Monday, February 11, 2008

Cleopatra by two cartoonists




WILLIAM STEIG circa 1948

I have posted drawings before by Campbell Grant, these are from IT ALL STARTED WITH EVE, by Richard Armour. I had no idea when I discovered Armour's satirical histories (with Campbell Grant's illustrations) that the entire series was actually sort of an ersatz extension of a book compiled in the 1930's by a humorist named Will Cuppy. That book, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY, was illustrated by William Steig, best known for his New Yorker magazine cartoons and his children's books, including the original SHREK.
Joe Grant (no relation to Campbell) lent me his copy of Cuppy's book about six years ago and immediately I recognized it as the precedent for the Armour/Grant volumes published in the 50's and 60's that turned up in my high school library in the mid-1970's. Not only was Armour using Cuppy's irreverent style (and habit of cluttering pages with deliberately silly footnotes), but Campbell Grant appears to be mimicking Steig's line art of the time (DECLINE was published in 1948). People familiar with Steig's later art will be surprised by these and his very conventional magazine cartoons from the era, which bear resemblance to Syd Hoff's, as Eddie Fitzgerald has noted. Steig's art was very polished and pre-dates Hoff, but these line art samples here are kind almost transitional, though his later art got much farther out.
I always assumed Campbell Grant was channeling Rondald Searle, (who no doubt still influenced things), but it is clear that whoever published the Armour books was looking for something in the identical vein as Cuppy's. The only problem is that Will Cuppy died several years before his book was compiled and edited by an associate. Enter Richard Armour, who was already publishing comic poems and the rest I guess is satirical history. I presume because Armour was a West Coast writer, that they got Campbell Grant because of his West Coast base as well.
These connections and influences fascinate me. This one took me a long time to connect, but it is clear that Grant is trying to evoke something similar to Steig.

I think most of the Armour books are out of print but DECLINE AND FALL recently was reprinted by Barnes & Noble.

11 comments:

Beast said...

What are you doing theses days?
Are you working on any 2d animated films?

Will Finn said...

Beast, I am currently storyboarding on ASTROBOY for IMAGI STUDIOS, home of the recent TMNT movie. No 2D in my immediate future, (alas!).

Kali Fontecchio said...

Oh no! They are sitting on Tony the Tiger!!!

Beast said...

Too Bad. i love Your Iago animation.

amir avni said...

Campbell Grant's Cleopatra and Julius Caeser resemble the way they were drawn by Uderzo in "Asterix and Cleopatra"
Which came first?

Will Finn said...

Amir, it looks like I was off a few years on IT ALL STARTED WITH EVE: it was published first in 1956 (the series ran well into the 70's).

I'm pretty sure ASTERIX began in the early 1960's, which gives Grant a few years lead on this one. A lot of cartoons of Ceasar look like this tho', whether it's due to some classical art reference, an actual portrait, or a famous actor who played him I don't know.

amir avni said...

Thanks!

Floyd Norman said...

Wow! You're at IMAGI Studios too? Did everybody leave DreamWorks the same day?

I agree with beast. I've always loved your animation, Will. Oh well, maybe someday.

Will Finn said...

thanks beast, thanks floyd--I'm blushing...

is there a floyd.blogspot yet?

Weirdo said...

Excellent drawings. Sorry to hear there's no 2D in your future. I was hoping you would be working on the new Disney shorts they plan to release or "The Frog and the Princess". Oh well, that's the way it goes.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Grant, Armour and Steig, good men all! Whatever happened to book illustration? Publishers are always saying that illustration costs too much, but does it? Surely a good artist adds enough to the sales of a book to at least cover his own salary.