Tex Avery, King of Cartoons (Joe Adamson, bought Mar 2012)
I’m crazy for Avery, always have been. Watching the early Tex Avery feature I Love to Singa on teatime BBC1 is one of my earliest TV memories. Avery’s surreal havoc still cracks me up now: Bad Luck Blackie, Red Hot Riding Hood, King Size Canary, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The hair-in-the-projector-gate gag in the Magical Maestro remains a riot, if strangely chilling.
This 1975 retrospective of Avery’s work is a quick read and a useful introduction. After briefly retelling animation’s early history (taking Winsor McCay’s Gertie The Dinosaur as its starting point) the book recounts Avery’s career through his best and most famous cartoons. King of Cartoons closes with three chatty interviews. Adamson talks to Michael Maltese and Heck Allen, two of Avery’s gagmen, and Avery himself. There is some fascinating material here, particularly the gossip on Avery’s producers: the commercial-minded Leon Schlesinger and his love of gambling, the managerial Fred Quimby and his seemingly absent sense of humour.
Adamson’s writing is exuberant and he writes as an informed aficionado. There is a flavour of Adamson’s exuberance in this passage, where my all-time favourite Avery creation is described:
Screwy Squirrel is Daffy Duck taken one step further than he absolutely has to. A funny character who is slightly insane, like a Harpo Marx or a Woody Allen, has a subversive sort of captivating quality, but a maniac who resolutely flaunts his insanity is a little more than frightening. His starring vehicles take a hardy constitution to endure, though they exhibit their creator’s comic genius all the same.