Thursday, August 11, 2011

24 – "PS Magazine" Characters and Animation

Questions regarding the use of PS Magazine characters in animation are not unusual, whenever knowledgeable sources interface with PS enthusiasts. The sad truth of the matter is that the questions far outnumber the known instances when the basic PS mission was augmented by animated film.

The first occurred in 1962 when plans were percolating for a force-wide readiness endeavor that ended up being called Operation ARM—for Army Ready Materiel. The kickoff was concurrent with the publication of PS 118 in September of 1962. (See PS 118.IFC-1, above, and PS 118.2-3, below.)

The product was a relatively short black-and-white tone-setter designed as an opening item for motivational sessions. Will Eisner produced it—under duress—kicking and screaming all the way. He said that he didn’t know anything about animation before he got involved with the project, and knew even less when he had finished it. Of course, this was ages before computerized animation, it was a labor-intensive undertaking, and his existing shop had no significant capability or inclination in that arena.

It wasn’t a bad little piece of work, but it certainly didn’t find its way to any film festivals. We picked out some opening Doom’s Day music that quickly led into a mushroom-cloud nuclear detonation and the mood was set. One problem that seemed to hang around until the last moment involved the repetitive-action loops—the tracks on tanks appeared to be running backwards, and the line of people (distant view) entering a building seemed to be coming out when it was supposed to be going in.

Will always claimed that he lost his shirt on the deal, and I’m inclined to believe him. In those days, training films were considered to fall within the responsibilities of the Signal Corps, which was not in love with animation as a communication concept, and was even less enamored of PS. The funding for the Operation ARM animation product came from the Ordnance Corps and the contract negotiation and administration was through the New York Ordnance District with some heavy handholding from the U.S. Army Maintenance Board.

Various PS staffers, over the years, have labored to preserve PS heritage as best they could, but file-retention programs, storage limitations, and four PCS (Permanent Change-of-station) moves over the years have taken their toll. Except for the one that I actually saw in the can at the preview showing, I don’t think I ever saw another copy of it. Up to this point, it’s been the big one that got away.

I have entertained hopes that some day a true PS fan with enough rank and Signal Corps roots will turn over the right rock.

But, enough already about what we can’t show you. Let me tell you what we’re gonna do.

(Frame from PS Magazine TV Promotion Spot)

Back in the late 1960s, five years or so after Operation ARM, there was a period of experimentation with black-and-white television spots prepared for release through Armed Forces television facilities. They were 16-mm, silent, clack-and-white products shipped with an accompanying sound cassette. Sound synchronization concerns were minimal. All of them that I’ve run across in the past two or three decades had managed to lose the cassette somewhere along the way—something that I suspect occurred more often than not, rather early on.

The video offered below is a 60-second, black-and-white television spot plugging PS, from 1968. You may never see another one like it!


It was a surprise for me to learn that Will did not want to get into animation with the PS characters. The reason for Will's reluctance could not have been lack of confidence or ability.

The essence of being a good cartoonist is to draw "still" pictures that give the impression of life and movement—to take a sequence, or a series of panels, and to select the actions that will allow (or inspire) the reader to fill in the missing pictures. A film or animated sequence contains each and every movement. A cartoon story or strip is much more limited and depends on a single picture for movement and credibility created by the cartoonist.

Will's capability to give life to his characters is unquestioned. So his hesitancy to get into animation must have been a business decision, not an artistic one.



Murphy Anderson’s Best PS Continuity

Best of Zeke Zekely in PS

Early Covers Put Eisner, PS in Hot Water

A Covey of Connies: World War II to Today