My Life in Pictures Part Six

Early Influences



After my last posting regarding the influence movie posters have had on my artistic mindset, I kept running across more and more posters that I wished I had included. There have been more than a few nice illustrated posters from the 80s and 90s, but for some reason, the ones from the 70s really got stuck in my head. I didn’t even see most of these movies, and barely remember the ones that I did see, but the poster images burrowed their way into my brain and have made a home there.

Some posters I discovered later were done by illustrators whose work I’d become more familiar with later in life, like the wonderful Frazetta poster for ‘The Gauntlet’ (above), and even a few by my Mad Magazine heroes, Mort Drucker and Jack Davis (pictured below – ‘American Grafitti’ and ‘Bad News Bears’ respectively). Most of the posters were ultimately more interesting than the movie they were advertising, such as the forgettable ‘Neptune Factor’ poster pictured above, or a few of the ‘creature feature’ posters pictured further down the page (‘Tentacles’ and ‘Phase IV’).

There were several posters that I discarded from this particular collection, ones that I thought were visually striking and iconic, but not particularly interesting from an illustration point of view (‘Chinatown’ and ‘Clockwork Orange’ come to mind), and I didn’t bother to include the original ‘Star Wars’ poster, even though it is both a nice illustration and a striking example of movie advertising, mostly because it is just so familiar that I’m sick of looking at it.











To be continued.

My Life in Pictures Part Five

Early Influences

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I didn’t really start going to the movies until I was about 12-13 years of age. I was fascinated by film, but only had a limited exposure. I would get around the ratings system by either waiting until films made it to TV (usually heavily edited), or by reading the books they were based on (which gave me an interesting reading list for a pre-teen, ranging from ‘Deliverance’ to Thackery’s ‘Barry Lyndon’), or as a last resort, simply reading the ‘Mad Magazine’ parody to get a gist of the plotlines. I also started following the Oscar presentations with great interest, and haven’t missed a telecast since 1972 (and yes, I know how cheesy and innaccurate the academy’s choices usually are, which is part of the fun).

But even more fascinating to me than the movies themselves, in many cases, were the elaborate posters that I would see in the lobby, advertising the ‘coming features’. I didn’t even realize at the time that I was witnessing the ‘power of illustration’, but they certainly did their job on me. Illustration seems to have largely disappeared in the world of movie advertising these days, and it is sorely missed.

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I would spend long periods of time in the lobby, just staring at the fantastic scenes that awaited the lucky ticket holder. A lot of the times the poster would end up being better than the movie itself. I had a particular weakness for the ‘disaster genre’, since one of the first movies that I attended (without my parents) was ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, which had a big impact on me for several years afterwards.

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I remember frequently being disappointed when a particular scene or image on the poster wouldn’t actually appear in the movie. I particularly remember one movie called ‘Frogs’ which showed an image of a large frog with a human hand sticking out of its mouth, and being very disappointed with the film because this never actually happened. Sort of like the old ‘freak show’ posters, how the fantastic imagery of the ‘come on’ would pale in comparison to the poor pathetic individual on display behind the curtain.

And sometimes the poster art would give you a ‘touch of class’. Frequently these would be drawn by Richard Amsel (as I would discover later doing research for this posting), who did such memorable posters as ‘The Sting’, ‘Lucky Lady’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Barry Lyndon’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘The Shootist’ and many many more. The ‘Sting’ poster below is obviously a homage to the famous illustrator JC Leyendecker.

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To be continued

My Life in Pictures Part Four

Early Influences


Along with the old back issues of ‘Mad Magazine’ that I found in my Uncle’s closet back in the early 70s, I also found a stack of back issues of various ‘Hot Rod’ Cartoon magazines. I wasn’t nearly the ‘car nut’ that my Uncle was, but I certainly could appreciate the goofy artwork. I always found it fascinating how meticulously detailed the illustrations of the cars were in these publications, and then how slapdash and amateurish the drawings were of anything ‘non auto related’.


My exposure to these magazines also led to an interest in various ‘trading cards’ a few years later. I’m not really sure where Ed Roth fits into all this, but I’m guessing, based on how similar all these designs and concepts are, that his was the original, and everything else fed off his designs. I recently came across a web site devoted to ‘Odd Rods’ cards that seem to be the images that stir the most memories for me, although there seem to be several competitors and knock-offs of the same general idea.

A package of these cards would come with probably 4-7 cards and a stick of rock hard bubble gum that would break and pierce your cheeks and gums, and all for the paltry sum of 5 or 10 cents. With my 50 cent allowance, this would leave me plenty for a can of pop and a bag of green onion potato chips for the bike ride home. I was also endlessly fascinated by the ‘Wacky Packages’ cards that started coming out in the early 70s (pictured below), which almost seemed like a ‘trading card’ version of ‘Mad Magazine’, with similar irreverent sensibilities. If they were aiming to corrupt the youth, they certainly succeeded with me. I would later find out that the artists who worked on these Wacky Package cards were Art Spiegelman (later of ‘Maus’ and ‘Raw’ fame) and Norman Saunders (a well respected journeyman illustrator nearing the end of his career). I likely missed the initial run of these cards, but was obsessed with buying them during their 1973-76 heyday.

My allowance also disappeared through the occasional issue of Cracked or Crazy magazine when I couldn’t wait for the next issue of Mad to appear. The art wasn’t nearly as awe inspiring in these, but I still diligently pored over each issue I got in my grubby little hands, and spent a lot of time copying styles and recreating my own crude versions of movie satires and cartoon panels in my own pads of drawing paper (another expenditure, but one that I was usually able to talk my Mother into providing for me without having to dip into my own funds). I was mostly enamored of artist John Severin who seemed to be the poor man’s ‘Mort Drucker’ for these 2nd rate funny books. Kelly Freas (who did a lot of work for Mad Magazine in the sixties) would contribute cover illustrations to some of these magazines as well. I would later discover that Daniel Clowes got some early work from Cracked magazine (but was probably after the period where I was reading it).

Gradually, I started noticing the National Lampoon hovering around the edges of the ‘humor magazine’ section of our local drugstore newsstand. From flipping through issues at the store, I was able to determine that there was no way my parents would allow this stuff into our house. I was fascinated by the fact that this magazine used actual photos for its comics (often featuring women without clothes on), and I was also struck by how the magazine layouts had more sophistication, more like a ‘real magazine’ rather than a ‘cartoon book’. This magazine had more of a ‘design’ and ‘subversive sensibility’ influence on me, rather than any illustrative influence (even though there were several memorable illustrators working for the magazine over the years).

If my parents ever lost track of me at a large store or mall, you could almost always count on finding me hanging around the newsstand, sneaking peeks at the magazines.

To be continued.

My Life in Pictures Part Three

Early Influences

More than any other influence, I would have to credit Mad Magazine with single handedly steering me towards a career as a professional illustrator.

I was home sick from school in March of 1972, ten years old, and it was my Mother’s habit to bring us home a magazine to cheer us up and give us something to do while sniffling on the couch. Usually it was ‘Jack and Jill’ or ‘Highlights’, but this time she brought home something drastically different. Issue 149, March 1972, Mad Magazine (featured movie satire was ‘Willard’). It was like an electric shock after all that sanitized entertainment that I had been exposed to previously. Spoofs of advertising where the product was exposed as worthless, movie and tv satires where holes were poked in flimsy plotlines and pompous acting egos, politicians portrayed as buffoons or worse — but what really grabbed me was the art. The mix of realistic techniques with cartoon imagery, the odd square speech balloons, even the fact that the interior was completely black and white (where was the color from my usual kiddie fare?). To the ten year old mind, it just screamed sophistication and forbidden adulthood tastes.

Around this same time, I also discovered a stash of old back issues of the same magazine in my uncle’s closet at my Grandparent’s house (my parents fearfully thinking I had discovered the ‘OTHER’ magazine in my Uncle’s closet, namely “Playboy”), dating from the early to late sixties. I’m sure my parents were worried about me, sitting for hours up in that dusty attic pouring over and over these ‘cartoon books’ instead of being outside and taking part in more healthy pursuits, but as far as I was concerned, I was in heaven. They so wormed their way into my head, that, thanks to the internet, I can now recreate the cover images for the entire ‘Mad Magazine Stash’ that I found in that long ago closet. And they still have the power to enthrall me to this day.

My allowance around this time was 50 cents a week. The latest issue of Mad was 40 cents at the time (and rapidly rising thanks to inflation) and as far as I was concerned, it was priority number one for several years after that first issue. (later, when I became desperate between issues, I would also pick up the occasional issue of Cracked or Crazy magazine, which was a poor substitute) Ironically enough, it was buying a subscription that eventually ended my love affair with the magazine. Becoming so easily provided every month in the mailbox took all the fun out of the trip to the newsstand. Or maybe I was just getting older and more sophisticated in my tastes (National Lampoon was starting to look more and more interesting on that newsstand, especially with the occasional photo funnies featuring naked women). Below are a sampling of the issues that still have the power to send me back in time in a rush of recognition.

After a while, I developed a set of favorite artists in this magazine and looked forward to discovering further examples of their work. I especially liked the color cover illustrations by Kelly Freas and Norman Mingo.

My first artistic fascination was with Don Martin, who regularly drew several single page cartoon panels in each issue. His distinctive style of flop footed characters with elongated faces and always punctuated by hilarious sound effects were the first to inspire me to try and duplicate. After a while, though, they started to pale in my estimation when the limits of his stylistic straightjacket became more and more obvious. But his work still occupies a soft spot in my heart for being the first to grab me.

Another artist who grabbed me early on, and continues to fascinate to this day, was the movie satire caricature work of Mort Drucker. I am constantly amazed at his skill at capturing a likeness with seemingly a few lines and squiggles. The more I study his work, the more impressed I also am with his skills at drawing hands, figures, perspective, layout and design, those amazing crowd scenes — and all the time, not only fighting with those ungainly ‘speech boxes’ at the tops of the panels, but also managing to throw in the trademark ‘Mad background jokes’ that constantly hide in the corners. Oddly enough, I was never all that thrilled to see his color work on the cover. The color seemed forced, and seemed to diffuse the power of his masterful line work. In fact, I am so indebted to Mort Drucker’s influence, that I may devote an upcoming blog entry to his work alone.

Thanks to reprints of the ‘Early years’ of Mad Magazine, I also discovered the wonderful work of Bill Elder and Wally Wood. I am constantly amazed at the amount of ‘background jokes’ they would cram into each and every panel.

To Be Continued.

My Life in Pictures Part Two

Early Influences

When I was halfway through the first grade, our family moved from Flint, Michigan to the nearby small town of Durand (the Railroad capital of Michigan, and dubious honor of being the home of the ‘Durand Dirties’, an X rated drive-in theater of statewide notoriety). One of the first things my Mother did for us children, once we moved there, was take us to visit the local library, where I got my first library card.

One of my early obsessions at that time was dinosaurs. I must’ve checked out each and every book about prehistoric life that the small Durand library had on its shelves, and sometimes the same books over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of this idea that at some point in the past, the world was crawling with giant lizard-like beasts. I found the illustrations even more captivating. Some of them have burrowed into my brain to the point where I get a rush of childhood memories just by glancing at certain images, especially by the artist Charles R. Knight, and his beautiful (but inaccurate, especially to modern paleontologists) brontosaurus pictures, and his amazing murals for the Chicago Natural History Museum.

When, in the early 90’s, the movie “Jurassic Park” was released, I was super excited to see it, and to take my young son, who was nearing the same age that I was when I was bit by the ‘dinosaur bug’. The early CGI of that film literally made me gasp the first time the beasts came on the screen. But then something sort of sad happened (and the end of the movie sort of has the same melancholy feel). The monsters lost their mystery and allure for me. When they were relegated to my imagination, and to poorly executed stop motion photography (like Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs from ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ and ‘King Kong’ and ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’), the dinosaurs still had the power to spark awe and wonder. Once digital animation took over the media, ANYTHING that could be conjured up in the mind could now end up on a movie or television screen. And the latter day discoveries that dinosaurs eventually evolved into our modern day birds, also sort of deflated the excitement and allure of these mighty beasts. What’s to get excited about? There’s dinosaur relatives flying all over the back yard bird feeder.

I still prefer Knight’s vision, and I still feel a glimmer of awe when I look at his pictures.

To Be Continued.