In the world of animation, there are very few names that loom as large as that of Chuck Jones (1912 – 2002). While at Warner Bros., Mr. Jones was responsible for some of the most memorable cartoon characters ever created. These include The Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew, and Marvin The Martian – among many others. His work was nominated for eight Academy Awards, which he wound up winning three times – plus a fourth Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for “the creation of classic cartoons and cartoon characters whose animated lives have brought joy to our real ones for more than half a century,” as the official statement read.
To put it simply, Chuck Jones was a legend in his field. He had one spectacular failure, however, which is almost never discussed. In the new IDW book Chuck Jones: The Dream That Never Was, edited by Dean Mullaney & Kurtis Findlay, we are introduced to Crawford – a character Chuck worked on in various formats for a period of 27 years. In the end, the legacy of Crawford was as a daily comic strip run in a few newspapers from January to May of 1978.
The nine-year old Crawford was semi-autobiographical in nature, although Jones added and subtracted personality traits over the years. He was initially to be introduced to the public in 1962, on the first Road Runner TV series. The character did not quite fit the tone of the show and wound up on the cutting room floor. This was to be the case time and again during the 1960s and ‘70s, until one day the opportunity arose for Crawford to become a syndicated newspaper comic strip.
By this time, Crawford had been refined numerous times. Jones had developed various proposals for a TV show starring Crawford, and during this time had fleshed out the character considerably. For various reasons though, much of it simply bad luck – the proposals were never picked up. So when the opportunity arose to bring Crawford to life in the newspapers, Chuck went for it.
Opinions vary as to why Crawford the comic strip only lasted for five months before being pulled, but that of Robert Reed – who was president of the Chicago Tribune – New York News Syndicate is telling; “I think it was a bit too sophisticated for the public and the editors,” he said.
Chuck Jones never really gave up on Crawford though. As late as 1989, he was still working on trying to get a version of it up and running as a Saturday morning cartoon show. It remains unproduced, and that was the end of the line for the dream that never was.
The long history of Chuck Jones’ attempts to bring his pet project to life are fascinating, but there is a great deal more contained in The Dream that Never Was than that story alone. The book contains a plethora of storyboards for the various projects, which shed some intriguing light on his working process.
The coolest feature of the book is the reprints of the strips themselves though. The name of the strip had become Crawford And Morgan, and detailed the adventures of Crawford and his friend Morgan. The dailies are in black and white, and the Sunday editions are in full color. There is also a section of unfinished and unpublished strips, which are quite illuminating as well.
IDW is a publisher whose reprints of classic comic strips I have long respected, but this one is a little different. With Chuck Jones: The Dream that Never Was, we get not only the strips, but quite a fascinating story of the one unfortunate failure of a true animation legend. As much as Jones had personally invested in Crawford, he actually did not care to publicly discuss it. In his 1999 autobiography Chuck Amuck, he does not even mention Crawford, which is kind of sad.
Thanks to IDW though, we now have the full story of Crawford – and it is as intriguing a story as one is likely to come across in the world of animation.