Goodbye, Corny

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My old friend and “Drawing God” Cornelius Cole III, passed away August 8th, 2011. I’ve known Corny so long that I can’t remember exactly when we first met. I could have seen him for the first time picking up freelance layout from Fred Calvert, but I remember him best from the old Duck Soup Produckions studio on Main St. in Santa Monica. Corny had his own little studio on the same floor with Duck Soup which he called “Corny Films”. I think that Duane Crowther was his business partner for awhile. I’ve reproduced some of the model sheets and drawings that Corny produced for Duck Soup and Murakami-Wolf Films in the 1970s and 1980s. Duane directed a whole series of Nine Lives Dry Cat Food commercials with Sylvester the cat. Corny did the models for the spots on Sylvester and Marc Anthony (the bulldog). He did the rough models in ball point pen and clean ups in graphite. Corny could work both rough and tight, but he preferred rough. Corny always worked with an inking board in his lap, never on a light board. He preferred to do layout that way. Duane and Corny would sometimes fight over Corny’s 3 and 4 field pan layouts for the Sylvester and Froot Loops commercials. It seems Corny had a hard time drawing within a 12-field cut-off and let his pen range far outside the field to the right and left, sometimes even north and south! Corny would attach little pieces of paper to the top and bottom of an animation sheet to allow for his lines to escape the bonds of the field edge. We who had to animate to these layouts would often have to reduce the drawings mechanically so that they WOULD fit within a 12 field TV cut-off. The compositions looked a bit patchy sometimes after we got through making them fit. Also, Corny usually drew his layouts in ball point pen, with a lot of lines. We animators had to boil down all those beautiful pen lines down to one, hard, unforgiving graphite line for our character drawings. They never had the liveliness of Corny’s original drawings, but we had to have a good line for Kunimi, the great Duck Soup inker, to work from. (Kunimi was such a good artist that she could take a “pen haystack” like Corny or Duane would draw, and make a beautiful single line cleanup from the rough, right on cel!) The mockingbird that you see upstairs with a top hat was designed for a Kellogg’s Raisin Bran commercial, those little blobs in the layout are raisins. The Gator character was a Corny Cole design for Fred Wolf. I’ve forgotten now which product it was for, but Fred really liked this character, it lasted for several commercials. Here: corny-rooster.jpgis a rooster character that Corny designed for a Duck Soup Froot Loops commercial. He was an inventor with a German accent, loosely patterned on Albert Einstein. It’s a good example of Corny’s rough pen style. We had a good time trying to animate overlap on the very loose shapes that Corny drew for his comb.  Corny loved to tell stories about his time at Warner Bros. with Chuck Jones. Many of those stories can be read over at Michael Barrier’s website, look for his interview with Corny. Corny especially liked telling me about the Daffy Duck storyboard he fashioned for Chuck, which the great director rejected, saying “this is not MY Daffy Duck.” Corny disliked the lofty tone of this remark and told Chuck where he could shove his Daffy Duck. Corny always praised Friz Freleng’s timing and downgraded Chuck’s. But evidently, he really admired them both, judging from the interview. Corny always was trying to loosen up the atmosphere at whatever studio he was working for. At Duck Soup, he frequently lured the animators out into the Santa Monica surf for a body surfing lesson. I went along for one such outing with Bob Seeley, Mel Sommer and a few other folks and swam a bit out to sea with Corny leading the way. I tried to float in on a wave, but when it hit the sand, I was tumbled about like the rinse cycle on a high speed washing machine. I emerged from the surf, with quite a few cuts and gashes through my skin. Corny laughed at my extreme surfing naivete, but did it in a sympathetic way. This is my best memory of Corny, he was a regular guy, but he was never lofty, never authoritarian. There was a real warmth to the man, he was just great to be around. He drew so well that he could fit in to any studio, any production. He was still teaching drawing at Cal Arts up to the time he left us. A few years ago, at a 2005 Annie Awards ceremony, I saw Corny for the first time in many years, sitting in the audience. He said “hello”, almost as if it had been 10 minutes since I’d seen him last, not nearly 10 years. I couldn’t help noticing how slowly he walked up to the stage to receive his Winsor McCay award. The great surfer had foot trouble, according to Bob Kurtz. It was a real thrill to see Corny be recognized by his peers for what he did best, draw! Corny was never too reverent about the animation industry, and never held cartoons in very high esteem. He loved fine art. You know, I don’t know if I ever saw any oil paintings that he produced, so I don’t know what his grasp of color and light amounted to, but I always loved his detailed figure drawings. The poses always were full of action, seeming to fly through the air over the great space of the long pieces of paper that they were drawn upon. Corny made a few animated films of his own, including a great anti-Richard Nixon piece that he worked on for over a decade. I hope the family takes good care of his films and drawings. Please don’t turn them over to the ASIFA archives! We need to remember Corny for a long, long time.

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Felix (from 2-18 to 2-24-1935) is an accidental underwater explorer this time. In going after Danny’s camera, Felix punches out a Carabuda fish which swallows the valuable instrument. When Felix and the fish are hauled up, the Captain develops the film and finds some photographs of sunken treasure ships. Some of the crew descend for another look in a diving bell, and the fish remark that it’s good to see humans in a globe for a change. In the Sunday, Felix continues his adventures in Dreamland, and the King of Dreamland pulls several mean tricks on the little cat to try to wake him up. I wonder if McCay contemplated a lawsuit over this story?

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Krazy (12-30-1940 t0 1-4-1941) is for vegetarians this time. All the gags are about cucumbers, chili peppers, bell peppers and topped off with an eggplant gag in the 1-4. The 1941 strips came from a different source than the 1940s and are arranged vertically. I think the strip looks good either way, but I prefer the horizontal layout, preferably 8 columns wide, which I can’t do on this dad-blasted computee!

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Patrick (from 10-28 to 11-5-1966) has a reference to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, “Quick Draw McGraw” in the 10-28. Patrick steals Quick Draw’s signature line, “Ooh, that smarts!” You will notice that the Post-Dispatch starts printing the dates on the Halloween and subsequent strips. Now I won’t have to speculate so much on the days these were originally printed. I love the acting that Patrick puts on for his Mommy’s benefit in the 11-5. Enjoy the comics, my readers! I will write again soon.

6 Responses to “Goodbye, Corny”

  1. Chris Sobieniak says:

    Great bit of impressive info on Corny there!

  2. Nice write-up on Corny. I still remember the story you told me about you working on the “Clerow Wilson” special and Corny’s heated argument with Friz Freleng.

    Do you have any more recollections on working on the special? I’m trying to put together a comprehensive history of the DFE studio and I could use practically anything.

  3. Mark says:

    Hi Charles,
    I neglected to mention the “Clerow Wilson and The Miracle of P.S. 14” special, which Corny directed in 1972. He gave me freelance animation to do on this show, I did some of the band kids playing instruments, including a drummer and a horn player of some kind to sync to Dean Elliott’s patented horn arrangements. I also did a long scene of Clerow walking along a long pan (feet off the bottom of the screen) and talking a lot. This whole show was done in Corny’s rough ball point style. I even animated some of the scenes with a ball point pen. The reason it was done in that style was that Bill Cosby’s boyhood memories had been turned into a previous animated special directed by Ken Mundie in 1969 called “Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert”, mainly designed and animated by Bob Bachman (black animator). This special was also designed very rough, animated on cels with a heavy black grease pencil so that all the construction lines showed. It looked very fresh, and some of Bachman’s animation of Fat Albert, staged from a low angle, really was funny. Flip Wilson probably envied the look of the show, and that’s when DePatie-Freleng and Corny became involved. Corny drew rough like Ken Mundie and Bob Bachman, but his stuff appeared to be a little more delicate because he used a pen, and Bachman used a grease pencil. It’s been so long now, that I’ve forgotten what Corny’s big argument with Friz was about, I think that Friz didn’t like the rough look of the lines, correct me if I’m wrong, Charles. The special came in under budget, I think, the footage rates were low. I remember walking around the studio on days when I picked up or dropped off and seeing some of the old time animators like Don Williams holed up in their offices with TV sets on top of their desks! Evidently Don could watch TV and animate at the same time. This was long before IPhones, so I thought that was unusual. I wanted to work there on their shorts, like Pink Panther, but I couldn’t seem to turn my “Clerow Wilson” credit into more animation for Depatie-Freleng. I guess they had me type-cast as a “rough animator”, also I was pretty young at the time. In 1974, when they did the second special, “Clerow Wilson’s Great Escape”, I was not invited to the party. They hired more black animators, like Brenda Banks and Phil Mendez. As I recall, the second special was even sloppier than the first one! Corny was very nice to hire me, though, unproven snotty little kid that I was at the time.

  4. I have a funny mental image of Don Williams animating while watching something on iPhone. I’m pretty that some of the more younger artists in animation actually do that.

    “I think that Friz didn’t like the rough look of the lines”
    For what its worth alot of DFE’s outputs often had rougher line-art than any other studios at the time. The early “Inspector” shorts were traced onto cels with grease pencils and it shows. But according to Dale Case the people in the ink & paint department complained so after a while they stopped using it.

    Corny also designed both the Ant and the Aardvark (John Dunn created the characters before he even joined DFE with a completely different designs). They had the “rough” art look, although I’m betting that Corny’s original sketch had a more shaky lines than what showed up on screen. Interestingly in one or two of the shorts you can actually see construction lines on Aardvark. My guess is for that cartoon they used “second pass” or “semi-clean up” drawings and xeroxed those onto cels.

  5. Hi Mark. I’m curious (as I’m thousands of miles away). Why shouldn’t people give artwork to the ASIFA Hollywood archives. If this is too delicate a subject to discuss here, you can email me at markmayerson(at)rogers.com.

    I’ve been wondering what I should do with the material I’ve collected over the years. My children have no real interest in it and I wonder where I could donate it and know that it would be preserved and available to fans/researchers. Any ideas?

  6. Kirk says:

    A great tribute, Mr. Kausler. I read about Corny losing his home and pets and much of his artwork in one of the perennial canyon fires a few years back, and was saddened that he died so shortly after this tragedy. It tears me up that so many talented veterans end up with so little and go down so damn hard.

    I also wonder about this ASIFA situation… there seem to be definite lines of division in the animation world on the subject of Mr. Worth’s stewardship, publically disseminated with real bile and contempt from the eminent Micheal Barrier, (God preserve us from stately historians!) …

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