Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fritz the Cat, Part 1

Back in the early 60's, R. Crumb took one of his pet cats and turned it into a comic, according to him, to amuse his siblings.  These comics featured Fritz is his trials and travails as, well, a cat; chasing birds and stuff.

Later on, Fritz evolved into a swinging college student, and saw himself injected into the blossoming underground "comix" scene.  Fritz became a well-known, popular character.

Ralph Bakshi was an experienced and experimental animator who, in the early 70's, wanted to create an animated theatrical release aimed squarely at adults.  Bakshi thought he found that character with Fritz the Cat, so he cut a deal with Crumb, and the very first X-rated full-length animated feature was born.

The movie itself draws almost entirely from Crumb's work and inspiration.  Bakshi took as much of Crumb as possible, it seems, and built the movie out of it.  From the very beginning, fans of Crumb's work will see just about everything that defined his comics from before 1970.  For instance, at the beginning of the movie,  is not one but three of the characters from the famous "Keep on Truckin'" comic.  Characters, vehicles, buildings are all lifted from Crumb's own doodles.   It was as if Bakshi was attempting to keep the movie as close to the source as possible.

If Fritz the Cat was released today, it'd probably garner an R rating at most.  There's sex, but it's hardly pornographic in the sense we know today.  It would be hard to get too offended at the drug use and violence, either. The language is no more explicit than what you'd hear in an average PG-13 movie.

While I love Crumb's work, I didn't enjoy this movie.  In fact, I've never enjoyed anything by Bakshi except The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse. Wizards and Cool World gave me a headache, but in fairness the latter was no where near Bakshi's original vision.  I don't think Bakshi is a bad animator -- don't get me wrong.  He's a pioneer of animation in every sense of the word, who was exploring areas of entertainment years before anyone else followed suit.  His stuff just isn't my cup of tea, that's all. 

If you're familiar of Crumb at all, you know that he hates the Fritz the Cat movie and criticizes it and Bakshi every chance he gets.  He's made these criticisms in at least two films, countless interviews and books.  

Tomorrow we'll look at what Crumb had to say and Bakshi's defense, with my own conclusions. I think you'll be surprised what they are.

On funny comics

In the past several years, Johnny Hart has received a lot of criticism over his newspaper comic strip, B.C.  The biggest complaint was about how Hart used his comic as a vehicle to preach his gospel of Christianity, and other complaints that it wasn't funny or even interesting to read.

I've always loved B.C. myself and thought it was funny.  Being a Christian myself, of course the timely Christmas and Easter messages Hart liked to make never bothered me at all.  However, at one time (much like the rest of the comics page), B.C. was a hell of a lot funnier than it was in later years.

This was posted at the blog Those Fabulous Fifties. Ger Apeldoorn uploaded some classic B.C. strips from the 1960's.  

See, this is a perfect example of a comic being funny.  It's ridiculous, it's violent, it's cartoony.  The dinosaur and the whale are just pummeling each other for no reason - the punchline is there because it has to be there.  Otherwise it serves no purpose, because you're laughing before you even get to it.

Everything about the comic is fun, from start to finish. This is something you just don't see in the newspaper funnies anymore - just about every comic starts with a dialogue setup, a dialogue reply, and then a dialogue punchline - with one of the characters lightly breaking the fourth wall by despairingly staring at the viewer.   If you're reading this, though, I'm most likely preaching to the choir.

Let's take a look at another kind of comic I really like, something not suitable for the conservative standards of the newspaper page but important nonetheless - the 60's underground comic.

Notice how every panel is a completely different, detailed drawing. They're not copy and pasted, the characters aren't facing off at each other in every panel, and the characters are expressive, wild, and not stock.