I've been teaching for eight years now. It's hard to imagine that one quarter of my career would be spent outside studios (though I still work in the industry, it's not the main 'bread and butter' job any more.)
During that time there have been more animation books published than, I believe, were published in the previous twenty. Some of the books are long overdue, particularly UNFILTERED, the new book on Ralph Bakshi, and STEPPING INTO THE PICTURE . THE ART AND FLAIR OF MARY BLAIR, which profile Maurice Noble and Mary Blair respectively, and DREAM WORLDS, a wonderful book on animation art direction by Hans Bacher. I've ordered them all even though I know books weigh a ton that will be duly added to my already-topheavy shipment to Canada. These are important works on subjects that weren't covered in most early animation books.
There are great books on the art of animation, but only a few on the history, and these still tend to be studio-specific. The Walt Disney studio is of course the best documented, with Warner Brothers catching up fast.
The books that deal with general animation history are generally flawed. Some are America-centric, some have historical errors, and all of them are out of date. This field changes so rapidly that the best source for animation history turns out to be the Internet. Wonderful things turn up on YouTube--who'd have thought I'd be actually able to show SORA NO MOMOTARO in a history class that dealt with propaganda animation, or this charming early sound cartoon (KURO NYAGO) from Japan? (Warning: This tune will stick in your head all day!) These cartoons were only names in a book before. Thanks to the Web, they can be shown and analyzed and compared with contemporary work. KURO NYAGO was made the same year as SKELETON DANCE!.
New animation DVDS are also full of good things. The Disney and Warner studios have put some great artwork from their productions on as 'extras'--this is even more remarkable when you realize that their main market is a family audience, not educators or historians. There's a little something for everyone.
So I don't want to kvetch or bite the hand that is feeding us such wonderful goodies, but I do want to bring up one thing: the history in some of the recent reissues is highly skewed. The most surprising was on a recent release: one animator was the subject of the 'extra' but most of the clip was spent discussing another animator and another picture!
Now, the opinions of the artists on these discs are to be respected, but are they to be considered the last word, the official history, of the subject? Until a better source comes along, these will be seen as the 'accurate' version of events. And some, as I mentioned before, are skewed. There is no definitive history of animation and this book may never be written. Animation is a young artform, but it blossomed into gorgeous variations on the themes before it was ten years old. It needs an encyclopedia, not a single volume, and much of it would have to appear on disc rather than in print.
Or maybe a website with the right links would handle this ever-expanding art in the most up-to-date fashion? Has someone already done this?