Dan Gordon (animator)
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|Popeye the Sailor cartoons
Superman (1940s cartoons)
Dan Gordon (died 1970) was an American storyboard artist and film director, best known for his work at both Famous Studios and Hanna-Barbera Productions. Gordon was one of Famous' first directors, and he wrote and directed several Popeye the Sailor and Superman cartoons. Later, at Hanna-Barbera, Gordon worked on several cartoons featuring Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and others.
In the late 1940s, “funny animals” and “teen humor” were two of the most popular categories in the ever growing world of comic books. Gordon specialized in both genres and combined the two in the world’s first funny-animal teen-humor title. When he created comic books, he used the pen name "Dang."
Van Beuren Studios and Fleischer Studios
Dan Gordon began his animation career as a story man at New York’s Van Beuren Studios, and by 1936 he was receiving a director’s credit there. When Van Beuren went under, Gordon and many of his colleagues went to work for Paul Terry’s Terrytoons. It was here that Gordon worked with Joe Barbera (another Van Beuren alum) on Pink Elephants, a cartoon that Barbera described as one of "... the first cartoons I had a hand in actually creating from the beginning.”
Gordon and Barbera headed out west to MGM in 1937, but Gordon bolted back to the East shortly thereafter to help re-write the troubled Gulliver’s Travels animated feature film at Fleischer Brothers Studios. Gordon’s rewrites couldn’t save much of Gulliver, but Gordon was instrumental in the success of the Fleischer Studios’ next hit: the 1941 Superman theatrical animated shorts.
When Paramount seized control of the Fleischer studio in Miami, Gordon was one of four directors put in charge of production. Gordon stayed only a couple years at the newly dubbed Famous Studios, but the few Popeye shorts he directed are remarkable for their manic intensity. The Hungry Goat, released in 1943, stands out as an attempt to bring a new, screwball character to the screen, heavily influenced by contemporary WB shorts. For reasons unclear, Gordon left Famous Studios — and the animation field — around 1944. The fast-paced, hyper-kinetic, and over-caffeinated mayhem of those Popeye cartoons leads right into the comic book stories he crafted for The American Comics Group (ACG).
Superkatt and funny animals
Gordon was part of a group of animation pros led by Jim Davis (of Fox and Crow fame) that supplied original funny animal comic book stories to ACG and DC Comics. Gordon’s work began appearing in Giggle Comics in 1944, and by Giggle #9, he introduced the long-running character Superkatt. Superkatt is a funny animal jab at the “long-underwear” genre of superhero comics. The title character does not have any super powers at all, but is a normal (talking) house cat that dresses in a diaper, a baby’s bonnet, and a big blue bow to fight minor neighborhood injustices.
In 1949 came Funny Films, a funny animal anthology title that tried to convince the reader that its stories were the filmed exploits of famous Hollywood cartoon characters.
Gordon’s Puss and Boots was a dog-and-cat version of Tom and Jerry on crack, with unbridled cartoon violence its only delicious theme. Gordon’s other Funny Films character was the comical rabbit inventor Blunderbunny. In La Salle Comics' Hi-Jinx, he experimented with the hybrid idea of “teenage animal funnies.”
Gordon's final major character from this era is Cookie O’Toole, the teenage star of Cookie comics. Cookie began his run in 1945 when he and his whole gang (best friend/hipster Jitterbuck, heartthrob Angelpuss, sharp-dressed rival Zoot, and their egghead pal, “The Brain”) appeared fully formed in a one-shot issue of Topsy-Turvy Comics. By the next year, Cookie had his own title, and began a run that lasted nine years and 55 issues.
Cookie is a rare example of a knock-off surpassing its inspiration. The explosive popularity of MLJ Comics’ “Archie” in the mid-1940s gave birth to an entire comics genre: the teen humor comic. While the Archie gang is clearly more iconic and enduring than Cookie and his pals ever hope to be, the Cookie comics are a much more entertaining read.
Gordon continued to make comics for ACG (and ACG imprints like La Salle) until he was called back into animation service by his old friend Joseph Barbera.
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had been creating the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM since 1940, but by 1957 the studio’s animation division was shut down. In a desperate bid to stay alive in the new TV era, Hanna and Barbera struck out on a foolhardy mission to make a weekly animated television series for a tiny fraction of their old Tom and Jerry budgets.
Gordon jumped on board to help out at Hanna-Barbera, and (with partner Charles Shows) was soon writing and drawing storyboards for most of the episodes of those earliest, foundational H-B cartoon classics: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Pixie & Dixie, Quick Draw McGraw, and Augie Doggie. Emboldened by their early success in Saturday morning, Hanna and Barbera set their sights on producing a prime-time domestic comedy with a prehistoric twist. Gordon had some experience with cartoon cavemen, having worked on the “Stone Age” series of animated shorts for the Fleischer Brothers Studio back in 1940. Although many talented people had a part in creating what would become The Flintstones, Bill Hanna generously points to Gordon. “Now you may not get the same response from anybody else, Bill Hanna recalls, ”but to me, Dan Gordon is responsible for The Flintstones. He came up with the basic concept of doing it with cavemen in skins.” And Joe Barbera recounts in his autobiography that, ”the first two Flintstones were the work of Dan Gordon and myself; I controlled the content, and Dan did the storyboards.”
Dan Gordon continued to work for Hanna-Barbera until his death in 1970.
Gordon's cartoons live on through sales of DVD reissues featuring many of his Superman and Popeye cartoons, and deluxe DVD sets of Huckleberry Hound and The Flintstones. Some of his work from the early Van Beuren Studios and Terrytoons days can be found on streaming video sites on the Internet. With the advent of eBay, online comic shops, and cartoon/comics blogs, today’s Gordon fan has a decent chance of finding some of his comics at a reasonable cost. Well-worn back issues of Giggle, Ha-Ha, and Cookie comics are fairly easy to find, and many fans have been scanning and sharing these public-domain stories online.
Notes and references
- Gifford, Denis. The International Book of Comics. (Crescent Books, 1984). 132. Retrieved from Google Books on January 24, 2011. "As drawn by "Dang" (the comic-book pen name of animator Dan Gordon from the Fleischer Studio),[...]"
- Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice and Magic (New York: Plume, 1980, rev. 1987), p. 134.
- Barbera, Joe. My Life in ‘Toons: From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century (Turner Publishing, 1994), p. 56.
- Maltin, p. 136.
- Culhane, Shamus. Talking Animals and Other People (Da Capo Press, 1998), p. 205.
- Beck, Jerry. "Fleischer Becomes Famous Studios," Cartoon Research. Retrieved June 7, 2011..
- Markstein, Don. MGM entry, Don Markstein's Toonopedia.
- Hanna, Bill. A Cast of Friends (Da Capo Press, 2000), p. 84.
- Adams, T.R. The Flintstones: A Modern Stone Age Phenomenon (Turner Publishing, 1994), p. 37.
- "Stone Age," Big Cartoon Database. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Bill Hanna, as quoted in Adams, p. 28.
- Barbera, p. 136.
- Bill Hanna, as quoted in Adams, p. 37.