The Big Picture in Bank Robberies And Animation Art

The picture above is an actual frame from the surveillance video of the Brick bank robber. (No, he didn’t use a brick to rob a bank; he robbed a bank last month in Brick, New Jersey). A real robbery; an actual picture; if you recognize the gent with the head bandage, contact Brick Detective James Burgess at (732) 262-1120.

Most likely you won’t be able to recognize the man in the photo. He’s far from the camera. And it’s surveillance video, after all.

But let’s suppose, for a moment, that you and I were watching a dramatic TV show. A team of detectives are watching this video.

One of them shouts out, “Stop it right there! That’s our guy! Zoom in on his face!” There’s a clish-clish-clish-clish sound effect as a series of lines travel across the screen, forming smaller and smaller rectangles. The smallest rectangle flashes a few times, then zooms out full, and we see this:

Another character says, “Don’t you see? He was wearing the head bandage to try to cover up that tattoo of a butterfly above his right eye… but the bandage slipped back! Can we get tighter on that?”


The star of the show says, “Bobby, go through all the mug books and pull out every picture of a guy with a butterfly tattooed over his right eye.”

OK. Let’s take a deep breath.

Can I see some hands out there? How many of you own a digital camera? Right. Well, presumably, then, you know something about resolution and image size.

In the real world, when you zoom in the first time, you’d get roughly this:

Looks like Fatty Arbuckle taking a pie. And the second time you enlarge, you get this:

There he is! That’s our man! Bobby, go through all the mug books and pull out every picture of a guy with a mixture of Pantone Cool Gray 8 and Pantone Cool Gray 4 over his right eye!

We’ll return to picture size and resolution in a moment. First, though…

When you add a Sitemeter to your blog, you learn a little about the people who stop by. Sitemeter tells you how many people are looking at your blog right now, and how many have stopped by in the last hour, day, week, month, and year. There’s no “personally identifiable information, ” but you can see where in the world a visitor is, how many pages that visitor looked at, and how long that visitor stayed.

There are always enough one-second visits to keep anyone humble.

The most useful aspect of Sitemeter data is the clickable list of “referring pages.”

This tells you where people were on the web just before they clicked a link to visit you. So when somebody references or recommends your blog elsewhere on the web, you can easily go there to see what, if anything, the referring page had to say.

When you get lucky, and gain a mention and link on a highly trafficked site, like BoingBoing, for example, (and that happened here once) you instantly see why your numbers spiked. The list of referring pages will likely show the BoingBoing link over and over again. This allows you to a) acknowledge and thank the referring blog or web page, and b) work really hard to make sure your next post is halfway decent, to encourage window shoppers surfing by to stay, perhaps even return.

Guess where the vast majority of visitors to this blog find the link that leads them here?

Google Image Search. I never would have guessed it.

Google Image Search accounts for something like 90 to 95% of all Isn’t Life Terrible visitors.

I have a theory about this.

Want to see the theory illustrated? Click on the picture below, then come back.

Since Blogger automatically reduces the size of pictures posted to fit the available blog width, clicking on a picture sometimes takes you to a larger version of that same picture. Not the case with the picture above, though, where WYSIWYG.

Some blogs don’t seem to want you to download and save a picture that’s posted.

Not terribly friendly or welcoming, is it?

Of course, there can be valid financial reasons to do this – if you created and own the pictures and wish to license them, for example.

But on a blog like this one, there’s no reason to “protect” pictures. (And there’s an excellent way around difficult to download pictures, anyway).

As a matter of fact, since we now know that the majority of people come here looking for images, it would be pretty stupid to make access difficult.

I suddenly realized – and I’m sure all the Search Engine Optimization gurus out there know this – that Google Image Search lists the images it finds more or less in size order, with the largest images often on the first page of results.

So that’s why I keep stumbling into results from my own blog when I go looking for images – the simple fact that I usually post pictures full-size here. I was optimizing my search engine visibility and didn’t even know it.

Maybe this blog will run out of space or bandwidth someday, but in the meantime, the pictures here will usually link to larger versions. For example… click on this one.

See? I said we’d return to the topic of resolution.

With access to a large file, you can “re-mix” the picture, reframe it, even grab a small detail, as I did here. You can use it. Not commercially, of course, but who knows, maybe you’ll write the definitive appreciation of Pinocchio someday and need an illustration. You could pull ten different pictures out of this one cel-and-original-background set-up, thanks to its size.

Downside? We didn’t even get to say goodbye to all the people with slow connections – they all left a long time ago.

I would be willing to bet that some blogs I love… like John McElwee’s Greenbriar Picture Shows… link to large, high-resolution images just because… well, just because “why wouldn’t you?” After all, Lee Hartsfeld’s Music You (Probably) Won’t Hear Anywhere Else links to complete music files from shellac and vinyl so obscure that Lee could remove the parenthetical modifier any time he wanted to. (And, speaking parenthetically myself, I’d like to thank both of these gentlemen for the Premio Dardo nominations. Lee correctly points out that the chain-letter aspect of these awards could crash Google, but… it’s the thought that counts.)

Someday, that bank over in Brick will “up” the file size and resolution of their security cameras and those laughable, infinitely zoomable images currently available only on fictional television shows willing to stretch a point (or pixel) will become a tad less absurd.

A few final words after some astonishing, huge, hi-res images of original art from Disney films. Some of the regulars here can probably identify not only the film but also the artist before they click. Probably not for the first one, though…

The final words: please note that all of the non-bank robbery-related pictures in this post came from the listings of Heritage Auction Galleries. They’re all for sale in a upcoming auctions, and all available for viewing in a size and resolution that allows you to savor and appreciate each stroke of the brush and line of the pencil. If you go to Heritage (and you should), turn off the pan and scan feature, click on the picture, and you’ll see the whole enchilada.

Those Heritage people… they get the big picture… they post the big picture… and that may be one reason they get the big bucks.

A fraction of the Heritage inventory, from top to bottom: The Steeple Chase (1934), Truant Officer Donald (1941), Peter Pan (1953 – Mary Blair), Mickey’s Service Station (1935), Sleeping Beauty (1955 – Eyvind Earle), Mickey Plays Papa (1934), Alpine Climbers (1936), Peter Pan (1953 – Mary Blair), Babes In The Woods (1933), Lady And The Tramp (1955, Eyvind Earle).

The final picture immediately above is an actual frame from the surveillance video of the Attempted Woodcarver Break-In. (No, it wasn’t the Woodcarver who was breaking in; there’s a Missing Person Report on file for him and police want to question the “little wooden boy” seen looking in the window). If you recognize the figure at the window or encounter Mister Geppetto, contact Detective G. Tenggren at (610) 566-7767.

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D.C. Heath, Purveyor Of Disney Books Par Excellence

Carl Barks didn’t get to sign his comics, and his readers referred to his stories as the ones “drawn by the good artist.”

I had the same exact feeling about the D.C. Heath Walt Disney Story Books.

The first four were published in 1939: Donald Duck and His Friends, Little Pig’s Picnic and Other Stories, School Days in Disneyville, and Mickey Never Fails. By the time I got my hands on these books, they had been in and out of the school library hundreds of times and were a bit worse for the wear. But there was something about these books, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

(That’s D.C. Heath on the right, by the way. I never knew what he looked like until this evening).

The drawings in the Heath books seemed to “pop.” Something about them seemed so real… and so right. Being perhaps 5 or 6 at the time, I understood little about animation. But I sensed, and I’m betting hundreds of other kids did as well, that these were real Walt Disney drawings that made all the other books look like crude knock-offs… in the much the same way Carl Barks Duck stories made the non-Barks stories pale and uninteresting by comparison.

There was a simple explanation, of course: the art in the D.C. Heath books was not only prepared by the Walt Disney studio, but prepared on cels that were inked and painted just the way they were in the cartoons. (Most of them, anyway. D. C. Heath’s Bambi doesn’t use cels at all. And remind me to come back to Bambi some time.)

They weren’t cels used in the features and shorts; they were cels made especially for the books. For once, the characters looked exactly right, exactly the way they did on the screen. For once, the color was nearly as vivid as an IB Tech print, something else I didn’t know about back then. Some color films were just better than others.

And at a dollar a piece (Donald Duck And His Friends, the first in the series was 68 cents) and 100+ pages, these things must have flown off the shelves. Schools bought them because they were carefully sequenced in reading difficulty. Here They Are might have had a much more interesting title if its vocabulary had not been so severely limited. Donald Duck Sees South America, the most challenging title, is still just a bit beyond me.

My favorite was, and is, Mickey Sees The USA, which used the trailer last seen in the cartoon Mickey’s Trailer (looks like a ‘36 Drayer and Hansen to me). Yes, a bit didactic at times, but when Mickey stops in Washington D.C., the President himself helps find the lost Pluto. After the President scolds Pluto, he asks something of Mickey, Minnie and Donald in return: “I want you to be my good-will messengers and carry my greetings to everybody in the United States. We have a wonderful country. But it’s up to every one of us to make it still finer and better.” Say, that guy could get elected today.

Every once in a while, a cel created for a D. C. Heath book goes up for auction somewhere. The last one I spotted was this one, the opening spread for Chapter 1 of Pinocchio.

This wasn’t some book pretending to be Pinocchio, this book was Pinocchio. It still punches through 67 years of yellowing in my copy.

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Hidden Mickeys

What does it remind you of, that bronze head seen at left, made around the year 900?

If you said “a lion,” you agree with Per Karsten, himself a head, though not of bronze, but rather of the Historical Museum in Lund, Sweden, which owns the inch-long fibula-fastener that was dug up at Uppakra, an iron age settlement just south of the museum.

If you said “Mickey Mouse,” you agree with me and a probably everyone else who’s seen this thing. Karsten does call this “the first Mickey Mouse,” but he believes that this ‘Borre-head,’ as they’re known, was not meant to represent any mouse, let alone the mouse. Whoever created this piece was trying to create a lion. The artist left no forwarding address, so we can only speculate as to his or her intent.

Karsten knows a good thing when he sees it, though. He wants to sell copies of this thing to museum visitors. He sent The Walt Disney Company a photo of the object and offered Disney the opportunity to underwrite further digs at Uppakra. I would bet dollars to donuts that Disney wrote back to allege copyright infringement, unfair competition and violation of the anti-dilution law, which protects the value of a trademark. In other words, something along the lines of “if you try to sell copies of that thing, we’ll sue you back into the iron age.” I’m pretty sure that’s what they did when they heard about the 700-year old church wall in Southern Austria (right) which either proves that Mickey has been around for a lot longer than we think, or that Disney took a long weekend off and did some traveling during the period he was driving that ambulance in France.

I happen to think it is not just The Walt Disney Company that should be concerned about this object. There’s another company that should consider legal action.

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Mickey In A Merryweather

This gorgeous, large-format, full-color hardcover book reprints three “classic stories from the 1930s, Walt Disney’s Donald Duck (1935), Walt Disney’s Clock Cleaners (1938), and The Mickey Mouse Fire Brigade (1936).” All three stories are based on cartoons, but some strange liberties and notable revisions are made.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck was the first book to feature the Duck, who thus appears here in his long-billed incarnation. The original (Whitman #978) was printed on linen, which would seem to indicate it was intended for the youngest possible audience. Inexplicable, then is the one-joke premise: Mickey’s nephews “show Donald the difference between soft and HARD water” by tricking him into diving into a shallow spot.

Walt Disney’s Clock Cleaners was another “linen-like” book designed for kids who could be counted upon to treat it badly. “Scarce in Near Mint, common in lower grades” is Ted Hake’s comment on the linen-like books in The Official Price Guide to Disney Collectibles. Having even less linen-like pages to work with than Walt Disney’s Donald Duck (12 rather than 16), the original story is literally scaled down from the cartoon’s giant clock atop a skyscraper… to a cuckoo clock in an attic.

The third story, The Mickey Mouse Fire Brigade, is very faithful to the Mickey’s Fire Brigade cartoon, and the illustrations are excellent. Just one thing – Mickey’s fire helmet. Designed for a British audience that might not recognize the “backwards-baseball-hat” helmet design usually seen in the U.S., Mickey wears a Merryweather pattern brass fire helmet throughout.

If you read this one to your kids, I suggest giving Mickey a Yorkshire accent. If you need practice, the BBC is willing to help. I was going to give an Amazon link, but they don’t carry the book, show the the wrong cover picture, and spell Mickey “Micky.” Try Barnes and Noble.

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Mickey Press Book up to $550.00 on eBay

Closes in about an hour. No wonder they drew Mickey standing on a mountain of money!

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Early Disney Movie Music – with a British Flair

The famous march that opened TV’s “Mickey Mouse Club” had a great ‘hook’… “Mic-key-Mouse-Club, Mic-Key-Mouse-Club…” as identifiable as it is unforgettable. Written by Jimmie Dodd especially for the TV show, one would hardly expect to hear that very same ‘hook’ in a recording from 1933. But here it is.

Listen to the first few seconds of “Silly Symphony Selection,” and you will hear “Mic-key-Mouse-Club, Mic-Key-Mouse-Club…” I guess we will have to call this sheer musical coincidence. Or maybe that little musical ‘hook’ is somehow inherent in the Mickey Mouse theme song, “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo.”

Walt Disney had always refused to allow permission for records to be made from songs featured in his cartoons, but in 1933, he gave permission for a recording to be made by George Scott Wood, a British arranger and orchestra leader whose work Disney had heard and admired. Wood did an admirable job of capturing not only the Mickey Mouse theme but also a “Silly Symphony Selection” featuring music from “Funny Little Bunnies,” “Peculiar Penguins,” “The Pied Piper,” “The Grasshopper and the Ants,” “Lullabye Land,” and “The Wise Little Hen,” all “Symphonies” released in 1933 and 1934.

These British Dance Orchestras were mostly “sweet” bands, and listening to these tracks, you can easily imagine couples gliding across the polished floors of English hotels. Exceptions: the Dixieland-style treatment of “Turn on the Old Music Box,” from Pinocchio… and the jazzy treatment given to “When I See An Elephant Fly,” from Dumbo.

For your listening and downloading pleasure (All tracks 3-4m except for “Silly Symphony Selection,” 8m):

Download All

Silly Symphony Selection – Silly Symphonic Orchestra
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf – The BBC Dance Orchestra
Ferdinand The Bull – Joe Loss and his Band
Heigh-Ho – Henry Hall and his Orchestra
With A Smile and a Song – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (not a typo)
I’m Wishing – Henry Hall and his Orchestra
One Song – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Whistle While You Work – Harry Roy and his Orchestra
Some Day My Prince Will Come – Jack Harris and his Orchestra
Give A Little Whistle – Joe Loss and his Band
Little Wooden Head – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
When You Wish Upon A Star – Joe Loss and his Band
Turn On The Old Music Box – George Scott Wood and the Six Swingers
When I See An Elephant Fly – Joe Loss and his Band
Love Is A Song – The RAOC Blue Rockets

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Embers Try To Douse Fire

Have you ever seen embers man a fire hose?

There is a 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon entitled “Mickey’s Fire Brigade” where flames get control of a fire hose… but embers?

Have you ever seen a man who consists mostly of cement and a slate roof?

And would you think a man made of slate and cement would express his great debt of gratitude to firefighters by saying “They didn’t do nothing wrong?”

You haven’t been reading The Long Islander.

The Long Islander is a local newspaper based in Huntington, Long Island, New York. The newspaper was founded in the 19th century by poet Walt Whitman. Despite having been run out of town rather unceremoniously due to his romantic interest in people who shared his gender… Walt Whitman has triumphed. Forget those poems… this guy now has a shopping mall named in his honor.

We’ve forgiven Whitman – the town has a pride parade each year in which Whitman would most happily have marched. I doubt if we’ll ever forgive the writer of the article above left, though.

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Radical Pre-War Characters

Wow. Here’s a deal way too good to pass up. Toy Collector is an absolutely free e-magazine with great articles, great photos, professional layout… and did I mention that it’s free? The current issue includes an article about those ‘toothy’ early Mickey Mouse toys and the company that produced them. Get the latest issue. (Requires flash or .pdf reader)

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Mickey Mouse Music

I tend to listen to the Internet more than read it or watch it, so lots of files on this blog will be listenable. This particular post is Mickey’s Son and Daughter (3m) by the BBC Dance Orchestra. I first heard this track performed by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band on their album Gorilla in October 1967. A great album of the originals of many of the 20’s and 30’s songs later covered by the Bonzos is now available through

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