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Dan Gordon Biography – The Life and Work of a Legendary Cartoonist

OK, Dan Gordon fans...this is an article I wrote for the July 2008 issue of The Comics Journal. Since that issue is long off the stands, I want to share it here for those who missed it. The best part about publishing it HERE is all the links you can follow to read and watch the brilliant cartoon artistry of Dan Gordon.

"Dan Gordon -
A Brush With Greatness"


In the late 1940’s, “Funny Animals” and “Teen Humor” were two of the most popular categories in the ever-growing world of comic books.

Dan Gordon not only became a master of both genres, he actually combined the two in the world’s first funny-animal teen-humor title, Hi-Jinx
hijinx5
Coming from the highly-collaborative world of animation, story-man and director Dan Gordon found that in comic books, he was finally able to have full control over his cartoon creations. His well-honed story skills were met by his quickly-accelerating drawing chops to produce some of liveliest and funniest comic book stories ever pressed to paper.

ACG Comics images © Roger Broughton 2009
Cookie Jitterbuck and Angelpuss at the beach With the freedom to use his own characters and comic sensibilities, he cut loose on the comics page (in those pre-code days) without the editorial interference that comes with licensed characters and bigger publishers.
Dan Gordon clearly reveled in the opportunity to get his undiluted cartoon ideas in print. You can see it in all of the comics he draws...
Puss and Boots bt Dan Gordon
Jitterbuck and cartoon dogCartoon Dog climbs over wooden fence by Dan Gordon
  • in the dynamic spontaneity of his deft brush strokes
  • in the beautifully bold shadows that give the characters weight and make them pop.
  • in the dynamic staging that gives the scenes depth and allows the characters to move.
  • in the way he lovingly renders even the backsides of all the characters’ heads!

Biography and Cartoonography

Girlie How'd youy like a hollywood contract

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 Terrytoons1. It was here that Dan 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 beginning2.”
pink elephants and Farmer Al Falfa
Click image to Watch Pink Elephants cartoon in new window
Dan Gordon and Joe Barbera headed out west to MGM in 19373, but Gordon bolted back to the east shortly thereafter to help re-write the troubled Gulliver’s Travels animated feature film at Fleischer Brothers’ Studios4. Gordon’s re-writes couldn’t save Gulliver, but Dan Gordon was instrumental in the success of the Fleischer Studio’s next hit: the 1940’s Superman theatrical animated shorts. Dan Gordon served both as writer and director on many of those timeless cartoon classics.
Fleischer Superman cartoons directed by Dan Gordon
When Paramount seized control of the Fleischer studio in Miami, Dan Gordon was one of four directors put in charge of production5. Gordon stayed only a couple years at the newly-dubbed Famous Studios, but the few Popeye shorts he directed are quite remarkable. Cartoons like A Jolly Good Furlough and Seein' Red, White 'N' Blue are completely manic in their cartoony intensity, and stand apart from the usual Popeye-Olive Oyl-Bluto love triangle stories.
1943’s Popeye cartoon The Hungry Goat stands out even more because Popeye is not even the hero of this picture!
Giggle
For reasons that remain unclear, Dan Gordon left Famous Studios -- and the animation field
-- in 1944.

The fast-paced, hyperkinetic, and over-caffeinated mayhem of those Popeye cartoons leads right into the comic book stories he crafted for The American Comics Group (ACG).
Dan 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. Dan’s work began appearing in Giggle comics in 1944, and by Giggle #9, he introduced long-running character, Superkatt.
ACG Comics images © Roger Broughton 2009
Hooray for Superkatt Comics by Dan Gordon
Superkatt is a funny-animal jab at the “long-underwear” genre of superhero comics. The title character doesn’t 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.
Funny Films comic book cover by Dan Gordon
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 LaSalle Comics’ Hi-Jinx, he experimented with the hybrid idea of “Teen-Age Animal Funnies.”
Cartoon crowd laughing by Dan Gordon
His final major character from this era is Cookie O’Toole, the teen-age 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 fifty-five issues.
Cookie comic book by Dan Gordon
Cookie is a rare example of a knock-off surpassing its inspiration. The explosive popularity of MLJ Comics’ “Archie” in the mid-1940’s 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.
Dan Gordon Cookie
Dan Gordon continued to make comics for ACG and related companies like LaSalle until he was called back into animation service by his old pal Joe 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 down6. 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 budgets7.
Dan Gordon jumped on board to help out at H-B Enterprises, and (with partner Charles Shows) was soon writing and drawing storyboards for most of the episodes of those earliest, foundational HB cartoon classics:
8 Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Pixie & Dixie, Quick Draw McGraw and Augie Doggie.
Hanna Barbera cartoons
Pixie and Dixie and Mr Jinks
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 19409.
Flintstones animation Hanna Barbera
Although many talented people had a part in creating what would become The Flintstones, Bill Hanna generously points to our man Dan. "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."10 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.”11
Flintstones storyboards by Dan Gordon
Storyboards by Dan Gordon for The Flintstones
Dan Gordon continued to work for Hanna-Barbera until his death12 in 1970. His 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 Dan Gordon fan has a pretty decent chance of finding some of his amazing 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.
haha73-elephant-dang Giggle

Until someone compiles these comics into a nice reprint volume, they’re mostly just a few Google searches away. But to see some of the beautifully bold brushwork of Dan Gordon’s only solo cartooning, just click on some of the links and images in this biographical sketch, and get ready to have fun.
(--Thanks to the following Dan Gordon fans for all the helpful info: Kent Butterworth, Mark Kausler, Mike Kazaleh, Scott Shaw, Jerry Beck, Milton Knight, Leonard Maltin, and Stephen Worth at the The Asifa-Hollywood Animation Archive. Extra special thanks to John K and Kent Butterworth for posting the Dan Gordon comics that got me into this stuff to begin with!)
1 Of Mice and Magic by Leonard Maltin, Pg 134

2 My Life in ‘Toons by Joe Barbera, Pg 56

3 Of Mice and Magic by Leonard Maltin, Pg 136

4 Talking Animals and Other People by Shamus Culhane, Pg 205

5 Beck, Jerry. Fleischer Becomes Famous Studios

6 Don Markstein, http://www.toonopedia.com/mgm.htm

7 Bill Hanna A Cast of Friends Pg 84

8 The Flintstones: A Modern Stone Age Phenomenon by T.R. Adams, page 37

9 http://www.bcdb.com/cartoons/Paramount_Pictures/Fleischer_Studios/Stone_Age/

10 Bill Hanna as quoted in The Flintstones: A Modern Stone Age Phenomenon Pg 28

11 My Life in Toons by Joe Barbera Page 136

12 Bill Hanna as quoted in The Flintstones: A Modern Stone Age Phenomenon Pg 37

"I, Sherm Cohen, am the author of this article, "Dan Gordon -A Brush With Greatness," and I release its content under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 and later."

9 comments:

John Glenn Taylor said...

Great stuff, Sherm! I'm endlessly fascinated by connections, and you have made me aware of the link between Popeye and Fred Flintstone. The examples you shared of his comics work are killer, too. I wonder if he was friends with Bob Clampett.

Bill White said...

Nice to know I'm not the only one who loves Gordon's stuff. Great post.

I just found your blog, and have spent way too much time avoiding work by reading it.

I guess I'll have to buy your book as well...

Sherm said...

Hi John -- I'm glad you liked the article and the oddd connections. It IS strange to think that the same guy that directed some of the classic Fleischer Superman cartoons also gave us Pixie and Dixie!

Bill -- I'm glad to meet another "DanG" fan! Hopefully more and more cartoon- and comic-lovers will get to know his amazing work.

Larry Levine said...

Excellent post on a truly great cartoonist/animator!!!

Sherm said...

Hi Larry...thanks for the nice words! From the looks of your http://awprunes.blogspot.com/ blog, I can see you have a taste for the classics!

Bob Flynn said...

Killer post, Sherm! So much to pour over here. I especially like Gordon's Funny Films. Infinitely inspirational. Looks like almost everyone in the blogosphere is picking this up, too :)

Sherm said...

Hey Bob...That Funny Films #1 is one of the most energetic funny animal comics I've ever read -- glad you like it too. I have a few other issues of that title, but for some reason issue #1 is by far the best in the series.

I'm very happy that I've gotten so many plugs from the comic blogs -- I spent a lotta time writing the article and I'm really glad to have so many people find out about Dan Gordon.

Thanks for the happy words ^_^ --Sherm

Anonymous said...

Hello from Ghana,I'm a painter and my dream is to pursue a course in animation and I"m sending this information if you could help me in any way.I would be much grateful.My email address is "adisam21@yahoo.com"
Tel:(+233)246-943-958

Polyvios Christoforos said...

Thanks for the info, Mr. Sherm Cohen.
I'm just curious, when and where was Dan Gordon born?

-Polyvios Christoforos
paul
Paul329869@hotmail.com