also makes light of them, and it’s oh-so entertaining to be shown a portrait of yourself by someone who really understands the material. I, for one, really liked the comic. Disquietville offers a pretty real example of life in a mid-sized middle-class town in the Midwest. That is, it would, if every normal person’s day really led to a punchline.

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Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw

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Bottomless Belly Button
By Dash Shaw

Even without all the fanfare—without all the proclamations of “book of the year” six months into 2008, without all of the softly lit black and white photography of mainstream magazine profiles, without all of the message board threads that delve into non-comic-centric fascinations with the author—even stripped of all of this, its clear upon first glance that Bottomless Belly Button is, at the very least, one of the most ambitious books of 2008. At a jaw-dropping 702 pages, it’s also one of the longest—in terms of Dash Shaw’s ambitions, however, the book’s girth is merely the beginning.

Taken as an abstract back cover plot summary, the premise is simple enough: the tale of an older couple seeking divorce late in life, after their children have long since gone off and begun having children of their own. Early on, however, it becomes fairly clear that Shaw is not content to merely scratch the surface of story so rife with emotional possibliities. Rather, while his story does indeed largely maintain a linear narrative, save for an expositionary preface, the author is focused on delving as deeply into the lives of all involved as he can manage in his self-allotted space, which, as one can imagine, is fairly deep indeed.

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Harvest is When I Need You the Most by Various

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Harvest is When I Need You the Most
By Various

As nearly anyone who has spent even a small amount of time perusing the geekier realms of the world wide Web can readily attest, fandom can be a scary, scary thing. As comics fans, we’re all privy to some of the geekiest recesses of it, and while some in the alternative comics community no doubt do their best to disassociate themselves from that world, in and amongst droves con attendees, it becomes nearly impossible to deny that, somewhere deep inside all of us, there’s a costumed fanboy or –girl aching to get out.

In the 30 years since its release, few if any pop cultural touchstones have inspired the same intense loyalty as Star Wars. All of these decades later, as countless copycats continue to parade in and out of public consciousness, the original trilogy has maintained an unequal following, with droves of storm troopers, Darth Vaders, and golden bikini-clad Leias roaming the grounds of nearly ever large scale geek-friendly convention that has occurred since.

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The Cross Hatch Dispatch 6/24/08

Categories:  The Cross Hatch Dispatch

[Above, remnants of Ultra-Lad. Below, the Dispatch dregs.]

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Interview: Ralph Bakshi Pt. 1

Categories:  Interviews

While the majority of his most influential films have been relegated to cult-classic status, some three decades after the height of his career few artist have had as strong an impact on their given field as Ralph Bakshi.

The animator spent the first dozen years of his career toiling away at the Terrytoons studios, animating the likes of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle. It was when he finally managed to break free, however, that he began to shake things up. Films like Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin shattered all preconceived notions about content in animated films, tackling concepts of race, sexuality, and politics that largely frightened thier live-action counterparts, tossing in a healthy diet of four-letter words for good measure.

A few months short of 70, Bakshi continues to be a formidable presence—as I take the elevator up to a meeting in his hotel room, he’s finishing up another interview, pontificating fondly in his gruffly thick Brooklyn accent about Obama’s success, lamenting Clinton’s meddling in the matter. Minutes before my turn rolls around, the conversation loudly culminates with the animator shouting, “we’re all niggers!”

It’s a quote from Heavy Traffic, incidentally, one of Bakshi’s personal favorites, and it’s a less than subtle reminder of how explosive the issues tackled in his key works continue to be today. More than three decades after its release, it’s hard to imagine anyone outside of Samuel Jackson in a Tarantino film uttering those words.

For better or worse, I take my seat with the intention of making a swift conversational pivot into the world of comics. As I soon find out, particularly at the mere mention of Fritz’s lauded creator, it’s every bit as hot button a topic for Ralph Bakshi.
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The Cross Hatch Dispatch 6/22/2008

Categories:  The Cross Hatch Dispatch

[Above, comics artists to conquer public transit stations, next, the world! Below, the dispatch takes a walk through the feed reader]

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The Incredible Hulchalka?

Categories:  Features, News

I realize that I’m not holding up to my end of the comic book blogger bargain when I admit that I’ve yet to see the new Incredible Hulk movie. In fact, I’m a few superhero movie behind, this summer blockbuster season. That said, hopefully I can maintain a touch of geek cachet with the admission that I do, from time to time, check out some of the industry’s finer message boards.

During one particularly slow afternoon in the blogosphere last week, I happened upon an interesting thread over at the American Elf. A handful of James Kochalka fans were discussing similarities between a scene in the new film and one of the artist’s more infamous strips.

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Knives by James Hindle

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by James Hindle
One Percent Press

A wee mini-comic about lust, weaponry and young manhood, James Hindle’s Knives is about as cool as it sounds.

Hindle is an extremely talented artist and Knives is just one exercise in brilliance. His recent mini-comic rings with childhood innocence, guilt and reasoning as a young boy witnesses a very complicated incident between his family and the man who mows their lawn.

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