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Frames of Time...

05404 - Bugs Bunny Strips
In the late 1980s, Warner Bros. made yet another attempt to rebuild their animation empire and revive their classic characters. One big difference, they had someone in charge that understood and loved the characters - Darrel Van Citters. Though his reign only lasted a few years, Darrel was instrumental in several projects, including a (momentary) revival of theatrical shorts such as BOX OFFICE BUNNY.

One of the lesser known projects he undertook was the revamping of the Bugs Bunny comic strip. Originating back in the 1940s, the Bugs Bunny comic strip had, by the 80s, become an unfunny sitcom strip, which featured Bugs and company living in apartments and having average lives. The strip was not doing well in sales or performance. In fact, the strip was sold as part of a package, so many papers that received it, didn't even run it. Darrel wanted to re-invent the strip and get it back in line with the idea of classic Warners humor. At that time, the strip had a little over 2 years left on the current contract so the studio and syndicate concluded it didn't matter what Darrel did.

Darrel assigned Shawn Keller as the artist for the strip. Shawn, had over a decade of Disney animation experience and put new life into the characters via his strong posing. Darrel also had Shawn animating on the shorts, creating new model sheets of the main characters, and doing merchandising art. Shawn even designed one of the top selling cels for the Warners stores.

To punch up the humor, he enlisted Brett Koth. Brett had animated at Disney and Don Bluth. His dream was to do comic strips. While storyboarding on Garfield at Film Roman, Brett impressed Garfield's creator, Jim Davis. Brett eventually became a key writer on Davis' fat cat, wrote numerous Garfield books (some with actual credit), and eventually got co-credit on the short lived U.S. Acres strip. Darrel knew Brett from the abortive SPORTS GOOFY short that they worked on while at Disney's Special Projects unit. (This was the unit originally set to do ROGER RABBIT until Spielberg entered the picture and dictated that none of the animation could be done at Disney.)

I knew Brett from his work at Bluth and Film Roman, where we both worked. I had met Darrel on various occasions. One evening, Brett and I were having a meal. Brett was doodling away, as he always was, trying to come up with some ideas for the strip. He came up with an idea about a week where the characters were self-aware of the strip and would talk to the reader. In the past, Brett had used me as an unofficial editor for some of his strip submissions, so he asked for some ideas. I ended up doing four of the seven. Brett gave me co-credit on the gags. Darrel, remembering my animation history background, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing on the strip. Darrel said that Brett had a strong gag background and was doing dynamite stuff. However Darrel was hoping to get more of the classic characters and story elements back into the strip.

My first attempt was taking the classic short of Bugs and Yosemite Sam (playing a pirate) and working the material into a daily, three panel format. This actually means working it into a medium where at least every third panel is a self-contained joke. Darrel liked it and asked for more. At first, I adapted stories from the shorts into comic strip storylines. Eventually I got more creative and began doing original stuff. The only rule Darrel asked me to follow was that my material should "feel" like it had come from a classic short. My work ranged from single gags, like the pictured one featuring Wile E. Coyote, to story gags that would run one to three weeks.

Within a few months, the strip began to attract attention. Some fan magazines made note of it, while even Editor and Publisher, the industry publication for newspapers, did a feature story. Sadly, the publicity was not enough. On December 31st, 1990, the strip ceased publication. Though it was a short run, Darrel, Shawn, Brett and I were pleased with the outcome. Even Warner execs made comment that the strip looked good and discussed a possible book reprinting the final years. The book never happened.

For awhile, it lived on in reprints in the Looney Tunes comic book. Today, few even remember the revised strip. In fact, I recently came across a website discussing the Looney Tunes comic books. Their "animation expert" was discussing an issue and referred to the strip as "Brett Koth's Bugs Bunny strip". I doubt Darrel, Shawn or I would disagree that Brett's writing was key to the revival. I don't even think I would have made note, except it was one of the strips that I wrote.

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