Saturday, May 18, 2013

Print Cartoons by Pioneer Animators: The Sports Cartoons of H.M. "Jerry" Shields

             Hugh Michael "Jerry" Shields (1884-1939) was the king of the "crude but funny" style among the first gen. animators in NYC. He had a lifelong reputation as a hard drinker, fast worker, and talented cartoonist. However, he was actually one of the very first men working in the animation business, and an important and tragic figure in the Terry brothers story.

                                                           Oakland Tribune, 1/16/1910
                                                            Oakland Tribune, 1/15/1910

           Born and raised in Oakland, California, Shields was the son of Irish immigrants and grew up a farm boy. On the 1910 Census, he was listed as a lodger in an apartment in Alameda County. His occupation was listed as newspaper cartoonist. At the time, he was drawing sports cartoons and some more realistic illustration for the local Oakland Tribune.

                                                             Oakland Tribune, 2/23/1910
                                                               Oakland Tribune, 2/27/1910

            Around 1911, Shields met John Coleman Terry (1880-1934) and began experimenting with animation. Art Babbitt, who worked with both men in the early 1930s, recalled their early process:  “Original drawings were laid flat on the ground and shot in sunlight. There were no pegholes for registry. The period of Jerry Shields was about 1911". Terry and Shields formed the Movca Film Service in September 1914, claiming to possess “an invention that is claimed to be a great improvement over present methods in the manufacture of comic cartoon films.”

                                                          Oakland Tribune, 2/6/1910
                                  This one (above) actually stars a caricature of Shields. Cool!

                                                         Oakland Tribune, 3/27/1910
             In 1916, John Terry moved Movca to NYC and brought along Shields and fellow San Fransisco newspaper cartoonist Gustavo Bronstrup as animators. Bronstrup returned to California when Movca folded, but Shields and Terry stuck around New York, incorporating a new studio with the properties and staff of Hearst's recently defunct International Film Service in late 1918. In the early 1920s, John Terry's little brother Paul hired Shields away to animate for his new Aesop's Fables studio. He stayed with Paul Terry for the remainder of his career.

                                                            Oakland Tribune, 4/30/1910
                                                        Oakland Tribune, 5/8/1910
          In 1929, Paul Terry left Fables to found the Terrytoons studio with partner Frank Moser, and Shields was one of the few animators who followed. As the 30s wore on, young animators at Terrytoons such as Bill Tytla, Jack Zander, and Connie Rasinski came into their own, turning out complex footage utilizing then new animation principles such as overlapping action. In contrast, Shields' Terrytoon footage of the 1930s seems frozen in the early 1910s style, and looks more and more out of place every year. While some would call his work sub par, others such as myself find Shields' style of drawing and timing funny, personal, and expressive. I tend to think of him as something of a "funky folk animator".

         Sadly, the aging Shields of the late 1930's seemed to take his percieved inferior abilities as an artist quite hard, and this, coupled with his alcoholism, led to a deep depression. Note that in the February 6th 1910 cartoon Shields draws himself jumping off a tall building, something he actually did on May 31st 1939. Spooky.


  1. Fascinating stuff! Do you know of any outstanding Shields scenes in the Terry or Fables cartoons that you could recommend?

  2. Hey Frank,

    His scenes in "A Battle Royal", "Barnyard Boss", and "Bully Beef" are particularly funny to me, but I recommend them all! His footage is abundant in Terrytoons for the first seven years or so, then they start using him more sporadically, usually for quick, wide shots of action. He occasionally makes an attempt to modernize his drawing style a little toward the end, but his stuff still moves the same old way.