2022: A Source of Strength

It’s nearly the end of 2022, a year that ended up being much stranger and much harder than I could ever have expected it to be. I don’t know if I have the mental fortitude to go into what happened, but the gist I can give is that a personal issue that’s been a problem for a very long time finally came to a head. So far, it’s been turning out okay – things are getting sorted out, and everyone involved is doing their best to make it out of the other side. Compared to how it could’ve gone at any point during the year, this is an infinitely preferable outcome.

(I also need to stress that this is not an issue with me, but an issue involving me inextricably. If it was something entirely in my own hands or of my own problem, then I’d discuss it. But it’s not.)

In spite of that, it’s still been a very hard year – for everyone. I’m bad at trying to open up and talk to people when I suddenly get freaked out or panicky about minor things, nevermind something so huge and complicated that I’ve basically never talked about it if it wasn’t just agreeing with what everyone else felt. I needed to find an outlet: something that was removed from this entire mess; something I could work on when I was so lost for motivation I actually failed to pass my college year; something that reminded me that I can exist as an individual.

Cartoons. Watching them, talking about them, making them. More than any other year, I relied on the medium of animation as the one thing I could cling onto, a crutch, a source of strength. That’s still the case for now, as I’m still in an ambiguous state of existence with no clear direction going forward, and I wanted to acknowledge the various ways it’s helped me out.

Obviously, there’s the whole aspect of just “watching cartoons”, though my viewing habits leaned increasingly towards shorts. Whether as part of a series or just individual shorts, I found it far easier to sit down and watch one or two things in a sitting instead of trying to commit to a movie or a show with 20-minute episodes. 

I’ve seen the excellent Sublo and Tangy Mustard web series by Aaron Long, checked out a dozen interesting shorts by Armenian director Robert Sahakyants, finally got round to watching Tex Avery’s work, and have really started to dig into the classic Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts. A big part of that is thanks to a recent decision to start watching and writing shorts suggested by members of the World Animation Discord, something to try and combat my writer’s block with smaller scale work.

It’s been enormous fun watching so many shorts, either in that situation or watching streams with friends or on my own. My approach to appreciating shorts has changed a fair bit from the last time I watched shorts so frequently, moving more towards appreciating what each work is uniquely trying to do even for those that don’t do anything for me. I’m happy about that shift, and it gives me a positive outlook that might otherwise be lacking with how my headspace has been for some time.

That said, I’ve occasionally managed to find the time to watch a fair few films – more than I initially assumed. In addition to the ones I covered on this blog (such as The Bad Guys and Footrot Flats), there are plenty of interesting and often excellent movies that I either saw on a whim or finally experienced after years of curiosity.

Among my favourites were the hilarious western comedy West and Soda by Bruno Bozzetto, the atmospheric stop-motion adaptation of The Wind in the Willows by Cosgrave Hall, the absurd yet poignant Roujin-Z, and the amazing Three Caballeros – Disney’s best film. Even those that don’t invoke such a strong passionate reaction I still found deeply compelling and worth checking out for what they’re doing, such as The New Gulliver, Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit, Night on the Galactic Railroad, and American Pop.

I even went in a weird direction during April and decided to watch the anime-inspired video game Asura’s Wrath as if it was an actual anime. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of experiencing video games as a movie or TV series, and considering Asura’s Wrath is structured as a series of 20-minute episodes with eyecatches, postcard memories ending shots and next episode previews, it seemed like a good time to test this thought. I gained a new sense of appreciation for the game, and it was nice to have something to watch on the regular again.

In short, I watched plenty of cartoons to keep my spirits up and my head productive during times I couldn’t do much else. But I also did plenty of cartoon-related work too.

For a start, there’s the various articles I’ve written for Cartoon Milk. I’ve been a part of this blog for nearly three years, but this year I made a serious effort to try and put out articles as regularly as I could with one article per month. I also used the opportunity to go in new directions, such as comparing different edits of a cartoon, interviews with creators on cartoon projects, attempts at researching obscure uses of short films, a post-mortem of my own cartoon work, and more.

Although I’ve not been able to push through with a lot of article ideas that involved the shorts and films mentioned earlier on, I have been able to do more than I thought, even talking to and getting feedback from people I admire such as Mike Wyzgowski and John J. Hoare. I’m proud that I could do even that much, and to hear back from people who enjoyed those articles.

I was even able to grab a guest writer with Phil Stankus for his article on Nadia. I sometimes feel very self-conscious about how many articles on this blog are mine, considering I started as a guest writer, and wanted to get more people involved. Although Phil hasn’t been able to write more articles since due to being busy, I’m happy I could get him involved for a time and I hope I can keep that ball rolling with other friends and acquaintances.

I’ve also been able to produce two cartoons for this year’s WADvent Calendar collaboration project, which is generally much more ambitious than the previous years by having more people getting involved and producing enough cartoons to fill up an actual advent calendar’s worth of toons instead of just the usual 12 days. It’s been amazing to see and I’m really pleased at what everyone’s been able to put together.

My own cartoons dabble in my usual interests for WADvent toons, something musically oriented or featuring characters in a single continuous (barely animated) shot. But I took the chance to play around with new ways of animating, going for cut-out animation where I use different heads/mouths, which were inspired in their look by the mouth flaps in 70s comedy anime like Wansa-kun, and even some pixilation for a filler short.

It’s nice doing goofy cartoon shorts again, and although I haven’t done much animation otherwise, I have been writing down ideas, taking pictures and even recording voices for animations I hope to make down the road. Maybe it’ll go somewhere, or just give me other ideas that I do end up realizing in a more fleshed out manner. Here’s hoping.

But for me, the biggest thing I did involving anything cartoon-related was putting together the movie World Animation Discord: A Team Effort! The Legendary Animation Compilation!! This is a compilation film inspired by VHS cartoon collections, where all the cartoons featured were produced by the World Animation Discord or the individual members. It started as something of a whim around February or March, just this little list of possible toons such as our various collaborations and people I could possibly approach to see if they’d be up for letting their cartoons be included.

To my amazement, plenty of folks consented, a few gave suggestions on which shorts they’d like me to include, and I even got others involved doing title cards, so they could contribute even if they hadn’t made cartoons themselves. I do plan to make a post-mortem at some point detailing the creation of the movie, but it was amazing to be able to create something like this, and to experience the work of various online friends I’ve known for years. Heck, this even inspired one of them to put together a collection of their work exclusively for the compilation, which is still incredibly cool to me!

I wanted to make this as both a celebration and a tribute to the World Animation Discord, which turned five on the day this was uploaded onto YouTube. This large group of people have been an enormous boon to my mental health during this year, being people I could chat with, make stupid little images or jokes for, watch cartoons with, or just have a laugh with.

More than any other year, having the WAD community as a group of friends – far removed from the bullshit of my personal life and headspace – was something I really needed, and I’m eternally grateful for everything that they’ve done. Even seeing the folks who I never talked to but posting screenshots and getting on with their own circles of friends was always enough to warm my heart.

I can’t say for certain how things will go from here. Things have resolved to a point, but there’s other parts of my life that are still up in the air due to my own situation or the general uncertainties which exist beyond myself. I don’t know what to do with myself, and everything feels so crowded I feel like I can’t move; like being in a cramped room full of precariously placed boxes that won’t stop moving.

I’m not even sure how to end this properly, since it would imply a resolution that I can’t quite feel in my heart right now. All I can say is that I intend to keep going and to do the best that I can, even if that ends up not being much. Hopefully, in time, I’ll find the peace of mind and resolve I need. Until then, to just be okay is enough, and to have the things I’m passionate for – the connections, the friends, the works I’ve made – as a source of strength.

Thank you, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday, a better year ahead, and a good life.

A very special thanks to the World Animation Discord.

Special thanks to the COOLT and Hardcore Gaming 101 Discords, two new groups of acquaintances I’ve made in recent months who have inspired me in ways that reverberated to the work discussed here.

Thanks to dem from the World Animation Discord, whose picture of “The Unbearable Bear” was used as the article’s header image.

Thanks to everyone who was involved – directly or otherwise – in the creation of all my articles for this blog during the year.

FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

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