Monday, July 5, 2010

Of Mice and Magic is 30!

It's hard to believe it has been thirty years since the publication of Of Mice and Magic, one of the earliest histories of animation in the United States.

I ran across this book in 1980 or 1981 quite by accident. The paperback edition's distinctly and delightfully cartoony cover first caught my eye, but both eyes bugged out when I read the subtitle: "A History of American Animated Cartoons." I couldn't believe such a book existed. Who would have expected anyone would write a book on cartoons? I mean, I'd always hoped for one, but never imagined I'd see that hope fulfilled.

The store's only copy was torn on the spine, but I bought it anyway. It ranks as one of my favorite spontaneous decisions ever.

If you aren't a fan of old cartoons, it's next to impossible to explain this book's appeal (I know: I've tried). But if you are a fan, you must have this book. It is, quite simply, the best, most engaging overview of Hollywood cartoons ever written.

For my part, it changed my life -- not by turning me into an animator or filmmaker, but rather, by validating my nascent, hardly articulable sense that these cartoons were something special. Have you ever had your self-confidence boosted by finding that others shared, or exceeded, your passion for an arcane hobby? Suddenly, you were no longer a singular freak. More accurately, you might still have been a freak in the eyes of the community at large, but you were no longer alone. That kind of validation is powerful, especially for a socially awkward teen.

Today Leonard Maltin is far better known as a film critic at large, and Jerry Beck is a respected animation historian and booster of cartoons of all stripes. My collection of animation books is larger than I ever thought it would be, and includes additional tomes by each of the aforementioned. But even after thirty years, their collaboration on Of Mice and Magic stands head and shoulders above all the others in my affections. Michael Barrier might have been the first to shine a long-overdue light on the history and background of old cartoons via his seminal zine Funnyworld (and Barrier has started, at least, to share some of the long-defunct magazine's articles), but for those not already part of the then-small community of animation devotees, Of Mice and Magic remains the book that started it all. Messrs. Maltin and Beck, to you I offer congratulations on the book's thirtieth anniversary -- and my deepest thanks.

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