After 42 years in business, the deathless independent movie studio Troma Entertainment recently staged its first-ever Tromanimation Film Festival, which was held at the Lucky 13 Saloon in Brooklyn on April 30. One of the panelists at the event was Maxwell Atoms, creator of Cartoon Nework’s eccentric yet long-running The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy, the animated adventures of two kids who keep the Grim Reaper as their personal servant/pet after besting him in a limbo contest. At the Troma festival, Atoms screened the rare 1998 student film he made that served as the debut of the Billy and Mandy characters. Titled Billy And Mandy In: Trepanation Of The Skull, it’s both reminiscent of the familiar Cartoon Network series and markedly different from it as well. Grim, for instance, is nowhere to be seen. Billy is his carefree self, but Mandy’s cynical personality had yet to manifest itself. The point here seems to be to educate the audience about the practice called trepanation, i.e. drilling holes into people’s skulls to expose part of the brain.

Apart from the differences in characterization, this primeval Billy And Mandy cartoon is much cruder, technically speaking, than the familiar TV version. Atoms reports that he drew the cartoon by hand onto paper, colored it with markers, then glued those drawings onto cels. “The cut-and-glue process really sucked,” he reports. He then filmed his two-minute animated movie with a “WWII-era Bolex,” explaining why it’s in grainy black-and-white. As for the highly unusual subject of the film, Atoms reports: “I was big into fringe culture at the time, and found trepanning fascinating.” Viewers should be forewarned that not all the information contained within the movie is 100-percent medically accurate. “Due to a flaw in evolution,” says a too-cheerful Mandy, “people’s skulls are actually too confining for their brains.” The fact that she sports a huge, x-shaped bandage on her scalp somewhat undermines her argument.

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