Cartoon California


Beep beep. Boop boop de doop. I'll get you, you pesky wabbit.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations hasn't yet enshrined the above phrases between its covers. They'll probably get around to it. Cartoons speak the classic American vernacular, wisecracking and indefatigable. The Greeks had Odysseus, the Romans Aeneas. We have Mickey and Bugs, and that's good enough for us.

This month, as Mickey marks his 60th birthday and Roger Rabbit's ticket sales turn human stars green with envy, it's time to celebrate animation. In California, the country's cartoon capital, you can buy animation art for Christmas presents, attend screenings of classic films, join animation clubs, and visit a new museum devoted to inked-in immortals.

Sherman, set the Wayback for 1928

The world's most famous mouse is not quite a native son of the golden state. Legend has it that Mickey was first sketched in a Pullman car bringing the aspiring Walt Disney back from New York. But it was on Los Angeles' Hyperion Avenue, Disney Studios' home, that the mouse took final shape and, eventually, sound. Early in 1928, Mickey starred in two unreleased silent movies, but his official birthday is November 18-the day he squeaked for theatergoers in Steamboat Willie. As Elmer Fudd would say, "The west is histowy." Donald Duck and Goofy joined the Disney lineup. At Warner Brothers, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and Friz Freleng gave audiences a Brooklyn-voiced rabbit and a daffy duck. It was a golden age that lasted until the '60s, when television's demand for cheaper product forced much animation work abroad, mostly to the Far East.

But California schools, such as the California Institute of the Arts, USC, and UCLA, remain premier training grounds. And Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the about-to-be-released Oliver and Company offer proof of the renewed vitalitycommercial and artistic-of the craft.

What's up, Doc?

Demand for animation as art

In the last five years, art dealers have marveled at a real 'toon boom. Perhaps the most prized items are the cels: original images inked and painted on celluloid. When filmed in sequence, these are what generate the illusion of movement.

Produced in large number (a featurelength film can require 400,000), cels were for decades neither scarce nor valued. Cels from movies like Lady and the Tramp were sold at Disneyland for as little as $1.50. Others were wiped clean and reused. In the late '5Os, as if by decree of Roger Rabbit's Judge Doom, warehouses' worth of cels were destroyed.

For all these reasons, vintage cels are now in short supply, fetching Scrooge McDuck prices when they surface. (A rare blackand-white scene from the 1933 Mickey Mouse short, The Mad Doctor went for $63,000at a Christie's auction this year.) Easier to find are cels from recent films and TV shows. They range from less than $100 to about $1,500. Cels featuring popular characters go for more than those featuring supporting cast; cels showing characters and backgrounds-- say, Fred Flintstone with Bedrock behind him go for more than cels with characters alone. You can also find two kinds of reproductions of vintage cels: limited editions and serigraphs. The first ($300 to $500) are hand-painted on acetate and produced in editions of 200 to 500; silk-screened, serigraphs ($100 to $300) are usually produced in editions of 10,000.

Collectors snap up artwork done earlier in the animation process, too. These include "story sketches"-pastel renderings of characters or scenes and "animation drawings" pencil sketches of animated sequences. Examples of both can be found for less than $100.

Nor is interest limited to movies: collectors are also buying art done for newspaper comics. Prices run $100 to $1,000.

With cartoon art comes cartoon memorabilia-George Jetson lunch boxes to Minnie Mouse brooches. Bargains are out there. …

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