I Say, I Say... Son! is a coffee table book that traces the careers of brothers Bob, Chuck and Tom McKimson from the 1920s onward. Author Robert McKimson, Jr. details how his father Bob McKimson created such beloved characters as Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil, Sylvester Jr. and the original Speedy Gonzales, and explores Chuck and Tom McKimson's voluminous body of work at Warner Bros. Cartoons, Dell Comics and Golden Books.
Featuring original art from the Golden Age of Animation, I Say, I Say... Son! includes a wealth of material from the top animation archives: Original drawings, reproductions of animation cels, comic book illustrations, lobby cards, and screen captures, along with never-before-seen photographs and other memorabilia from author Robert McKimson Jr.'s personal collection. John Kricfalusi contributed the foreword, and Darrell Van Citters penned the introduction.
The Good News
I Say, I Say... Son! is chock full of artwork, including some pieces which are part of a private McKimson family estate. Fans of classic cartoons, such as Merry Melodies and Looney Tunes, will enjoy seeing the development of favorite characters, like Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny, illustrated by drawings by the McKimsons over time. Animation fans will also like seeing early characters, like Binko (who looks suspiciously like Mickey Mouse) and Bosko.
I also enjoyed seeing photos of the animators, directors and producers, such as the one of John Burton, Eddie Selzer, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson taken in 1952 at Warner Bros. Seeing the men behind the cartoons was intriguing. Group shots taken on studio lots are complemented with photographs from parties, as well.
I Say, I Say... Son! also has sidebars that tell the history and evolution of lots of characters. For example, Elmer Fudd is based on a character named Egghead who starred in Tex Avery's Egghead Rides Again in 1937. Learning the origins of these classic cartoon characters was much more enjoyable than finding out who produced what cartoon. Which leads me to...
The Bad News
Robert McKimson very clearly loves his family and proudly gives his father's and uncles' history in this book. But I Say, I Say... Son! would have benefited from the writing of a professional biographer. This book reads like a dry timeline, with dates, names and studios linked together with the barest of prose. The facts are peppered, very occasionally, with anecdotes of the McKimsons and other players from animation history, but these stories come across terribly dry.
Perhaps the book would have been better organized by theme, rather than strictly by chronology. For instance, one sentence about the marriage of an uncle is throw into a paragraph discussing the blossoming of his career, leaving readers disoriented and, frankly, bored. Why not have a bit of a personal biography for each man as its own chapter, then move on to organize other chapters by character or cartoon, rather than years spent at this or that studio?
I Say, I Say... Son! also struck me as a bitter response to the public's acceptance that many of these beloved characters were created by someone other than a McKimson, someone like Tex Avery, going so far as to include a copy of the application for copyright registration that shows Robert McKimson's name as the artist.
Robert McKimson, Jr., raised on tales from the office, wants to get the truth out to the public about what a huge part his father and uncles played in the history of animation. Rightly so, but must the book have such a tattle-tale voice? "When Bob was promoted from animator to director, he didn't find the transition to be very difficult; in fact, he didn't think there was much of a transition at all, since he had already... done practically everything the position required." Perhaps animation historians can relate to such quotes, but they just rub me the wrong way.
The Bottom Line
For someone who is not a student of animation history, reading I Say, I Say... Son! will be a challenge; the facts are strung together haphazardly to create a very boring read. Browsing the glorious artwork, however, will be a pleasure for anyone.