I watched a lot of cartoons and movies. I draw incessantly and carry a sketchbook everywhere. I work in animation and self-publish my books. There are monsters in the streets, don't wear red. Mad bulls and monsters hate that color. I still watch cartoons.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Alex Toth 1928-2006

Above art from comicartville.com

I stumbled on the news at Drawn and it still struck me. Almost as if it couldn’t happen. I’ve a childhood filled with countless hours of American Saturday morning cartoons, favorites of mine were the two most associated with Toth: Space Ghost and Jonny Quest. Later on there would be others and it would be years later before I would be able to attach a name to the art. Alex Toth.

I then found the comics. He was a master. By the time I found myself in animation he was mentioned in a way only gunslingers in westerns were depicted: He came to town and cleaned it up, read people the riot act, shot the bad guys dead. Then he left. Didn’t hang around to be thanked nor did he want it.

I found my way to this forum where his oldest son, Eric, had posted about his father’s demise. Apparently, he was drawing and writing till the end. Another thing that surprised me was how Toth never quite believed how much he meant to countless artists in comics and animation, and only coming around to this realization only recently.

When working on Batman: The Animated Series Bruce Timm had started a correspondence with him and those letters were like packages from some other dimension. Handwritten in his unmistakable perfect script, he wrote in his famous run-on paragraphs about art and storytelling. Keep it simple. Take away the frills, leave only what’s essential. The accompanying pencil drawings were masterful doodles of what this man is capable of. I wanted then that he come out of retirement and do more comics.

I wish all the best to his family and I hope they know that Alex Toth was well loved and admired.

Detail from tothfans.dynu.com. Toth's handscript inspired me to clean up my own handwriting. My sketchbooks are more legible today thanks to him.

Drawn post on Alex Toth
Tothfans.com Forums.
Eulogy at Comics Reporter
Wikipedia entry on Alex Toth.
Auad Publishing bio on Alex Toth.
Metafilter post on Toth.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Sultan's Elephant

This photo and the next three are Philip Hunt's snaps from Friday. Photos link to larger view

Good Lord Almighty! Royal de Luxe, a European street theatre company founded by director Jean Luc Courcoult is in central London this weekend and they brought with them a 42-ton mechanical elephant--and that's not all. Studio AKA's Philip Hunt was right in the middle of it.

I had a quite surreal Friday afternoon...spent as a parent helper with Anna's school--one of a few lucky chosen schools as it turns out--who got to meet the ‘Sultans Elephant’ close up... And I mean close up!

Man, of man! That Philip Hunt gets all the luck. What a spectacle! And the story! It starts out as an ominous arrival of giant wooden rocket in the middle of the street. What's inside? You guessed it, a giant little (?) girl marrionette! What's a little big girl to do in a new town? Get candy, that's what. Lollapalooza! (last three links not from the London show)

Above three photos from Friday, lifted from thesultanselephant.com

In the past dozen years, they have created a series of spectacular shows involving giant figures as big as 11 or 12 metres high. Shows are simple – the animal or giant arrives in town and lives its life, going about its business for a few days. Extraordinary interactions take place between passers-by and the performance; residents become enchanted with the activities of these miraculous beings and begin to follow their every move. By the end of the performance, huge crowds gather daily to watch the latest episode in the life of the visiting creature. The Sultan’s Elephant is the fifth in the series of giant pieces, the others being Le Géant tombé du ciel, Le géant tombé du ciel: dernier voyage, Retour d'Afrique and Les Chasseurs de girafes.

I'd love to have seen this thing walk in person. Hope it makes it down to San Francisco's Union Square someday. Thanks to Philip for sharing his Friday's event with us. Here's a link (taken last year) to video of the Sultan's Elephant walking and at the end of the day when giant girl and elephant are reunited to say goodbye.

The Sultan's Elephant
Royal de Luxe

Eric Pouhier photo gallery of The Sultan's Elephant
More photos and videos here.
You Tube clip. Long download.
Metafilter report.
BBC gallery of day two.
Final You Tube video. Bye-bye, Little Big girl.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Assume stupidity not malice, or...

Razor threads. I was reading Paul Graham's essay, "How to do what you love" and happened to see that he has a blog. I go to said blog. Top of his page, 19 April 2006 entry is also intriguing. I was keen on this part:

So if you want to discover things that have been overlooked till now, one really good place to look is in our blind spot: in our natural, naive belief that it's all about us. And expect to encounter ferocious opposition if you do.

Conversely, if you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you.

This principle isn't only for big ideas. It works in everyday life, too. For example, suppose you're saving a piece of cake in the fridge, and you come home one day to find your housemate has eaten it. Two possible theories:

a) Your housemate did it deliberately to upset you. He knew you were saving that piece of cake.

b) Your housemate was hungry.

I say pick b. No one knows who said "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence," but it is a powerful idea. Its more general version is our answer to the Greeks:

Don't see purpose where there isn't.

That little tickle, "No one knows who said.." makes me want to know who did say it. This leads me to a MeatballWiki entry on Hanlon's Razor which proposes: Assume Stupidity Not Malice.

Nobody looks at themselves as malicious. If you think the root cause of a conflict is maliciousness, then you'll think it's someone else's maliciousness. If you think the root cause of a conflict is incompetence, then maybe you'll acknowledge that it could be your incompetence. That may still be difficult, but it's a sign of wisdom.

This in turn offered another link to, "Only say things that can be heard."

This advice sounds like saying "If people aren't going to listen anyway, then keep your mouth shut." Thus it seems to advocate social conformity over independent thought and the expression thereof (and sounds a bit like self-censorship), and so it seems evil to me.

It is important to recognize that if people don't believe they have a reason to listen, they may choose not to do so. You can expect certain kinds of reactions from people in certain frames of mind -- including, sometimes, the "ostrich" reaction -- and that is an inescapable truth.

The recognition of that, though, still doesn't relieve you of the obligation to say what needs to be said. Honesty is more important than people's feelings. If the truth (or your viewpoint of it, anyway) upsets people, or if they choose to ignore it, then so be it. (And if it's too complex for people to understand, then what they need is more information, not less. Writing is better than talking in such cases.)

Sometimes it's important to "go on record" with an objection that people won't listen to at the moment; you can always point at it later (like when you're on trial for helping to cause a disaster) and say that, well, you told them so, but they just wouldn't listen. -- EdwardKiser

This is about finding things that can be heard which is different from avoiding things that can't. It is far better to deliver a message that will avert the disaster than it is to deliver a message that will fail to avert the disaster but that will cover your butt. "Honesty" is too often used as an excuse to say what you feel like saying instead of finding more effective, albeit less satisfying, things to say. Consider that you will not live long enough to utter every possible truth. You must pick and choose among truths. "OnlySayThingsThatCanBeHeard" advises you to choose the truths that will do others the most good. -- PhilGoodwin

Backing up because I noted a Wikipedia link to Hanlon's Razor, I check it out. And sure enough there was a "see also" on Occam's Razor, the bloke whose picture I chose for this rambling post. And mind you, I freely admit that I only heard of meester Ockham because James Wood's character dramatically asks Jodie Foster's Dr. Arroway in "Contact" during her witch trial scene, "Do you know what Occam's Razor is?" to which she responds:

"Yes, it's the scientific principle that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one."

And this concludes today's rant. I've been feeling stupid lately and wanting to learn to say only things that can be heard and finding out that this is hard for humans in general. I celebrate being in this mire today and hope to move on, wheeling forward on the only razor that's mine.