So long, Vincent Davis-1944-2009


Hi again, Readers. Here is the post I promised to publish. It has now been approved, and I’ve posted my favorite photo of Vincent and me.  He was a very dear friend of mine, and will be sadly missed, read on:

How do I say good-bye to a person who was practically a second father to me, who made me take down endless lists of my faults over the telephone and made me laugh about them, consoled and counseled me through many hard times and bleak patches, got Cathy and I to visit him and his wife-to-be Hiroko in Tokyo, took us up with him in a Cessna (he had a pilot’s license) many times over the Los Angeles basin and over Catalina, scattering the native bison as we came in for a landing. He sheltered my film collection in his house from the FBI back in the paranoid-1970s, took me horseback riding along the roads of Shadow Hills, got together with Cathy and me every year on my birthday for at least the last 15 years and was generally “there” for me in a friendship that lasted for 38 years!

Vincent Davis is little-known outside of the animation industry. He had many nick-names, “Vincent”, “Vince”, “V.D.”(he almost always called himself V.D. when he called me on the phone), “Been-Sent” was what his wife Hiroko often called him, “Red” was one of the last nicknames he went by, used by only a select group of friends from his neighborhood. He was a really good cartoonist, who really aspired to do a comic strip, but never sold one. He and his friend of the time, Bob Foster, did several issues of MYRON MOOSE FUNNIES in the early 1970s. Vince did a great critique of fandom in his two page masterpiece; “Comic Book Fans” published in GRAPHIC STORY MAGAZINE, edited by his friend Bill Spicer, comics afficiando and great lettering man. He also did a two page comic story about his adventures with becoming legally self-employed and his close encounter with the State Board of Equalization (they collect sales tax in California). He found a representative of the State Board literally waiting for him on his doorstep when he came home one night. Vince had not been charging his customers sales tax on his free lance animation jobs, and the Board wanted their cut and a fine! Vince looked at the whole episode through a jaundiced eye, and turned it into a comic book story. It was also printed as a poster, back in the “big poster” days of the 1970s. Vince could draw anything and make it funny, his sketch books were a delight to look upon. He showed me a book years ago with one page after another of funny birds, that just flowed from his pen. In the late 1960s and though the early 1980s, Vincent was a top free-lancer in the animation business, picking up many commercials and bits and pieces of TV shows and the occasional animated feature. We worked together on one, THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD (1974). Vince had picked up a long sequence on the picture in which the wind-up toys, the Mouse and his Child, tried to become self-winding. There was some dialog with an owl character, which I helped Vince to write. He gave me a few scenes of his sequence to animate with the Mouse tossing his little kid up in the air and down, he liked what I did with it. Alas, we worked together very little, I received no credit on the picture, as this was Vince’s sequence. Vince was highly respected by his peers, the cartoonist Bob Zamboni once told a friend of mine; “You’ll Never Touch Vince.”

In the 1990s, Vince made a transition from free-lance animator to a producer. He worked on GARFIELD AND FRIENDS for Film Roman, directed C. BEAR AND JAMAL in 1998 for Film Roman, was a producer on COW AND CHICKEN for Hanna-Barbera in 1998, and produced THE GRIM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY for Cartoon Network in 2005. Vince animated on the Emmy Award winning children’s special “Free to Be, You and Me” which Marlo Thomas produced for Murakami-Wolf films. He worked on the DUCK TALES program for Disney TV, which Vince was highly critical of, being a charter member of the Carl Barks fan club. One of the last shows he worked on was the BATMAN show for Warner Bros. TV in 2006-2007. Vince would kill me if he knew that I was writing about his credits, he hated almost everything he ever worked on. He used to tell me, “Name the worst thing you’ve ever done, I’ll BOTTOM it!” He did win the Annie Award for producing, however. He made fun of the award, sarcastically stating, “I’ve had SO MANY offers and my prices have gone up since I won this award.”

Vince was a cartoonist to the core, taking no one and no body seriously. He almost always avoided personal questions, preferring to keep his friends on the defensive. Those on the receiving end of his wit almost always laughed, through their blushes. He could get intensely personal, asking questions that an ordained minister or a psychologist might ask. This was ironic, as Vince was neither a preacher (very non-religious) nor a trained psychologist. Vince was a wonder at communicating with strangers. He could get very intense with a new acquaintance very fast. Vince looked very funny to begin with (he often dressed in a green polka-dot clown suit on Halloween), and his looks plus a penetrating wit made a lot of instant friends for him. Yet, Vincent didn’t seem to like it when friends tried to find out too much personal information about HIM. Vince preferred to be the revealer, NOT the revealed. He was a voracious reader and student of everything, especially his fellow humans. When I first met Vincent, I was going to Chouinard Art Institute in downtown L.A. One of my teachers was Ruben Apodoca, a great Disney assistant animator, who taught us basic animation. Vince and his pal Bob Zamboni, came down to the school many evenings to visit Ruben and hang out with us neophytes and talk pro animation. Us kids were always so flattered and happy to be visited by real working cartoonists. Vince could be quite cutting and withering in his criticism of our drawings, he often told me, “You’ll never make it.” I think around the time I completed my senior film at Chouinard, “Mike Mouse in ‘City Life’”, Vince started to revise his opinion of me and we got to know each other better. When I got started on staff at Spungbuggy Works and then went free-lance, I saw Vince more as we often bid on the same jobs. He invited me over to his ramshackle apartment near Normandie street in Hollywood, where he showed me his wonderful collection of old cartooning books, comic strips he had saved, his old time radio tapes and his old records of bands like the Coon-Sanders Night Hawks and the early records of the R. Crumb Cheap Suit Serenaders. Vince introduced me to the first old time radio I ever heard, sparking a life-long love of the sounds. I learned little tidbits of information about Vince’s life, he was born in Brisbane, Australia. He had gone to school there and had to wear a school uniform with a little straw hat every day. He still had that straw hat, it meant a lot to him. Vince was a great collector and saver of things. Vince loved old books and introduced me to many old book and antique stores in the Los Angeles Area. We made many trips to Long Beach to visit Richard Kyle’s Graphic Story Bookshop, and sometimes stayed for 5 hours in the Acres of Books store, the biggest book store in Long Beach!

Vince had a great affection for the culture of the early twentieth century in the United States. He loved old cartoons, two-reel comedies, serials, comic strips, Carl Barks, old time radio, old time country music, jazz, many things. His love of serials emerged in his student film: “Dr. Octopus”, or as he called it, “Doc Oc”. The 20 minute picture parodied the silent and sound serial chapters of the 1920s and 30s; filmed in live action on 16mm film, but edited on a video system, then transferred back onto 16mm film, which gave it a primitive kinescope look. The dialog was over the top, and a lot of the scenes were “undercranked” to give a slightly sped up look to the action. The lovely Sylvia Dees, who was an instructor in camera techniques at Chouinard, played the heroine, who was abducted by Doctor Octopus on board the Angel’s Flight trolley ride in downtown Los Angeles. Vince filmed this sequence while Angels’s Flight was still in it’s original location below Bunker Hill. The trolley was torn down shortly after Doc Oc was made. We often ran 16mm film shows at Vince’s house in the 1970s and 80s, and Vincent delighted in “torturing” his guests with Doc Oc.

I got to know his first wife, Pot (Theresa) Davis. Her nick-name was Pot because she was a talented ceramicist and master of the potter’s wheel. She made wonderful cartoony clay sculptures like “Mickey Duck”, a hybird of Donald and the Mouse with a rubber tail planted into his clay behind. Pot, Vince and I usually went to the San Diego Comic-Con together every year at the El Cortez hotel. I usually had no money for hotel rooms, so Vince and Pot let me sleep on the floor in their hotel coat room.Vince knew so many people through his love of comic books, especially Bob Sidebottom and Bud Plant, who Vince used to call “Pud Blant”. He liked to reverse letters on famous people’s names, such as “Cob Blampett” and “Juck Chones”. It was just another way that Vince had of taking the pomposity out of fannish worship of big-time cartoonists. Vince never took anything too seriously, especially cartoonists, yet, he secretly was an avid fan. He really loved Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson. I think he was secretly thrilled to meet Carl Barks at the Comic-Con; he might have gone to visit Carl on his own, I don’t remember now. Vince’s irreverence often offended the devout, and probably lost him some friends.

Vince was quite physically active in the early years that I knew him. He loved to play handball, and was quite good at it, until he fell and injured his knee. He owned and loved to ride horses, I went riding with him a few times through Shadow Hills, which is horse country. He lived right across the street from a big feed and tack store and knew many of the horse owners in his neighborhood. He even dated a female jockey for awhile. In the early 1980s, Vince went to Tokyo Japan to work with the Toei company. They were sub-contracting animation production on “The Gallavants” TV series for Murakami-Wolf, and Vince was the animation director. He went over to Japan and back many times, and that’s where he met Hiroko. Hiroko came along to Los Angeles with him and that’s where Cathy and I met her. “Hiro-ki-o from Toki-yo” was how Vince first introduced her to us. She was (and still is) very tiny, cute, with very long dark hair, actually shorter than Vince (did I mention that Vince was barely over 5 feet?). In 1985, Vince con”vince”d us to visit Hiroko and himself in Tokyo. We stayed in Vince’s small apartment in Tokyo and were amazed at the ambiance of the city. You could buy whisky out of vending machines! You could buy futuristic watches and radios! You could buy steamed squid and octopus from sidewalk vendors! You could see Vincent grab Hiroko and turn her upside down! One thing that was hard to find in Tokyo was thrift stores, the Japanese don’t like to wear used clothing. We found one, and I bought a red jacket from them which I still have. Vince and Hiroko seemed to like each other a lot and loved to laugh at the same things. Okonomiaki was one of their favorite dishes in Tokyo restaurants. They even taught us a few Japanese words, such as “Domo Arigato”. We had such a good time with them, taking showers in the apartment’s very small tub, seeing great piles of manga stacked like cord wood in the apartment building’s hallways and seeing the actual miniature Tokyo buildings that Godzilla smashed underfoot next door to the Toei Doga studios.

As the years went by, Vince put on a bit of weight, due to his bad knee. At a long-ago picnic, he confided in me that he feared he hadn’t long to live, he was starting to lose kidney function. His kidney deteriorated to the point that he had to go on dialysis for a short time every night. Hiroko and Vince liked to travel to a little mountain town named Julian every winter and Vince used to play cards with us there while hooked up to the dialysis machine. Luckily, the machine wasn’t much bigger than a Sony Betamax VCR, so he could take it with him. At last, Vince received a new kidney from a donor, and was able to free himself from the machine for several years. His outlook brightened a bit, and he regained some of his old acerbic wit. He used to invite Cathy and I over to his house (a wonderful old place made of big stones) each year on my birthday, with dinner provided by the charming Hiroko who could make a really delicious Shabu-Shabu. How sad it was when Vince’s other kidney started to fail, and he got weaker again. We were returning from a birthday dinner a few years ago at a Shadow Hills restaurant. When we got to Vince and Hiroko’s house, he was so weak that I had to lift him out of the car. I was amazed how light and small he was compared with the rather portly clown of not so many years ago. The last few years of his life saw Vince in and out of the Cedars/Sinai hospital in West L.A., dealing with his continuing renal failure. His longest stay was about 6 weeks. I went to visit him at Cedars and found great changes in my friend, he was no longer able to talk very well or breathe very well. He didn’t laugh much and was pretty down. About all we could do was watch old Andy Williams shows on the hospital TV, but I still enjoyed his company. Then in May of 2009, Vince and Hiroko decided that he wasn’t well enough to accept another kidney donation, even if one became available, so Vince removed himself from dialysis and died at home under Hiroko’s care on May 6th, 2009. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him, and often reflect on things he said to us. Vince could get very reflective and wise as well as be the clown. He always used to say, “Who Cares? Nobody Cares”, when it came down to permission to do something. It was his way of making us feel better about trying new things, about encountering the unknown, and dealing with impossible or unfair situations. “Nobody Cares” means that it’s OK to go to Tokyo, to pilot a plane, play handball, ride a horse, be a cartoonist and make endless fun of the gullible and the witless. “Who Cares?” Vincent, we do. We miss you, old friend.

I’m going to conclude the post by continuing the comics reprints from last time. Vince really loved Krazy Kat, so I’m doing this in honor of him. See you next time.


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