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John Carter of Mars, the 1935 test animation
January 30, 2012 10:58 AM   Subscribe

The world of science fiction is filled with strange tales of alternate futures where one minor event reshaped the entire history of the world. In our world, one minor event in 1935 could have changed the world of animation and science fiction ushering in an era of adult animation. But, alas, that did not happen and is the topic of our sad story today. Though Bob Clampett is often remembered for his Warner Brothers cartoons, including some surreal shorts, he could have been known for bringing John Carter of Mars to life in animation.

While working for Warner Bros, Clampett had the wild idea that he could animate John Carter's adventures on Barsoom, so Clampett arranged to meet with Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was sold on the idea. Burroughs' son, John Coleman Burroughs, also got involved, sculpting models and making sketches for Clampett. As Bob was employed full-time by Warner Bros, his martian animations were relegated to evenings and weekends. A test reel was produced, and MGM was interested. Clampett left Warner to work on the project full-time, but some MGM sales representatives from the Mid-West and the South felt that the story would be a tough sell, so MGM killed the deal. The studio turned its attention to Tarzan, looking to create animations with silly jungle animals that Tarzan could save. Clampett wasn't interested in that project, and parted ways with MGM.

Bonus Bits
Some of Clampett's used some of his ideas for John Carter in the Time for Beany puppet show and Beany and Cecil cartoons.

The John Carter test animation was linked previously, as a one of many nifty things below the fold, but the whole story wasn't presented.

If you're craving more Burroughs ephemera and stories, the ERBZine will likely scratch your itch, with new "zines" posted each week. If you want more, there's Danton Burroughs Family Album, a site dedicated to the Burroughs history, largely focused on Dan's grandfather, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
posted by filthy light thief (14 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
In our world, one minor event in 1935 could have changed the world of animation and science fiction ushering in an era of adult animation.

Blatant false advertising, flt.

Also: cool post!
posted by clockzero at 11:11 AM on January 30, 2012


I started one of these books once but got bored before he even got to Mars. I should try again.

Then again, every moment in that animation had me thinking that it couldn't get any more overtly race-oriented, to put it mildly. "Realistic flesh tones" that are extremely white for someone who wears only a loincloth all day. Black opponent (although apparently supposed to be green). "Copper-tinged" princess? And then the final stroke from the Wikipedia entry on John Carter: "His character and courtesy exemplify the ideals of the antebellum South. A Virginian, he served as a captain in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy."

Come on.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't mean "copper-tinged" is offensive because maybe in the time period that was OK. It's irrelevant. It's the blatant analogies being drawn.
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on January 30, 2012


I started one of these books once but got bored before he even got to Mars. I should try again.

I loved the Barsoom books as a 10-12yo. I am a little afraid to go back to them as an adult for fear of what I would read into them, especially as far as race and gender issues are concerned. I have to give ERB props, however, for changing main characters -- the first three have John Carter as the protagonist, then he appears occasionally as a supporting character while other characters take the main stage. Considering there are like 30,000 Tarzan books, that seemed very restrained to me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:45 AM on January 30, 2012


Then again, every moment in that animation had me thinking that it couldn't get any more overtly race-oriented, to put it mildly.

Peter Coogan has argued (quite persuasively, in my opinion) that John Carter is an extension of frontier fiction like the Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone and The Last of the Mohicans. Once the frontier-era ended and there were no more "Indians" left to fight, authors simply created a new frontier (i.e. space) with "bigger Indians" (i.e. savage aliens).

The structure of the John Carter story is very similar to those frontier stories, where there is a character who exists between two worlds: a white protagonist whom the reader can identify with but who also understands the ways of the savage and can survive in the frontier. This is made explicit in the Carter stories, with Carter originally fighting Native Americans as a soldier before being transported to Mars.

I hope that the upcoming John Carter film takes this less-than-pleasant origin into account and addresses it.
posted by jedicus at 11:49 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The slides at the end of the presentation are awesome, but I was waiting for "And now, John Carter of Mars in: A Bob Clampett cartooooooooooon!"
posted by Spatch at 12:08 PM on January 30, 2012


It amazed me that one of the people credited with making Warner Brothers cartoons LOONEY and who, when limited in his ability to do visual humor, filled the Beany & Cecil puppet shows and TV toons with massive amounts of language-based zaniness (I personally credit Clampett and his characters like 'Tearalong the Dotted Lion' with much of my punniness, 50 years later) could have ever been so serious about non-funny animation. Still, there was a better opportunity to change the history of animation when the Fleisher brothers first animated Superman, who was, arguably, a much better candidate for non-live-action visualization. Yet, its influence was minimal and the Adventure Cartoon never caught on until TV and Anime.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:09 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you don't watch the surreal shorts link, you're missing out.
posted by efalk at 12:24 PM on January 30, 2012


If you don't watch the surreal shorts link, you're missing out.

Yeah, "Porky in Wackyland" was head-scratchingly cool, but if, like DU you are a bit leery of certain unseemly cartoon race references, you may wish Porky's itinerary didn't include a trip to "Darkest Africa." To be fair, you can't possibly humanize some of the creatures he encounters there, but there is just enough to anger anyone compelled to do so in a cartoon..
posted by obscurator at 12:38 PM on January 30, 2012


Oh yeah, Porky in Wackyland is great.
posted by JHarris at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2012


My boy and I were watching the color remake of Dough for the Do-Do last night, and I couldn't get over how unlike the majority of Looney Tunes slapstick it was.

Having said that, I'm amazed that it was a remake. Thanks for this very timely link!
posted by The Giant Squid at 1:38 PM on January 30, 2012


Yeah the racism is pretty obvious in the Porky short, but it's worth it just for the craziness.
posted by efalk at 1:48 PM on January 30, 2012


Some of Robert E Howard's Conan stories were just recycled Westerns.

Movie serials were often just glossed over Westerns - The Phantom Empire had all kinds of horses in it. Even serials like with car chases and the like were not different in kind to Westerns as far as their "plots" were concerned.
posted by Billiken at 2:00 PM on January 30, 2012


Some of Robert E Howard's Conan stories were just recycled Westerns.

Which ones? Because every Conan story I've read has at least had a tinge of ancient evil magic in it, and that's not something you often see in Dry Gulch.
posted by JHarris at 6:22 PM on January 30, 2012


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