I was the guest cartoonist at the grand opening of “What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones” at the EMP Museum in Seattle this Saturday, June 13, 2015. My role there was primarily to draw. I was there to do what I know and love, draw comics. In this case, comics with a Chuck Jones theme. I was simply there to express as much as I could about what I know and love about the world of Chuck Jones. Yikes! Where to begin? Well, one rabbit ear at a time.
The goal was to draw. Keep it simple. Don’t worry about the legendary status of Mr. Chuck Jones! But I wasn’t there animating. How do you get around that one? Don’t sweat it. Draw!
Drawing is the thing so I went with it. You see, that’s where it all begins. It worked for Chuck Jones and there was a chance it would work for me on this gig. Pencil. Paper. Simple, right? Yes!
It all began with drawing. Chuck, and his more creatively inclined siblings, would draw all the time. Their dad was always starting up a business that would inevitably fail. With each failure, he would hand over to his kids the latest batch of stationary and fancy pencils emblazoned with yet another defunct business. Even when young Chuck was in art school (instead of high school) all he knew was to draw but to what end remained a mystery. Not until fate stepped in and he landed himself at the then modest studios of Leon Schlesinger, later to become the Warner Bros. Cartoons Studio (aka Termite Terrace), was his role in life secure. Well, nothing is secure but, once he had proven himself, Chuck Jones was on his way.
So, what did I end up doing with my comics-making at EMP? I let folks know that I was available to do portraits. All it took was pencil and paper. Well, a few other things too, no doubt. And, lo and behold, folks responded! And I was there connecting the dots. Chuck Jones, as a first-class animator and animation director, created work that folks responded to on a very deep level. If nothing else, they just knew they loved it. Bugs Bunny. Daffy Duck. Wile E. Coyote. The Road Runner. Something about the humor, the artistry, the humanity, all adds up to give you a profoundly warm and invigorating feeling.
Drawing portraits of people who stopped by my table was a wonderful experience to say the least. I set it up where I did a small portrait that included the sitter’s favorite character. There were a number of Bugs Bunny requests along with Daffy Duck. Plenty of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner requests too. But it also included requests for Marvin, the Martian, Elmer Fudd, and Michigan J. Frog. And it was quite a humbly experience in its own way. I just felt a lot of happy and positive energy coming from each sitter. I think we all feel a little too much anonymity in our lives and this experience was a great boost of human power.
It all comes down to commanding the pencil and producing a light and lively line. During my day full of portrait sessions, I got to take in the actual exhibition right upstairs. There on display, I got to revel in masterful examples of that light and lively line. Quite a day, indeed. And so the work continues. You see the influence on “The Simpsons,” “Adventure Time,” and a myriad of other places that combine a certain level of zany humor with impeccable timing. And it’s not just about pencils and paper. The legacy of Chuck Jones has permeated the culture in such a profound way that it most likely informs your sense of humor and looking at the world on some level.
I certainly do not take lightly the powerful human touch found in what Chuck Jones and his team of animators accomplished. They were honest and hardworking and imbued with a delightfully self-deprecating humor. There was no set demographic. No particular age group. None of that. They set out to create cartoons that they themselves wanted to see. As far as I’m concerned, their endeavors rank right up there with the beautiful and heroic work of astronauts. I hold animators of that caliber and astronauts in very high esteem. And, well, I guess I’m not alone. You’ll definitely want to see, and be inspired by, “What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones.” It’s currently in Seattle at the EMP Museum. For more details, go right here. This is a touring exhibition running through 2019. For more details, go right here.
What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones is a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, and the Museum of the Moving Image.