Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings
An appreciation of the legendary animation that everyone can enjoy
Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings
Hugh Kenner
University of California Press
114 pp.
First, there was Chuck Amuck, the autobiography of legendary animator Chuck Jones. Now there's Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings, presented to us by Hugh Kenner, literary scholar and professor at the University of Georgia. A Flurry of Drawings is part of University of California Press's "Portraits of American Genius" series, and Jones being categorized as a genius seems to make perfect sense. After all, during his almost thirty years at Termite Terrace (the studio that produced Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros.), Jones created or helped refine some of the most memorable characters in cartoon history, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin Martian, Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, and Michigan J. Frog.

At a featherweight 114 pages, A Flurry of Drawings is ideally suited for an afternoon or evening's read. But despite its lack of heft, the book covers a fair bit of territory: it starts with a brief explanation of the principles of animation and the birth of the medium's golden age, leads into Chuck Jones's early years, and then gets on with the business of talking about the man and his films.

For the most part, the book focuses on Jones's work at the Warner studio; his work on such projects as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and the Oscar-winning The Dot and the Line are glossed over, mostly discussed only in the context of explaining his animation technique. This is hardly surprising, since his output while at the Warner Bros. comprises some of his finest, most memorable work ever. The text of the book is freely interspersed with Jones' comments and recollections and Kenner's comments on the prevailing conditions in the movie and cartoon industries. And of course there is ample discussion on what makes a Jones cartoon a Jones cartoon.

If you think this sounds a lot like Chuck Amuck, you're right—there are times when A Flurry of Drawings will remind you of Jones' book. In fact, A Flurry of Drawings draws on Chuck Amuck, as well as several other fairly well-known animation publications, though for the most part, Kenner relies on a week's worth of taped conversations with Chuck and Marian Jones. Still, there's not really much new here. One could consider A Flurry of Drawings an excellent, intelligently-written introduction to Chuck Jones and his work without excessive detail—sort of a Chuck Amuck Lite.

However, this lack of new material is hardly Kenner's fault. Of Jones' five-decade career, the best known and most discussed portion is that comprised of his twenty-odd years at the Warner studio, and of that a certain slice out of the 1950s. For the last twenty-two years—starting with an article in Time—he has been relentlessly and thoroughly praised and grilled about the same works that he created forty years ago. Frankly, there's only so much one can say before repetition becomes the norm. Kenner briefly addresses this in his preface, when explaining his lack of detailed footnotes for every source of information:

I've not meticulously acknowledged every use, partly to keep footnote clutter thinned out, partly because my most frequent recourse to a book or an article was for cross-checking something I'd heard from Chuck Jones. Like all great raconteurs he tends to have formulaic versions of key stories, and when what I heard was almost word for word what another interviewer had heard I felt under no obligation to dwell on the fact.

If you're a seasoned Jones fan, you won't learn anything from this book. You will, however, be able to read about Jones as seen by Professor Kenner, which is easily worth the price of admission. Kenner's tone is more scholarly than most animation-related publications—even teetering towards the sublime on occasion—but that does not diminish the almost lyrical quality of his work. His description of production within an animation studio, for example, is one of the freshest and liveliest I have seen to date.

A Flurry of Drawings has something for everybody. Novices to the world of Chuck Jones, or even to animation, will find it an easily understood and enjoyable introduction. Jones connoisseurs will take pleasure in reading about something familiar presented in a new and enjoyable way.

Originally printed in fps #6 (Summer 1995)