Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gracias, Diaz

Competence and professionalism are drab virtues, but ones worth celebrating for all that... and no Disney comics creators exemplified said virtues quite as thoroughly as the semi-mysterious "strangers" who labored at the Jaime Diaz Studios in Argentina. The company's namesake, an animator and cartoonist who worked for Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon both before and after launching the Studios in the mid-70s, died this past weekend at the age of 72. Though the animation "arm" of Diaz' enterprise worked on such notable projects as Fish Police and Dexter's Laboratory, I'll always associate him with the Disney TV Animation comics published during the Disney Comics era and, after that unfortunate enterprise's demise, DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST (until it ditched TV adaptations for original creations, that is).

The TV-based Disney Comics releases are fondly remembered to this day, and the Diaz gang's efforts are part of the reason why. To be sure, the Diaz product didn't have the quirky details and distortions of the Italian school, the oddball designs frequently used by Bill Van Horn, or the hyper-detail of Don Rosa. What it was, for the most part, was straightforward, on-model depiction of the script -- no more, no less. Unexceptional, perhaps, but pick up an issue of Marvel's DISNEY AFTERNOON comic and compare it to a randomly selected Diaz issue of CHIP & DALE'S RESCUE RANGERS, DUCKTALES, or TALE SPIN -- not to mention an early issue of DISADV DIGEST -- and the difference in craftsmanship will immediately pop out. Branca and Vicar they weren't, but they always treated the TV characters with respect, and you can't imagine what a relief that was to those of us who merely hoped that the TV-based comics would be readable. These efforts had unexpected side effects, as well: the Disney APA WTFB, for which I wrote for over a decade, wouldn't have come into being had fans of the RESCUE RANGERS comic book not been royally tweaked by the book's cancellation.

Of course, Diaz' bland approach didn't always succeed in capturing the essence of the characters the studio was working on. The studio's adaptations of the Warner Bros. shorts and TV characters were somewhat hit-or-miss, with the level of success depending more upon the skills of the individual artist than anything else. (Walter Carzon's fine efforts for LOONEY TUNES, ANIMANIACS, and PINKY AND THE BRAIN come quickly to mind.) Their batting average, however, was very high indeed, and their work still stirs fond memories in my mind. Ah, for the good old days when Disney's TV product was a source of pride -- irrespective of the medium being used.

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