Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Video: Ron Cobb Cartoonist, Motion Picture Art Director

TVDays has this early 1980s interview with editorial cartoonist/production designer Ron Cobb (1937 - 2020). Ron created visuals for movies like Alien, Star Wars, Back to the Future and others. He also created what is now known as the ecology symbol. His extraordinary career, which began as an editorial cartoonist with no formal art training, touched so many movie productions, beginning with Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959), that they are hard to digest. 


©2015 Ron Cobb All Rights Reserved.


 Here's the TVDays description of his career:

"Ronald Ray Cobb (September 21, 1937 – September 21, 2020) was an American-Australian artist. As well as being an editorial cartoonist he worked on numerous major films including Dark Star (1974), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Back to the Future (1985), The Abyss (1989), and Total Recall (1990). He had one credit as director, for the 1992 film Garbo. 

"Cobb also created a symbol which was later featured on the Ecology Flag. He was born in Los Angeles but spent most of his life in Sydney, Australia. 

"By the age of 18, with no formal training in graphic illustration, Cobb was working as an animation "inbetweener" artist for Disney Studios in Burbank, California. He progressed to becoming a breakdown artist on the animation feature Sleeping Beauty (1959). It was the last Disney film to have cels inked by hand. 

"After Sleeping Beauty was completed in 1957, Cobb was laid off by Disney. He spent the next three years in various jobs — mail carrier, assembler in a door factory, sign painter's assistant — until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1960. For the next two years he delivered classified documents around San Francisco, then signed up for an extra year to avoid assignment to the infantry. 

"He was sent to Vietnam in 1963 as a draftsman for the Signal Corps. After his discharge, Cobb began freelancing as an artist, contributing to the Los Angeles Free Press for the first time in 1965. 

"Edited and published by Art Kunkin, the Los Angeles Free Press was one of the first of the underground newspapers of the 1960s, noted for its radical politics. Cobb's editorial/political cartoons were a celebrated feature of the Freep, and appeared regularly throughout member newspapers of the Underground Press Syndicate. 

"Although he was regarded as one of the finest political cartoonists of the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Cobb made very little money from the cartoons and was always looking for work elsewhere. His cartoons were featured in the back to the land magazine Mother Earth News. 

"Among other projects, Cobb designed the cover for Jefferson Airplane's 1967 album, After Bathing at Baxter's. 

"In 1972, Cobb moved to Sydney, Australia, where his work appeared in alternative magazines such as The Digger. Independent publishers Wild & Woolley published a 'best of' collection of the earlier cartoon books, The Cobb Book in 1975. A follow-up volume, Cobb Again, appeared in 1978. 

"Cobb is credited with designing the "Hammerhead" creature seen in Star Wars (1977). 

"Cobb returned to cinema work when he worked with Dan O'Bannon to design the eponymous spaceship for the 1973 cult film, Dark Star (he drew the original design for the exterior of the Dark Star spaceship on a Pancake House napkin). 

"After contributing designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky's uncompleted film adaption of Frank Herbert's novel Dune, Cobb was engaged by Lucasfilm to produce conceptual artwork for the space fantasy film Star Wars (1977). Working alongside artists John Mollo and Ralph McQuarrie, he created the designs for a number of exotic alien creatures for the Mos Eisley cantina scene. 

"In 1981, Colorvision, a large-format, full-colour monograph appeared, including much of his design work for the films Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), and Conan the Barbarian (1982), the first feature for which he received the credit of Production Designer. Cobb has also contributed production design to the films The Last Starfighter (1984), Leviathan (1989), Total Recall (1990) (and also appeared in the film in a brief cameo), True Lies (1994), The Sixth Day (2000), Cats & Dogs (2001), Southland Tales (2006), and the Australian feature Garbo, which he directed. 

"Cobb contributed the initial story for Night Skies, an earlier, darker version of E.T.. Steven Spielberg offered him the opportunity to direct this scarier sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind until problems arose over special effects that required a major rewrite. While Cobb was in Spain working on Conan the Barbarian, Spielberg supervised the rewrite into the more personal E.T. and ended up directing it himself. Cobb later received some net profit participation. 

"In 1985 Cobb received credit as 'DeLorean Time Travel Consultant' for the film Back to the Future. 

"During the early 1990s, Cobb worked with Rocket Science Games. His designs can be seen in Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine (1994) and The Space Bar (1997), in which he designed all the characters. 

"Cobb also co-wrote with his wife, Robin Love, one of the (1985–1987) Twilight Zone episodes, Shelter Skelter. 

"Cobb designed two swords for the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian (the 'Father's Sword' and the 'Atlantean Sword'). Cobb's original drawings of the swords are now used, in cinema merchandising, to mass-produce and sell replicas."

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


When she was eight years old, Ursula Koering's (1921-1976) parents sent her to the Philadelphia College of Art to take weekend art classes. She continued through her teen years, matriculating as a full-time student at the College upon her high school graduation.

When she left the College of Art, she looked for illustration work -- even though her degree had been in sculpture. In the post-war period, she drew for children's magazines and books. She may be best known for the THE FIRST BOOK OF series (THE FIRST BOOK OF INDIANS, THE FIRST BOOK OF NEGROES, etc.).

Later in life, she did secure a job with The Franklin Mint, and she was able to apply her sculpture skills.

Here are some of her drawings for THE TROLLEY CAR FAMILY by Eleanor Clymer. It's copyright 1947. These scan are from a well loved Scholastic books edition, fifth printing (September, 1962). The story is about Pa Parker, who has just lost his job at the trolley car company. The company is switching to buses, you see, and, so, Mr. Parker is out of a job. The family must downsize, so they get an old trolley car destined for the scrap yard and use that for their house.

"It's the end of the line for the trolley car, but it's a beginning of fun and adventure for the trolley car family." 

No word on why good ol' Pa Parker can't just up and drive a bus. But then Parkers wouldn't have to move into an old trolley car, and, of course, then there wouldn't be this popular (five printings at least!) book.

What drew me to the book was Ms. Koering's penmanship. Her ease with shading and crosshatching --and the liveliness of her line.

Ariel Winter's "We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie" blog has a wonderful profile of Ursula Koering. 

The trolley-as-home floor plan is mesmerizing. I would have gotten into this as a kid.

Promo text from the back of the book:

"Something is wrong. Cranky Mr. Jefferson is sure of it. Those noisy Parker children next door are much too quiet.

"Something is wrong at the Parker home. Pa Parker has just lost his job. Pa has been driving a trolley car for years. Now the trolley car company is changing to busses. Drive a new-fangled bus? Not Pa Parker! No wonder all the Parkers are worried.

"But if Pa doesn’t have a job, he does have a trolley car. And what could be more sensible than living in the trolley ‘til Pa gets another job. So off they go — Ma and Pa Parker, Sally, Bill, George and Little Peter — and of all people, cranky Mr. Jefferson too. Bouncing and bumping on the trolley tracks, they park their new home at the last stop. It’s the end of the line for the trolley car, but it’s the beginning of fun and adventure for the trolley car family."
-- Edited from an April 13, 2015 blog entry.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Emil Ferris Awarded Guggenheim

Congratulations to graphic novelist Emil Ferris upon her being recognized in the Fine Arts category of the Guggenheim Fellowship Awards for 2021. 


Her book, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (2017) won a number of awards, including: the Lambda Literary Award, the Eisner Award, the Ignatz Award, and the Fauve d’Or at the Angoul√™me International Comics Festival.

From the School of the Art Institute of Chicago:


"Emil Ferris (BFA 2008, MFA 2010) is a graphic novelist whose first book, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, has been praised by critics since its publication in 2017. The book presents itself as the lined notebook diary of a preteen self-avowed werewolf who questions her sexual identity. Set in Chicago in the 1960s, the book is autobiographically infused as Ferris—like her protagonist Karen Reyes—was witness to the highly charged political and social climate of that time. The main character is interested in cultural subjects that have profoundly shaped Ferris herself, including B movies of the Hammer variety, Entertaining Comics (EC) horror magazines, and the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ferris’ protagonist recreates EC-inspired horror comic covers in ballpoint pen, as well as many significant paintings that hang in the Art Institute of Chicago. Journalists have noted how the book parallels themes of monstrosity and otherness."



Friday, April 09, 2021

Mike Lynch Virtual Cartoon Classes Beginning April 19, 2021


I'll be doing some "how to cartoon" classes for kids beginning April 19, 2021. It's sponsored by an arts group, Waterfall Arts, in Maine. Info and registration:

Waterfall Arts kindly produced this five minute video to promote the course, which I will be teaching virtually.

Oh, the thing in front of my face in one or two of the shots is a camera that points down at my drawing surface. 

Warning: I naturally sound like Fozzie Bear/Ray Romano, but here goes:

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Matt Bors: "I’m Quitting Political Cartooning"


Editorial cartoonist Matt Bors is leaving editorial cartooning.


"Thank you for reading all these years. I know a few people who have been reading since the beginning (besides my Mom), through the dark Bush years, the rise of social media, the collapse of alt-weeklies, the rise (and then collapse) of online media. Trump! A pandemic! Here I am. I made it through all that and want to go out on my own terms now."

"... Something had to give in my life to make room for other things and, frankly, it was an easy decision. I’ve drawn political cartoons every week since I was 19 and feel like I have said everything I can say, often a few times over. I know this may be disappointing to longtime readers, but my creative desires pull me in another direction, one where I hope to create more work on par with what I’ve done in this field."


He will continue to helm The Nib, the online showcase for editorial cartoons (long-form and short-form) and turn his attention to creating longer pieces.

"I want to do more nonfiction cartooning at The Nib— the interviews and journalism I have only been able to do in between the cracks of my deadlines— and I’m actively preparing pitches as a writer on some fiction comics. It’s time for me to work in longer formats and dip into all the kinds of comics I love and want to create. I’ll also be serving as an Advisor for Tinyview, a promising new comics app, where I’ll be bringing in an array of comics across many genres. (You can download it here.)"


Please consider supporting The Nib. I do. 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Cartoon Renewal Studios: Fleischer Brothers' Superman Cartoon "Billion Dollar Limited" (1942) Remastered

You forget that when old movies first came out, they weren't grainy and scratchy and tinny-sounding. They were new and vibrant. Cartoon Renewal Studios takes old cartoons and refreshes them. Why?

"I restored this because I love Superman and Max Fleischer," states Cartoon Renewal Studios.

In the early 1940s, bothers Max and Dave Fleischer ran their own Fleischer Brothers studio. They had completed their first feature, Gulliver's Travels, and were into production with a second when they were approached about doing a series of animated shorts based on Superman, who had been introduced in Action Comics just three years before.

"Not wanting to risk becoming overworked (which could compromise the quality of each project), the Fleischers were strongly (but quietly) opposed to the idea of committing themselves to another major project when they were approached by their studio's distributor and majority owner since May 1941, Paramount Pictures. Paramount was interested in financially exploiting the phenomenal popularity of the then-new Superman comic books, by producing a series of theatrical cartoons based upon the character. The Fleischers, looking for a way to reject the project without appearing uncooperative, agreed to do the series—but only at a (intentionally inflated) per-episode-budget number so exorbitantly high that Paramount would have to reject them, instead. They told Paramount that producing such a conceptually and technically complex series of cartoons would cost about $100,000 per short (in 1940s dollars, or $1,700,000 per short as of 2017); this was about four times the typical budget of a six-minute episode of the Fleischers' popular Popeye the Sailor cartoons of that period.[4] To the Fleischers' shock, instead of withdrawing its request, Paramount entered into negotiations with them, and got the per-episode budget lowered to $50,000.[5] Now the Fleischers were committed to a project they never wanted to do—with more financial and marketing support than they had ever received for the projects they had done thus far." - Wikipedia

The cartoons are beautiful, but since all 17 of the shorts have dropped into the public domain, a lot of time you see copies of copies, and the colors are faded and the film scratched. 

Enter Cartoon Renewal Studios with his Mac to administer the renewal process:

"This is my sixth full on frame by frame restoration. The AI did six passes over the 15,000 frames for 90,000 total frames processed. I restored the sound. The color in the source print was decent so I didn't have to work on that too much. This was done on my iMac 27 2019 24 GB / 25 TB (10 TB is SSD...) system running Catalina. I use only the tools that come with the Mac and open source, in addition to the AI, to do all this work. This was a three day project."

Here's the end result:


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Frank Jacobs 1929 - 2021


Prolific Mad Magazine writer Frank Jacobs has passed away in his sleep at the age of 91.

He would contribute regularly to Mad from 1957 to 2017, creating many well known parodies. His specialty was song parodies. Here's just one for instance:

(to the tune of Hello Dolly)
Hello Deli,
this is Joe, Deli
would you please send up
a nice corned beef on rye.
A box of RITZ, Deli
and some Schlitz, Deli
Some chopped liver
and a sliver of your, apple pie.
Turkey Legs, Deli
hard boiled eggs, Deli
and a plate of those potatoes you french fry, oh
Don't be late, Deli
I just can't wait Deli,
Deli without breakfast, I'd just die.
Via CBR:

"After the late, great Dick DeBartolo, Jacobs was the most prolific Mad writer who did not also draw his own strips (like Don Martin, Sergio Aragones or Al Jaffee). Even counting writer/artists like Jaffee, Jacobs was in the top seven most prolific Mad contributors, appearing in over 300 issues of the humor magazine.

"Jacobs' first pitch to Mad, a story titled 'Why I Left the Army and Became a Civilian,' was not only purchased, but Mad even spotlighted it when it first appeared in 1957's Mad #33 (it also later appeared in the very first Mad paperback collection)."

I could go on and list many examples. Here's another ....

In its 300th issue dated January 1991, Frank wrote a piece titled "The Wizard of Odds." Roger Cohen wrote about it for the New York Times: 

"The wizard lives in the Palace of Glitz in an America where greed has become God. The wizard is the Donald.

"He tosses dollar bills into the air with stubby hands, delighting in 'a world full of schmucks' whom he loves because he needs them as he’s 'piling up the bucks.' He eyes up young Dorothy, who believes the Trump-wizard can deliver her from materialistic hell back to her down-to-earth world of Kansas in 1939. He offers instead to put her up in a penthouse.
"'In a couple of years, after you fill out, you could be my steady bimbo,' the Trump character says in the magazine.
"Even three decades ago, we knew precisely who this man was."

Not everyone was amused. Irving Berlin was sufficiently angry about Mad's parodies of his well-known songs that he sued them for $25 million. The result established a legal precedent for satire.


"Mad magazine had published a special edition in 1961 titled More Trash from Mad No. 4, which featured a songbook containing 57 parody lyrics to existing popular songs, such as Irving Berlin's "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" (Mad's version was the hypochondriac 'Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady'[2]). In each case, readers were advised that the magazine's lyrics could be sung 'to the tune of' the original compositions' titles. Following the magazine's publication, several music corporations sued E.C. Publications, Inc. (the publisher of Mad magazine) over 25 of the 57 parodies. The suit asked for one dollar per song for each issue of More Trash from Mad No. 4 that had been published, totaling $25 million in alleged damages. The cover of the special had borne the inadvertently prescient blurb, 'For Solo or Group Participation (Followed by Arrest).'

"Berlin was the named plaintiff, but the suit was brought not just by Irving Berlin Inc., but also by the music publishers Chappell, T.B. Harms, and Leo Feist. Several of Berlin's compositions were at the heart of the dispute, but the complaint also cited songs by Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein II.

"The trial court found for Mad publisher E.C., establishing a legal precedent (the so-called 'Mad magazine exception') protecting parody (but not, at that time, satire). The court ruled in E.C.'s favor on all but two of the parodies—'There's No Business Like No Business' and 'Always'—whose lyrics were considered to revolve around the key words 'business' and 'always,' and thus hewed too closely to the originals. For those two songs, the court denied summary relief to both parties. The other 23 parodies, such as 'Louella Schwartz...', 'The First Time I Saw Maris' and 'The Horse That I'm Betting,' were judged sufficiently distinct to qualify under 'fair use.'"

Weird Al Yankovic was inspired by Jacobs' song parodies, and he wrote the introduction to a collection of Frank's work. 

And , me? I was a big fan. When I was an elementary school kid, in my prime Mad-reading years, I shelled out the money to buy a paperback of The Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs. At least once, during the free reading period at Deerfield Elementary School in Lawrence, KS, I was called up to to the teacher's desk where I was told to hand over the book for inspection. Since there was more text than art, it was OK to be read in school and the book was returned and I was told to go back to my desk. Hmm. Lesson learned. So much for "free." 

Jacobs' impact on a couple of generations of people who make us laugh cannot be counted. He was prolific, and the good thing is that his work is still out there where it can impact the young, twisted minds of the 21st century.