“Creation” And “Development”

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 5, 2004

    Success, as they say, has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. This old saw is perfectly applicable to cartoon characters. Determining who is responsible for the creation of a particular character can be a very complex and tangled affair, with many legitimate -- and, occasionally, not-so-legitimate -- claims conflicting with eachother. Consider, by way of example, the debate over whether Ub Iwerks should be acknowledged as creator of Mickey Mouse.

    The Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion holds the policy that the director of the first cartoon to feature a readily recognisable form of a given character receives credit for “creation” of that character. This has the virtue of simplifying the matter of who gets credit, at the cost of obscuring contributions of animators and writers who may have played significant roles leading up to that character’s creation. These people receive credit for their contributions through the use of the term “development”.

    Bob Clampett, for example, played an important role in the development of Porky Pig, in that he suggested the Our Gang-like format for the first cartoon. As a senior animator, he went on to make significant contributions leading to the creation of Egghead and Daffy Duck. Under the WBCC’s policy, he may not fairly be recognised as the “creator” of these characters, but must instead be credited with “development”. The same holds true for his contributions to Bugs Bunny. The term “development” is also used to describe subsequent enrichment of existing characters, such as the later contributions made by Chuck Jones to Bugs and Daffy.

    The intent of the distinction between “creation” and “development” is not to trivialise the contributions of key players in the studio’s history, but rather to clarify their roles in a broad historical context. Character development is both integral and complementary to creation. It is through the process of development that characters evolve, forming the very personality traits which, in time, make them successful and enduring.

    To return to the above example, Clampett may not have created Porky or Daffy, but his work -- especially as the nearly sole director of Looney Tunes in the late 1930s -- was absolutely vital to the shaping of these characters as we now know them. Additionally, his wild (and immensely entertaining) Bugs Bunny cartoons greatly advanced the development of that character. Conversely, while Clampett created Tweety, it was Freleng, as primary director of Tweety cartoons throughout the 1940s and 1950s, who developed that character.

    The concept of “creation” may effectively represent pivotal moments in the studio’s history; but the underlying process of development is at least as important. Development must always be kept in mind when considering who is responsible for shaping a character.

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