Chuck Jones, one of many creative minds behind the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, learned to read at the tender age of three. He was taught by his father, a struggling entrepreneur, who saw reading as an easy form of childcare: the son would occupy himself with a book while the father went off chasing yet another dubious get-rich-quick scheme. Before Jones was out of short pants, he was reading Roughing It, by Mark Twain. Seared into his precocious young mind was Twain’s description of the coyotes that prowled across America’s fading frontier: “The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want…. He is so spiritless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it.”

Some 30 years later, in the late 1940s, Twain’s description was still stowed away in Jones’s brain when he and the writer Michael Maltese set out to create the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons.