Annotations for “And the Blackness Moved” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #8
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: The narrator watches an animated film which features cartoon versions of the creators of Felix the Cat.
- The film within a comic uses animated animals to tell the stories of Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, animators responsible for Felix the Cat.
- Similar to earlier issues, this is story is primarily about how artists are abused and taken advantage of by management.
- Moore’s Splash Brannigan series (in ABC Comics Tomorrow Stories) was influenced by early black-and-white animation. This is most clearly referenced in “Specters from Projectors!?!!” by Moore and Kyle Baker in ABC 64 Page Giant #1.
- Left to right, the cartoon animals are:
– Otz the Cat based on Felix the Cat and its animator Otto Messmer.
– Betty Boop standing in for Marjorie Sullivan, wife of Pat Sullivan.
– Pat the Dog based on Felix producer Pat Sullivan. Though the dog does not closely resemble the character, the choice of a dog may be based on the dog Bimbo, Boop’s early love interest.
– a dog Muppet bartender
– at bottom left, unknown human janitor. Possibly the human version of Pat Sullivan?
- The thought balloons show Otz thinking of Pat as handsome and sober, while Pat thinks of Otz as standing on mountains of completed pages, both subjective views of a happier past.
- Their relationship recalls those involving another early 20th century cartoon cat: Krazy Kat. Krazy (a kat of indeterminate gender) loved Ignatz (a decidedly male mouse), while Ignatz despised and abused Krazy. Meanwhile, Offisa’ Pup had unrequited love for Krazy, and frequently arrested Ignatz for his abuses.
- “You devil” has a double meaning. While the narrator means this in a naughty, sexual sense, it is also further foreshadowing of the narrator’s actual condition of being dead and in some sort of purgatory.
- “The Beast with Five Fingers” is a 1946 mystery/horror film.
- “The Hands of Orlac” is a 1920 body horror novel that has been into several movies including in 1960.
- Note that these are both “evil hand” films, and they foreshadow the hand that appears on P6 below.
- The “X” rating on the poster is not like a modern American “X”, but closer in meaning to an “R”. From 1951 to 1970, it restricted attendance to those 16 and older. In 1971, this age was raised to 18.
- “Dysfunctional Ditties” is a riff on popular studio titles for cartoon lines in the early days of animation, such as “Merrie Melodies”, “Silly Symphonies”, etc.
- First appearance of Otz the Cat, based on animator Otto Messmer, who claims to have created Felix the Cat.
- First appearance of Pat the Dog, based on animation producer Pat Sullivan, who also claimed to have created Felix.
- Felix the Cat cartoons often featured alcohol, though not to the extent that this story does.
- “It’s silent with bubbles” refers to how early Felix cartoons were silent, and did feature dialogue in square ‘bubbles’ such as those in this story.
- “You shoulda got more credit” refers to Pat Sullivan did claim all the credit for Felix during his lifetime. See P5,p3 below for more on this.
- “Up the wooden hill” – In this context, “wooden hill” means “stairs”. (The phrase is primarily British.)
- The double-framed mouse portrait may be an early mouse character created/produced by Sullivan.
- Note how Felix takes the question mark indicating his puzzlement and uses it as a physical key. This is typical of the surrealism found in Felix cartoons.
- These panels form a fixed-camera sequence. The frequency of these sequences this issue reflects that they are very common in cartoons, where they save time and money.
- “Creatin’ the character…” refers to the dispute over which of these two originally ‘created’ Felix. No one, however, seems to dispute that Messmer did the vast majority of work developing the character.
- Panels 1-8 on Pages 3-4 form a fixed-camera sequence.
- “Marjorie” is Sullivan’s wife (pictured and named here), which Wikipedia incorrectly names as “Margaret, née Hayes.” This bio mentions the “accident”: “There was a lot of speculation about the death of his wife due to a fall from their apartment window. There was some evidence that she was involved with her chauffeur and that her husband knew this. Pat Sullivan was in the room when she fell but there were never any criminal charges.”
- Note the many alcohol bottles atop the bureau, and piled next to it, in the trash, etc. reflective of Sullivan’s alchoholism.
- “Anne” is Otto Messmer’s wife; he married Ann Mason. (Many sources spell her name with no “e”.)
- Sullivan “opened a brothel and gave Marjorie syphilis” is mentioned in this bio which states: “[Sullivan] used profits from Felix … to finance a string of brothels. Sullivan suffered from syphilis, and his mental faculties declined.”
- “Raped that fourteen year-old” refers to Sullivan’s 1917 rape conviction. It is worth noting that Marjorie married him while he was on bail awaiting trial!
- “Maybe if we had proper sound” refers to Sullivan adding sound for Felix cartoons long after others. Wikipedia says: “by late 1928, Sullivan, after years of refusing to convert Felix to sound, finally agreed to use sound in Felix’s cartoons. Unfortunately, Sullivan did not carefully prepare this process and put sound in cartoons that the studio had already completed.”
- “Walt the Wodent” refers to animator and entrepreneur Walt Disney. Wodent is rodent – ie: mouse, after Disney’s famous Mickey Mouse. There is some truth to this claim, see notes to next panel.
- Mickey’s popularity did rise at about the same time Felix’s waned. This probably had at least something to do with the fact that Mickey cartoons were the first with sound.
- “Alice films” refers to Walt Disney’s early animated films loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, beginning with Alice’s Wonderland (1923) and continuing as a series of Alice Comedies.
“Julius the cat“, who appeared in many of these films, was a blatant copy of Felix. Julius actually predates the Alice films, albeit unnamed.
- “We complain” is apparently only on a personal level. There seems to be no official record of such a complaint.
- “He just changes the ears!” refers to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, followed by Mickey Mouse. Both were still quite similar to Felix, except for the ears.
- “When did a mouse ever beat a cat?” may sound implausible, but happens often in cartoons.
- The gag here is that Otz attaches his tail to the word “vacuum” to form a vacuum appliance. This homages the way Felix used his tail in all sorts of improbable ways.
- “I remember Marjorie bringin’ home a stray black cat that inspired me” is among the (multiple, contradictory) claims that Sullivan made regarding Felix’s creation.
- Otto Messmer was inspired by pioneering cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay.
Moore homages McCay (especially his creation Little Nemo) in In Pictopia!, Electricomics’ Big Nemo, and Providence #8 P14-15.
- Panels 1-8 here and halfway through the next page form a fixed-camera sequence.
- The portrait is probably Sullivan’s wife Marjorie (mentioned P3,p1 above) drawn to resemble early cartoon icon Betty Boop.
- The “dinner in McCay’s honor” took place in 1927.
- “It said Pat Sullivan on the credits” is true. Sullivan’s name was the only one to appear (apart from studio “Presented by” credits).
- “Anne” is Messmer’s wife, mentioned P3,p5, above.
- Nitpick: British spelling “cheques” should probably be “checks.”
- This sequence utilizes a number of tropes from early mixed live-action animation: the creator’s hand appears, manipulates, draws and erases the cartoon reality. For one example of a short featuring all of these tropes, watch the 1927 short ‘Koko – The Fade-away.’
See also the 1953 Warner Brothers cartoon “Duck Amuck“. This was in turn referenced at the end of Dave Sim’s Cerebus volume Minds.
- Though the phrase refers to animation creators, the dog’s words “I never had a choice” echo Alan Moore’s belief in eternalism, explored extensively in his novel Jerusalem.
- “My lousy character” can be read as referring not just to his moral character, but to his state as a fictional character (and perhaps also to his ‘lousy’ claims to have created the Felix character).
- “My time in prison” refers to Sullivan’s rape conviction – mentioned P3,p6 above.
- “…so black. I… I guess that was so it would stand out.” is like Felix himself. Otto Messmer, on creating Felix, stated: “Make him all black, you know—you wouldn’t need to worry about outlines.”
- Panels 1-8 are, again, a fixed-camera sequence.
- “Prisoners stuck in our cels” refers to animation cels. Cel is short for celluloid – the transparent sheet used by early animators.
- The notion of a black background trapping a character was used in “Duck Amuck”.
- “M-maybe I could use my tail” – refers to the way Felix would use his tail in all sorts of improbable ways.
- “Into the inkwell” is reminiscent of Out of the Inkwell, an early series of animated shorts which mixed animation and live action, just as this sequence does.
- The Egyptian motifs on the camera reinforce the purgatory/afterlife themes throughout Purgatorio‘s framing pages. Moore (with director Mitch Jenkins) explored Egyptian afterlife mythology in the 2014 film short His Heavy Heart.
- “It may be an older model than you’re used to, but it’s in excellent working condition” has a double meaning. It can refer to the camera, but it is interpreted by the narrator as a double entendre, referring to the manager’s body.
- The female tentacled monster – suggest?? (doesn’t quite look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon)
- “The Crawling Heart” was mentioned in Purgatorio #2 P1,p2.
- “Love made bare” – suggest?? (Could be just pornography.)
- The above three items all reinforce the notion of a grasping, threatening female sexuality. This is perhaps how the manager sees the narrator – or at least how she fears he does.
- “Smackula” – see Purgatorio #7 P1,p2.
- “A King at Twilight” is the title of Purgatorio #4.
- “Old Mother” is part of the Old Mother Riley series – see Purgatorio #6, P1,p3.
- “Confessions of a Nude” – see Purgatorio #2 P8,p2.
- From left to right:
– A male usher?
– “The limping usherette”
– The ticket seller
– Unknown male?
– Another male usher?
- Since this isn’t the final chapter “Never” seems unlikely.