Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery is, in my opinion, one of the greatest animated cartoon directors of all time. His impact on Golden Age Animation was huge, particularly his work at Warner Bros. and MGM. Tex’s work is well known for breaking the fourth wall, stretching a joke to its comedic limit, wild takes, screwing with medium conventions, (since cartoons were originally aired in theaters, they had stuff like silhouetted audience members standing up on occasion in the actual cartoon only to be attacked by the animated character onscreen,) and over-the-top slapstick. He felt that cartoons could and SHOULD be able to do anything, his philosophy being that animation must go far beyond live-action and anything a human actor can do in order to get a laugh.
With this mindset, he had a groundbreaking career. Born in 1908, he started his career at Walter Lantz Studios in the early 30s before heading over to the Leon Schlesinger studios and getting an animation job at a building on the Warner Bros. backlot that the animators working there at the time dubbed “Termite Terrace”. During his stay at Warner Bros., he originally created two of my favorite cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, in 1940’s “A Wild Hare” and 1937’s “Porky’s Duck Hunt” respectively. He worked with animators Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, and his sense of humor rubbed off on them as well. After splitting from Warner Bros. in 1941 after a disagreement with Leon Schlesinger regarding the short “The Heckling Hare”, Tex joined MGM in 1942, and gave the world such creations as Droopy, Screwy Squirrel, Red Hot Riding Hood, and many, MANY incredibly hilarious shorts. After he ended his tenure there in 1954, (with his last few cartoons there released in 1955, including two that were co-directed by animator Michael Lah,) he returned to the Lantz studio for a short while. He spent the rest of his career working on animated television commercials and writing gags for Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Kwicky Koala, before dying of liver cancer in 1980.
He had an impact on many in the animation community. Aside from Clampett and Jones, his cartoons inspired Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Eric Goldberg, John Kricfalusi, and Bill Plympton, among many others, and while he never had as many accolades as, say, Chuck Jones, he did manage to snag some Oscar nominations and he was honored by the Library of Congress. Sadly, his work at MGM has been barely released on DVD, which, to me, is a crime against decency.
I managed to see a ton of his work thanks to various sources. Many of them I saw as a kid thanks to his shorts being featured on VHS (which I have rented and watched many times,) and on Cartoon Network and Boomerang, and later on, I got to see some of these shorts on Youtube. Needless to say, as someone who loves both cartoons and surreal, outlandish comedy, I absolutely ADORE his work. Even to this day, his cartoons are still as relentlessly creative and funny as they were back when they were originally made. Sure, some of the gags might be a little dated, particularly the WWII gags and the more racial stuff, but they still hold up well, in my opinion.
This Saturday, February 22, Tex’s childhood home of Taylor, Texas, will declare Tex Avery Day. It will take place at the Howard Theatre, feature a dedication of a Texax State Historical Marker in Avery’s honor, guest speakers, screenings of his cartoons, and a portrait unveiling. I found out about this, thanks to Cartoon Brew, and since I’m currently living in Austin, I’m planning to attend as both an aspiring animator/cartoonist and a huge Tex Avery fan. It’s only a little more than a half-hour’s drive from where I’m living, and hopefully, it’ll be worth the visit.