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Book> The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop by Dan Charnas

December 26th, 2010

The Big Payback

“The young … have no reference for the time before hip-hop: when rappers couldn’t get their records played on radio or show on TV; when Black artists of any genre were asked, literally, to make their music sound and make themselves look Whiter; when Black actors and actresses didn’t star in summer blockbuster films; when Black women who actually looked like Black women didn’t grace the covers of magazines; when Black men and women didn’t own multimillion-dollar companies based on selling their own culture to the nation and the world.”  
–from Dan CharnasThe Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop

Most of the books I post about here are about the cartoon business, though on rare occasions I’ll let you in on what’s on my personal bookshelf. Rarely, seeing as my reading tastes are often off the beaten path of cartoons; fiction-wise I read mysteries almost exclusively. But in non-fiction I spend a lot of time (too much time) reading about pop culture (including a lot of animation), with a lot of focus on the behind-the-scenes machinations on the business behind the culture. (It probably explains why, when I stopped playing piano, I flipped onto the other side of booth and started recording music, which eventually led to producing television and film.)

Today, a twitch from Mark Zuckerberg makes headlines, but back in the day a simple rock star’s simple statement could shake the world. Before internet philosophy came to dominate world thought, music culture –more than movies, television, and yes, sadly, cartoons– defined American culture and therefore, at least in our last century, world culture. And, of course, to anyone who’s paying attention, whether one loves The Beatles or Megadeth or Josh Groban or Fela Anikulapo Kuti, or even the Monsters of Folk, the defining force in music (and back around, for the whole world’s culture) for over 100 years has been American black music.

Last year, my obsession was Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers (Music in American Life) by John Broven, about the indie pop record business in the second half of the 20th century, which, along with Arnold Shaw’s Honkers and Shouters, gave me a thorough view of the cutting edge of pop culture. Both those books trailed off before hip hop, the last defining black musical –and cultural– explosion of the century.

Dan Charnas has done a great job reporting the cross currents of “joy and pain, triumph and failure, grace and greed” (Jeff Chang) that created, nurtured, and eventually, got the better of hip hop. I’ve tried to read a lot of hip hop histories over the years, but inevitably been turned away by the terrible writing, editorializing, and inaccuracies. But the final chapters Tony Fletcher’s excellent All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77 and Jay-Z’s Fresh Air interview last month whet my appetite for more and Charnas delivers the first book that makes me want to get over my listening limitations (after Rapper’s Delight I was a big fan from “Sucker MC’s” through the mid-90s, but I pretty much got lost at Wu-Tang).

Whether you care about hip hop or not, if you’re reading this blog you’re involved with pop culture. If you want to know more about what makes it what it is, read The Big Payback. If you like to read, you won’t be disappointed.

Bonus track: Here’s what started the whole thing, the Sugarhill Gang’s original 12″ of Rapper’s Delight.

Available on Amazon.

December 15th, 2010

Book cover illustrated & designed by Carlos Ramos
Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios [cover]

OK, here ’tis on Amazon.com, Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios, before Christmas, as we hoped. Not sure if they can actually deliver it by next week, but you can check. The official release date is in March, so at least you can get a head start on everyone else. In the meanwhile, you can preview the whole book below to see if it’s worth it to you.

Here’s the blurb (and here’s the entire introduction):

Please, consider the unconsidered art of the original cartoon title card.

For almost a century, the art of the cartoon title card has not been disparaged, disregarded, or dismissed. It has been completely ignored. And by the 1970s it had almost completely disappeared.

Over 200 full color original title cards from hit Frederator cartoon series, including The Fairly OddParents, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, Fanboy & Chum Chum, Adventure Time, and eight more.

Frederator loves you.

Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios

Coming for Christmas?

November 28th, 2010

Book cover illustrated & designed by Carlos Ramos
Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios [cover]The latest from Frederator Books, Original Cartoon Title Cards, should be out soon. Eric Homan and I have chosen a subjective compilation of 200 of the title cards from our productions over the years, including some of the best from The Fairly OddParents, ChalkZone, My Life as a Teenage Robot, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, Ape Escape Cartoons, The Meth Minute 39, What A Cartoon!, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, Random! Cartoons, and the first season of Fanboy & Chum Chum and Adventure Time. You’ve probably seen some of them here or here, but I’ve got to say, seeing them printed large size (the book is 8 1/4″ wide by 6″ high), is pretty darn cool.

“Official” publication should be in January. But, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to offer it early (maybe as soon as next week) to Frederator blog readers. Stay tuned here for more information as it comes. In the meantime, here’s a preview of the essay at the beginning of the book.

…..

The unconsidered art of the cartoon title card.

I started searching the internet for someone who could write an essay to introduce this book of Frederator Studios’ cartoon title cards. Surely, someone with an writer’s eye had a few choice words to say about decades of cool graphic design.

Nothing.

There were several places where beautiful vintage cartoon cards are displayed, usually for filmographic or historical purposes. But, for all the pages devoted to critical analysis and display of another pop culture icon, the movie poster, there wasn’t a full paragraph of consideration I could turn up about the kind of art we’re displaying in this book.

Well, I’m no art historian, so they won’t be any scintillating examinations here. But, just let me point out that it might be worth checking out the dozens of talented artists and creators who have shared their work with us here. All sorts of styles are represented, from homage to the one and two color cards we saw in the silents, to sumptuous, nuanced illustrations that are hard to appreciate in the 10 seconds they’re usually displayed on television. Breadth of craft is also demonstrated here, from simple typography, pencil on paper, computer generated images, even paper cut outs.

Within minutes of ruminating about cartoons for the first time –professionally, that is; they probably started dominating my mind as soon as my parents got their first TV– there was no choice. The model for my productions needed to be the great shorts during the golden age of the early, mid-20th century: Looney Tunes, the Disney’s, the MGM’s, even the first TV shows of Hanna-Barbera. And there was no joking about the template. Our films would hew as close as possible to these classics from front to back. Studio logo, character name, episode name, seven minutes of squash & stretch hilarity, and “The End.” No deviations, please.

It took a few years to get anyone to agree that we could even make these kinds of cartoons (thank you kindly, Scott Sassa and Ted Turner). And, among the creative posse making the first 48 shorts there wasn’t one push back about the idea of the title cards, they loved everything cartoon. It helped that I was the president of the studio, but that really had nothing to do with it.

The talent we’d lined up were chomping at the bit to reintroduce –no, reinvent– the very idea of cartoons, since the production industry and the networks had almost completely abandoned the form almost 30 years before. Disney had long seemed embarrassed by their ‘cartoon’ roots, but even the 1980 revival of the famous Warner studio couldn’t admit their strength and named itself “Warner Bros. Animation.” Our team trained themselves in a business that had turned its back on their love, but they were undeterred. When we announced our complete dedication to the form, they lined up in force and embraced every aspect of our program, eventually creating a tidal wave of success that made cartoons the dominant form of animation throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

The networks were another story. It’s fair to say that we’ve had resistance to title cards for almost everyone one of the almost 20 series that have been sprung from our three shorts series of the last 15 years. It’s never the budget issues, which would have been my first arguments against them, if I’d been so inclined; it is not inexpensive to make between 50 and 150 of illustrative, finished artwork per season. No, unfortunately, there’s probably a failure of imagination. “Other series don’t do it.”

Cartoon title cards indeed seem to be an unconsidered art. Everywhere but here. Feast your eyes for as long as you might wish, I guarantee some gorgeous rewards.

Fred Seibert
New York, 2010
Original Cartoon Title Cards from Frederator Studios [back cover]

Author? Animator?

November 1st, 2010

51y0juyzqjl_ss500_.jpeg

David Levy has proved it over and over again. Being a talented artist and animator doesn’t prevent anyone from being a good writer. Case in point, Dave’s third book, Directing Animation, where he easily brings us through story after story of success (and sometimes, not so much) from the trenches of our business. (Full disclosure: there’s a chapter on internet cartoons, featuring the Frederator production of Dan Meth’s “The Meth Minute 39.” Alas, no embarrassing, humiliating stories this time.)

If you’re looking for some of the best reading to be done from the inside out of the animation industry, you’d do a lot worse to check out all of Dave’s library, from how to break into and thrive in the business, to getting a show on the air.

“Original Cartoons, Volume 2: The Frederator Studios Postcards 2006-2010

May 8th, 2010

Original Cartoons, Volume 2
It took a while to get the gallies right, but the second collection of Frederator’s postcards is available over at Amazon.com (the first one’s there too).

Eric Homan is our resident postcard collector, but that’s not the main reason he has an insightful interview here. Entertainment journalist Michael Goldman wanted to get the scoop on how Eric developed the last round of big ideas in our Random! Cartoons shorts incubator, including the background on Fanboy & Chum Chum and Adventure Time. Their cards, and all 39 of the original Random!s, are included in the book.
back
And that’s not all! The complete postcard series 6 through 9 are here, including the black & whites, and the History of Frederator set. And, the non-series Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! collectibles that were made for the International Licensing Shows, and a bunch of stragglers that were produced here and there over the years. Plus, a preface by the guy we work for at Sony Pictures Animation, Bob Osher, and a short introduction from moi.

So, check it out. Broke? Too cheap? Here’s the free PDF download:

Original Cartoons, Volume 2: The Frederator Studios Postcards 2006 - 2010

“Original Cartoon Posters from Frederator Studios”

April 26th, 2010

book cover 1 FREDERATOR POSTERS
There’s no book release party this week, but nonetheless our poster book is available for sale over at Amazon.com.

I’ve had a lot of fun with our self promotion over the years, especially posters. It turns out I came of age during posters last great hurrah in the 60s, when every kid had day-glo posters pasted all over the bedroom walls, horrifying parents everywhere. But slowly over the years posters went from a commercial necessity to a collectible art item. I wanted in on the action, and sporadically commissioned posters in the 80s, often as promotion for my advertising agency, but it wasn’t until the cartoon biz my jones fired up in earnest.

Starting with What A Cartoon!, where I wanted to give our shorts creators their due, and continuing with Frederator’s launch, I’ve looked for a good excuse to litter some limited edition walls myself. Sporadically, we try to get an annual New Year’s release, and then something practical (usually budget) gets in the way. Certainly, we try and get something going for most of our new cartoons too.
back

So, keeping in the tradition the book collection of our first series of postcards, we collected 12 years of Frederator posters together for your viewing pleasure. As a bonus, there most of the HB What A Cartoon! posters too, plus a lot of one-off digitals for events you might or might not be aware of. And some Comic-Con collectibles too! “51 illustrations” in all, as it hypes on the back cover.

You might have seen the earlier digital download draft, but here’s the final, published version, if you want to take a quick, electronic gander.

Original Cartoon Posters from Frederator Studios

PS: Don’t forget to check out the cool Fanboy & Chum Chum and Adventure Time stuff that’s included.

For the Frederator luddites.

April 4th, 2010

Original Cartoons, Volume 2: The Frederator Postcards 2006 - 2010

For you regular blog readers, Frederator Books is a hopelessly retrograde concept. You keep up with the blog, our flickr collections, and the various other ways we chronicle our doings. But, maybe it’s because lots of people I hang with are older, they like our books. So, I keep publishing them. And now, with Lulu and Amazon.com’s Createspace it’s even more efficient to keep churning ‘em out.

The latest? The follow-up to our first collection of postcards from 2005, showcasing our cards from 2006 onwards, including all 39 of the Random! Cartoons cards (with the original Fanboy and Adventure Time shorts’ cards).

I’ll let you know when it becomes available for sale in the beginning of May, but in the meantime, you can enjoy a PDF of it above or here.

The hardest working string in show business.

March 30th, 2010


Our friend Bob Boyle is the hardest working man in show business. He just released his first picture book last week –Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String– and already he’s done a commercial, and now, a music video, produced with our Wubbzy bubby Brad Mossman. Check it out, buy the book!
"Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String

Dude, where’s my poster?

March 21st, 2010

Original Cartoon Posters March 2010 DRAFT 3

As anyone who’s known me for more than a few minutes is well aware, I like posters. Too much.

The 60’s was pretty much the end of the useful commercial poster (though in some cities, transit posters will occasionally still work) but in the last 40 years the limited edition art poster has been alive and well. My ad agency made more posters than they were sometimes comfortable with, and when I got into cartoon biz my habit continued unabated. At Frederator our bank account slows us up quite a bit, but I can be persuasive in convincing our partners that it’s a really good idea for them.

Now that there are a lot of easy ways to publish books on demand on the internet, I’m starting to go a little book crazy. The latest one up, edited by Eric and me, is a collection of our posters. You can see the latest draft up above, and it should be available on Amazon next month. Next, title cards and the latest postcards.

By the way, here’s the description I’m going to putting on Amazon. If any of you have a better way to do it, please let me know. I’m eager to hear what you think.

Original Cartoon Posters collects a dozen years of the Frederator Studios limited edition poster releases.

Since 1998, Frederator has been America’s leading independent cartoon producer, with smash hits like ‘The Fairly OddParents’, ‘Fanboy & Chum Chum’, and ‘Adventure Time’, and the big idea cartoon incubators What A Cartoon!, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, and Random! Cartoons. Showcased here for the first time, you’ll find rarities like private staff editions, comic convention promotions, and one-off digital giveaways.

Where it all began.

January 23rd, 2010

The visual Craft of William Golden

Talk about unsung heroes. For those of you interested in graphic design or broadcasting or branding or marketing –or you’re just a media freak like me– you really should read this book, The Visual Craft of William Golden (hit ‘Full Screen’ up above, or download a PDF; it’ll be easy).

William Golden is the father of broadcast design, having been completely responsible, under Frank Stanton and owner William Paley, for the look and feel of the television network of the Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS to you younger viewers), the first network to take into account every single aspect of it’s image and vocabulary. Most famous for the most famous TV logo of all time, the CBS eye, Golden was a philosopher and an artist in the most philistine moment of the 1950s. He was the man who was able to make one believe Paley’s conceit that his network of “I Love Lucy” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” was actually “the Tiffany Network.”

Golden wasn’t just about the logo, as a quick visual inspection of the book will bear out (but, check out the cool ways it was used, obviously but subtly, like on page 32). But, read it instead, you’ll get some great insights as to how a great creative work is done even at a behemoth like a TV network.

One quick, related, digression. George Lois used to tell me the story of his early job working under Golden’s art director Kurt Weiss, the man who actually designed the CBS logo. His gig was redrawing an original CBS type font, a Didot variation. Lois told me he worked for weeks on the “8″ alone because Golden insisted that the cross lines couldn’t actually meet, and George had to do it over hundreds of times to meet his exacting expectations.

Sadly, Golden is only known among broadcast design freaks like me (I had to become one to figure out how to do my job at MTV). He passed away (young, at 48) and the reins were handed to senior designer Lou Dorfsman who, unfairly, got the lion’s share of the credit for origination as the network matured and publicity accrued in the 60s and 70s.

Like I said, take a little time to read this hard to find book. It was rewarding to me the first time I sat down with a rare copy in the 80s, and it’s wisdom has only become richer over time.


(video via grain edit and Lined & Unlined)