Will Ryan asks Mike Kazaleh slightly fewer than ten questions regarding getting started in Detroit, comic books and the benefits of working for hire...
Mike Kazaleh has earned a name for himself not only as a respected animation artist (director, animator, layout artist, etc.) but as a creator, writer, artist, packager and publisher of comic books as well.
I interviewed Mike on my telephone, which sits on my desk just a few short miles away from Mike's telephone, which sits on his own desk, which is, coincidentally, just a few short miles away from my desk.
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Will Ryan: Mike, how did you get started in animation?
Mike Kazaleh: I'm from Detroit, so I used to go out and visit these little animation shops. They were usually two-man operations that already had their two men, because they were the owners. One day, one of these shops gave a quote for an animation job to an ad agency. It was a job they really didn't want to do, so they purposely gave a high quote -- $20,000 -- the kind of money that would make a Midwestern ad man cringe. They were turned down, but they tipped me off to the possible job. So I did it for considerably less than $20,000, and I was in business.
When you were checking out these places in Detroit, was Jam Handy long gone?
MK: No, they were still around. They were known then for making cheesy live-action educational films. It wasn't until Leslie's book (The Fleischer Story by Leslie Cabarga, originally published in 1976) that I found out that they had made cartoons.
WR: So you never visited there, right?
MK: Actually I did. I went down there to Grand Boulevard and met Jam.
WR: You mean Jam Handy was a real guy? I just thought it was an odd corporate name.
MK: No, this guy's real name was Jamison Handy. He owned the place.
WR: What was it like?
MK: It was a nice building, mostly empty. They were leasing a section of the building to a UHF station that was making a religious TV show, you know, one of those shows where you send in money. The only clue that they'd done cartoons was a flat planning table for camera moves. Jam offered to sell it to me for $1200.
WR: Did you buy it?
ML: I'm still thinking it over.
WR: Well, while you've been thinking it over, you've certainly been on the move.
ML: That's true. I've animated for studios in Detroit, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and a few other places.
WR: Including Florida. How did that come about?
ML: Ken Mitchroni was starting up a studio there. I was doing a lot of freelance work, and Florida seemed as good a place as any.
WR: Kinda like California, but with alligators.
ML: We did a lot of things at that studio, including a TV special, which was completed in early February of '96. It was probably the last animated TV special to be done entirely in the U. S.
WR: Who else worked on it?
ML: Art Leonardi, Frank Andrina, Gerard Baldwin. I did about half of it. The camera work was done in L. A. by Ted Bemiller and Sons using Playhouse's camera.
WR: You designed a book cover that's on just about every animator's shelf.
ML: I did?
WR: I'm referring to the Beck/Friedwald reference book, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
ML: Oh, yeah. Warner Bros. had somebody redraw the thing.
WR: One place where that kind of "collaboration" doesn't happen is in your own comic books. How many have you done by now?
ML: A couple dozen of my own. Counting books for other publishers, about a hundred.
WR: I assume writing and drawing your own books is more satisfying than some of the work-for-hires.
ML: Yeah, but it doesn't necessarily pay as well. Let me tell you about a studio, which shall remain nameless.
WR: Good. We strive for discretion around here.
ML: Well, this studio, which I won't name --
ML: -- had an excellent staff of cartoonists who really knew the studio's characters and, if left on their own, could produce the kind of comic books that these funny animal characters were known for throughout the world. However, the studio brought in as supervisors guys who'd only worked on superhero-type books. They had no feel for funny animals. So I'll never forget one day, one of these writers that was brought in to supervise us cartoonists at this studio which I shall not name --
ML: -- actually said to us, "We're going to do Mickey Mouse like Floyd
Gottfredson did, only we're going to do it right this time!"
WR: Say, are you implying -- ?
ML: I'm implying nothing. The nameless studio shall remain nameless.
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Mike Kazaleh is the creator of many comic books, including those starring Captain Jack. He has also illustrated comic books featuring the likes of Mighty Mouse, Roger Rabbit, Ren and Stimpy, Cow and Chicken, Donald Duck and other loony luminaries.
Will Ryan is the creator of the Annie Award-winning animated series Elmo Aardvark: Outer Space Detective! He is currently writing a book on animation pioneer Pat Powers.