Monday, August 3, 2009

Jim Tyer comix, from Little Roquefort 3, 1952

There is no mistaking--or overlooking--the cartoon artistry of Jim Tyer. Tyer labored in the animation industry for at least 40-45 years. He worked for the New York studios--Van Beuren, Famous and Paul Terry--mostly on sub-standard cartoons (especially so with the Terry product).

In the early 1940s, Tyer contributed some dynamite, hallucinatory direction and animation for various Famous Studios Popeye cartoons. The old guard at Famous (once Max Fleischer's studio) didn't get Tyer's anarchic, hopped-up approach to animation.

Though he animated on some of the late black-and-white Popeyes (all available on legal DVD) and some of the early color entries, he was ostracized from Famous Studios by 1948.

It was not in Tyer's bones to conform to a house style. He certainly tried. But the verve of his drawing style, and the peculiarity of his animation, were too strong for him to stay on-model. At a more pragmatic studio like Famous, staying on-model was the name of the game.

Thus, Tyer was a misfit. He could not have functioned at the West Coast studios. Animators such as Rod Scribner and Emery Hawkins could push the envelope in their work for Warner Brothers (and, in Hawkins' case, Walts Lantz and Disney), but they had a sense of when to let their freak-flag fly, and when to take it down from the pole.

Tyer let several freak-flags, all in clashing colors, flap madly in the breeze. Were it not for the refreshing interludes of his wild animation, all Terrytoons of the 1950s would be landfill. (There--I've said it!) [TM]

Terry's studio had talented animators--Bill Tytla, Carlo Vinci, John Gentilella, to name three--but the end-results of Terrytoons was usually depressing.

Except when Tyer's scenes come on-screen. Tyer gives the middle finger to every rule of Disney-style animation. Were his drawing style not so appealing--he's like a spikier, more manic Dr. Seuss--Tyer would never have gotten away with his brazen rejection of modern animation technique.

Ironically, Tyer was among the only "old guard" of Terry to adapt to the cartoon modern style of the Space Age. He single-handedly animated the remarkable Ernest Pintoff-written Flebus, which was nominated for an Academy Award. His highly angular style lent itself well to the moderne makeover. (H E R E is a link to Flebus, among the greatest cartoons of the post-war era.)

An intensely private man, Tyer guarded his animation techniques from his colleagues. Other Terry animators pathetically attempted to emulate his style. It proved inimitable. And, because there was no quality control at the Terry studios, Tyer's rampant eccentricity was tolerated.

Like other Terrytoonists, Tyer sought extra $$$ by drawing stories for the licensed Terry-themed comic books. In the early 1950s, Tyer's work is all over the St. John-published Terrytoon titles.

Tyer never signed his work, but his stylistic autograph covers his comix pages. Sure, the stories are usually sub-par. Today's offering has, sadly, the narrative equivalent of rickets. It demonstrates Tyer's great appeal as a vibrant, impressive cartoonist.

On the printed page, Tyer could not summon the freaky excesses he committed on-screen. He had to keep his feet on the ground, and go for strong cartooning. Thus, his comix work is among the best funny-animal art in the genre.

Here is a typically forlorn story from a typically forlorn issue of Little Roquefort. Each and every panel is a joy to peruse, for Tyer's dynamic cartoon art. The narrative content is as casual as any animated Terrytoon--that is to say, there's not much in evidence.