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Goodbye Gumby

Art Clokey, creator of the world-famous claymation character Gumby, has passed away this last week after a long battle with infection. He was 88.

Mr. Clokey (born Arthur Farrington in Detroit, before he was given up for adoption at age 11) and his wife Ruth created an avant-garde claymation short film, Gumbasia, in the early 1950’s. Clokey said he took the term from “gumbo”, a common rural term for sticky mud that is heavy with clay. Soon after that film had a successful run on the film festival circuit, Art created the green character Gumby, with an asymmetrical head based on a photo of his own father’s sculpted hair. Soon Art was animated short Gumby films and packaging them together as TV shows. Along the way he created characters like Gumby’s “pony pal” Pokey, their friends Prickle (a cranky dinosaur/dragon) and Goo (an optimistic shape-shifting whatsit), and the villainous blockheads. Later on in the 1960’s, Clokey was hired by the Lutheran Church Council to create a TV series called Davy and Goliath, in which a young boy and his talking dog studied the Bible and learned about Christian values.

Art Clokey is survived, of course, by his creations — who have since become cultural icons in past few decades. Gumby himself has more than 100,000 fans on Facebook.

Goodbye Roy

Sadder news today from the world of Disney…

Roy E. Disney has died, at the age 0f 79, after a long battle with stomach cancer. The nephew of Walt Disney himself, Roy E. was the son of Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney, who was famous as being the financial brains behind many of Walt’s craziest ideas — like, animated feature films and theme parks. Roy E. spent almost all of his adult life working for his uncle and father’s company, in many different capacities. In the 1950’s and 1960’s he worked as a writer on famous short films in the True Life Adventures series, like The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie, as well as the TV series Zorro. (It seems appropriate that, most recently, Roy was involved in the creation of the Disney Earth series of documentaries.) In many circles though, what Roy E. became best known for was his staunch defense of the Disney company’s reputation as an animation powerhouse and pioneer. In the 1980’s, when Roy was a Disney board member and he felt that the animation quality was drifting (The Black Cauldron, anyone?), Roy lead a revolt among the stockholders that lead to the ouster of Disney chairman Ron Miller (who was married to Walt’s daughter Diane). This lead to Michael Eisner taking on the leadership of the Disney company, and soon enough lead to an animation renaissance that would produce such hits as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. Twenty years later, when Pixar was booting Disney’s traditional butt at the box office regularly, Roy again lead a stockholder revolt that lead to Michael Eisner being stripped of many of his powers at the company. Roy was a loud promoter of traditional 2D animation, even when it didn’t always make financial sense. Fantasia 2000 owes a large part of its existence to Roy’s efforts while he was head of Walt Disney Feature Animation. That film may not have broken records at the box office, but many fans of traditional animation celebrated Roy for seeing that it got made and released. At more than one public appearance, Roy was given a standing ovation by adoring animation fans. Your humble ed-otter can attest to being among them. So thank you, Roy. And blessed be.

Peter Laird Speaks!

The June 2009 issue of Previews magalog featured an interview with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird. Among other things, they asked him “What are you reading?”. Here’s what Peter had to say: “I don’t read many comics these days, but the two that stick out are Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai and Runners by Sean Wang. UsagiYojimbo has been around as long as the Turtles, and Stan Sakai has performed the admirable feat of doing it all himself for the last twenty-five years, and just getting better at it as he continues. I’d say Usagi Yojimbo is pretty much the gold standard for serious anthropomorphic comics. [Might have something to do with why it won the Ursa Major Award for Best Anthropomorphic Comic Book for five years running — Ye Ed-Otter] Runners is a much younger book — I think Sean Wang has only been doing it for the last decade or so — and it doesn’t come out on a regular basis. But when it does, I eagerly read it, as it combines great, detailed art with a very clever science fiction storyline. [Visit Sean’s web site to find out more.] At the risk of sounding self-serving, there’s another book (published by Mirage Studios) that, in my opinion, is worth checking out — Tales of the TMNT. It’s not a series with an ongoing continuity like my TMNT comic, but rather a more free-ranging exercise in which pretty much each issue is a single story. This series features a wide array of different artists and writers, some Mirage veterans, and others new to the business. It’s an exciting mix.” So says one of the originals, folks.

R.I.P., Dom DeLuise

Dominick “Dom” DeLuise, a plus-sized and well-known comic actor, passed away at the age of 75 on Monday, May 4th. In addition to his many roles in comedy films — most famously associated with Mel Brooks and/or Burt Reynolds — he was also well known as a voice-actor in animated films.  Among his classic characters were Jeremy the Crow from Secret of NIMH, Tiger the Cat from An American Tail, Itchy from All Dogs Go To Heaven, and Fagin from Disney’s Oliver and Company, as well as various voices from the TV series that were spun off from those features and others.  Dom DeLuise: 1933 – 2009.