When most people think about Chuck Jones, two things immediately come to mind: “Looney Tunes” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
What a lot of folks don’t know — I certainly didn’t — was that Jones also had a short-lived comic strip in 1978. It was called “Crawford” and was drawn in Jones’ signature style.
To make sure “Crawford” isn’t lost forever, IDW’s Library of American Comics has published “Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was,” which reprints the strip in its entirety, along with the 27-year history that leads up to it. A spot check of a couple weeks in The Detroit News archives shows we didn’t run it.
Crawford first popped into Jones’ mind many years before he did the strip, back when he was still with Warner Bros. There’s definitely a bit of Ralph Phillips in the strip, Phillips being the daydreaming child that appeared in two Warner Bros. shorts, including Oscar nominee “From A to Z-Z-Z-Z.”
The book does get a bit long-winded in its lead-up to “Crawford,” but I will give it credit for introducing me to a number of Jones projects I had long forgotten or didn’t even know about, such as an Oscar-winning version of “A Christmas Carol.”
But the star of the show is the strip itself (and a series of storyboards from a proposed TV series that featured Crawford and friends). It follows the everyday adventures of a boy named Crawford, whom Jones claimed to have modeled on himself.
The strip is a hoot, though I can see why it may not have connected with audiences in 1978. It varies widely in tone (the intro mentions that Jones sent the strip to the syndicate in batches that frustrated editors), and Jones is annoyingly inconsistent in how he draws the characters’ eyes.
But reading it all in one sitting is a lot of fun. You get a bit of standard kid-strip humor, a bit of subversive political humor (at one point a character is seen reading “A Children’s Garden of Gloria Steinam”) and some great sight gags. The best of those go to the supporting character Morgan. A running joke that pops up now and then features Morgan getting into or out of clothing in giggle-inducing ways, usually accompanied by an “Impossible!” of some sort from a female character named Libby.
His style is wonderfully expressive, and the faces of his characters are a master class in drawing. It’s sad to think how much of that detail would be lost in today’s shrunken strips.
Crawford and Morgan are the stars, with a frequent banter that could come from Linus and Charlie Brown later in their lives. Libby and Bella are the girls, and there are a few other interesting human characters. A couple dogs also get prominent play, Shep and Ralf, taking over the strips for a week at a time. Ralf is especially funny with his size issues.
For animation buffs and big Jones fans, “The Dream That Never Was” is a must-have volume. It shines a much-deserved spotlight on a part of the Jones legacy that gets overlooked, even in Jones’ own autobiography.
Thanks, IDW, for sharing.