Saturday, 8 March 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Comic Ballin'

I had mentioned last week, that the 1990's were a dark time for Looney Tunes. Thanks to the success of Space Jam, all of our favourite Warner Bros. characters had become sport franchise shills. But to be fair, there had been evidence of what would be to come 6 years before Space Jam.

In the early 90's, like any boy, I collected sports cards. Except mine had Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote on them. They were called Comic Ball cards, and they were a legitimate creation of a respectable company called Upper Deck. It was a bit left-of-centre for them. In fact, to this day, I'm not sure who their target audience was.

They were baseball cards, written and drawn by Chuck Jones, featuring classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters representing official MLB teams. Every character would wear a cap and jersey with an MLB team logo on it. And they all got together and played baseball, as only the classic Looney Tunes cartoon characters could.

It sounds like an awful idea based on how I've described it. But thanks to Chuck's "looney" sensibilities and creative license, they were actually a pretty fun series that played like a storyboard for a never-before released Chuck Jones cartoon.

The cards were double-sided, so that when placed in sheets, they would read like a comic strip - left to right, front and back. There were also special holographic cards (like every other card series of the 90's) that were the most sought after.

I didn't quite collect the whole series. I'm missing 1 or 2 cards from most of the storylines. But upon looking at them again last week, I realized I had 4 complete stories, and I thought it would be fun to share them with you today. I have to think it must be some of Chuck Jones' least-known artwork. And even lesser known considering the cards were not that popular. Or so I've read.

Still, they were recognized enough to warrant 2 subsequent Comic Ball series after that, along with 1 NFL-themed Comic Bowl. But these later cards featured less skilled, more generic artwork. They were kinda fun as they attempted to go the Space Jam route, by marrying the artwork with photos of sports legends. But it was an awkward idea, and could've been better handled by more legitimate cartoonists.

The later cards were also kind of a rip-off as the cartoon strips were only on one side. The flip side to each card featured Looney Tunes fun-facts on a puzzle piece.

But enough of that crap. Here, for your potential enjoyment, is the World Series of Comic Ball - 4 original stories by Chuck Jones, as depicted in cards 260 thru 357.

The dialogue bubbles are strange and hard to read at times. Chuck was an artist, not a letterer. But they reveal how important language was to Chuck, and how it helped to properly flesh out his creations. You can admit that you were reading the dialogue out loud in a terrible Mel Blanc impersonation, if you want.

Also interesting is Chuck's handling of characters that weren't really his own during the classic days of animation. Sylvester and his son were usually handled by Friz Freleng. But here you can see Chuck filling in his shoes nicely, with the most dialogue-heavy story of the 4 presented. It's also interesting to see his takes on Tweety, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn and Tasmanian Devil, who had usually been left to Freleng and Robert McKimson.

That's Ball Folks!

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