Monday, February 23, 2009

Hot off the tablet

This doodle meandered into self-caricature, then turned into a title card.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I love to draw gators and crocs. One look at these are a dead giveaway to how much of my youth was mis-spent studying Walt Kelly's POGO.


Finding a little extra time on my hands, I decided to start adding tags to my entire backlog of posts, for handy browsing.

It turns out to be more vexing than I expected and after an hour and a half, I started to slip up. There are probably at least a few errors and for now the tags are incomplete and won't cover every post.

Also if anyone knows anything about calling back accidentally deleted posts from over a year ago, let me know. Changing an incorrect label led to at least one wholesale zap.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peter Arno

"Well, by gad, Madam, something nipped me!"

While scanning problems persist (my office setup is mostly to blame) I also now can't get Photoshop 7 to cooperate with the OS so these slightly off-kilter images will have to do. And I presume that the original copyrights for all belong to THE NEW YORKER so be advised.

Peter Arno cartooned for THE NEW YORKER and other magazines from 1925 until his death in 1968, which is to say he was still in print during my early childhood and was almost ubiquitous in cartoon and humor anthologies for years afterward. His stuff was a bit too sophisticated for me as a kid, but later I learned to love his style, his flawless sense of composition and character, and his bold use of tones to establish light and dimension. His humor is somewhat mean and a little elitist, but it is almost always funny. The impact of some of these single panels (usually published full page as seen here) is often startlingly punchy and solidly funny in a laugh out loud way. These are from a compilation published in 1979 titled, simply PETER ARNO. There are a number of older collections available from used book sites, for any who are interested.
"Well, there's your 'nearby military academy'!"

I put Peter Arno in the same camp as illustrator Jaro Fabry, (who was more lyrical but similarly spare) and to some extent Earl Oliver Hurst,who applied a similar sense of light and shade application in his color work. The number of artists who were influenced in his aftermath would include too many to list, but I'll throw in Syd Hoff and the very early work of William Steig.  Disney story artist Vance Gerry had a touch of Arno in a lot his work as well, along with echoes of Sam Cobean and Marc Simont.

 The three Arno classics I picked here I chose mainly for the exemplary economy used to convey everything from mood & attitude, to setting & perspective. Deceptively simple and highly expert.

"'WHICH ONE?' Good heavens, are you mad?!"

Friday the 13th ?

Has Friday the 13th come early this year? In addition to a host of computer bugs and scanning problems, somebody's comment vanished when I was publishing this morning. Whoever it was, my apologies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Peter Arno appreciation day

Due to scanning issues, I could not get scans up for this post today, but they will be forthcoming.

In the meanwhile, youngsters, google the name and be impressed. (Fellow old farts nod and looks sage)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Willard Mullin alert!

Sherm Cohen is at it again! If you haven't already, get over to CARTOON SNAP for some awesome Willard Mullin art. In these entries, Mr. Mullin visits the horse track, with the usual inspiring results.
Thanks Sherm!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Brian Fields asked a while back for me to share any memories of working on Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID and now seems as good a time as any. It seems hard to believe that the film was released 20 years ago (come fall) and though much has happened since then, the experience remains pretty fresh. Although I haven't watched it in many many years, I am always glad when someone remembers the movie fondly and am proud to have been associated with it. To state the obvious however, I was just one small fish in a mighty big pond.

One of the things I recall very clearly was that the picture seemed like a natural from the get-go, a classic Disney fairy tale. We were returning to the roots of SNOW WHITE, CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY after a 30 year hiatus. Needless to say, during that time, the 'old guard' had all retired or passed on and it was the first really heavy weight production to land in the laps of what was then "the younger generation." After years of grousing, we were finally going to get to work on a story of the calibre we had come to think of as "classic Disney". It was an honor, it was exciting, and it was also a daunting challenge for even the most talented in the group. Everybody had to push harder and dig deeper than ever before. We were glad to do it, too.

Prior to MERMAID, I was a junior animator on OLIVER & CO, animating under the supervision of Reuben Aquino on "Francis" the bulldog and also some scenes of the Bette Midler poodle character. During most of that production, I shared an office with fellow animator Kevin Lima, who went on to direct TARZAN (along with Chris Buck) and the recent smash hit ENCHANTED. In addition to being a talented artist and obvious director in the making, Kevin was well known for his passion for live theatre and and when the gifted New York stage titan Howard Ashman became involved, Kevin was asked to sit in on early meetings, pitching ideas and drawing character designs. As I recall, it was Kevin who came up with the genius idea of modeling "Ursula" the sea witch on 'Divine', the obese female impersonator who had been John Waters' favorite underground 'leading lady.'

I was always eager to hear anything Kevin had to say coming out of these sessions. Everyone was champing at the bit and angling to know what was going on. At one point directors John Musker and Ron Clements passed out copies of the script in progress for the crew to read. I think it was a second draft, but I remember well flying through the pages as I sat in a lounge area in one of the old Kem Weber chairs imported from the hallowed old studio to our makeshift digs in a warehouse on 1400 Flower Street. The script was one of the best I ever read, and all the characters and events were very clearly defined. It was one of the only times I have been lucky enough to work on a movie where the script was that good (and that complete) even before the boarding started.

None of the voices had been cast and none of the songs had been written yet, but there was mention of a Caribbean motif to the story. As typically happens at the early stages, a number of iconic actors were being referenced as possible "types" , even though they may not ultimately be the final voices (usually they aren't, for any number of reasons). I had heard they wanted a "Geoffrey Holder type voice" for the crab character who was to be Ariel's 'Jimminy Cricket' sidekick. Geoffrey Holder was well known at the time as a Bond villain from LIVE & LET DIE, and had been synonymous with a 7-UP soft drink ad where he pitched the virtues of the 'un-cola'. The only trouble to me was, that I could not imagine a voice like Holder's, (deep, rolling and mellow) coming out of the rough sketches I had seen of the beady-eyed, Frisbee-shaped crustacean. I kept thinking of the Holder's long face and soulful, expressive eyes... I thought to myself: "Why not just forget about a crab's real anatomy and have a face like that just extend out of the shell, kind of a cross between a turtle and the "doodle bug" Muppet characters on SEASME STREET." In addition, I was also very much inspired by the flamboyant caricatures of Brazilian musicians in a book called "Echole!", which had been lent to me by fellow artist Haroldo Guimaraes.

I did a few quick scribbles of the crab I envisioned and Kevin was nice enough to submit them to the directors at one of his sessions working on 'Ursula' and various other characters. A bit later I got a call from one of the production secretaries: Howard Ashman had seen my drawings on John Musker's desk and reacted favorably, so the directors wanted me to work up a more finished model sheet... WOW!

There was only one problem: I couldn't really pull it off.

I was still very inexperienced at the time and although I could get lucky with the odd scribble, I had never designed a feature character before and could only bring the drawings to a point. Story artist Ed Gombert and animator Chris Buck worked up the design a good deal more successfully as storyboarding began, and then that work in turn was handed to the amazingly gifted Duncan Marjoribanks, who, as Supervising Animator, ultimately fashioned the character into the version we all know and love.

Duncan is one of the greats of our generation and one of the very first to animate with his own personal vocabulary of acting ideas. He was also nice enough to assign me a number of scenes on the character during production (such as the crab hiding from the chef in the kitchen). Like every character, 'Sebastian' is a conglomerate of story & song work, voice over talent (in this case the wonderful Sam Wright, who gave his own individual spirit to the character) and gifted animators, like Duncan Marjoribanks, who deserves all credit due. And thanks to Kevin Lima, I still get to look at the character and know that a bit of his initial DNA came from me.

More later.