Animation is magic. Watching The Flintstones or SpongeBob SquarePants move across a TV screen keeps kids glued for hours, wondering, how can drawings come alive? No matter how old you get, the novelty never seems to disappear.
“To a lot of people, animation is this mysterious medium,” said cartoonist and Cincinnati native Mark Neeley. “That’s what is magical about it as a kid.”
Extracted Frames: The Animated Sketchbook of Mark Neeley, which launches July 30, shines a new light on this shrouded art form. A frame-by-frame dissection of Neeley’s most notable projects—ranging from a PBS short film to music videos for artists Psychic Temple and Michael Rault—gives an inside look at the blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating classic animation.
Eric Blyth, half of publisher Cereal Box Studio’s husband-and-wife team alongside Julia Warner, was instrumental in bringing Neeley’s vision to life. “We were excited to share the beauty of the physicality of his process,” Blyth says.
Blyth explained that unlike many of today’s digital artists, who have Apple’s Procreate toolbox at their disposal, Neeley’s process involves painstakingly drawing each frame on paper. The goal was to showcase the pages and pages of work that go into a mere three-minute video.
The emphasis on textural accuracy, or making the book feel like it came from Neeley’s hands, allowed the studio to flex its Risograph printing muscles. Blyth describes the process as “screen printing with xerox machine efficiency,” meaning it yields the grain and vibrancy of ink layered by hand in a fraction of the time. Watercolor sections have raised coats; readers’ hands can skim a pen’s impression.
In addition, the book’s horizontal orientation draws inspiration from vintage landscape art books, and the spiraled, hidden twin loop binding lends a sketchbook-like quality while allowing it to stand on a shelf.
This attention to detail is the trademark of independent printers. Unlike big publishers, who pass the project to a sub-specialized contractor for every step, studios like Cereal Box do it all in-house. The only outsourced piece of Extracted Frames was the cover, which was screen printed by Jon Flannery at Cryptogram in Northside. For them, it’s personal.“We decided to publish it in service of the best version of the book,” said Blyth. “We take it really seriously, working with local artists and finding ways to make publishing and printing more accessible to those who want to do it.”
As for the illustrations themselves, founder of Aquarium Drunkard, an audio journal for which Neeley animates The Aquarium Drunkard Picture Show, Justin Gage writes in the foreword that Neeley’s style feels “akin to world-building…organic, playful and immediately identifiable.”
Neeley attributes it to the 1960’s Pop art and independent animation movements. Much like Cereal Box, midcentury philosophy champions the little guys, and the countercultural undertones permeate Neeley’s work.
“We think of [animation] as being this big bureaucratic assembly line production with giant staffs, which is how all the major films are made,” said Neeley. “This was a time when artists and animators could start making their own short films.”
Extracted Frames is not all Neeley’s been working on. Along with his contributions to The Aquarium Drunkard, Neeley recently launched Madewell x Mark Neeley, a collection of graphic T-shirts in his signature art style available on Madewell’s website.
Want to learn more about Extracted Frames and Neeley’s work? Join him at next Sunday’s launch party.
“If you’re like me, you’re someone who wants to dig a little deeper and see behind-the-scenes,” said Neeley. “That’s what the book is about.”
Extracted Frames is now available for pre-order. The launch party will be held at General Store, 4575 Hamilton Ave. on Sunday, July 30.