Stickman's Review - Batman: Gotham Knight

Ah, “Batman: Gotham Knight” – now that’s a feature that gets better with a second viewing.

This collection of shorts bridging gaps between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” requires some adjustments in perception. Most people model their expectations on the blocky character models, 1950s retro-gothic scenery and somewhat stock, generic villains (not counting the super-baddies, of course) of the animated mid-to-late-1990s Batman iterations.

But give someone enough time – and, once again, maybe a second viewing – and these stylized renderings of the Batman mythos really come across with a refreshing twist.

Not surprisingly, that twist is so fresh because it combines the minds and talents of the latest Batman saga (the one beginning with “Batman Begins”) with those who brought the highly regarded, acclaimed and fondly remembered animated Batman television offerings to life.

We have Kevin Conroy – the voice of multiple animated Bruce Waynes and Batmans – bringing to life the kind of brooding, Earthy, gritty dialogue David Goyer might write better than nearly any writer in Hollywood. Among the other people helming this ship: Alan Burnett, the writer-producer behind “Batman: The Animated Series”, the standard-bearer for the character’s ink-and-paint adventures; “Batman Beyond”, which took a frankly stupid Batman concept and made it truly light-years better than it had a right being; and the frankly awful series “The Batman”.

Every punch bowl has its turd.

Rounding out this dream team writing and producing these six connected shorts, is Academy Award nominee Josh Olson (Best Adapted Screenplay-“A History of Violence”); DC/Batman veterans Greg Rucka and Brian Azzarello; and Jordan Goldberg, of whom I know next to nothing, except that his Wikipedia entry says he co-founded StickK, “an American Internet start-up company that enables users to make commitment contracts in order to reach their personal goals.”

Buyer beware: anybody who loathes stylized Japanese anime or really felt let down by “The Animatrix” best steer clear. Four studios (five, if you count Warner Bros. stirring this distinctive stew of ink and paint) crafted six distinctive-looking shorts serving as an interlude – or appetizer, given its timely release just ahead of the arrival of “The Dark Knight” in theaters – between director Christopher Nolan’s first two installments in Hollywood’s most successful franchise reset to date.

But for anyone who worships at the altars of “Ghost In The Shell” or “Cowboy Bebop”, come on down.

These shorts could fall into really nearly any Batman continuity with which one could choose to associate them. But given certain fleeting elements – one short focusing on Batman’s duels with the Scarecrow after the incident at The Narrows in “Batman Begins”, the presence of Lucius Fox as Batman’s secret “Q” and an ongoing one-man war on semi-central “Dark Knight” villain Sal Maroni – it’s obvious where the scribes behind these pretty pictures expect initial associations to fall.

Nevertheless, the right themes of these early (career-wise) Batman adventures are all there to be ticked off the checklist: Batman passes on a device that protects him quite well but risks hurling others into a crossfire, when it inadventantly leads to a Russian goon’s wounding in a shootout; he expresses a certain admiration for the power and efficiency of guns, despite a refusal to ever employ one in his street wars; and despite so many lives saved, Bruce never giving up “trying to stop those two bullets” that birthed Batman from Bruce Wayne so long before.

I won’t spoil much here. Trust me, it’ll be more fun this way. However, I must concede this much: I think Batman has become a character made for the Japanese anime aesthetic, in terms of story as much as his look. It even surprises a little that this is the first time anyone has attempted translating Batman in this manner. It’s jarring at first, but digest it once through, then give it another look.

Then you’ll get it.

Inkblot's Feature -- They Might Be Giants

In the early '80s, John Linnell and John Flansburgh, former friends and songwriting pair from high school, discovered that they had both moved into the same apartment building in Brooklyn on the very same day. Deciding to continue their career and start their own band, the two named themselves after the title of a 1971 movie, and went on to become a Grammy-winning alternative rock band.

And as such, They Might Be Giants were born.

But enough about the band; this isn't a music-based blog, after all.

So why am I dedicating a blog entry to this band? Well, if you were to peruse their music videos, you'd see that majority of the videos are animated. Before the Gorillaz came up with the concept of combing animation with their music, TMBG released a number of cartoon-based music videos, and if one was to look through their website, you'd see a multitude of Flash-based videos for their more recent creations.

But how about some of their earlier stuff? Here's a quick look back at 6 of their videos and which show/site/station they were first featured.

**I'm going to go ahead and admit defeat on one thing here: I couldn't figure out how to post the videos directly into the blog, so underneath each photo I've uploaded, you'll find a link to the site that featured the video. Sorry for the inconvenience.**

--Istanbul (Not Constantinople), featured on Tiny Toon Adventures

This was actually my first introduction to the band. Featured on the show's first MTV-spoof episode, the video features Plucky and Hampton in Istanbul (although the geography is really incorrect) searching for a stolen statue for the Sultan/King/Unnamed Authority Figure. Now how many people knew that this song was a cover, and that the original version, first performed in 1953, was a slower-paced swing song?

--Particle Man, featured on Tiny Toon Adventures

TMBG got one more video in on the same episode of TTA; staring Plucky once again, the video pits him as a professional wrestler, out to take on the likes of Triangle Man, Universe Man, and Person Man!

--Experimental Film, featured on

This is a great video for anyone who has worked with student films; the video acts like a combination of a stereotypical bland black-&-white film and lively Flash animation. None of the video actually makes sense, but that's what's so fun about it. Secondary side note on why I love this video: while in college, I ran a TV show that featured student-based short films (usually coming from the Broadcast department), and ended up sitting through countless hours of blasé shorts coming from the inner angst of college students... trust me, Homestar Runner's take on the subject is actually way better than half the stuff I sat through!

--Dee Dee and Dexter, featured on Cartoon Network

This was one of a few videos TMBG created for the Cartoon Network (you know, when they actually played GOOD cartoons?!? I know, its hard to believe). The video recreates our star characters as anime stars, creating what could be mistaken for a new Japanese-based opening for the show. Thankfully, CN might have gone seriously downhill shortly after this video was made, but they never did anything like this.

--Doctor Worm, featured on KaBlam!

I almost didn't put this one on the list, since it's a combination of live-action and animation, but it's still a good video and the animation isn't too bad. A group of kids search for a new drummer for their band, only to continually run into a worm that wants to join up... yeah, sounds like something that would make more sense after about a fifth of Scotch. So while the lyrics don't make a lot of sense and the video is really out-there, the music is catchy, and the video does a pretty good job of blending both the live-action and the animation.

Did I miss your favorite TMBG animated video? Let me know what you think!

Guest Contribution -- "Superman: Doomsday" Review

Let's welcome our first guest contributer, Sean Comer, with the first part of his DC Animated Films reviews.

I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I sometimes struggle capturing disappointment in words.

DC Studios’ animated “Superman: Doomsday” feels like a colossal letdown at nearly every turn. Saddest part? It didn’t have to be. It could’ve condensed and adapted the original saga and crafted an animated epic probably on par with the best in the “Spiderman,” “X-Men” or latter-day “Batman” sagas.

Instead, DC turned out its own rendition that shoehorns Lex Luthor unnecessarily into a dramatically inferior story and completely shuns the tension, drama and emotional content that made the original Life and Death of Superman arc one of the only Superman tales it’s possible for me to care less about on a good day.

In this full-length feature, Superman battles the destructive alien force Doomsday. Superman dies in battle. Superman returns to save Metropolis in the end, rocking a black suit and decent little mullet.

I hope you enjoyed that description. It’s the only significant similarities to the original story.

The new story is frankly unsatisfying enough. I can’t even call the pacing “wrong” necessarily, because I can’t compare this story’s pacing to the original arc’s. It just doesn’t translate. This pace feels more like director Bruce Timm was trying to hustle through three back-to-back-to-back episodes of the Kids WB animated series than trying to tell a flowing story over the course of 90 minutes.

The graphic novels combining the death and resurrection of Superman arcs take some patience. They form a graphic novel in every sense of that word. It is not for those of the tiny attention span. This film, on the other hand, lays everything out there as quickly and concisely as possible because the typical audience for DC Studios’ animated faire in all likelihood lacks the attention spans to stick with a developed, emotional story long enough to tell this tale proper.

Doomsday’s introduction was the first sign something truly was not right in Metropolis. A force this devastating deserved the treatment it got in the books: that of a destructive juggernaut’s methodical path of destruction on a collision course with a city he doesn’t realize belongs to possibly the only being that’s really his equal.

The original artists really gave Doomsday the “Cloverfield” treatment before “Cloverfield” was a glint in J.J. Abrams’ mad-genius eyes. I remember the scene where Doomsday takes a deer’s neck and snaps it effortlessly. I remember panels showing only Doomsday’s fists breaking first through his underground prison’s walls, then the soil into an unsuspecting world’s daylight.

Here, we get Doomsday’s full reveal right off the bat. Given Timm’s notorious mastery of shadowy, foreboding lighting and sometimes obscuring just enough of his characters, it doesn’t even feel like his handiwork. There’s no lurking, impending horror ready to destroy every living thing in its way. There’s no teasing an exciting, dramatic reveal here. He’s just suddenly . . . there.

And of course, behold the originality: who should be the one responsible for Doomsday’s freedom? Luthor. It’s actually a shame James Marsters’ fine performance had to be wasted on a character that only distracts me with my ever-present reminders that this particular take on the story feels forced by his mere presence. I could easily see some executive demanding Luthor’s presence for fear Doomsday wouldn’t be a recognizable enough character to push units.

And really, that’s a problem with which every writer to ever craft a Superman script struggles: they’re completely locked into the idea there can be no other master villain threatening Metropolis but Lex Luthor. Nevermind the fact Darkseid or Braniac could potentially drive equally, if not more interesting, stories. No, there will be Luthor.

And again, the Luthor character itself is actually OK. Luthor has always worked just fine in ways many villains can’t. He conquered, controlled and played puppet-master with the world through the insurmountable power of capitalism that toes the ethical/legal lines without quite stepping over.

Forget Clinton. Forget Obama. Forget even W. Bush. America elected Lex Luthor President! Here, when we first see him, he conspires to weaken a cancer drug, because he turns a bigger profit treating a lethal illness than curing it.

Seriously, can someone be jailed for not curing a disease? He doesn’t even want the heat at the Earth’s core so much to end reliance on non-renewable energy sources, but because it’s a massive bargaining chip.

But his presence in this story feels forced. Anyone who loved the original Doomsday saga knows Luthor wasn’t this directly involved. Hence, we wonder what he’s doing here.

The writers would’ve been better served challenging themselves by making a conscious effort to avoid Luthor. It would’ve squeezed and wrenched originality and new approaches from them. Call this a cop-out, but look what doing so did for “Batman Begins” by avoiding even referencing the Joker until the movie’s last moments.

We see the original saga’s emotional rollercoaster in fleeting glimpses. There are brief moments depicting Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White finding ways to move on without Clark/Superman. But there’s precious little time to appreciate it – given running-time constraints, one must assume – so the movie can jump into a revision of the original’s imposter-Superman plot device.

And here, the movie reveals its greatest flaw. To be perfectly honest, it’s a conundrum. A story this complex, which originally involved witnessing the DC Universe’s greatest heroes grieving the greatest of them all and coping with what seems to be an impossibility, warrants the running time “Superman Returns” got.

We even have to wonder: wouldn’t a story this grand have made that long a Superman movie as good as “The Dark Knight”? I believe it could’ve.

Along the way, in a moment that I believe insults the audience’s intelligence, we have to be shown Superman’s recovery in his Fortress of Solitude interspersed with (SPOILER) clone-Superman going on rampage.

Once again, a comparison: Superman’s triumphant return in print meant something special because we scarcely saw him up until that point. But just like the poor form in just throwing Doomsday in the audience’s face rather than establishing some foreboding tension, it makes the sequence when Superman returns to Metropolis much less impactful. It’s not an exclamation point anymore. He’s just . . . there again. Wow, he’s back, just like we’ve known through 15-20 minutes worth of cutaways he would be.

But again, it’s easy to forget: we’re dealing with a medium/style that caters to some of the shortest possible attention spans. Heaven forbid, someone employ some pacing and subtlety to actually make a climactic moment seem spontaneous and exciting, as if we’re actually absorbed in the story.

Timm’s feel for Superman worked magnificently on the initial incarnation of “Batman: The Animated Series”. He told his stories at a brisk little pace that kept the drama heightened, the plot advancing quickly and the characters – even the villains – emotionally relatable. And when Luthor explodes in rage because Superman’s death denied HIM the satisfaction he always wanted of emerging victorious over his greatest opponent, it is one of Marsters’ finest moments. This man needs to at least read for the role of Luthor, if he’s included in another live-action Superman (if THAT even ever happens).

Anne Heche also carries off just a fine a distraught, lost, balls-of-brass Lois Lane. Honestly, she’d have almost been preferable over Kate Bosworth.

Then again, you know who else would’ve been preferable over Kate Bosworth? Choose from Rosie O’Donnell, any actress in a Tyler Perry movie or Eddie Izzard in drag.

But what worked so well for Timm when crafting Batman amounts to a square peg in a round hole for his take on Superman. Batman was worldly, gritty and grim. This take on Superman should’ve been bigger than life, as big as the destructive force ultimately powerful enough to take the Man of Steel down with it. It should’ve been about shattering bright, vibrant Metropolis with the loss of its great protector.

Even Superman’s beaten-down body – not to mention the beating itself that he suffers at Doomsday’s hand – feels way, way too watered-down for something that ultimately appears to kill Superman. If you decide to watch this, follow it up with picking up the Death of Superman saga in its print form. Compare the images of a beaten Superman. Then comment and tell me which one felt more impactful.

Ugh. The animated medium should’ve been perfect for this. It had the limitless ceiling to achieve visuals no studio could in live action with guaranteeing bankruptcy at the hands of a movie that could never hope to make up its budget. Instead, writers eschewed the original visceral, emotionally involving story, rushed through a mediocre plot better suited to a trilogy of episodes of Superman’s most recent animated series and couldn’t even be bothered to include a sub-plot following Superman’s allies coming to grips with his loss.

This is truly a let-down in every sense. Even Superman’s character model makes him look a little like a chubby-cheeked schlub or washed-up college football player. Some decent voice-acting aside, it’s not worth the 90 minutes you’ll never get back.

The Ranting Inkblot -- Loaning DVDs

Let's just say this is more a need to get something off my chest than anything else.

It probably comes as no surprise to most of you that, being a big-time animation fanatic, most of my DVDs are cartoons. And yes, when I can afford it, I prefer to get the Special Edition DVDs, mostly because I love to watch the behind-the-scenes videos, listen to commentary, and learn more about the history of the cartoon I'm watching.

So my aunt and uncle adopted a young girl from China last year, and in an act of generosity, I offered to loan them my Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection (after all, what better to watch when learning English than a cartoon that doesn't rely on dialogue).

I didn't mind how long they had the DVD (they had it for close to a year), but I was happy to get it back today. After stopping by their house, I went out with a friend to the movies and went home to watch my newly reacquired DVDs... only to see that they looked like someone had played five rounds of frisbee with them! Scratches, fingerprints, the works.

I know I'm going to come off as pretty materialistic here, but I was near tears at the sight of this. I can't afford to buy DVDs right now, and one of my favorite collections (not to mention a set that I need to watch for an upcoming column) looked like someone had been using all five discs for hockey pucks!

So now after multiple applications of Brasso, I'm watching all 5 DVDs, one cartoon at a time, to see just how extensive the damage is. I'm about 2/3rds through the first disc, and there are already 2 shorts that I won't be seeing again.

So what's the point of me posting this? Well, my father always taught me that education comes at a price, no matter what. And I certainly got my education this time.

Lesson learned: when loaning DVDs, don't loan to families with 4-year old children.

Oh, and PS: Keep your eyes open for that upcoming column I mentioned!

Holiday Spectacular -- In Need of Nominations!

Hey everyone, and welcome back to From The Inkwell!

Halloween is over, and that means it's time for the Inkwell to get ready for its first ever Holiday Blog Spectacular!

Nice name, huh?

So here's what I need from you, my ever-faithful viewers: I want to do a countdown (or even a full-blown feature) on some of the all-time greatest Holiday animated specials ever released. The problem? There's way too many, and I honestly have no idea which one I want to choose, or what order to put them in!

And with that, I'm asking you guys to help me out by submitting your nominations for the Best Animated Holiday Specials!

Here are the rules:

(1) Feel free to nominate as many specials as you want, there is no limit. And anyone is welcome to submit a nomination (if I've tagged you, it's because I know you've read my column before), I'm not picky on where the ideas come from.

(2) These can be either holiday films, short films that TV stations only show around this time, or even holiday-themed episodes of regular TV shows.

(3) There is indeed a reason I'm using the term "holiday": while I'm sure most of the nominations will be for Christmas specials, if you know of a special for Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or Insert-Random-Winter-Holiday-Here, go ahead and submit it. I'm up for anything.

(4) Bare in mind that if you submit a lesser-known entry, I might ask for your assistance in tracking down a copy of it so I can include it.

(4) Consider this obvious, but I should probably put it down here for some poor simpleton who needs it: yes, these specials need to be ANIMATED! As in CARTOONS!

So that's it, I'm anxious to see what you guys come up with!

Halloween Countdown -- Treehouse of Horror

As a lot of you know, I like to do something special around Halloween, since it is my all-time favorite holiday. I thought about doing a scary animated-movie review, but it's not that easy to find Halloween-themed animated movies that are all that scary. There are indeed a few scary animated films out there, but they're not really Halloween-related. In fact, most Halloween specials are not scary in the least! So after thinking long and hard, I came up with the perfect way to celebrate this most treasured of holidays... with a countdown of The Simpson's Treehouse of Horrorsegments!

Starting in 1990 for the second season,
Treehouse of Horror quickly became a time-honored tradition for The Simpsons. Airing during the Halloween season, each episode features three non-canon stories, most of which parody a classic scary movie or TV show. And since the latest one just came out this past Sunday (not too bad, the Alfred Hitchcock-themed segment was a nice touch but the Sweeney Todd parody felt awfully forced, I give it an 7.0), I thought it would be fitting to do a list of my personal picks for the Top 5 Best Treehouse of Horror Segments.

**Keep in mind that this is all opinion, and the list is sadly limited to what I can either see on DVD or watch online.

#5 -- Treehouse of Horror XVII - The Day The Earth Looked Stupid

Taking place back in 1938, this story shows how Springfield reacts during Orson Welles' infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, and believe that their planet is doomed. After making complete idiots out of themselves, Lisa reveals that the broadcast wasn't real, and everyone goes back to their day-to-day routine... until Kang and Kodos show up, and the town refuses to believe that THIS is a real invasion! Not only is this a hilarious segment (complete with a jab at the War in Iraq) and a proper shout-out to one of the greatest moments in broadcast history, but I had to put this one on the countdown as my friends and I had just completed our own version of the War of the Worlds broadcast in college, so you can imagine just how stoked I was that Matt Groening had chosen a homage to the same story.

#4 -- Treehouse of Horror V - The Shinning

The Simpsons find themselves as caretakers for Mr. Burns' winter lodge; hoping to keep them focused on their work, Burns and Smithers decide to cut the cable TV and remove all of the beer from the house. And once deprived of his two favorite things in the world, Homer starts to go nuts and plans to murder his family. Best moment of the night probably goes to the scene where Homer starts chopping through the door, ala Jack Nicholson's famous "Here's Johnny!" scene.

"I'm Mike Wallace, I'm Morley Safer and I'm Ed Bradley. All this and Andy Rooney tonight on 60 minutes.!"

#3 -- Treehouse of Horror IV - The Devil and Homer Simpson

I give this segment credit with being the first Treehouse of Horror story that actually scared me as a kid. Homer meets the Devil, who takes the form of Ned Flanders ("It's always the one you least expect."), and sells his soul for a donut. Marge asks the Devil for a fair trial, but Homer is forced to spend the day in Hell. Maybe it was the scene of Homer being thrown down into the pits of Hell, or where Ned actually changes into a more demonic form, but this really did freak me out when I was younger. And considering the fact that
Treehouse of Horror now parodies much-less frightening films and TV shows, it's probably safe to assume that this is probably as scary as The Simpsons are going to get.

#2 -- Treehouse of Horror XIX - It's The Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse

When it comes to holiday TV shows, it doesn't get much more classic than the Charlie Brown specials. These are possibly some of the most influential cartoons of all time, and pretty much everyone has made fun of them at one point or another. Last year, Matt Groening gave us a great parody, which stars Milhouse as Linus, Lisa as Sally, and Bart as Charlie Brown. The twist comes that in this short, the Grand Pumpkin (as he called) does in fact come to life... and starts a rampage against humanity for crimes against his fellow pumpkins.

And #1 -- Treehouse of Horror I - The Raven

Seems only fitting that the first Treehouse of Horror would have the best segment. James Earl Jones provides narration as the Simpson family finds themsleves re-enacting Edgar Allen Poe's classic poem. Looking back on it, I have to give a lot of points to voice actor Dan Castellaneta for finding a way to stay in character as Homer and still read the lines of the poem without sounding too forced. He actually manages to make it sound like the verse is something that Homer would say naturally, and considering the limited vocabulary of everyone's favorite TV Dad, that's saying something.

"Quoth the Raven..."
"Eat my shorts!"

Meet and Greet: Josh "Hat" Lieberman

Welcome to the first Meet and Greet* session on From the Inkwell. In this segment, we sit down with an animator (from experienced artists to those still trying to get their foot in the door) and discuss what draws them to this field, their inspiration, goals, etc.

Name: Josh "Hat" Lieberman
Age: 22
Claim to Fame: Completed a pilot titled, "The Awesome Chronicles of Manny and Khan" with Joey Giarina for the Cartoon Network's "Cartoonstitute" program; currently working at Dreamworks on Madagascar 3

What do you do?
"Contractually, I'm a storyboard artist, however the term "artist" is applied rather loosely these days and not sure I even fall under its jurisdiction. I'm not naturally artistic, cartoons are just something I've always loved. I'm no better at drawing than anyone else who does it everyday and prefer the term "heartist" to describe myself. Animation is just something I love to do.

"The role of a storyboard artist can be interpreted differently depending on the studio you work for and the platform of a specific project (TV, feature, commercial), but more often than not revolved around presenting scripted ideas in a clear and readable way. Basically, we write with pictures.

"At the moment, I'm boarding for a feature. In essence, we create a comic book where the story is laid out visually. Each storyboard artist is launched on a particular scene of the movie and works closely with the director and head of story to try and achieve visually the desired emotion/impact/narrative their respective scene warrants. Ideally, that means incorporating cinematography, lighting, staging, composition, character's expression and posing all into your boards to try and tell the story in the most effective way as possible. Although with that said, I struggle to handle any two of those principles properly in a given panel, but I try and I'm learning new things everyday. I really just like coming up with gags."

How did you get started in animation?
"I've always just loved cartoons. When I was younger I would spend most of my time writing, drawing and making flipbooks in the bottom corners of textbooks. When I was 15 I attended CSSSA (California State Summer School for the Arts), which I guess would be my first official foray into the world of animation. After that summer I took what I learnt, got a copy of Flash and started making my own little animated shorts."

When/how did you get your "big break"?
"In the summer of 2007, I was granted an opportunity to intern at Cartoon Network, which was kind of my foot in the door. I was able to keep in touch with the studio, and about a year after my internship had ended they announced the "Cartoonstitute" shorts program. The folks at CN were kind enough to give me and my good friend, the very talented Joey Giardina a timeslot to pitch. We got a few notes on our concept, reworked it a bit, went back, showed them the changes, and the short was green lit. That was my big break."

Name your favorite cartoon/animated character growing up.
"It's hard to pick just one. I liked Filburt from Rocko's Modern Life, he was funny. You can't go wrong with Spongebob and/or Patrick for that matter... something like that."

Any advice for up-&-coming artists?
"In general, I think one of the most important things for an artist to do is to try and understand their craft fully. Learn the history, learn where it started and where it's headed. Learn the artistic aspects as well as the business side of things.

"For animation in particular, if it's something you're passionate about, you just got to do it. Animation is so accessible today, you can download a program in 10 minutes and start animating on your computer at home. There is also an abundance of classic animation available on DVD, all great for frame-by-frame breakdowns. And on top of that, there are some amazing blogs and websites maintained by very knowledgeable cartoonists who offer up invaluable information and insight for free.

"The internet is really helping to redefine the industry. There is some incredible independent animation out there, particularly Flash-driven, stuff like or Eric Pringle's Prophet Buddy, guys who animate in their spare time and yet their work is as effective as what the major studios put out. I encourage young artists to start their own website or blog, it's a good way to track your progress, network, and also acts as a great self-motivator."

Be sure to check out "Hat's" blog at:

***Are you an animator with years in the field, or someone trying to get your cartoons out there? You could be the next artist to be interviewed here on the Meet and Greet! Send an e-mail to, along with a brief description of what you do! You may find yourself as our next featured artist!

Cartoon Countdown -- Top 10 Cartoon Network Originals

I never grew up with Cartoon Network, my family and I didn't get to upgrade our cable until I was actually about halfway through high school. But if you think that stopped me from getting addicted to the first network dedicated to cartoons, you are sadly mistaken.

However, I have to admit that I've stopped watching CN as much as I used to. Why? Because... oh, how do I put this delicately...

OK, maybe that was a little harsh. CN still delivers great quality cartoons, but now the schedule is bombarded with reality-based live-action shows, essentially TV shows that one would see on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. Please, TV Executives, get it through your thick skulls: you don't need to sink to the levels that these other channels have gone to keep your audience!
Still, I do have to tip my hat to Cartoon Network for giving us some great original programming from the late 90s to the early 21st century. There are a few new shows coming out on CN that I'm actually a little excited about, but before we see them, let's take a look back at the Top 10 best original shows that ever came out of Cartoon Network.

10) Cow & Chicken
--This show is weird... just weird. You have a cow and a chicken that are brother and sister (... 'kay), have human parents whom you never see past their waists (... yeah, OK, still following), go to school with other humans... oh yeah, and then you have the devil himself coming after them. Wait a minute... what?!? Huh? Yeah, that was about my reaction the first time I watched this show. Interestingly enough, the devil (whom they've dubbed The Big Red Guy to appease upset parents) never made his role in the series that clearly. In the pilot episode, "No Smoking", he acknowledges that he wants to trick Cow and Chicken into coming down to Hell (yeesh!), but in the series, he moves from con artist to villain to just plain-old mischief maker. This is one of those bizarre shows that you hate to admit that you watch religiously. The first episode I saw of this short was called "Orthodontic Police", and showed the Red Guy putting the most painful looking braces on Cow and Chicken (might I also mention that I saw this after coming back from the orthodontist and learning I would have to get braces as well? NOT what I needed to see!).

9) What A Cartoon! Show
--This is actually a really cool idea: let animators create one-shot cartoons, and put them on this half-hour program. You get new ideas for shows, and the animators get some heavily-needed exposure. Originally called World Premiere Toons, this show helped launch some of CN's most famous programs, including Dexter's Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. It also showed early work from now-famous animators like Seth MacFarlane and Butch Hartman. Interestingly enough, CN attempted to re-introduce this type of show recently with a show called Cartoonstitute, but none of the completed shorts made it to air.

8) Time Squad
--Every now and then we got an animated show that tried to educate us; for CN, that show was Time Squad. The idea of the show was that as the future progressed, time & history actually unravelled, and Time Squad units are sent in to make sure that history stays on track. Kind of an updated version of Jay Ward's Mr. Peabody & Sherman shorts, the real appeal of Time Squad was the various ways that history had gone wrong: Abraham Lincoln was pulling pranks, Eli Whitney had invented a flesh-eating robot instead of the cotton gin, Cleopatra had emptied the pyramids to create a shopping mall, etc.

7) Ed, Edd, n' Eddy
--One of the things I always loved about this show was that no matter where you grew up, you knew people like the characters on this show. For example, take a look at the Eds themselves: you've got the sloppy, dimwitted one who tries to be a good boy, even if it means cow-towing to his bratty sister; then you've got the super-genius neat-freak who always had an answer for everything, even if you didn't ask for it; and then you've got the greedy kid who "knew" he was destined for fame and fortune, but didn't want to wait around for it to hit him. Take a look at the other kids in the cul-de-sac, and I guarantee that sooner or later, you'll start having flashbacks and seeing these kids as the ones you grew up with.

6) Codename: Kids Next Door
--This was probably one of the most most popular shows CN ever put out. The Kids Next Door were a group of kids (duh!) who battled against "adult tyranny". Little things like eating your vegetables, buying clothes for school, and going to the dentist were considered acts of war. The show ran for 6 seasons (pretty long for an animated TV show) and spawned two TV movies; at one point, the Cartoon Network online store even offered a life-size treehouse similar to the one the kids used as a headquarters (and if I remember correctly, it was priced at about $1,000,000!). One of the things that made Codename: KND so popular was that as the series progressed, bigger & more complex storylines were created to tie together multiple episodes, including hidden clues and references that wouldn't come into play until the final season; this is something that we see frequently in more adult-oriented shows, but was pretty much unheard of in kids' programming.

5) Dexter's Laboratory
--One of the first original shows made for Cartoon Network, Dexter's Laboratory really helped give the channel the push it needed to grab audiences and pull them in. However, the thing that made this show so popular wasn't just the enormous lab that Dexter managed to keep hidden from his parents (I always loved how nothing in the show was cannon, various entrances and gadgets would appear and disappear whenever needed); what people loved watching was the intense sibling rivalry between Dexter and his older sister, DeeDee, the only other person who could gain access to his lab. Sure, there were the cool gadgets and inventions Dexter would churn out every episode, his clueless parents who never seemed to figure out what their son was doing in his room, and of course, the never-ending battle between Dexter and his arch-enemy Mandark, but what we all wanted to see was how DeeDee would inevitably get back into the lab and mess up Dexter's inventions.

4) Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
--I honestly have to give Craig McCracken a lot of praise for what is probably the most original and creative show ever produced by CN. In this show, imaginary friends become physical beings once imagined, but when the creator (normally young children) grew tired of them, they would end up at Foster's, where they would eventually be adopted by a new family. The idea may be simple enough, but the characters featured on the show prove that McCracken and his team either have some of the strongest imaginations on the planet... or have a very large storehouse of psychotropic drugs stashed away. Seriously, I have never seen another show where so many original and unique personas were featured. And I'm not just talking about how they looked; these were really developed and strong characters. They didn't just look cool or have funny voices, and we learned a lot about their individual traits as the series progressed, proving that the guys at CN really put a lot of thought and effort into their creations.

3) Powerpuff Girls
--It's really no surprise that the idea of adolescent superheroes would be popular, and Powerpuff Girls wasn't the first show to go with this concept (Fantastic Max, Astroboy, and DC's Teen Titans come to mind). But this show was a huge hit for CN, it even gave the network their first theatrical released movie in 2002. The show was about Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, three kindergarten-aged girls who also happen to be superheroes. The list of villains on this show ranged from every-day burglars, to genetically-enhanced monkeys, to even a red-skinned man who was apparently so evil and malicious that the only way anyone could refer to him was to say, "HIM" (evidently, his personality was based on the Leader of the Blue Meanies in Yellow Submarine). The stories were well-written, and for a kids' show, the action was actually pretty intense, so much that a number of parents complained about the amount of violence in the earlier season (later on, CN would respond by creating an episode where a group of parents, after complaining that the Girls' actions are too imitable, end up begging to be saved from a group of villains).

2) The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
--While a lot of CN's shows were aimed at kids, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy really pulled in more of its fanbase from older audiences, specifically teenagers and young adults. I started watching this show when I was in college, and it remains one of my all-time favorites. The Grim Reaper, sent to collect the soul of a sick hamster, loses a bet to two children (incredibly stupid but loving Billy, and evil merciless Mandy) and finds himself stuck as their best friend for all eternity. One of the reasons this show played less to younger kids was that it was a little on the dark side, with the characters taking numerous trips to the Underworld, battling demonic creatures, and even visiting the afterlife (in one of my favorite episodes, Billy accidentally gets sent to Asgard). This was also one of the few shows that frequently broke the 4th wall: at one point, after Grim's scythe is stolen (a running gag throughout the series, as well as a plot-point for the the show's first TV movie), Grim looks over nonchalantly and says, "I stopped caring like five episodes ago!"
And the #1 Cartoon Network Original is...

1) Samurai Jack
--This was probably CN's most epic series, showing a samurai warrior who is flung from medieval Japan to the distant future, and his journey to vanquish the evil force that sent him there, as well as find a way to return to his own time. OK, bear with me, I'm going to geek-out a little, because to me, you can't get much better than Samurai Jack. The animation was cutting-edge (the black outline was removed to help the various characters and images pop out), the action scenes were brilliantly done (worth mentioning that a number of animators were actual martial arts students and incorporated real moves into Jack's fighting techniques), the story was well developed, and when it comes to villains, you couldn't find anyone more fun to watch than Aku, who was voiced by Academy Award-winning actor Mako. While personifying the ultimate evil, Mako gave an incredibly over-the-top performance, allowing Aku to be presented not only as the story's antagonist, but also as a source of comedy. The storyline also allowed us to put our hero, Jack into a number of different scenarios: in one episode, he'd be helping a small army of soldiers defend a narrow gateway (ala, the Battle of Thermopylae), while in another, he would have to fight off an entire graveyard of zombies.

The Ranting Inkblot -- Performance Capture

Ladies and Gentleman, I'd like to introduce you to the Ranting Inkblot.

While going over movie news the other day, I ran across this gem on

"Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis (Beowulf) is set to direct a Disney remake of Yellow Submarine. The original 1968 film was based on the music of The Beatles. Disney has apparently secured a deal that would give Zemeckis access to 16 original Beatles songs for use in the movie. The film will be shot in performance-capture 3-D.

The film is set for release in summer 2012."

I feel the need to comment on this, and not just because I'm a die-hard Beatles fan and honestly think re-making this moving is a bad idea (the idea of Disney producing it, notwithstanding). While not my favorite technique, I have never had a problem with 3-D animated movies... when done right. Working with 3-D computer-animation is tricky: if you make it too blocky and smooth, it looks like something out of a bad video game and no one will pay attention. But if you make it too realistic, then people lose their interest. Performance-capture 3-D is tricky, because there is literally a line when working with this medium. Make it too realistic, and you lose the audience. Make it too "cartoony", and again, the audience is gone. This was the problem with Zemeckis' previous creations, Beowulf and Polar Express. The animation was so realistic that the audience (myself included) kept forgetting that they were watching an animated movie, but found themselves unable to accept it as a live-action film... so what is it?

All in all, while I love the idea of using performance-capture to create animated creatures in live-action movies/TV shows (Peter Jackson, I tip my hat to you for creating Gollum & King Kong this way), doing one's entire creation in this format makes it impossible for the audience to accept it.

And even though I haven't seen Zemeckis' latest creation, A Christmas Carol, yet, I can't help but look at the trailer and think: "...seriously Rob, who told you that using performance-capture like this was a good idea?!?"

Letter from the Editor

Welcome to From The Inkwell, a brand new animation blog!

Before going any further, I just wanted to give you a little info on this blog. I love animation and continue to find new things to love about it daily. My DVD collection contains mostly animated movies & TV shows, and I pride myself on collecting sets from particular artists. So I decided to create this blog to help celebrate animation in all its styles and techniques.

While I'm still working on a few things and going over specifics, there are a few topics that will show up on this blog from time to time:

~Animation Fascination: an in-depth look at techniques of animation and what helps them to stand out

~Cartoon Countdown: a list similar to my Top 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons of All Time, we'll do lists focusing on episodes, animators, and particular characters (I promise, nothing as long as the Looney Tunes list, anything longer than 10-15 will have it's own blog)

~Pulled from the Pencil: showcasing certain cartoons or pieces of animation on the blog directly

If you have any questions or idea for a column you'd like to see on this blog, drop me a line at I look forward to hearing from you guys in the future!

Alexis from Animation