When I was at my busiest in the 70’s and 80’s, I would occasionally take a little time to do a personal project. I used to call them “suites”. They would be a small set of linocuts on some subject that interested me at the time. In truth, I wanted to periodically break from having to work for an art director and fulfill the expected results in a manner that would be appealing to a large audience of readers. I was, of course, mainly working for magazines and newspapers. With these personal projects, I could be my own art director and BOY did I give myself a lot of freedom! I didn’t intend for anyone other than myself to see them so I could break from my usual style a little. With my “suites” I could stretch my creative, more “abstract” muscles a bit.
I first did some pretty abstract little small illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe humorous stories of which I am a big fan. Then I did a group of pictures called “Various Lumpen” in which I got to exorcise feelings I had against certain elements in our society.
The series I’m going to tell about here is called “Sideshow”.
The Scarecrow, of OZ fame, said, “I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folk are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”
I decided to do a seres of portraits of human curiosities, anomolies, special people or those commonly known as “freaks”.
When I worked at the Famous Artists Schools, bunked into the cartoon dugout was a man names Fred Drimmer who was the school’s language expert and editor. He was a great guy and I got very friendly with him. Later in life, I received an email from his daughter telling me that Fred had died. In answering her, I referred to a book about human oddities that I knew Fred had written and that I had never read. She replied by sending “Very Special People” to me along with some other books he had written like The Elephant Man.
Buoyed by these wonderful books and another I got from an art director friend of mine, I embarked on my project. I call it Sideshow because mostly all of these people earned their meager living by working for Barnum and Bailey and other circuses and shows.
I approached the project as I did with all my others by drawing only on the linoblock with the lino cutter without benefit of a drawing or sketches. I wanted them to be as direct, unaffected and honestly crude as possible. I present most of them here in this article.
Prince Randian the Caterpillar Man was an extraordinary legless and armless man of great character and talent. He was in show business for 45 years entertaining folks with his feats like rolling his own cigarettes and then lighting them using only his lips and mouth. He was married and fathered 5 children. He was a carpenter and wanted to someday build his own house. He has the distinction of having been featured in the famous cult movie “Freaks” by Todd Browning. I printed my cut as I did the others on brown wrapping paper using minimal color and lettering in a brief synopsis of their history or story.
Charlie Tripp was billed as “The Armless Wonder”. Eli Bowen was billed as “The Legless Wonder”. Together they formed an act in which they rode a tandem bicycle, Charlie doing the peddling and Eli the steering. All through the act they would make wisecracks at each other like Eli saying, “Keep your hands off me!”
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Philip Morris cigarettes’ human trademark, the bellboy, Johnny. His name was Johnny Roventini and he worked at The New Yorker Hotel. An advertising man heard about the marvelous quality of his voice as he would sing out when he paged people for telephone calls in the lobby so he went over to the hotel and tipped Roventini to page a “Philip Morris”. The result off this was that Johnny went from $15 a week to $50,000 a year as the living symbol of Philip Morris cigarettes until he died at the age of 81. He was the most famous midget in the world. I think he felt that his crowning achievement was when he got to sit on the lap of his screen idol Marlene Dietrich so that’s the way I drew him.
The subject that got to me the most was the “World’s Ugliest Woman”, Julia Pestrana. The backwards “S” in the linocut was an honest mistake I made in the cutting… I decided to leave it in. I think it’s my favorite part of the picture. Julia was from a tribe of very short Mexican Indians. In her life she was exploited by an agent who married her and toured her around the world. She was presented before the public always beautifully dressed in bright dresses. She had children.
And… she was in possession of a sweet… and beautifully sad singing voice.
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Here’s another one from my cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos! (I would have loved to go to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.) –Daryl
One of the most demanding projects I ever got involved with was when I was working for Pablo Ferro Films as the chief designer. We got the job of designing a film that would be used at the opening entrance to the Singer pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, Queens, New York. I, of course, just thought that Singer only made sewing machines –WRONG! They were involved in all kinds of technology and products.
The thing was, we got the job at the last minute and it had to be rushed out. We didn’t have the time or money to create a big-screen live action extravaganza which seemed to be what they expected, so we set about trying to figure out a way to short-cut it but still give it the feeling of an extravaganza.
The first brainstorm that Pablo had was to use two projectors on two large screens that were side by side and to divide each screen into four sections resulting in eight things going on at once.
We also decided that we would use the quick-cut, rapid-fire style that Pablo was known for.
The Singer company quickly provided us with tons of still pictures of products, sewing machines, rockets, etc. For example, we had pictures of African natives with sewing machines in canoes, paddling down a river.
To supplement these pictures, Pablo sent me with a photographer to visit various Singer plants around the nearby states to photograph factories, weaving machines and the like. I’d point to something and the photographer would shoot it.
Armed with all this material, the next step was to create a storyboard for approval by the company.
Since we had no idea exactly how we were going to improvise this whole mess into a quick-cut, double screen, panoramic extravaganza, I had to try to visualize what the whole thing would “feel” like without being specific in any way.
We had decided that it would be a visual feast of panning, zooming-in and quick-cutting shots of still pictures combined with graphics of old-fashioned sewing machines, along with flashing typographic elements. Of course this was all accompanied by a lively musical score. How we would show all of this on a storyboard was a challenge because we hadn’t made specific decisions; it was going to be, pretty much improvised on the animation stand –kind of like modern jazz musicians might improvise.
My solution was to do a series of drawings of the two screens (each divided into 4 sections) with totally abstract magic marker designs to try to give the feeling of the action, excitement and colorful visual effect we hoped to end up with. These were all completely abstract shapes and color… nothing specific… no depictions of a sewing machine or skeins of wool or natives in canoes or rockets or anything, just blobs of color. Pablo decided that the best way to show this storyboard would be to actually photograph it thereby presenting it as a piece of film. The color shapes would dance around and change configurations and appear to be zooming and panning and quick-cutting.
THEY LOVED IT!
and they said, “The finished film better be as good as this storyboard!”
I guess it was. We panned a canoe lazily drifting down an African river laden with its cargo of a sewing machine while in the upper corner of a screen, a rapid-fire succession of antique sewing machines danced before the viewers eye in single frame machine-gun rapidity, while on another screen section the giant “S – I – N – G – E – R” letters paraded across while other words popped off and on; rockets were launched, all to a cacophony of sound effects and music to assail the surprised pavilion visitor. Horizontal, vertical and squarish screen sections morphed and sometimes formed into one big singular image created from all eight sections.
My wife and I attended the fair, whose theme was “Man’s Achievements in an Expanding Universe”, so I got to see the effect, in the flesh, so to speak.
But, to tell the truth, I think maybe I enjoyed, a little more, the shock of the exterior of an adjoining pavilion which had enlisted Andy Warhol to create giant black and white mug shots of America’s Most Wanted.
Here another flashback from by cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos.
Along with my regular free-lance work, I took on a job as a film designer in the mid 60’s, 1964 actually. It was for a small off-beat film house called Pablo Ferro Films in New York City (more about them in future posts). It consisted of myself, the supremely innovative Pablo Ferro and his brother Jose, who were originally from Cuba.
Pablo hired me because I knew absolutely nothing about film production, animation etc.. He liked my crazy off-beat style and he wanted someone who was a film virgin because he didn’t want to do anything ordinary or like anything anybody else was doing.
Pablo had done the titles for Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” which were quite innovative. Now, Kubrick had won the N.Y. Film Critics Award for the movie and Pablo wanted to send him something in congratulations. Pablo tasked me with the project. Recognizing Pablo’s penchant for unusual approaches, I suggested that I would make a large “cardboard” cut (I was occasionally deviating from my normal linoleum cutting) of Dr. Strangelove in his wheel chair, half rising, struggling to contain his right arm which was trying to affect a Nazi salute. I completed it and then we wrote in a large scrawling hand “Congratulations, Stanley”. We then, at my suggestion, folded the large piece of paper into a small, tiny compact unit and stuffed it into a modest envelope.
The next day, Pablo received a phone call from Mr. Kubrick.
“Who did this drawing?” Kubrick said.
Pablo explained that I was a new “kid” that had just joined the studio. I was only a year younger than Pablo, by the way.
Kubrick said, “Put him on the phone.” He asked me if I would like to work with him on his new movie called “2001: a Space Odyssey.” He said I could be a “sketch man” for him in a yet to be determined spot on the crew, following him around and helping to visualize various scenic inventions. He said that perhaps I would also do the titles for the film later on. Kubrick said that he would pay me $200 a week (because he really didn’t have a budget yet for this position he had just invented).
Kubrick said I should also be prepared to spend two years in England during shooting. He told me to think about it and I handed the phone back to Pablo. I told Kubrick the next day that I couldn’t do it because I had just bought a house and I was just beginning to start my job with Pablo etc. etc.. I didn’t know much about this director who was just going to make a science fiction movie… big deal. I did suggest some friends for the job who also turned it down (not enough money).
BUT… while Kubrick was talking to Pablo, he had asked Pablo for a favor. Kubrick needed a temporary logo for pre-production stationery. Pablo thrust it in my lap and told me to pick out some type and slap together a logo for Stanley. I called the type house and ordered some Futura type … got it … and with photostats I “boxed” the lettering, tightened up the spacings, upper and lower case and threw in a logo in italics for good measure.
To this day, that “pre-production stationary logo” is the one that has been used on the movie posters, book jackets, record covers, etc..
Most of this new batch of my old TRUE panels came from my collection about entertainment and celebrities. I ended up killing most of these cartoons because they were so stale. I forget how different things were back in 1995. This edited batch of cartoons makes 1995 seem not so different from today – even though one cartoons shows a guy reading a book on the toilet; we may not read books anymore, but toilets haven’t changed much.
Star Trek is still familiar 23 years later. Mattel’s Barbie is still popular, but other toys in my TRUE cartoons are forgotten – for example Barney the Dinosaur was big in 1995. I forgot all about Barney. The first cartoon below is about Lassie, who we remembered as a doggie celebrity back in 1995. Do people remember Lassie now?
Those rowdy, Republican town halls are great fun. I can see why they are doing fewer of them, but it is interesting that the Democrats are avoiding them too. Constituents are so annoying. Here’s my cartoon …
I drew this from a local Nashville cartoon I drew about three years ago. Want to see the oldie – and see how I drew this one? Check out the real-time video below …
Here’s my latest local, altie-newspaper cartoon for the Nashville Scene. Nashville is called the “buckle of the Bible Belt” because the place is full of colossal, mega-churches and giant church corporate headquarters. The scale of these churches is stunning. I’m from California where people don’t talk to each other as often as chatty Tennesseans. Often, the first thing I hear in a conversation with a neighbor, or someone I don’t know, is “where do you go to church?”