Videogame Cat of the Week: The Fabulous Screech / Remembering Hannah Frank

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I began this series as a lark, inspired by my friend Hannah Frank’s Tumblr omgcatrevolution. I linked to her Tumblr here, she reciprocated by posting some of this material over there. We chuckled about trading some of the meager traffic our endeavors attract; it gave us a chance to chat. A chance to chat with Hannah was always welcome.

Today, omgcatrevolution posted its final post. This morning, at 1 AM, Hannah Frank passed away from a sudden illness. Her death has come as an utter shock to her friends.

Last week, I promised another “sad cat tale” in this Monday’s spot. I had planned to reserve this spot for Jonas and Verena Kyratzes’ The Fabulous Screech (2012), a point-and-click tearjerker about a cat’s adventures through heaven and hell, and eventual decline into old age.

I cannot, at the moment, bring myself to write about The Fabulous Screech. But I think I will leave the screenshots in, and leave the title of the post as it was (with a new acknowledgement). I can think of plenty of people who wouldn’t want to be eulogized in a blog post about a cartoon cat. Hannah Frank was not one of those people. And so that is where I have decided to take this post.

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Hannah Frank was a scholar of labor. Her dissertation dealt with the labor of women inkers whose place in the history of animation has been forgotten, erased, or otherwise neglected. She was also a strong supporter of Graduate Students United. Although she was lucky enough (and, let’s be real: incredibly talented enough) to get a tenure-track position immediately upon completing her dissertation in 2016, she nonetheless gave constant moral support for her colleagues that ended up in adjunct positions (myself among them), and was a strong advocate for adjunct unionization.

I offer these details not just to prove Hannah’s political bona fides, but also to paint a picture—one that I will then go on to disrupt. One might imagine a Marxist-leaning scholar with a keen awareness of the history of labor in general, and gendered labor in particular, to be hyper-aware of their own uncompensated labor. You might furthermore expect them, as a result, be somewhat stingy in the work they do on behalf of others. Certainly, no one would blame such an individual for acting this way! But when it came to Hannah, nothing could be further from the truth.

Hannah was the most generous person I have ever known, bar none.

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In her own work, Hannah was just as meticulous as the Disney inkers whose work she excavated. She watched cartoons frame by frame, with an eye toward detail so great that she could recognized that a paper surface shown for one frame bore the impression of a drawing of Woody Woodpecker, and then go and track down the other film that drawing was from. And she brought this meticulous eye to the work of her peers, again and again. She was one of the best readers you could ever hope for, and she read so much. She would provide feedback on a chapter or article to anyone who asked. She would even provide it if you didn’t ask: over the past year, she remained on the mailing list for U Chicago’s Mass Culture Workshop despite having her tenure track job at UNC Wilmington, dutifully reading every presenter’s works-in-progress, and emailing them unsolicited feedback afterwards.

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Hannah’s lovely cat Ingeborg

When writing cover letters for academic jobs, it’s commonplace to construct a pivot sentence along the lines of, “In my teaching, as in my research….” So forgive me for an academic job-marketism, but: In her teaching, as in her research, Hannah was fastidious, creative, and generous. She pioneered new image-based techniques for analyzing animation, stitching together successive frames to reconstruct background matte paintings or using GIFs to call attention to walk cycles. She was a talented cartoonist and animator herself, and truly succeeded where many have failed in turning her creative practice in an analytical direction, finding new ways to teach with images. Her Facebook feed was a treasure trove of tiny GIF-based arguments, as she shared her thought processes with her many friends, teaching us all how to use images pedagogically along the way.

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Some called Hannah the “core” or the “heart” of the University of Chicago Cinema and Media Studies department during the time she graced our halls. It is impossible to disagree with this assessment. I think it would take several lifetimes to again meet someone with such an improbable mix of generosity, passion, smarts, and warmth. To know Hannah was to know a rigorous scholar and a brilliant writer possessing none of the inflated ego often (and accurately) associated with academia. The word I want to use is “humble,” but it seems inadequate. Humility can sometimes be associated with retreating into oneself, but with Hannah this was anything but the case. Hannah was caring and supportive. She was as keenly observational in matters of interpersonal relationships as she was in matters of animation, and was extraordinarily emotionally insightful, to boot. She was a wellspring of perfect stupid-smart jokes that could do anything from cutting the tension in a room to remind you that she truly cared about your work. On top of her status as the go-to person for rigorous feedback, her warmth and empathy also made her a natural mediator and confidant. She once agreed to meet with me immediately following a meeting on one of her dissertation chapters with her committee member Tom Gunning, so that we could talk about a fight I had with my roommate. There is so much evinced about Hannah, just in the span of that one-sentence description of a single event: brilliant, hardworking, and dedicated—not just to her work, but also to her friends. As generous with her time as she was incisive with her pen (both black and red). In all things—her film viewing, her writing, her teaching, her meticulous creation of analytical GIFs, and certainly her friendships—she gave her all.

I feel honored to have been her colleague during her terribly short career. And I was happy to be her friend.

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I cannot believe that I will not be visiting Hannah in Wilmington in September. I cannot believe that I won’t be able to discuss the fourth season of Bojack Horseman with her. I cannot believe that I won’t be able to play Cuphead with her, and won’t be able to set up a Twitch livestream in which she uses her erudite knowledge of animation history to analyze the game’s visual style. I cannot believe she won’t be able to bullshit people on whether or not the cat in The LEGO Ninjago Movie is CGI or not. And I cannot believe that she did not live to see this post in my stupid little “cat of the week” series, created in honor of her Tumblr. It is horrific for me to even contemplate this.

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But this is the nature of life. We must treasure it all, before it is gone. And, in the end, there’s not much more one can say.

Thank you, Hannah, for being my friend.

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