Yesterday, I made a post about my love for flipbooks and why I find the flipbook workshops we do at the FSW so rewarding. Today, I thought I would mention some of the flipbooks that I own and some that I show as examples at the workshops. As flipbooks are a rather peculiar medium that there is not necessarily a typical "collector's market" for, most of these were obtained either as a result of a lot of research and patience to track down and find, or were pleasantly found completely at random.
My intention is not to lecture on the history of flipbooks (nor would I be credentialed to do so), but I feel like some basic background is needed ... I'll try to be brief. The majority of all flipbooks that were published and intended for mass production were, essentially, novelty items. When the medium of "optical toys" (such as thaumatropes and zoetropes) became marketable for children in the early twentieth century, flipbooks were popular promotional items that could be commonly found in cereal boxes, used as advertising pieces for all sorts of companies, etc.
Of course, the animation studios themselves quickly got in on the action, producing flipbooks featuring their own iconic characters. Never to be outdone in any facets of the industry, Disney got into the market, producing many high quality flipbooks showing scenes of their classic characters (appearing to literally be small, fully colored 3x5" cels from their films on each page) to be sold at the Disneyland gift shop and elsewhere. Another invention was flipbooks that showed real photographs and historical events as opposed to artwork. These contained photographs on each page to show the frame-by-frame movement of an actual scene as shot by a camera, such as an animal in motion, or the the swing of baseball players like Ernie Banks and Babe Ruth. Another example of this is the early, optical studies of Eadweard Muybridge (such as the classic "galloping horse" scene), which have been continually released as flipbooks and as examples in other optical devices like the zoetrope.
Naturally, my interest has always been in the more obscure flipbooks, specifically ones actually made by individual artists/animators that show something that they created as an artistic endeavor, as opposed to being churned via by the methods previous discussed. Examples of these kinds of flipbooks are few and far between and increasingly rare (both given the date they were published and/or the very limited quantities produced), but they are out there if you have a lot of patience. Two notable American examples were George Griffin and Ruth Hayes (a former student of his), two independent animators who published a number of creative flipbooks in addition to their regular films. These ranged in subject matter, sometimes with a dark satire slant, and managed to be sold and distributed as "artist's books" in various stores and outlets alongside zines and other small press books. Ruth's classic "T.V. Dinner" is pictured above.
Without a doubt, my absolute favorites are a series of flipbooks made by animators from around the world for the "World Retrospective of Animation Cinema" in 1967, an extension of the '67 World Fair Expo in Montreal. These flipbooks are not only fantastic given the diverse artwork on the pages (giving you a frame-by-frame study of how each animator operates), but they are also among the most attractive flipbooks I have come by, aesthetically-speaking. In fact, their size (not too big, not too small), textured cover (watercolor paper?) and simple two-staple binding is exactly how I make the blank flipbooks for the FSW.
Unfortunately, these flipbooks are so rare that some are seemingly not available anywhere, and the ones that are usually do not fetch less than $100. I have never been able to find out exactly how many of each were produced, nor exactly what their origin is (were they merely given out to festival attendees, or were they later for sale?) I even tried contacting the official publisher, which still exists (La Cinémathèque canadienne) about it. I own only two of them myself: "The Room" by pioneering Japanese animator Yoji Kuri, and "MetamorFlip" by Peter Foldes (both pictured above). Before I owned a copy of "The Room", I paid $5 to have a copy shipped to my local library via the global "Worldcat" library program, and I immediately fell in love with it. The flipbooks by Shamus Culhane and Kaj Pindal seem increasingly rare (in fact, Pindal's is the only of the set that I have never seen for sale anywhere, or even a picture of). The diversity, again, is also what makes these so special. In addition to experimental animators like Jan Lenica and Robert Breer, there are creators of classic cartoon characters like Otto Messmer, Zdenek Miler and Gene Deitch.
There are a number of fun, inspiring flipbooks being published today, especially internationally. One wonderful resource I have found is Napa Books in Finland. They not only have a mobile "flipbook kiosk" (and online store) that sells current flipbooks from around the world, but also hold workshops and even have an annual flipbook competition open to anyone. This is where I discovered a few of the flipbooks pictured above, such as "Ajassi's Noodle Trip" and Harumin Asao's series of cat flipbooks.
Oh, and then there are the "unknowns". Like I mentioned originally. because there is no specific market or archival guide to every flipbook ever published, you occasionally come across obscure, vintage flipbooks both in online auctions and in stores that seem to be relatively unknown or just hard to classify. Pictured above are two that fit into this category. There is a tiny, thumb-sized flipbook simply titled "Hand Cinema", featuring an elephant walking in a circle. It is clearly very old, and only being held together by a flimsy piece of cardboard in back and one small staple. There is no other info printed on it besides that it is made in Japan. On the top right is a flipbook that appears to be frames directly from a Russian animated film.