The BBC just featured one of my all time favorite automaton-makers, Paul Spooner. In the film, we get to see a number of his automata and here his thoughts about them. I could listen to Paul Spooner for hours. Or, at least I think I could. I haven't had the actual chance to listen to him for hours. The Tom Waits song used in the piece is both slightly disturbing and on the mark.
I've always agreed with his notion that his works are a form of cartoon. In his work in particular, his wit comes through in such a strong way, there can be no doubt that most are a form a joke. The analogy works in my mind even for those pieces that are not humorous. As with a single panel cartoon one might see in The New Yorker, the automaton depicts a snapshot in time. To understand the point of the piece, the viewer needs the scene to be set. The background, the objects, the figures, their clothing, expressions and posture -- these things must be carefully considered so that the viewer can quickly understand the broader context of the scene. Without this, the actions performed by the characters might come across as nothing more than simple, arbitrary motions.
Spooner is also brilliant with the titles of his pieces, which provide the right shade of glasses through which to view his work. Of course, his use of mechanics and his carving ability are some of the best around. Put all of this together and you get a body of work that's impressive and distinctive. He's one of the greats.
I think you will enjoy this BBC segment called Twisted toymaker Paul Spooner on his 'wooden cartoons'.
[ Thanks Martin! ]