Saving Ms. Banks

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It’s not often that my previous subjects intersect like this, but the arts always find a way sneak itself into our daily lives more often than we give it credit.

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Brenda Banks was an animator whose resume included The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and several Ralph Bakshi films. While she holds the title of third Female African American animator ever in the industry, there is a much more pressing reason to share her story:

Brenda Banks is missing.

No one knows where she is. She has not been accounted for online, by family or by any of her former colleagues. Other than an article on Cartoon Research, there is not much on her missing person’s case. A Brenda Banks does show up on The Doe Network, a database which collects information on missing and unidentified persons:

http://www.doenetwork.org/cases/3343dfla.html

While the person on file fits the animator’s descriptions, it can’t be confirmed if this is the same Brenda Banks. The biggest is disqualifier her last known appearance in 1986 while the animator’s last credit was in 2005. Either way, The Doe Network is one of many databases to search, so it’s a start.

For someone who paved the way for African-American female animators, Brenda’s situation deserves more attention. If she is taking the reclusive life, it would be great if a friend or relative just let us know that she’s alive and well. I hope any forensic reconstructive artists out there can create an age progression of Ms. Banks, just in case. Paging JudeMaris .

If you do know have any information about Brenda’s whereabouts, or know anyone who worked with Ms. Banks as recent as 2005, please contact Jerry Beck at Cartoon Research: http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/contact/

More info on Brenda Banks and other female animators from The Mary Sue:
https://www.themarysue.com/history-women-in-animation/

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Goofy Still Knows Best

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Back in the 1980s, The Disney Channel used to air a lot of their classic animated shorts. Among them included a series featuring Goofy as George Geef, an “everyman” with a wife and son (who later served as the basis for Goof Troop’s Max.) They basically lampooned the everyday struggles of an adult in the 1950s, from taking a road trip to managing the household chores.  Being a child myself when I initially watched them, I found these as funny as any of the other shorts, even if a few jokes went over my head.  Of course many of these gags are products of their time (such as the gender-based ones featured in Father’s Day Off ), but if I learned anything re-watching these shorts as an adult, it’s this:

 

  • If your grandparents were Hockey fans, chances are they have seen some fights in their day.

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  • Slow Drivers annoyed them too

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  • Your parents’ teachers were just as underpaid and overworked as yours …
  • … As well as having their own share of helicopter parents

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  • Everybody thought of leaving early to beat the traffic

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And off-road motels were always sketchy AF

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As much as the cartoon frequently reminds you of the decade it was made (with the radio programs, milk man and washing machine with hand wringer), it also comically reflects on broader American experience, making Grandma and Grandpa’s time not feel so foreign.

On the other hand …


It would be fun watching this character try to explain his school days to his post-Columbine grandchildren.

Buster and Bart: A Century Apart

In 1899, comic artist RF Outcault created The Yellow Kid, a working class ethnic child who pulled cons, for the Hearst papers. Not long after that series ended, Outcault followed up with a similarly ill-behaved rich WASP named Buster Brown.

There was no concrete evidence of Outcault’s intentions with the strip. The fact that he was forced to create the series due to reader backlash to his Yellow Kid series suggests otherwise. I’m certain under the humor directed to an upper class audience, there also lies a hidden mockery of said audiences’ values and behavior.

One strip comes to mind when, as the title says, Buster decides to throw himself a surprise party and Mrs. Brown is greeted at the door by gift-bearing tykes.

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It’s natural to assume Mrs. Brown would just tell the children to go home, right? Wrong. Instead, she invites them in and quietly rushes her servants to order party refreshments as soon as possible without the guests noticing.

Let’s not be mistaken. Buster Brown has pulled some pretty bad pranks for a boy of his era: Cutting a girl’s hair. Tricking a strange man into walking in on his mother in a changing room on the beach. Faking his own death.

 

Yes, you heard the last one right.
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However, the “surprise party” prank pisses his mother off so much that by the second to last panel she threatens to send him to a reform school, her most serious threat in the whole series.

Do you know what they would do to pretty faces like yours?

Now, from the modern perspective, only two trains of thought generate from this story: “Buster’s mother is an idiot” or maybe “priorities of the rich were different back then.” A nearly century old comic strip is bound to create values dissonance for 21st century readers, and does so often. This strip in particular, however, does not seem so foreign in time. Here’s why:

 

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MARGE: “Bart, are ALL these children friends of yours?

BART: “Friends and well-wishers. Yes”

 

It would take the passage of that very century for another similar situation on a 1994 episode of The Simpsons  where the eponymous family gets a pool. Every kid in town gets wind of the news and it’s not long before the Simpson’s house is flooded with swim-suited children. One scene that has always caught my attention (and funny bone) involves Marge questioning Bart about his unusually large circle of friends, including a trio of boys who look too old to be in high school walking by as they address Marge by another name and greeting another kid in the kitchen as Bart.

Back in real life, if your mother was anything like mine, she’d never let any kid I invited over into the house unless she knew that kid’s parents personally. To see Buster’s mother frantically accommodating a spontaneous children’s party may seem silly to our modern eyes, but to be honest not much has changed. The mediums are different, the socioeconomic statuses of the families are different. There’s no argument that Buster Brown’s family would have a much different set of values than the Simpsons (the latter family has a much more equal relationship with the ethnic whites and blacks than the former, after all). It seems however, that the mothers of both mediums remind us that regardless of class and time, there will always be that one dimwitted mother who goes against common sense when it comes to her children’s affairs. Timeless.

“I look like Buster Brown……whomever that is.”