Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of my book Of Mice and Magic: A History of Animated Cartoons. I feel lucky that it’s still in print; that’s because it has been adopted by high school and college courses covering the history of animation. But I never could have foreseen that it would have another life in the Russian language!
This happy turn of events came about because one of the country’s preeminent animators, Fyodor Khitruk, wanted to use it as a teaching tool. Frustrated that he could not interest a Soviet publisher, he set about translating the text, word for word, himself. (He had worked as a translator during World War Two.) Khitruk died in 2012 but some colleagues never gave up on the project. A few years ago I learned that it was in the works from Penguin, my American publisher. I rescanned the photos for their use; thank goodness I had almost all of them in my files.
Now it is a reality. I’m still getting accustomed to seeing my name spelled out in Cyrillic. (I’m reminded of the story Harpo Marx tells in his autobiography about touring the Soviet Union in the 1930s and phonetically reading his name as Xapno Mapcase.)
I am especially flattered that Mr. Khitruk took on this endeavor because I admire his work so much. I met him ever so briefly at an international animation festival in New York City back in 1973. Sometime later I fell in love with his clever comic short about how movies get made, Film Film Film (1968), which speaks a universal language. I just checked and it is available on YouTube along with other more serious-minded work by this masterful artist.
I’m sorry he didn’t live to see his translated text become a published book, and I have him to thank for the rave reviews I have received in such unexpected sources as Izvestiya, one of the country’s leading newspapers, the TASS news agency, and a number of film journals.
My new friends, film historians Natalie Ryabchikova and Stanislav Dedinsky, have told me that my book’s publication “has been a momentous occasion for the professional community as well as for all lovers of animation (there’s a list of some of the critical responses below). The book has been highly praised by famous Russian animation directors and artists, such as Yuri Norshtein, Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Garry Bardin, Ivan Maximov, Konstantin Bronzit, Mikhail Tumelya, and others.” (Norstein’s classic Tale of Tales is about to play at New York City’s Film Forum.)
My Russian colleagues who have seen this through have also started making discoveries based on the book’s filmographies, which were prepared long ago by a young fellow named Jerry Beck. (I wonder what ever happened to him.) This may lead to some “finds,” which would be the highest reward I could ask.