comic art by Tex Avery

Tex Avery is an American animated film director, most famous for his cartoons at Warner Brothers and MGM. At Warners he created Daffy Duck (1937), Elmer Fudd (1940) and Bugs Bunny (1940), while also establishing the Looney Tunes signature style. He topped himself at MGM, where Droopy (1942) is his most iconic creation. While most people associate animation with Disney, they 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 (dynamite sticks, falling anvils,...). Few humorists could put so many hilarious jokes in one seven-minute cartoon. Avery indulged in anarchic, self-referential comedy, with characters frequently breaking the fourth wall. He also expressed erotic innuendo and lust, particularly in his famous 'Wolf & Red' cartoons. All these aspects gained him a cult 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 comics artists. Although Avery always wanted to become a comics artist, he only made a few cartoons for his high school paper throughout his career. But other artists did create comics based on his popular animated creations. 

Frederick "Tex" Avery was born in 1908 in Taylor, Texas, which explains his nickname. Avery was interested in animation from an early age, but his initial desire was to become a cartoonist. He attended North Dallas High School and, as a student, he created comic strips, cartoons, and illustrations for the school's annual and a monthly magazine. He subsequently spent a summer studying art at the Chicago Art Institute. Avery moved to California in the early thirties and entered the animation field as a painter. His first job was working on 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit' cartoons for Walter Lantz. There he learned the entire animation process and soon became a storyboard artist.

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

In 1935, Tex went to work for Leon Schlesinger (later Warner Bros.), where he created 'Porky Pig', 'Daffy Duck', and the personality of Bugs Bunny, for the 'Looney Tunes' series. Avery's cartoons stood out among many of his contemporaties in animation at the time. They are brimful with wild, outrageous and physically impossible gags, frenetic chase scenes, aggressive violence, sly sexual innuendo and characters who frequently break the fourth wall. This madcap style inspired his colleagues at Warners, including Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Bob McKimson, but was also copied by their rivals at Universal (Walter Lantz) and MGM (William Hanna and Joseph Barbera).

Droopy

In 1941 Avery joined MGM after a disagreement with Warners. There, he created several characters, with 'Droopy' being the most popular one. Many regard his time at this company to be his golden age. Here he directed many classic cartoons that still entertain audiences to this day, including '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) and 'Magical Maestro' (1952). In 1993 '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."

In 1954, Tex left MGM right before the studio stopped making theatrical shorts. He then joined the world of TV commercials where the Raid bug spray ads and Frito Bandito where among his creations. Tex Avery died in August 1980, leaving behind a legacy of comic characters and a style that still inspires animators and comic artists all over the world. 

Only five of Avery's animated shorts were ever nominated for an Academy Award, yet all lost: 'Detouring America' (1939), 'A Wild Hare' (1940), 'Blitz Wolf' (1942), 'Little Johnny Jet' (1953) and 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' (1955). Throughout his career he never received any award at all. Yet in 1985 Bugs Bunny became the second animated character after Mickey Mouse to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And in 1993 'Magical Maestro' was inducted in the American National Film Registry, where it will be preserved for all time for its "cultural, historical and aesthetical significance." 

Frito Bandito, by Tex Avery

Tex Avery remains one of the most influential cartoonists of all time. He can be credited with the invention of the screwball trickster character who manages to fool his opponent(s). Avery's Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Droopy and Screwy Squirrel were the mold from which Walter Lantz' Woody Woodpecker, Hanna-Barbera's Jerry, Paul Terry's Heckle & Jeckle and Tom Ruegger's Babs & Buster Bunny, Yakko, Wakko and Dot were made. Droopy's personality inspired Gotlib's Gai-Luron (also a bassett hound, by the way), the imperturable Roman referee in René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's animated feature 'Astérix and the 12 Tasks' (1976) and Hans Moleman in  Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons'. The wolf with the Southern accent in Avery's shorts 'The Three Little Pups' (1953) and 'Billy Boy' (1953) was copied by Hanna-Barbera to create 'Huckleberry Hound, with even the same voice actor: Daws Butler. Countless animated cartoons since the late 1930s, early 1940s would have been impossible without Avery's trademark style. Many have used fast-paced slapstick, quick edits, breakneck speed chases and self-referential comedy. Several of his gags were shamelessly plagiarized. His legacy can be felt in Looney Tunes (the work of Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob McKimson, Arthur Davis and Norm McCabe), Walter Lantz, Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward ('Rocky & Bullwinkle', 'George of the Jungle'), the 'Astérix' and 'Lucky Luke' animated features by Goscinny & Uderzo, Terry GilliamRalph Bakshi, Brad Caslor's 'Get A Job', Matt Groening ('The Simpsons', 'Futurama', 'Disenchantment'), Bill Plympton, Richard Williams' 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988), John Kricfalusi ('Ren & Stimpy'), Tom Ruegger ('Tiny Toon Adventures', 'Animaniacs'), Mike Judge ('Beavis & Butthead', 'King of the Hill'), Everett Peck ('Duckman'), Genndy Tartakovsky ('Dexter's Laboratory', 'Hotel Transylvania'), Trey Parker & Matt Stone ('South Park'), Seth MacFarlane ('Family Guy', 'American Dad') and Masaaki Yusa. There is even a tendency in many animated series since the 1990s to avoid Avery's cartoony style, because it has become such a cliché. 

In the comics world Avery inspired Leo BaxendaleRené Goscinny, Albert Uderzo, MorrisAndré Franquin, GotlibDupa, Robert CrumbRobert Williams, Skip WilliamsonEvert Geradts, Jean-Louis LejeuneMassimo MattioliHanco KolkDaniel Chauvin, Jason, Peter Bagge, Bill Wray, Bob CampFrank Cho and Kim Duchateau

Series and books by Tex Avery in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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