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Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

  1. Look Mickey!

    August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     The above painting is widely recognized as Roy Lichtenstein‘s first work to employ cartoon or comic book imagery. Painted in 1961, Look Mickey was adapted from the 1960 children’s book Donald Duck Lost and Found. In Lichtenstein’s transformation of the storybook illustration by artists Bob Grant and Bob Totten, the composition is simplified and rendered in the bold outlines and primary colors of a mass-produced image, making it appear even more “pop” than the original picture. It’s interesting to note that the source material wasn’t a comic book and that the inclusion of a speech balloon was, perhaps, Lichtenstein’s way of making the image appear even more crassly mass-market by associating it with the cheap and prolific comic book industry of the early Sixties.

    The original image (most of it, at least) can be seen here. There appears to be some sort of pissing contest over who discovered the source material for Look Mickey and it’s impossible to find an unadulterated scan from the original Little Golden Book that it was based on. Also, never underestimate the perils of displaying Disney artwork without the proper permissions and fees.

    Happily, Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey was donated to the National Gallery of Art by the artist and his wife in 1990 in recognition of the Gallery’s 50th birthday. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Walt Disney Company commemorated the 50th birthday of Lichtenstein’s first work of cartoon/comic pop art by releasing the source image into the public domain?

     


  2. 10¢ Comic Books: The Long Road to Extinction

    August 6, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Comic books had cost 10 cents for as long as anyone could remember. Famous Funnies, the first true American comic book, sold for 10 cents and established a price point that would stand for almost thirty years.  The 10 cent comic book even survived the period of 25% inflation after World War Two that almost cost President Truman his job.

    By the late 1950s, it must have seemed almost inconceivable to comic book readers that a normal-sized comic book could cost anything other than a dime. Sure, there were 15, 20, and 25 cent “Giant Size” comic books, but the price increase was always proportional to the extra content. A 25¢ Giant-Size book would have (at a minimum) as many pages as two-and-a-half 10¢ books.

    So, it must have been with no small amount of trepidation that comic book readers noticed the inclusion of the single word “Still” set before the 10¢ price on the cover of a February 1959 issue of Chip ‘n’ Dale.  In fact, the word was on the covers of all of Dell’s comic books. Unlike most comic book companies, Dell books were populated by characters licensed from movie and television companies like Walt Disney (Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and the very popular Scrooge McDuck) , MGM (Tom & Jerry), Warner Brothers (Bugs Bunny), and Universal TV (Wagon Train). Apparently, Dell realized early on that the time was nearing when they could no longer make  a profit on a ten-cent book and pay royalties.  Surprisingly, the Dell books were “Still 10¢” for another two years!

    One month before Dell finally raised its cover prices to 15 cents in early 1961, DC comics started sporting the “STILL 10¢” price on all of their covers.  DC didn’t have the same problem with royalties that Dell had (Superman creator Jerry Siegel was still writing uncredited DC comics for scale!), but they didn’t want a cover price differential to imply that their characters were less popular. DC had as many iconic characters as Dell; why should Mickey Mouse rate a higher price than Superman?

    A month after the Dell price hike, Charlton Comics pasted a “STILL 10¢” spash right on top of every title. This was a bold move for a company that had a reputation for turning out some of the shoddiest low quality pulp in an industry filled with shoddy, low quality pulp. Throughout the rest of 1961, other comic book companies were content to leave their 10¢ cover text unadulterated; even Atlas/Marvel which could usually be counted on to jump on whatever bandwagon DC was riding. Despite Dell’s price increase and the ominous “STILL 10¢” on the covers of at least two companies’ books, readers (save those who were exclusively Dell readers) continued to enjoy comics for the price of a dime for another six months. By the end of the summer of ’61, DC had even dropped the “Still” from the 10 cent price!

    This lasted until December when Action Comics #283 displayed something nobody could remember ever seeing before: A 12¢ price tag! Was this a good thing or a bad thing? It was an increase, but it wasn’t nearly as big a bump as Dell’s, and DC had given fair warning earlier in the year. A kid’s 25¢ allowence would still buy two comics although a few penny candies would have to be sacrificed.  If the price increase prompted any real outrage at the time, I’m unable to find evidence of it.

    The rest of DC’s titles began selling for 12¢ the same month Action did and the following month Archie Comics followed suit with all of their teen titles. That same month, Harvey Comics (Blondie, Casper, Baby Huey) adopted the ominous “STILL 1o¢” cover text.  Encouraged by the sales of the first two issues of Fantastic Four more than any lingering inclination to follow industry trends, Marvel jacked their prices up to 12¢ in February 1962 foregoing the  ”STILL 10¢” preamble. Harvey went to 12¢ a mere month after they first bragged that they were “still” ten cents and  Charlton and every other comic book company made the change by March, 1962.  It wouldn’t be until the end of the decade that companies felt confident enough to raise their price as high as Dell’s 15¢.


  3. Flying Saucers: The Forgotten Ride

    August 3, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961 a new ride was introduced in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. For five years, the bumper-car/hovercraft ride called Flying Saucers was a favorite of park goers and a general pain in the ass for Disneyland staff.

    When a space-hogging boat ride called Phantom Boats was replaced by the Submarine Lagoon in 1960, it was decided that a new passenger steered aquatic ride was necessary, albeit one that took up far less space. The first thought was a ride already employed in other theme parks called a “duck bump”.  These motorized inner-tube shaped boats were equipped with small motors and a rudder that allowed the rider to tool around a small pond and bump into other riders. This ride had the advantage of being confined to a small, compact pond as opposed to the rambling mini-river needed for Phantom Boats, however  imagineers (that’s “designer” in Disneyese) were hard pressed to come up with a way to shoehorn the ride into the futuristic theme of Tomorrowland. The round boats (and the water in the pond) were discarded in favor of similarly shaped hovercraft which would be called flying saucers.

    Original designs called for a gasoline powered, one-man hovercraft that was already being built by a German company, but the razor-sharp, high-speed fan blades were determined to be too risky for use by the general public. The final design took its inspiration from the popular air hockey tables found in nearly every arcade in America in 1961. The motive power would be provided not by motors in each of the individual saucers but by streams of pressurized air from the floor. Each saucer would now have no more than two moving parts: The safety belt clasp and the rider himself. Steering and acceleration could be controlled by the rider simply by shifting his weight. Lean to one side and a wider gap was created on the opposing side, thus releasing more of the air coming from the floor. Whichever direction the rider leaned was the direction the saucer would move.

    As soon as this concept was accepted by imagineers they realized that there wasn’t a blower in the world large enough to power a surface as large as that planned for the Flying Saucers ride, especially if the air cushion had to support 500 pound loaded saucers. The solution was to engineer special valves that would only release air when a saucer was directly above the airhole. These valves were startlingly simple affairs controlled by nothing more than springs. The spring was just strong enough to push a disk up against the bottom of the floor at normal atmospheric pressure and (mostly) seal the hole. When a saucer passed over a hole, it increased the downward pressure just enough to  push the disk down and release air around the edge of the disk. The finished ride had a circular floor measuring 100 feet in diameter.  The floor was bisected by a catwalk that not only provided two separate bumping areas but also served as one side of a “corral” which was formed for loading and unloading. The other sides of the corrals were swinging booms that separated the saucers into two groups per side. There were 64 saucers altogether separated into four groups of 16. Confused? Check out this nifty diagram from FilmFax Magazine (Dec. 2005).

    Flying Saucers opened on August 6, 1961 with appropriate fanfare provided by an astronaut, a spacegirl, and the (at that time) planetary-named Pluto. The price of a ride was one “E” coupon, the most expensive of ride tickets (50 cents). This put Flying Saucers’ prestige on par with rides like the Matterhorn and Submarines.  The ride was a huge hit, in part, because it was the only ride besides Autopia that let the rider steer.

    Unfortunately, even with the simplicity of the valves and (unlike Autopia) no breakdowns of individual saucers, the ride had issues that gave maintenance crews endless headaches. Like a giant pipe organ the holes and saucers would often create a sort of  harmonic convergence which would make all of the holes open up with a load boom that shook windows all over the park. The blowers would then have to be shut off and planks of wood  laid over the open holes to rescue the stranded riders. Resetting the valves and restarting the blowers could take an hour. This occurrence happened, on average, once or twice a day!  On top of the maintenance issues, the ride, with its rapid opening and closing of valves and the hissing of escaping air, was by far the loudest ride ever installed at the park.

    When Tomorrowland prepared for a major redesign in 1966, Disney staff was unanimous in which ride they wouldn’t mind seeing the last of. When Flying Saucers was dismantled, it left a seven-foot deep basement where the blowers were housed. This basement was used for the Tomorrowland stage near the snack bar which would rise from the ground with the performers already on stage. Later, that location would be occupied by the 3D theater showing Michael Jackson’s Captain EO.