comic art by Tex Avery
'Red Hot Riding Hood' (1943). 

Tex Avery is an American animated film director, most famous for his cartoons at Warner Brothers and MGM. At Warners, he was influential in shaping the personalities of Daffy Duck (1937), Elmer Fudd (1940) and Bugs Bunny (1940), while also establishing the Looney Tunes signature style. At MGM, Droopy (1943) is his most iconic creation. While most people associate animation with Disney, many usually have Avery's style in mind when thinking about a typical animated cartoon: exaggerated emotions (eyes popping out), fast-paced chase scenes, absurd gags and painful slapstick violence (such as dynamite sticks and falling anvils). Few animation directors could jam as many jokes in one seven-minute cartoon as Avery. He indulged in anarchic, self-referential comedy, with characters frequently breaking the fourth wall. He also expressed innuendo and lust, particularly in his famous 'Wolf & Red' cartoons. All these aspects gained him a following among adult audiences too. Avery pulled animation out of the "children only" ghetto and showed countless cartoonists that its possibilities are limitless. He had a similar impact on comic artists. Although Avery always wanted to become a comic artist, he only made a few cartoons for his high school newspaper. But other artists did create comics based on his popular animated creations.

Early life and career
Fredrick Bean Avery was born in 1908 in Taylor, Texas. He was a descendant of two famous Old West legends, namely Daniel Boone and the eccentric judge Roy Bean. Avery grew up in a region where outrageous urban legends - the so-called "tall tales" - were commonplace, and these influenced his own love for absurd comedy. As a student at North Dallas High School, he created cartoons and comics for his school's annual and monthly papers. Despite showing little signs of his later genius, he was still determined to become a newspaper cartoonist. After graduation, Avery took a summer course at the Chicago Art Institute. Throughout his entire life, he kept trying to become a comic artist, but was always rejected. He even considered his move into animation little more than a temporary vocation, as he intended to eventually get into comics. In 1928, Avery became an inker at Walter Lantz' animation studio, where his gift for comedy allowed him to move up the ladder to become animator. In 1933, Avery had a tragic accident. When his colleagues were clowning around, one of them, Charles Hastings, flung a wire paper clip at him, hitting and blinding Avery permanently in his left eye. Although this seemed like a career-ending handicap, he kept his job. Some cartoon scholars have theorized that his lack of depth perception may even have given him a different view on reality, which enhanced his love for surreality.

High school drawing by Tex Avery
Drawing for his high school paper by Fred Avery.

Among Avery's graphic influences were Winsor McCay, the 'Felix the Cat' cartoons by Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, the 'Betty Boop' and 'Popeye' cartoons by Max and Dave Fleischer, and Walt Disney. The 'Felix the Cat' and Fleischer shorts often featured surreal moments with characters suddenly changing their physical form or doing impossible things. But the simple, cartoony and loosely animated drawing style made the jokes no more or less believable than a drawing on paper. McCay and Disney's animation, on the other hand, were so sophisticated that their fantasy worlds looked very realistic. Avery enjoyed clashing these two styles together. He would create a realistic atmosphere and then subvert it by having a character do something absurd and/or suddenly address the audience. The surprise effect made his gags all the more effective. One Disney cartoon in particular, 'The Tortoise and the Hare' (1934), had a strong impact on him. The cartoon showed off a sense of speed which was quite groundbreaking for animation at the time. Avery would accelerate these speed effects in his own cartoons. The hare character in Disney's 'The Tortoise and the Hare' also had a strong influence on the early design of Bugs Bunny. Avery's favorite newspaper cartoonist was Virgil Partch, who also did all kinds of absurd gags. Avery was also strongly influenced by live-action comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy (Avery's 'Who Killed Who?' is based on 'The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case') and especially The Marx Brothers. Much of Groucho's sarcastic wisecracks and the brothers' general absurd comedy were the mold from which both Looney Tunes and Avery's work at MGM were made.

Warner Brothers
After a while, Avery felt underappreciated at Lantz. His pay was low and many of his ideas were rejected. He deliberately stopped putting effort in his work, so he could be fired. His plan worked, and in 1935 he joined Warner Brothers' animation studio. He presented himself as an "experienced director" and was so convincing that he received his own unit, where, people like Bob Cannon, Bob Clampett, Bugs Hardaway, John Didrik Johnsen, Chuck Jones, Bob McKimson, Chuck McKimson, Tom McKimson, Tom Ray, Virgil Ross, Rod Scribner, Paul J. Smith, Irv Spence, Cecil Surry, Sid Sutherland, Riley Thomson, George Waiss and Elmer Wait at one point or another worked for him. Yet he wasn't above doing lots of the work himself. He kept an eye on the designs, lay-outs, music, even doing some of the voices and sound effects. Sometimes he played out scenes and let others film him, whereupon the animators imitated and traced his poses. At Warner Brothers, he achieved the complete creative control he so aspired.

'Magical Maestro' (1952).

Parodies and innovative gags
Since most cartoon studios in the 1930s, including Warners, imitated Disney, many animated shorts from that era looked the same. They used happy, cheerful characters à la Mickey Mouse and made sentimental musical fairy tales in the style of the 'Silly Symphonies'. In fact: the name 'Merrie Melodies' and later 'Looney Tunes' were directly derived from 'Silly Symphonies'. Avery used these audience expectations to his advantage. Some of his cartoons directly parody Disneyesque fairy tales ('Little Red Walking Hood', 1937, 'Cinderella Meets Fella', 1938, 'The Bear's Tale', 1940), fables ('Tortoise Beats Hare', 1941) and nursery rhymes ('A Gander at Mother Goose', 1940). Others spoof nature and travel documentaries ('The Isle of Pingo Pingo', 1938, 'A Day at the Zoo', 1939, 'Detouring America', 1939, 'Wacky Wild Life', 1940, 'Cross Country Detours', 1940), books ('Uncle Tom's Bungalow', 1937), theater ('The Penguin Parade', 1938, 'Hamateur Night', 1938), the circus ('Circus Today', 1940) and Hollywood ('Daffy Duck in Hollywood', 1938, 'Hollywood Steps Out', 1941). Avery would establish a seemingly innocent, cute or dramatic atmosphere, only to outrageously disrupt it with a sarcastic joke or absurd black comedy. As the shorts progress, they get zanier and zanier. Avery also built on the sexual innuendo of the Fleischer Brothers' 'Betty Boop' cartoons by adding more risqué references. In 'Cross-Country Detours' (1940), for instance, he rotoscoped the movements of a female stripper to have a lizard shed its skin.

Tex Avery strongly felt that animation shouldn't be trying to imitate live-action, but show things that couldn't be duplicated in real life. In several cartoons, characters lose body parts, crack into tiny little pieces or drive a comically long limousine. In 'Slap-Happy Lion' (1947) a lion roars itself inside out. In 'Homesteader Droopy' (1954) a gun gets wounded and has to be shot down to put it out of its misery. Avery really enjoyed breaking the fourth wall. His characters are fully aware that they're in a cartoon. Many scenes in Avery's films have characters run out of the film reels or comment on silhouetted spectators in the cinema audience. They frequently make a remark to the viewers or hold up signs to address the corniness or silliness of a joke. Some shorts start with the wrong titles. Other times characters give away the ending, because "I've seen this picture before." A memorable Avery gag is the realistically animated wriggling hair stuck on the projection screen in 'Magical Maestro' (1952), which Spike the dog eventually plucks out and removes. The reel for the cartoon came with a note to inform projectionists that the fake hair was on the screen, since some had actually tried to remove it, much to their frustration.

Influence and innovation at Warners
Avery gave many of his colleagues a completely new perspective on what animation could be. Like his characters often say: "In a cartoon you can do anything!" Directors at Warners, including Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Arthur Davis, Norm McCabe and Bob McKimson tried to outdo him. Many borrowed his style of comedy, but also experimented with different techniques, backgrounds, edits, coloring, camera movements and storylines. This kept their output fresh, unpredictable and ahead of their more conventional rivals. Talented voice actors like Mel Blanc, Arthur Q. Bryan, June Foray and Stan Freberg put more expression and individuality in their performances. To accompany these more fast-paced cartoons, composer Carl Stalling created stunningly complex soundtracks with constant mood and genre changes. The creative atmosphere was so infectious that everybody worked overtime, just because they wanted to see and hear audiences roar with laughter at their latest work. Warner Brothers' animation studio now became Disney's closest rival in terms of innovative spirit and popularity. The sarcastic jokes, erotic innuendo, nonsensical comedy, pop culture references and fourth-wall breaking gags delighted adults to such a degree that many who generally dismiss animation as a children's medium still make an exception for Looney Tunes, particularly Avery's oeuvre.

'Porky's Duck Hunt' (1937).

Porky Pig
Tex Avery took Friz Freleng's Porky Pig (1935) and redesigned him as a smaller and cuter piglet, better suited for his more adult comedy. Porky's stuttering problem remained a source of comedy, but Avery used Porky mostly as a straight man amidst the absurdity. Porky Pig received the honor of closing off all cartoons with the immortal line: "That's all, folks!", which had originally been used in earlier cartoons by other Warners characters.

Daffy Duck
In Avery’s 'Porky's Duck Hunt' (1937) another star was introduced: Daffy Duck. The crazy black bird showed a level of insanity that was fresh at the time. He constantly tricked his opponents, even by manipulating reality. In one memorable gag, he lifts the horizon and ducks underneath it, as if it were a bedsheet. Daffy also jumped up and down on his head, even on the water surface. To the surprise of many, he jumped on the end titles, after the cartoon was over. His name was derived from Daffy Dean, a well known baseball player of the era. Just like Porky, Daffy has a speech impediment. His iconic lisp was based on Warners' producer Leon Schlesinger, who allegedly didn't make the connection, but was just very glad that Warners finally had a breakout character and saw him as an answer to Disney's Donald Duck. Audiences agreed. Daffy Duck received his own series, with Avery directing two more shorts: 'Daffy Duck & Egghead' (1938) and 'Daffy Duck in Hollywood' (1938). Many animation studios would create similar mad tricksters, such as Bob Clampett's Do-Do Bird (1938), Walter Lantz' Woody Woodpecker (1940), Disney's Aracuan Bird (1944) and Paul Terry's Heckle and Jeckle (1946). Even Avery invented several other foolish foolers, such as Droopy (1942), Screwy Squirrel (1944) and the biggest of them all: Bugs Bunny (1940).

Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny's history is very muddled. It took a while before the character appeared in a recognizable form on the screen. In Bugs Hardaway's 'Porky's Hare Hunt' (1938), Hardaway basically remade 'Porky's Duck Hunt' only changing Daffy into an unnamed rabbit, even repeating many of the same gags. The rabbit was referred to as "Bugs' bunny", since Hardaway designed him, which eventually became the character's name. Hardaway, Cal Dalton and Chuck Jones used the rabbit in a few shorts, but his voice and personality weren't established yet. Once again Avery came to the rescue. Avery’s 'Egghead Rides Again' (1937), features a dim-witted hunter with a large head named Egghead. In later shorts, Egghead was redesigned and renamed Elmer Fudd. In the finest Looney Tunes tradition, Elmer was given a speech impediment too, pronouncing the letter "r" as a "w". Chuck Jones first paired Elmer and the rabbit character in 'Elmer's Candid Camera' (1940), though their chemistry still lacked. After new redesigns, Avery brought them together again, in what is considered by many to be their first “official” film: 'A Wild Hare' (1940). Many historians and Warner animators agree that Avery in this short gave Bugs Bunny his now familiar personality. Just like Daffy, Bugs was an insane trickster, though with a more sophisticated, petulant attitude. In U.S. folklore, Joel Chandler Harris' 'Br'er Rabbit' from the 'Uncle Remus' tales is a direct forerunner. Avery based the carrot-nibbling on Clark Gable in the Oscar-winning film 'It Happened One Night' (1934), while much of Bugs' clever one-liners and ability to confuse his opponents was lifted from Groucho Marx, including the line: "Of course you realize this means war!". Avery also came up with Bugs' famous catchphrase, "What's up, Doc?", which was something many in his home state of Texas said, but people from outside the region weren't familiar with. The peculiar sentence made audiences howl with laughter and it became Bugs' signature phrase. Bugs Bunny soon became the Looney Tunes' new star, though Avery only directed three more pictures with him: 'Tortoise Beats Hare' (1941), 'The Heckling Hare' (1941) and 'All This and Rabbit Stew' (1941).

Reference comedy
At Warners, Avery also created the minor characters Willoughby, a dim-witted bloodhound (1940) and the calm but cheeky Cecil Turtle (1941). Willoughby was inspired by Lenny from John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' (1939), a novel Chuck Jones happened to be reading. In the novel Lenny is a huge, muscular but mentally challenged man who - at one point in the story - accidentally crushes somebody to death. Avery used a lot of big dogs with dopey voices who "want to hug their little friend/pet", not realizing they are smothering them. Even the line: "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?" was lifted from this book. Many other dim-witted cartoon characters were based on this Avery prototype, including the dog in Avery's Screwy Squirrel cartoons, Junior in his 'George and Junior' cartoons and Hugo the Abominable Snowman in later 'Looney Tunes' shorts.  In fact, when John Kricfalusi asked Billy West to develop a voice for the braindead character Stimpy in 'Ren & Stimpy' (1991-1995) he deliberately asked him to come up with something different, since it had become such a cliché by then.

Avery was also the first animator to use narration as a source of comedy. He borrowed the idea from travelog films, which often played in theaters with a deadly serious voice-over explaining the images. Naturally, in his cartoons the narrator is often confronted with absurdity. In 'The Isle of Pingo Pongo' (1938), for instance, Egghead frequently asks the narrator: "Now, boss?", while carrying a guitar case, but is told to come back later. In the end, the narrator tells him it's time, whereupon Egghead opens his case, gets out a gun and shoots down the sun, so it sinks in the ocean, allowing the narrator to say: "And as the sun sinks slowly in the West, we end our journey." A while later, Avery saw the Disney cartoon 'Little Hiawatha' (1938), which also used comedic narration. It thrilled him that he had influenced the Disney studios. Indeed, comedic narration would often be used in 'Goofy' cartoons.

Avery regularly borrowed catchphrases from popular novels, radio shows, films and advertisements, like "Ain't I a stinker?", "He don't know me very well, do he?" and "It's a possibility!" (nods to respectively Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton and Al Pearce's radio shows). However, his characters say it in a different context, which amused U.S. viewers since they recognized its origins. Many other animated cartoons in the 1940s and 1950s, especially at Looney Tunes, continued this idea. Unfortunately, most people outside the U.S. didn't get these references and, as time went by, later generations (even in the U.S.) didn't either.

Leaving Warners
Although Tex Avery helped shape Warners' animation studio, he only stayed with them for about five years. Producer Schlesinger had censored a very risqué punchline in Avery's final cartoon 'The Heckling Hare', namely: "Hold on to your hats, folks! Here we go again!", which referred to a well-known dirty joke. He suspended Avery for a month, without payment. Their professional relationship soured further when Schlesinger rejected Avery’s idea of showing live-action footage of animals in nature or in zoos and synchronizing funny dialogue over it. Avery sold the idea to Paramount, which turned it into the series 'Speaking of Animals' (1941-1948), but his involvement with this series didn't last long. After three episodes he moved on. The idea itself has been widely copied since. Walt Disney's live-action nature documentaries from the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s - 'True Life Adventures' - occasionally show animal footage with added comedic music and sound effects to them. When Avery left Warners, five cartoons he was directing were still in production. Bob Clampett completed these cartoon shorts: 'The Bug Parade' (1941), 'The Cagey Canary' (1941), 'Wabbit Twouble' (1941), 'Aloha Hooey' (1942) and 'Crazy Cruise' (1942).

Warners continued making new cartoons starring Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but under the influence of director Chuck Jones their personalities changed. Porky became more of a comedic sidekick. Bugs calmed down and got more sophisticated, only attacking others in self-defense. Daffy's change was the most drastic: he became a vain, greedy, jealous and frustrated individual who failed no matter what he tried. Nevertheless, Avery's trademarks remained visible in Looney Tunes cartoons - from the film titles with a pun in them, to Bugs' finger walk outside his rabbit hole before he grabs a carrot, and Bugs faking his death and Elmer Fudd feeling remorse over it. Chuck Jones' 'Duck Amuck' (1953) and 'Rabbit Rampage' (1955) - in which an animator torments the protagonist - are direct homages to Avery.

Comic book covers for Dell's Looney Tunes #188 (1957) and DC's Looney Tunes #12 (1995).

Looney Tunes comics
In odd timing, the first comics starring Looney Tunes characters started just when Avery left Warners. On 10 January 1943 a Sunday comic was launched starring Bugs Bunny and credited to producer Leon Schlesinger, (who had nothing to do with it). It was originally drawn by Chase Craig for five weeks until he was drafted during World War II. Roger Armstrong succeeded him until April 1944, whereupon Carl Buettner took over. From 1947 on, Albert Stoffel (writing) and Ralph Heimdahl (art) continued 'Bugs Bunny' in the papers until 1978. On 22 November 1948, it became a daily comic too. Between January 1980 and January 1988 Lee Holley took over, followed by Owen Fitzgerald from January until 3 September 1989, with John Cawley writing and Shawn Keller drawing the final episodes until 30 December 1990, when it came to a close after an almost 48 years continuous run. Over the years Jack Taylor, Frank Hill and Brett Koth were scriptwriters too, while Hi Mankin, Phil Ortiz, Scott Shaw and Bob Scott functioned as inkers and letterers. Other ghost artists were Jack Hamm, Bert Laws and later Greg Walker.

Between 1941 and 1983, Western Publishing also issued various comic books starring Looney Tunes characters in its Dell Comics and Gold Key Comics lines. Among the artists who drew and wrote them were Fred Abranz, Kellogg Adams, Sealtiel Alatriste, Pete Alvarado, Carl Barks, Cecil Beard, Jack Bradbury, Carl Buettner, John Carey, Del Connell, Chase Craig, George Crenshaw, Tony Strobl, Don R. Christensen, Phil De Lara, Mark Evanier, Carl Fallberg, Donald F. Glut, Don Gunn, Pete Hansen, Helen Houghton, Cal Howard, Al Hubbard, Lynn Karp, John Ligerra, Vic Lockman, Mike Maltese, Jack Manning, Tom McKimson, Joe Messerli, Dick Moores, Eleanor Packer, Vivie Risto, Win Smith, John Stanley, George Storm, Tony Strobl, Irving Tripp, Gil Turner, Lloyd Turner, Ed Volke and George Waiss. Much like the 'Bugs Bunny' newspaper comic, the 'Looney Tunes' comic books failed to capture what made the animated cartoons so great. The stories were rather uninspired and the characters crudely drawn. Part of the problem was that the adult comedy of the originals wasn't present in these child-friendly comics. Since Bugs, Daffy, Porky and others only appeared in seven minute shorts there was hardly any emotional depth to create engaging stories around them. Compared with Disney, who could afford quality writers and cartoonists, Warner Brothers simply didn't care much about this merchandising product. Carl Barks drew one 'Bugs Bunny' story because he had no affinity with the character. Carl Buettner on the other hand was skilled in both scripts and artwork with these characters. He acted as a mentor to the other Looney Tunes comic artists, helping them to raise the bar considerably.

In later decades, new comic books starring Looney Tunes characters were released, most notably the long-running series by DC Comics, which started in 1994. These stories were also syndicated by Warner Brothers Worldwide Publishing to international publications. Several foreign licensees also assigned their own writers and artists to create locally produced stories. Among the many artists who created them were David Alvarez, Omar Aranda, Leonardo Batic, Ryan Brown, Walter Carzon, Pierluigi Cerveglieri, Moreno Chistè, John Costanza, Jaime Garcia Corral, Anna Maria Falcetti, Massimo Fecchi, Chuck Fiala, Carlos Garzon, Guy Gilchrist, Stephanie Gladden, Daniel Traver Griñó, Rusty Haller, Tim Harkin, Vic Lockman, Oscar González Loyo, Nelson Luty, Giuseppe Montanari, Vince Musacchia, Rachid Nawa, Ray Nicholson, Juan Ortiz, Hans van Oudenaarden, Cosme Quartieri, Scott Rosema, Horacio and Oscar Saavedra, Eduardo Savid, Rick Stasi, Ruben Torreiro, Keith Tucker, Dave Windett and Pablo Zamboni. In 2000, a mini-series was published by DC Comics named 'Superman & Bugs Bunny', drawn by Joe Staton. In the United Kingdom, Bill Titcombe and Bill Mevin drew English 'Bugs Bunny' stories for TV comic in the 1960s. In France, artists like Joré created original 'Bugs Bunny' stories for the comic books published by Sagédition. In Italy Looney Tunes comics were published by Editrice Censio in Milan. One of the artists to draw them is Anna Maria Falcetti.

'Lucky Ducky' (1948).

In 1941, Avery joined MGM's animation studio. He became director of his own unit, with people like Ray Abrams, Ed Benedict, Preston Blair, Walter Clinton, Gene Hazelton, John Didrik Johnsen, Michael Lah, Ed Love, Dick Lundy, Kenneth Muse, Ray Patterson, Grant Simmons, Louie Schmitt, Claude Smith, Irven Spence, Gil Turner and Bernard Wolf under his command. MGM had high budgets and some former Disney animators to help out. This gave his cartoons a more lavish and beautiful look, which benefited the gags, and the pacing of these cartoons improved as well. A downside was that their producer, Fred Quimby, was a humorless man who failed to understand Avery's comedy. Nevertheless, Avery made classic cartoons at MGM, among them 'Blitz Wolf' (1942), 'Red Hot Riding Hood' (1943), 'Who Killed Who?' (1943), 'What's Buzzin' Buzzard?' (1943), 'Screwball Squirrel' (1944), 'The Screwy Truant' (1945), 'Slap Happy Lion' (1947), 'King-Size Canary' (1947), 'Little 'Tinker' (1948), 'Half-Pint Pygmy' (1948), 'Lucky Ducky' (1948), 'Bad Luck Blackie' (1949), 'Ventriloquist Cat' (1950), 'Symphony In Slang' (1951), 'Magical Maestro' (1952) and 'Rock-A-Bye Bear' (1952).

'Slap Happy Lion' (1947). The scene was animated by Walter Clinton.

At MGM, Avery could also be more audacious in the use of innuendo. In his iconic 'Red Hot Riding Hood' (1943), he brought sex appeal to the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Avery had done a version of the story at Warners in 'Little Red Walking Hood' (1937), but this time, he got rid of the grandmother and changed the little girl into a grown-up sexy nightclub singer (animated by Preston Blair), who performs while the wolf lusts after her in spasms of excitement. In his iconic 'Red Hot Riding Hood' (1943), he brought the fairy tale of Red Hot Riding Hood back to its sexual origins. He'd done it before at Warners with 'Little Red Walking Hood' (1937), but now he perfected the idea by turning the girl into a sexy night club singer, while the wolf lusts after her in spasms of excitement. A gag which passed the censors has the wolf jump up horizontally in the air, mimicking an erection. Avery is credited with popularizing the wolf whistle, used by men to catch attention from attractive girls. The cartoon was particularly popular with Allied soldiers overseas, who could see the comedy in a man (or wolf) starving for sex. Avery made several sequels starring the Wolf and Red: 'Swing Shift Cinderella' (1945), 'The Shooting of Dan McGoo' (1945), 'Wild and Woolfy' (1945), 'Uncle Tom's Cabaña' (1947) and 'Little Rural Riding Hood' (1949). Even Bob Clampett made his own version, 'Bacall to Arms' (1946), with a very similar wolf character ogling actress Lauren Bacall in the real-life film 'To Have and Have Not'.

Screwy Squirrel (1944) was arguably the looniest character Avery created during this period. The nasty squirrel took sadistic delight in tormenting his opponents without a clear motivation. Although he appeared in five shorts the critter never caught on, because audiences couldn't sympathize with him. In a severe case of creator backlash, Avery just killed him off in his final cartoon. Avery also used two dumb bears, George & Junior (1946-1948), as recurring characters, based on the protagonists of John Steinbeck’s  'Of Mice and Men'. They appeared in four cartoons during this period.


Avery's most popular character during his MGM period was Droopy, who debuted in 'Dumb-Hounded' (1943). His earlier character Cecil Turtle was somewhat of a prototype. Droopy is a depressed basset hound who always remains calm and expressionless. He even has to inform viewers: "You know what? I'm happy!" His voice actor was Bill Thompson, who played a similar character, Wallace Wimple, on the radio show 'Fibber McGee and Molly'. In later shorts, other actors, including Avery himself, voiced the dog. Droopy is often pitted against the aforementioned wolf and from 1949 on, with a bulldog named Spike (later called Butch). Both try to defeat him, but Droopy's imperturbable attitude makes him master of the situation. Much like Buster Keaton, the stoic Droopy provides a hilarious contrast with the mayhem around him. Out of all his characters, Avery used Droopy the most. He personally directed 18 shorts starring the sad dog. After his departure at MGM in 1954, Michael Lah directed six more theatrical Droopy shorts, before the studio closed its animation department down in 1958.

'Northwest Hounded Police' (1946).

At MGM, Avery's comedy became more outrageous. Emotions were exaggerated by having characters' eyes jump out of their sockets, jaws crash to the floor and tongues roll out to enormous lengths. To make it even more ridiculous, he added absurd sound effects (car horns, boat horns, gun shots). These reactions became an essential component of animation, often referred to as a "take". Avery also made chase scenes the main action. One character will try to catch or defeat the protagonist, but fail whatever he does. Heavy objects (anvils, pianos) and deadly weapons (hammers, guns, bombs, dynamite, cannons) are frequent props. Sometimes characters run off cliffs, walk a few steps on thin air, before realizing there's nothing beneath them, then plummet down. As violent as these gags are, all injuries are only temporary. One scene later, they are completely healed. Avery was also the originator of the "characters running through doors in a hallway" gag in animation. A static shot of a hallway lined with doors shows various characters running from one door to another, often from bizarre directions or adding characters who don't belong there. Hanna-Barbera's 'Scooby-Doo' (1969) turned it into a cliché later, though many other cartoons have imitated it too. Another Avery gag which has been often plagiarized is the "painted tunnel", where a villain paints a tunnel on a rock, expecting the hero to bump into it. However, he just crosses through it as if it's a real tunnel. When the villain wants to try the same he smashes against the rock. Avery may have been inspired by Ed Payne's 'Billy the Boy Artist' (1899-1955), a newspaper comic which featured a boy painting realistic-looking images which constantly fool his environment.

Avery's influence on 1940s and 1950s cartoons is particularly clear when one looks at his rivals. Hanna & Barbera accelerated the tempo of their 'Tom & Jerry' series, adding more absurd gags and painful violence. Other cartoon studios also started using quicker editing and more violent slapstick. Chuck Jones created his 'Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote' series in 1949 as a parody of all these "chase cartoons".

'Bad Luck Blackie' (1949).

MGM comics
Just like Avery's Looney Tunes creations, Dell Publishing also published comics starring Droopy, Red, the Wolf and even Screwy Squirrel starting in 1943, in their 'Our Gang Comics' series. Avery had no involvement with the comics. Among the artists who drew them were Pete Alvarado, Ken Champin, Phil De Lara, Lynn Karp and Vic Lockman. In the United Kingdom, Bill Mevin drew English versions of 'Droopy' for the magazine TV Comic during the 1960s. In France, Raymond Maric made various comics starring Droopy for Sagédition in the 1960s. Over the decades, 'Droopy' comics were often used as extra features in comic books predominantly devoted to 'Tom & Jerry'. In 1995, Dark Horse Comics created a limited line of comic books which used more of the familiar Avery characters, particularly the Wolf, Red and Screwy Squirrel. Artwork and stories were provided by Brian Lemay, Stephanie Gladden, Greg Hyland, Scott Shaw, Reed Waller and Bob Fingerman. The covers were drawn by Bill Morrison and Nathan Kane. These were later combined into one four-issue mini series 'Comics and Stories' (1996), with covers designed by John Pound. In France, Gil Formosa worked on two humor books starring Avery characters for Glénat.

Frito Bandito, by Tex Avery
The Frito Bandito mascot for Fritos corn chips (1967).

Walter Lantz
In the early 1950s, the cartoon studio UPA ('Gerald McBoingBoing', 'Mr. Magoo') started using simpler graphic styles. Critics praised this innovation and many studios noticed that this new style was both cheap and easier to animate. Avery eventually copied the technique too, but lost a bit of his comedic power. The veteran animator also started to suffer from burn-outs. In 1950, he took a year off. By 1954, he left MGM and returned to the studio where he started his career: Walter Lantz. He directed four cartoons for them starring Chilly Willy the penguin. Another animator who worked on these particular shorts was Alex Lovy. Chilly's design was somewhat based on Disney's Pablo the Penguin from 'Saludos Amigos' (1942), but Avery made the character far funnier. One particular short, 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' (1955), was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Short, but lost to Friz Freleng's 'Speedy Gonzales'. Lantz was very happy to have this cartoon legend in his ranks. He tried to make him feel at home and was saddened when Avery eventually left over a pay dispute.

Move to advertising
When Avery left Lantz in 1955, he was completely disillusioned. He left the animation industry altogether and up until 1979 he primarily worked in TV advertising. He created ads and characters for the insect spray Raid and potato chips brand Frito-Lay. The animation veteran also contributed to TV commercials starring Bugs Bunny and friends.

Storyboard art by Tex Avery for 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' (1955).

Five cartoons by Avery were nominated for an Academy Award: 'Detouring America' (1939), 'A Wild Hare' (1940), 'Blitz Wolf' (1942), 'Little Johnny Jet' (1953) and 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' (1955), though they all lost. In 1974, Tex Avery won the Winsor McCay Award. In 1985, Bugs Bunny became the second animated character after Mickey Mouse to receive its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A fitting honor occurred in 1993 when 'Magical Maestro' was included in the American National Film Registry, where it will be preserved for all time as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant work".

Final years and death
During his lifetime, Tex Avery was an unsung legend. Even though advertising was more lucrative than animation, he was still underappreciated. Once he was brought in to script a TV commercial starring Bugs Bunny. Naturally he had a lot of ideas, but one of the producers had no clue who he was and was openly skeptical whether Avery was the right choice for the job, even questioning whether he "could draw Bugs?" Part of the problem was that Avery was very media shy. He barely gave interviews and was always embarrassed when people praised him. Although he was the first Warners animator to be the subject of a biography, Joe Adamson's 'Tex Avery: King of Cartoons' (1975), this only slightly increased his fame. Since Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were the end result of a collective development by various other animators he couldn't take sole credit for the creation. With Droopy this was easier, but even so the dog just wasn't as famous or popular as the Looney Tunes stars. Especially since no new Droopy cartoons had been made since 1958. Avery's cartoons still reran on television and kept millions of people laughing. But few people knew he'd directed them. It didn't help much that most of his cartoons aren't character-driven. The majority are built around one concept, from which he derived numerous consecutive gags. Most of his protagonists are nameless and interchangeable dogs, cats, mice, wolves and other anthropomorphic animals. Even worse: since he didn't own the rights to his Warners and MGM cartoons he earned nothing from them.

Avery's personal life was troubled. He never got over the fact that he couldn't fulfill his dream of becoming a newspaper cartoonist. When he rewatched his cartoons on TV he only saw (supposed) flaws, not the numerous positive qualities. The veteran suffered from alcoholism, and in 1975, his son Tim died from a heroin overdose. Avery's wife blamed him because he was rarely at home, which led to their divorce. His former colleagues at Warners often tried to convince him to rejoin their studio, but he never did. One year before his death, he suddenly made a surprise return to the animation industry, albeit to work for other former colleagues, namely Hanna-Barbera. There he worked on a show called 'Kwicky Koala', but executive meddling prevented him having much fun with it. A heavy drinker, Avery contracted liver cancer, and in 1980 he collapsed in a parking lot. A couple of hours later, he passed away at the age of 73. His funeral was attended by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Bill Melendez, Hanna & Barbera, Virgil Ross and most surviving Warner Bros animators. Even so, his death was not widely reported in the media.

In memoriam to Tex Avery by Chuck Jones in 1980 (L.A. Times).

Legacy and influence
While Avery died in obscurity, he experienced a posthumous worldwide revival throughout the 1980s. In France, his talent was recognized as early as the 1960s. Film historian Robert Benayoun devoted a chapter to him in his animation history book 'Le Dessin Animé Après Walt Disney' ('The Animated Cartoon After Walt Disney', 1961). Benayoun often programmed Avery's cartoons in his weekly film review show 'La Dernière Séance' (1982-1988) and wrote an entire book about him: 'Le Mystère Tex Avery' (1988). During the 1980s the Wolf and Red were used in TV ads to promote the cooking products Père Dodu. In 2008, France was the only country to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Avery's birth with three postage stamps. Thanks to Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams' feature film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988) the Golden Age of Animation and particularly Avery's cartoons received a huge resurgence in popular interest. Much of Roger Rabbit's cartoony personality and wild takes were directly inspired by Avery's work. One scene in the film, where Roger Rabbit's wife Jessica performs as a sexy nightclub dancer, is a direct reference to Avery's 'Red' character. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Droopy and the octopus from Avery's 'Half-Pint Pigmy' (1948) all have a cameo in the movie too. The same year, BBC 2 broadcast the first documentary about the artist: 'Tex Avery, The King of Cartoons' (5 September 1988), directed/edited by John Needham.

Classic Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons are still broadcast all across the globe and popular among film and animation fans. New films and associated merchandising starring Bugs Bunny and friends are still released to this day. Similarly, Droopy remains a popular supporting character in new versions of 'Tom & Jerry'. Avery's style is still visible in many humorous animated feature films and TV series. He was a profound influence on the Genie in Disney's 'Aladdin' (1992) and the Mask in 'The Mask' (1994), which also references 'Red Hot Riding Hood'. On 1 April 1997, Cartoon Network played the Screwy Squirrel short 'Happy Go Nutty' for twelve solid hours, as an April Fool's joke. Between 1997 and 1998, Dic Entertainment created a TV show loosely based on Avery's creations: 'The Wacky World of Tex Avery' (1997-1998). One of the cartoonists who worked on it was Jean Barbaud.

Tex Avery had a tremendous impact on countless humorous cartoonists, both in comics as well as animation. Among them: Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Arthur Davis, Norm McCabe, Frank Tashlin, Hanna-Barbera, Walter Lantz, Leo Baxendale, André Franquin, Morris, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, Benito Jacovitti, Dupa, Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, Skip Williamson, Ralph Bakshi, Terry Gilliam, Evert Geradts, Marcel Gotlib, Daniel Chauvin, Brad Caslor, Matt Groening (who placed the laserdisc box 'The Complete Tex Avery' at 72 in his personal list of '100 Favorite Things'), Jim Woodring, John Kricfalusi, Bob Camp, Mike FontanelliFrank Cho, Bill Wray, Nina PaleyBill Plympton, Everett Peck, Peter Bagge, Jason, Richard Williams, Eric Goldberg, Debra J. Solomon, Hanco Kolk, Peter de Wit (who even named one of his sons Tex!), Massimo Mattioli, Stephen Hillenburg, Kim Duchateau, Schwantz and Masaaki Yuasa. He deserves credit for his important influence in the development the screwball trickster characters Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, and his own characters Droopy and Screwy Squirrel. Hanna-Barbera's Jerry, Walter Lantz' Woody Woodpecker, Paul Terry's Heckle and Jeckle and Tom Ruegger's Yakko, Wacko and Dot from 'Animaniacs' all follow the same mold. Droopy was the direct inspiration for 'Gai Luron' (1964) by Gotlib, the tiny Roman referee in 'Astérix and the 12 Tasks' and Hans Moleman in Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons'. The wolf with the Southern accent in Avery's 'The Three Little Pups' (1953) and 'Billy Boy' (1953) also borrowed a lot from Droopy and a similar southern accent was used by Hanna-Barbera for their own Huckleberry Hound, who was voiced by the same actor too: Daws Butler.

Celebrity fans of Tex Avery are comedian Jim Carrey and Belgian children's book author Marc de Bel. Celebrity fans of Looney Tunes were actors Robin Williams, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Whoopi Goldberg, film directors George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and North Korean president Kim Jong-Il. Novelist Ray Bradbury once described the Warner Brothers animators as "gatekeepers and inmates of the grandest penal nuthouse in the world."

Books about Tex Avery
For those interested in Tex Avery's life and career the books 'Tex Avery: King of Cartoons' (1975) by Joe Adamson, 'Le Mystère Tex Avery' (1988) by Robert Benayoun, 'Tex Avery. The MGM Years' (1996) by John Canemaker, 'Le Langage Comique de Tex Avery' (2009) by Patrick Brion and 'Tex Avery: A Unique Legacy' (2016) by Floriane Place-Verghnes are all highly recommended.

Series and books by Tex Avery you can order today:


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