A tool to find almost any animated short in the world, David Kilmer's long-awaited The Animated Film Collector's Guide is reviewed by Emru Townsend.
Probably the worst thing a collector can experience is a sense of futility. Specifically, the sense of futility that comes from trying to locate a videotape with that one funky three-minute short seen at an animation festival. A tattered photocopy of the festival's program in hand, the dazed collector shuffles from store to store and catalog to catalog, trying to find the one tape or laserdisc with the sought-after masterpiece. Eventually, the poor soul collapses in a sobbing heap, unable to read one more minuscule title listing.
"It's impossible!" he later cries to no one in particular in a seedy, disreputable bar, nearly spilling his fifth strong drink. "How can I find one hundred and eighty seconds out of this multitude of video releases?" The bartender nods sagely. He's seen it all before. Animation collectors are a sad, despondent lot. He later sends the wretch home in a cab with an EP copy of Minnie the Moocher as consolation.
Does This Sound Familiar?
Sure it does, even if the details differ. Even if you're not looking for that elusive short, finding a favorite movie can be an ordeal. Not many major video chains carry, say, The Plague Dogs, and almost none have staff who can tell you the name of "that neat dancing film by Erica Russell." (If you do have such a store, tell me and I'll move there.)
David Kilmer's The Animated Film Collector's Guide aims to be the collector's bible, replacing our dog-eared Whole Toon catalogs as reference material. Actually, it means to go one better, as illustrated by its subtitle: Worldwide Sources for Cartoons on Videotape and Laserdisc. Not only will we be able to find out if a particular short or movie is available, we'll be able to find out where to get it!
Since the main object of this book is to find animated shorts, the backbone is its fourth chapter, "Compilations of Shorts." Listed there are more than 650 compilations, each with entries such as, "Brothers Quay, The Vol. 1 FRF 102 (VHS NTSC); VOY 1074L (NTSC LD) EXP." This code indicates the catalog numbers, available video formats, and distributor ("EXP" in this case stands for Expanded Entertainment), where such information is available. But how to get to this list? That's what the second and third chapters ("Films by Title" and "Films by Author, Character or Studio") are for. Both of these chapters present the same information, just indexed differently. The films are listed with the year of release, the director, the studio, and a list of the compilations in which they can be found.
Finding the Film
Overall, it's a pretty good system, though the second and third chapters could use a slight reworking; both of them are organized in four columns, with the films' titles in the first column, the year of release in the second, the studio and director in the third, and the compilation reference in the fourth. That's fine for the "Films by Title" chapter, but in the "Films by Author, Character or Studio" chapter, it means your reference column is second from the right, rather than where you'd expect it to be, on the left. I had to keep glancing at the page heading to be sure I was in the right chapter. It's not a fatal flaw, but it gets in the way of easy reference.
Finding feature-length animation is easier: they're listed in the second and third chapters, among the shorts. Instead of giving a reference to one of the listed compilations, the available video formats and catalog numbers are listed. Most of the time, anyway. My first spot check, Nelvana's Rock & Rule, led me to the "Compilations of Shorts" chapter, where it was listed... under "Rock & Rule." However, of my dozen spot checks, this was the only quirk.
Additions to the Second Edition
The book also has other references for the animation collector, such as sources for out-of-print titles, other animation books, ASIFA's different chapters, and so on. Kilmer also encourages readers to send him any additional information they may have for inclusion in the next edition. Of course, a book like this invites future editions; more animation is released on video every day. But there are some omissions in The Animated Film Collector's Guide, which really should be dealt with. Kilmer admits as much in the first few pages. He mentions that with two exceptions, TV animation is not covered in the book, which will probably be rectified in the next edition. Given the enormous amount of TV animation released on video these days, this is an essential addition; it will probably also be a task as monumental as this book. He also says that anime has been excluded since there are already books devoted to anime videos. My first reaction was that anime was being ghettoized. (It's often considered a separate entity from the rest of animation, something I've long been tired of seeing.) But when I put the question to him, he mentioned that one reason for both omissions is simply space. If this edition is successful, a larger revision will be issued, including more TV animation, anime, and even some commercials.
Finally, I do hope that the book gets a better editor. Awkward phrases that never should have made it past the proofs are lurking throughout the book, and little glitches abound. For instance, on page 185, Kilmer asks readers who know of sources for Pioneer's 'Animation Animation' series to write to "the address below," which is followed by four inches of empty space. Some animators also have their names misspelled, and a few shorts are incorrectly categorized (Two Stupid Dogs is listed as a World Premiere Toon, though the show predates the World Premiere Toons by about two years). If Kilmer's looking for fact and spelling checkers, I'll happily apply for the job; it seems as if I have to qualify my comments on every other animation book I review because of mistakes in the text. Reference books like these are overwhelming for the same reason they're useful: there's an enormous body of information contained in them. Yet people insist on taking these projects on alone. Please, guys, get a co-author or two! Still, Kilmer has made an impressive commitment in creating this first volume of its kind. Incidentally, during our brief dialogue, Kilmer revealed that he envisions another purpose for the book: to encourage independent animators to self-distribute their films. It's an interesting premise, one which I'd like to see develop further over time. In the meantime, I'll keep The Animated Film Collector's Guide on my reference shelf, and keep my eyes peeled for the second edition.
The Animated Film Collector's Guide: Worldwide Sources for Cartoons on Videotape and Laserdisc, by David Kilmer, Sydney, Australia: John Libbey & Company Ltd., 1997. 212 pages. ISBN: 1-86462-002-1 (U.S. $32.50 paperback).
Emru Townsend is a freelance writer who won't stop talking about cinema, animation and computers. He is also the founder and former editor of FPS, a magazine about animation.