Saturday, 11 January 2014

How to Write a Cartoon by a Non-Cartoon Writer

To the average person, it would seem logical to ask the owner of a cartoon studio how a cartoon is made. And you’d get a good answer out of Walt Disney or Walter Lantz, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera or Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. After all, at one time they were animators who worked on the actual cartoons themselves.

But it’d have been pointless asking someone like Charlie Mintz. Not only did Mintz never draw anything, he got into the cartoon business by marriage. His wife, Margaret Winkler, was distributing a number of animated series when the two tied the knot back in the silent days. But someone interviewed Mintz about writing cartoons. Here’s what he had to say. This was published in the Charleston Gazette of October 20, 1935.

Cartoonists Shout Lots and Scribble Much, Says Mintz
One sure way to tell a writer or gagman for animated cartoons Is to observe him carefully and see whether he acts like a human being If he does he is not working on cartoons. A touch of sanity is the distinguishing mark of the breed. This is the opinion of Charles Mintz, head of the staff which details the adventures of Scrappy, Krazy Kat, Barney Google, et al, for Columbia Pictures.
“They are what most people would call screwy”, is the way Mr. Mintz puts it. “Life seems to them just as haphazard and startling as the plots they conceive for animateds. They become accustomed to letting their minds run loose, so to speak:—for their writing isn’t bound by the rules of real life. But the trick is to think up things that are not only strange but that can be drawn. Also, it takes a special gift to conceive the many little incidental touches which distinguish a good animated from a bad one.”
Long experience has taught him that there are no absolute tests by which to determine a man’s talent for creating animated cartoon plots. The Mintz studio employs seven writers and five gagmen. Some of the best used to be highbrow writers, some have served an apprenticeship in vaudeville and some came straight from college. However, Mr. Mintz has observed that they all have a few traits in common.
Heated Conferences
“A stranger sitting in at one of our story conferences would think they were maniacs”, says he. “They fight just as much as delegates to a peace conference. A good gagman will scream and jump to try to get one of his ideas used in a picture. They all talk at once and each tries to talk louder than the others. Also, they walk up and down a lot—we would get along without chairs nicely in our conference rooms.”
“But the surest sign of an animated writer is that when he talks, he automatically reaches for a pencil to illustrate what he’s talking about. If he doesn't sketch figures, he will at least make lines and eccentric designs. In other words, he’s a man who thinks with his pencil.”
So, when Mr. Mintz interviews a prospective writer, he always has plenty of paper around. If the applicant doesn’t reach for a pencil as soon as he starts telling his ideas, the verdict is apt to be thumbs down.

Twelve people in the story department? Well, there was Lou Lilly and Irv Spector and, uh, well, I suppose Allen Rose and Ben Harrison in 1935. But I don’t know who else he meant.

Mintz was having a tough time of it. Columbia Pictures eventually took over his studio and Mintz was dead before the start of 1940.

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