Book Review: The Looney Tunes Treasury
Just in time for the holidays, The Looney Tunes Treasury by Andrew Farago (Running Press) should find its way under many an animation fan's Christmas tree. Farago is as qualified as anyone to compose this treasury; he is presently the curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and has been published in The Comics Journal in addition to writing for Marvel Comics. He has also penned numerous pieces for Animation World Network. Ruth Clampett, daughter of Warners' most mercurial director, provides an enthusiastic foreward that gets the book started on solid footing.
In the "Acknowledgements" section Farago playfully thanks Jerry Beck "for being too busy to write this book." Farago could have also thanked Beck for providing the blueprint for The Looney Tunes Treasury. Like Beck's 2007 treasury for Hanna-Barbera aficionados, Farago's book is a toy box in a binder, laced with comic books, stickers, postcards, imaginative surprises hidden in envelopes (no spoilers here) and pictures of antique animation items (my own favorite paste-in was a faux-1950s Acme catalog). This seems to be the form that "treasury" books are taking of late.
The Looney Tunes Treasury, however, diverges from Beck's effort in its presentation of material. While Beck stuck to a light-hearted historical approach to the Hanna-Barbera characters, Farago goes the route of letting the Warner characters speak in their own voices, relating their histories directly to the reader. This is a rather risky approach, since most of Warner's major characters underwent both stylistic and personality changes several times over the course of four decades.
Changes in directors, artists and budgets all but ensured that there is no "classic" Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, and Farago at times has to perform a balancing act in having the characters explain their metamorphoses. Surprisingly, he is able to do this with few missteps, although some of the "stars" occasionally slip into didacticism. Farago avoids simple narrative much of the time by using some creative ploys. One is to have the Warner stars discuss their directors, writers and even background painters over the years, or to come up with plausible explanations such as being tired of their typecasting.
Another twist is to present the characters relating their stories in different formats. We read the Tasmanian Devil's history in diary form, and hear Yosemite Sam's autobiography along with the captive audience of his "kiddie show." Witch Hazel offers up a revolting recipe book. Those approaches work, but at times the job is trickier: Supplying interviews for the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote or Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog was obviously a little tougher for Farago, as these cartoons are virtual pantomimes to begin with. Farago must fall back on the erudite genius that the Coyote played in Operation Hare (1952), three years after he first appeared in the Warner shorts.