Ralph Bakshi: Still Railin After All These Years
Since the release of his first animated feature, Fritz the Cat, in 1972, Ralph Bakshi has been a lightning rod for controversy and criticism. Once considered the anti-Disney, he spent decades both working within and chafing against the established world of entertainment, battling to finance his rough, gritty stories about the destructive foibles of the human race.
Notoriously cantankerous and “difficult" in an industry where creative risk is often defined as pairing brown shoes with a blue suit, Ralph has never been one to back down from a fight, legal, verbal or otherwise. Yet despite the controversy, the battles and the tsuris, he has been adored by legions of fans who love his work for the exact reason many animation “critics” have deplored it – it’s not “pretty,” it’s in your face, it’s raw, unapologetic and often uncomfortable. Which all suits him just fine.
Now, the 74 year-old artist and filmmaker is back from a self-imposed hiatus to mix things up once again with a new short film, Last Days of Coney Island and plans for Wizards II. In the few short weeks since this interview took place, Ralph’s Kickstarter campaign to fund the short’s completion raised a tad under $175,000, almost $10,000 more than the $165,000 he was seeking, certainly a sign his vision is still credible, relevant and appealing. I recently had a chance to talk with Ralph at length about his career, his recent fights with certain bloggers in the animation community and his desire to get back to what he does best – tell it like it is.
Dan Sarto: I met you for a split second in Ottawa this past fall when you spoke at the animation festival. I really enjoyed your interview and Q&A discussion.
Ralph Bakshi: Thanks. I had a very nice time. It was great.
DS: Your Ottawa session was fantastic. I truly appreciated the honest discussion. There aren’t many people in our business that feel “free” to talk. It’s very hard for people to really speak their mind. Everybody has some affiliation, everybody wants to be polite and not cause problems for themselves. So honest and frank discussion about issues is not always possible. But your talk was such a breath of fresh air.
RB: Well I appreciate that. What you’re saying, it’s interesting because I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. Everyone being attached to everyone else’s blog. Either you’re part of that club or not. A couple of guys said to me that if you don’t act right they don’t put you up on their blog. It’s kind of worse now than it was when I was fighting Disney, if you want to know the truth. So it’s interesting you should say that.
DS: We live in a weird time with regards to the media. There is no shortage of access to what people say and do. But finding content of substance, that’s not so easy. Lots of people in the animation business have blogs and specialty websites. They write about properties they like, they’re into a certain animation style or a certain period of animation. Everybody has their slant and interest, even me…
RB: Wow, where did you come from?
DS: I’ve been doing this for a while.
RB: I’ve been thinking that through, it’s incredible. I was just going through the whole thing in my head that you’re talking about. Continue please, it’s great. I love this, I’m serious.
DS: Well I appreciate that. You know, I don’t have an axe to grind in what I do. I’m always interested in learning and listening to what people have to say. Even people that have viewpoints and perspectives that aren’t necessarily popular. I’ve always felt that if you’re credible in your actions then you have a right to say what you’re going to say. Many people are seriously into their animation, cartoons and comics. They’re into collecting, the history…they are really invested. Often they feel an ownership in a certain sense of what’s relevant in that universe, and they get very protective. They don’t like interlopers, they’re not always open-minded about things. You can see it in what they write about and what they publish. I often refer to them as “fan boys” and sometimes I myself have felt I’m on the outside looking in. If you’re not one of the chosen…if you’re not with us you’re against us...
RB: I don’t believe you’re saying this. Well, I’ll give you a few insights into what you’re saying. I wasn’t going to talk about it. I asked my wife about it and she said stay above it, but not if you push. I said OK. But now that you’re saying what I was thinking about, or angry about, or wondering about, there are many things to discuss. First of all the big movement today is everyone has discovered UPA.
RB: OK, so UPA is back and everyone is copying UPA. I’ve always respected and appreciated other artists and I’ve loved their work, and told them that even when they were alive. Most of these bloggers discuss people they love after they’re dead. So UPA is very, very big. Design is very big and everyone is copying UPA. When I came into the business, everybody was copying Disney and if you moved away from that you were the enemy.
RB: …as I was. Now everyone is copying UPA and I am the enemy again. I laugh. Look at all the major animation blogs that wouldn’t even discuss my stuff because they don’t understand what I’m doing. What I’m doing, what art has taught me, is you respect everything, then you reach out for something on your own. All these rip-offs of Clampett and Warner Bros. and UPA have now become the property of these people, and if you’re not part of that community they don’t want you. Instead of battling Disney now I am suddenly battling bloggers. Except that large groups of audiences seem to love that I’m still part of the animation business.