Sunday, 7 April 2013

British Animation goes to Troperville

I've been tinkering with TV Tropes lately. After familiarising myself with the site, I thought I'd write down a few of my thoughts.

For those unfamiliar with it, TV Tropes works like Wikipedia in that any of its readers can edit it. Unlike Wikipedia, it expressly rejects any concept of "notability" when it comes to the material it covers. Almost any work of fiction is considered fair game for a page on TV Tropes: it just needs somebody willing to start one.

TV Tropes has good coverage of mainstream American animation (with a particular fondness for superhero cartoons, it seems) and anime, but has many blind spots when it comes to the wider world of animation - to use its own terminology, it suffers from something of a Small Reference Pool.

Hedgehog in the Fog: A Norstein animation. Not to be confused with Digimon.

There are some bright spots, to be fair: TV Tropes has a burgeoning section on Eastern European animation, including pages covering individual directors such as Jan Svankmajer, and there is also a short page on the National Film Board of Canada which briefly celebrates the NFB's contributions to animation. When I searched the site for pages mentioning Yuri Norstein, however, all I found were articles discussing Thomas Norstein (a character from the anime series Digimon) and a single forum post dismissing Tale of Tales and Hedgehog in the Fog as "pretentious shit". Alas, this would seem to be the dominant milieu in Troperville.

TV Tropes is, of course, a site compiled by and for the geek demographic, which has its ups and downs. One thing I appreciate about geekdom is the total lack of any conventional snobbery: on a site like TV Tropes, animation and comics will be covered alongside live action and prose fiction, with no assumption that they are in any way less deserving of discussion.

Kihachiro Kawamoto: a Japanese animator beloved by animation enthusiasts - except for fans of Japanese animation.

The downside is that geek culture is rife with a sort of inverted snobbery. A vast quantity of work is dismissed as "pretentious" or "artsy" without a second thought merely for not fitting into the dominant comfort zone, often simply because it has not been quite so heavily commercialised as, say, Hollywood films or Marvel comics. Perhaps the best evidence of this on TV Tropes is the fact that, while the site has reams of pages covering various anime - including anime which have never officially been translated into English, and even large amounts of pornographic anime until this started to get the site in trouble - there does not appear to be a single page mentioning Kihachiro Kawamoto. Kawamoto's stop-motion films have been admired by the Western animation community for decades, but are apparently not "geek" enough for TV Tropes.

At first, the site's skewed emphasis might seem justifiable. The whole point of TV Tropes is documenting the building blocks of popular fiction, from The Scrappy (an annoying sidekick) to the Heel Face Turn (when a bad guy becomes a good guy). Idiosyncratic animators such as Svankmajer, Norman McLaren and the Brothers Quay are less reliant on conventional narrative, and so less reliant on these building blocks. Attempts to describe their work in TV Tropes terms tend to fall back on vague labels such as Deranged Animation (basically, animation which looks odd), Nightmare Fuel (things which are mildly creepy) and What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs? (self explanatory).

However, while these animators may not be using existing building blocks, they are certainly creating building blocks of their own. As I mentioned in another post a while ago, the creators of The Mighty Boosh have described their series as "Svankmajer-esque", and a search on Google turns up over one thousand examples of this phrase being used to describe everything from Being John Malkovitch to the films of Tim Burton. The influence of Norstein, Svankmajer and other key animators looms large, and no discussion of recurring motifs in animation would be complete without at least namechecking them.

So, with that commentary out of the way, how does British animation fare on TV Tropes?

Well, the internationally recognised animations are there. Aardman and Cosgrove-Hall have their own pages, as do most of their key works (including each individual Wallace and Gromit film); there are also pages on Yellow Submarine and Watership Down (covering the novel as well as its animated adaptations). I also notice a few works which are probably little-known outside Britain, such as The Wombles, The Clangers and a very thorough page on The Dreamstone. Some examples of British web animation - Weebl and Bob, Salad Fingers, Cyriak - are also covered. There were a few entries which pleasantly surprised me with their presence, including Richard Williams' The Little Island.

On to the big gaps. TV Tropes currently has almost no coverage of Halas & Batchelor: judging by a quick search, the only significant mention of the studio is on the page for Orwell's Animal Farm, which has a paragraph briefly discussing the animated feature. The Brothers Quay have been mentioned a few times on the site, but neither they nor any of their films have pages yet.

Granted, the films of the Quays are fine examples of the kind of which is awkward to cover on TV Tropes due to their non-narrative content. Most of Halas & Batchelor's better-known works, meanwhile, are perfectly accessible and could easily be covered by TV Tropes pages; the issue in this case is more of a generation gap. Most of the site's contributors are children of the eighties, nineties and early 2000s, and series such as DoDo, The Kid From Outer Space will have been before their time.

But anyway, as I said before, any of TV Tropes' readers can add a new page to the site. With that in mind, I went and started a short page about Channel 4 animation. How will this bastion of more experimental animation fare in the geek-centric world of TV Tropes? Time will tell...

1 comment:

  1. No doubt we have a way to go to get any of this information out there to the public unaware of it's existence.