Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Michael Barrier

Cartoon Brew is reporting that today is Michael Barrier's 70th birthday. I have no idea if this is the case. I would not have guessed that Mike is that old. However, Mike is certainly deserving of Amid's praise and I'd like to add some of my own.

I first discovered Funnyworld, the magazine Mike edited devoted to animation and comics, at a Phil Seuling comic convention in New York in the early '70s. I must admit that I bought issue #13 because it printed several model sheets by Chuck Jones. When I got home and read through it, I was flabbergasted. The issue included interviews with Jones and Carl Stalling and a two page article "Chuck Jones: From Night Watchman to Phantom Tollbooth" that was a critical survey of Jones' career that also talked intelligently about what animation directors did and how their styles differed as a result. Funnyworld treated animation with the same seriousness that the film magazines I was beginning to read treated live action films and directors.

I managed to come up with a copy of issue 12 from the late Ed Aprill, an early fanzine dealer and publisher. That issue contained the long and controversial interview with Bob Clampett and I was hooked on Funnyworld for good. I bought each succeeding issue as it appeared (unfortunately at too long intervals) until Mike ceased his involvement with it.

Funnyworld was also responsible for introducing me to the work of Carl Barks. While I had read some Disney comic books as a child, I had moved on to DC and Marvel. If a writer of Mike's perceptiveness thought Carl Barks' work was worthwhile, I had better check it out. I soon realized that while the stories starred funny animals, they were more mature and better written than the superhero comics I was rapidly outgrowing.

After that, the wait was on for what everyone in animation fandom referred to as "the Barrier book" and what was eventually titled Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age. Mike had started interviewing animation artists with Milt Gray in the late '60s and had amassed an archive of animation information second to none. The book took years to complete but was worth the wait. The book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of American animation.

Mike has his detractors. Many feel he is too opinionated or too demanding in his standards, but as animation remains mired in formula work both on TV and in features, I'd say that the rest of us haven't been demanding enough.

Mike has continued to author books. His biography of Walt Disney, The Animated Man, is historically accurate and free from hagiography, portraying Disney as a believable human being. His other books include A Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics (with Martin Williams) and Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book. More books are on the way.

To date, I can't think of a single person who has done more to uncover animation history or to shape my view of it. It's been a pleasure for me to swap emails with Mike and to meet him very occasionally, so assuming that Amid is correct, Happy 70th Birthday!


Eric Noble said...

I have to agree with you. Michael barrier can be very demanding, but I find that to be a good thing in this day and age. Wonderful tribute.

Steven Hartley said...

I hope it was a good day for Mike!! :D :D

Sorry for the late comment!!