BOOK REVIEW: The king of cartoon characters

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IWAO TAKAMOTO: MY LIFE WITH A THOUSAND CHARACTERS

By Iwao Takamoto with Michael Mallory

(Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2009, 240 pp., $22, paperback)

Iwao Takamoto (1925-2007), the creator of such beloved characters as Scooby-Doo, Muttley, Atom Ant and Penelope Pittstop, has left us with a memoir much like his personality — witty, humorous and candid. “My Life With a Thousand Characters,” written by Takamoto and Michael Mallory with a forward by another animation legend, Willie Ito, reads like a letter from a friend with its casual tone.

Even the chapters devoted to Takamoto’s imprisonment at the Manzanar War Relocation Authority camp is peppered with light hearted moments. But he never sugar coats what the camps stood for when he writes: “This business of calling them ‘war relocation camps’ or some other softened name was, frankly bullshit. They were concentration camps.”

Takamoto has a great eye for detail as he offers anecdotes of what his co-workers were like and how the animation industry is run. The names Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera are well known, but to many, they are merely names after the credits. Takamoto, on the other hand, worked closely with these men, and in the book, they become real men with passions and idiosyncrasies.

Japanese American history geeks might find some minor information lacking. For example Takamoto mentions that he attended a Japanese language school but there were several in the Los Angeles Little Tokyo area where he grew up so readers might wonder which one he attended.

Takamoto also mentions that his parents came from the fishing village of Hatsukaichi, without mentioning which prefecture this village is located in. It might be similar to saying someone’s parents were from Titusville, without naming a state. Why Takamoto doesn’t indicate that Hatsukaichi is located in Hiroshima-ken is curious. (Incidentally, Titusville is in Florida.)

The caption for at least one photo looks incorrect. The image in question shows Takamoto sketching before an easel. The caption reads that Takamoto is in Buenos Aires, but the background looks awfully similar to the Japanese American National Museum’s wall of donors.

Other than these minor issues, Takamoto’s book is a wealth of information on the animation industry and the personalities that dominated his era. Most importantly, of course, the book gives readers a deeper appreciation for the hurdles Takamoto overcame and the contributions he made to American animation.

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