Golden Adventures, Brushy Animals

Cornelius De Witt illustration from The Golden Encyclopedia (1946).

Cornelius De Witt illustration from The Golden Encyclopedia (1946).

I feel the need to do a catch-all post sharing the vintage kid books which we’ve come across lately – so here it is! These three books were all acquired at thrift stores and used book sales. For admirers of vintage 20th century illustration, they’re especially great. They are:

  • Adventures in Geography, written and illustrated by Gertrude Alice Kay (1929; revised 1941). A globe-spanning story of a young boy and his eccentric uncle taking a luxury steamboat voyage to exotic locales, described in detail and illuminated by Ms. Kay’s lovely, impressionistic watercolor drawings. The visuals have a classic storybook flair with saturated colors and rounded edges. Gertrude Alice Kay led a fascinating life. Apparently the contents of this particular book first appeared in issues of Ladies Home Journal magazine. It’s a charming, evocative little book.
  • The Golden Encyclopedia, written by Dorothy A. Bennett; illustrated by Cornelius De Witt (1946). This large-format book is a typical encyclopedia, explaining things like plant and animal life, history, industrial production, games, music and geography in a way that’s informative yet never condescending of its young audience. What attracted me to this book was De Witt’s incredibly detailed illustrations, many of which take up an entire page in this 10×13-inch volume. It’s 126 pages, with artwork on nearly every page – an incredible undertaking!
  • The Big Book of Animal Stories, compiled and edited by Margaret Green; illustrated by Janusz Grabianski (1961). A compilation of famous animal legends and stories, brightened by beautiful, brushy artwork by Polish artist Grabianski. His work is delicate yet robust, and filled with joy. Hopefully my photos will suffice, but the blog The Art of Children’s Picture Books did two posts sharing plenty more images from this marvelous book.
Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

From Adventures in Geography by Gertrude Alice Kay.

The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

From The Golden Encyclopedia, illustrated by Cornelius De Witt.

The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

From The Big Book of Animal Stories, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski.

Funky ’70s Kid Books, Back in Print

Whenever a vintage kid book is brought back into print, my mouth breaks into a grin. Anyone who has ever set foot in a thrift store or library knows that kid books in particular tend to get battered, folded, spindled, mutilated and affixed with random PB&J sandwich stains over time. With especially rare child-oriented books, the chance of finding a still-pristine copy of an obscure treasure becomes almost nil. That’s why it’s heartening to see Princeton Architectural Press bring back two ’70s kiddie books done by a pair of design/illustration legends, Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, reproduced as they were when originally printed. Both The Brownstone (1973) and The Pancake King (1971) deliver ’70s-funky yet timeless messages for kids and adults in colorful, large-format editions.

A gentle “be kind to those different from you” theme runs through The Brownstone, which follows a family of bears as they attempt to hibernate in their big city apartment. The Bears merely want to settle in for the winter, only they’re interrupted by a piano-playing cat, dancing kangaroos, a timid mouse family, and a gourmet pig family. Mr. Bear calls on the landlord, Mr. Owl, to help them out of their predicament, resulting in a game of musical chairs where the tenants all change places. It ends harmoniously, of course. Paula Scher was a young designer at CBS Records when she wrote this book, enlisting the help of cartoonist Stan Mack (of Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies). Mack’s pen-and-ink illustrations are lively and detailed. I also enjoyed the way Scher laid the book out (I’m assuming she designed as well as wrote) with spreads that show a cross-section of the brownstone on the right, while other spreads have chaotic vignettes from the story on the left-facing page. Kids will love studying the characters’ expressions and seeing how they react to being moved from floor to floor in the building. It’s a fun story with a solid, subtle message.

Illustrator Seymour Chwast was already well-established with the legendary Push Pin Studios when he decided to lend his art to a whimsical Phyllis La Farge story about a boy who loves making delicious pancakes. The Pancake King also has a timely message which will resonate with today’s kids about the satisfaction of loving what you do, regardless of what will come of it. The story follows a boy named Henry Edgewood, who attracts attention from his family and neighbors for his great homemade pancakes. Henry’s notoriety also draws in a shady businessman, Arthur J. Jinker, who makes Henry famous by taking him on a glitzy pancake-selling tour. Henry soon realizes that making pancakes for fame and riches isn’t fulfilling, however, so he returns to being a happy, humble Pancake King for his parents and his faithful dog, Ezra. Chwast’s funky, organic style of art is all over this book, printed in a color-drenched wide format. To adults, Chwast’s art has a vaguely nostalgic look reminiscent of Sesame Street and The Electric Company, although kids will find appeal in his curvy, colorful style as well. As a bonus, the book contains a recipe for Henry’s pancakes – yum!

The Brownstone and The Pancake King are available at Princeton Architectural Press or Amazon.com.

PandS_09

PandS_07

PandS_08

PandS_01

PandS_02

PandS_03

Enough to Live On: The Arts of the WPA

WPAdoc_04
In the depths of the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a bold stance in allocating federal money toward putting artists – artists! – on the U.S. government payroll. The legacy of that ambitious plan, the Works Progress Administration or WPA, gets examined in the engaging documentary Enough to Live On: The Arts of the WPA.

The WPA was a sprawling umbrella for a bunch of different federal programs – some accomplished basic things like road construction and building new structures. Others had a more vague purpose of putting people to work while boosting the morale of a cash-strapped citizenry. For Enough To Live On, writer-director Michael Maglaras focuses on the WPA’s arts programs, efforts that relied on the talents of visual artists, writers, performers and photographers. During the program’s glory years of roughly 1936-41, the arts programs resulted in hundreds of public murals, plays and musicals, sculpture, paintings, posters, educational texts and books providing a picturesque guide to the customs of all 48 states in the union. When one considers the fierce opposition the WPA faced during its entire lifespan, the sheer volume of what got accomplished is remarkable – and much of it still holds up (I still enjoy the historic murals at my local post office, for one).

Enough To Live On casts a wide net, packing a lot of info within 98 minutes. It’s a bit like an episode of PBS’s American Experience, although instead of a wide variety of expert commentary there’s just one historian and an older gentlemen who supplies eyewitness memories of volunteering for the WPA as a youth. Mostly it relies on Maglaras’ own narrative, a comprehensive historic overview with some subtle opining on what made the WPA succeed in its day and why it was important. Maglaras himself does the voice-over narration as well – I thought he conveyed a lot of gravitas, although my viewing partner found him self-important. The film delves into a lot of cool, relatively overlooked WPA projects, such as the Index of American Design, a cataloguing effort that required more than 20,000 detailed watercolor renderings of examples of classic design from America’s past. Famous names are mentioned here and there, although I most enjoyed hearing about lesser-known figures such as the African American sculptor Augusta Savage. The film is handsomely produced with plenty of examples of WPA art, presented in beautiful, color-saturated images. Come to think of it, the only thing better than this documentary would be for the WPA itself to come back.

The 217 Films DVD release of Enough to Live On: The Arts of the WPA sports great picture quality with sharp, detailed reproductions of the art being discussed. The dynamic visuals in the movie carry through to the package design, a slim digipack with appealing design used on the package and the accompanying 12-page booklet. The DVD is available for purchase at 217 Films or Amazon.com.

WPAdoc_03

WPAdoc_01

WPA poster for Cleveland Housing Authority, unknown artist, c. 1939.

WPA poster for Cleveland Housing Authority, unknown artist, c. 1939.

Communication During the Period of Exploration, mural by Oscar Berninghaus in Phoenix, AZ post office, 1938.

Communication During the Period of Exploration, mural by Oscar Berninghaus in Phoenix, AZ post office, 1938.

Artist Augusta Savage with sculpture for the Federal Arts Project, c. 1938.

Artist Augusta Savage with sculpture for the Federal Arts Project, c. 1938.

Poster for Federal Theatre production Sing for Your Supper, c. 1938.

Poster for Federal Theatre production Sing for Your Supper, c. 1938.

Benjamin Sheer poster for WPA American Guide volume on California, c. 1940.

Benjamin Sheer poster for WPA American Guide volume on California, c. 1940.

The Kings of Cartoons

Thunderbean_05
It was a happy surprise when the folks at Thunderbean Animation sent along a couple of their vintage cartoon collections to us here at Chez Scrubbles. This is a company that’s guided by actual cartoon fans wanting to share their love of animation with others. The passion they have for top-quality product shows in their Blu-ray collections of digitally restored shorts, presented with all the trimmings cartoon fans love. Their latest offerings put the spotlight on Willie Whopper, a yarn-spinning little boy dreamt up by the legendary Ub Iwerks in the ’30s, and Private SNAFU, the hapless soldier created by Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) to instruct World War II enlistees on what not to do.

I was delighted to discover what Willie Whopper was all about – despite enjoying all sorts of 1930s cartoons, I’d never heard of this guy! Iwerks made the Willies in 1933-34, shortly after his Flip the Frog series fizzled out. For those familiar with the workmanlike, dull Flip cartoons, the Willie Whoppers improve greatly on the simple visual-gag format of those with wild animation, clever stories, and jazzy soundtracks. Most of these shorts involve Willie attempting to impress his friend, Goofy, with a tall tale. His outrageous adventures involve daring plane acrobatics (Spite Flight), a surreal trip to the fiery depths (Hell’s Fire), and scrapes with bandits (Viva Willie) and savages (Jungle Jitters) – usually with his girlfriend Mary and a shaggy, perky pooch at his side.

Iwerks kept the Willie Whopper series running for a total of thirteen shorts before distributor MGM pulled the plug after the studio’s 1933-34 season. All of his cartoons are included on this DVD/Blu-ray set, along with an intriguing “pilot” short, The Air Race, which MGM passed on for not being funny enough (the story was eventually retooled and released as Willie’s second cartoon, Spite Flight). The cartoons as a whole have an effervescent, jazzy feel with surreal gags and constant motion – many feel a whole lot like the era’s Max Fleischer cartoons (Fleischer animator Grim Natwick had his hands in these). Early on, Willie himself got made over from a dark-haired ruffian into a roly-poly redhead, although he still had a distinct lack of personality. Another inconsistency comes with Willie’s girlfriend, Mary, who is shown as either an innocent little girl or a saucy, Betty Boop-like coquette depending on the cartoon. Overall, however, the set makes a good case for Willie as one of the more overlooked ’30s cartoon stars, best highlighted in two beautifully presented Cinecolor efforts (Hell’s Fire and Davy Jones’ Locker). It seemed as if Iwerks and company settled on a modern groove for the tightly-paced later cartoons, only to have MGM yank it all away.

Produced by Warner Bros. in 1943-46, the Private Snafu shorts are slightly more familiar to vintage cartoon lovers. Although Warner Home Video included a few scratched-up Snafu shorts on their Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVDs, Thunderbean’s collection improves on that by presenting all 26 of the original Snafu shorts, digitally restored and with a veritable knapsack-full of bonus materials. These brief films, each shorter than a standard one-reel cartoon, were produced as part of a package of “Stars and Stripes” educational films geared toward military personnel during World War II. With the dim-witted Private Snafu (“Situation Normal, All — Fouled Up”) and the cigar-chomping Private First Class Fairy as our guides, slangy dialogue and funny situations inform soldiers on topics such as security, malaria, proper use of firearms and the dangers of idle gossip. Since they were targeted for an audience of randy, adult-aged men, these films use the wildest and wackiest abilities of the top directors in Warners’ cartoon unit, including Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin. For Looney Tunes fans, it’s actually quite cool to see what the Termite Terrace crew did with the added freedom of more ribald gags – the results are quite non-PC but unequivocally hilarious.

Although the Snafu cartoons are loaded with WWII-specific gags that would likely go over the heads of most casual viewers, they hold up remarkably well as priceless bits of wartime morale-boosting. Probably the most iconic gag comes during Chuck Jones’ 1943 cartoon Spies – inebriated by a sexy seductress, Snafu blabs out confidential info to the alert miss, whose round boobs become superimposed with Nazi insignia-bearing microphones. Loose lips sink ships, indeed! Mark Harris’ recent book Five Came Back supplies a lot of fascinating background on how the Snafu series came to be, a story also included (in shorter form) in this Blu-ray’s booklet. In a nutshell, the cartoons were hugely popular with the troops, taking the U.S. government by surprise. Because the lessons they taught were cloaked in wild, wacky humor, the troops were hugely entertained often without realizing that they were being educated as well.

As with Thunderbean’s other releases, Private Snafu and Willie Whopper come with informative booklets with essays from cartoon experts Steve Stanchfield, J.B. Kaufman and Chris Buchman. While the Willie set is a dual Blu/DVD package, the Snafu cartoons are sold as separate Blu-ray or DVD products. They can be purchased at Thunderbean Animation or Amazon.com.

Thunderbean_02

Thunderbean_13

Screen shot from Davy Jones' Locker (1933).

Screen shot from Davy Jones’ Locker (1933).

Screen shot from Reducing Creme (1934).

Screen shot from Reducing Creme (1934).

Back of a vintage Willie Whopper pencil case.

Back of a vintage Willie Whopper pencil case.

Thunderbean_03

Private Snafu cel and background setup.

Private Snafu cel and background setup.

Snafu and Private First Class Fairy model sheet.

Snafu and Private First Class Technical Fairy model sheet.

Cel and background setup from Spies (1943).

Cel and background setup from Spies (1943).

Thunderbean_01

Look What I Found: Two from Raymond Briggs

Briggs_MainPhoto

I spent the last quarter of 2015 delving into the work of Raymond Briggs, the indubitably British cartoonist, graphic novelist – and it’s taken me this long to do a post about him!

It started last October, when I received the birthday gift of a Blu-ray edition of When the Wind Blows, the 1986 movie adaptation of Briggs’ story of an elderly British couple preparing their rural home for a nuclear attack. James and Hilda Bloggs (voiced by Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft) are a typical, kindly and even-tempered duo who greet the upcoming bombings with a mixture of cheerful optimism and pragmatic naiveté (“There’s no need to forget your manners just because there’s a war on,” Hilda cautions her husband during a rare outburst). With bone-dry, observant humor, Briggs points out the absurdity of this quaint couple preparing for nuclear annihilation as if it were a minor inconvenience in the simple routine of their lives. The movie itself is one of the most unique animated efforts ever made – director Jimmy Murakami stages the action with traditional animated cels photographed against miniature sets of the Bloggs’ home. Most of it preserves the colored-pencil shadings of Briggs’ work, although other scenes are done with expressionistic methods more in keeping with the anxious soundtrack from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. This is an amazing movie with perfect voice-acting from Richardson and Ashcroft. Twilight Time included a lot of worthwhile extras on the Blu-ray, although the main one – a feature-length documentary with Murakami returning to the site where he was interred as a child in World War II – was a disappointment.

Viewing When the Wind Blows sparked an interest in the book which piqued my interest in Briggs in the first place – his acclaimed 1998 graphic novel, Ethel and Ernest: A True Story. This was Briggs’ poignant chronicle of his own parents’ courtship, marriage and deaths, told chronologically from when they met in 1928 up through the early ’70s. Mr. and Mrs. Briggs greet war, child-rearing, labor and politics with a typically British “cheerio, can-do” unflappability – the fact that they so closely resemble Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs is no coincidence. This couple seems much more real, however – Briggs captures them as quirky and all-too-human, yet worthy of admiration. I read this book last December, around the same time that I got to check out Briggs’ classic TV special The Snowman for the first time. Briggs’ elegantly shaded pencil lines have roughened up into jagged chicken scratches over the years, yet this book shows how his parents’ ordinary lives – facing incredible societal changes with grace and good humor – reflects the very spirit of the United Kingdom.

When the Wind Blows is available at Twilight Time’s website, while Ethel & Ernest can be had cheaply at AbeBooks.com.

Film still from When the Wind Blows.

Film still from When the Wind Blows.

Animation drawing from When the Wind Blows.

Animation drawing from When the Wind Blows.

Picture disc single of David Bowie's "When the Wind Blows," 1986.

Picture disc single of David Bowie’s “When the Wind Blows,” 1986.

Page from Ethel & Ernest.

Page from Ethel & Ernest.

Panel from Ethel & Ernest.

Panel from Ethel & Ernest.

A ’70s Disney Fan’s Scrapbook

Photo Jan 10, 9 51 37 AM
I was delighted to receive an unusual gift over the holidays – a perfectly preserved scrapbook kept by a Disney fan in the 1970s. Christopher got this in an online auction, explaining that he originally intended to take some of the rarer paper ephemera out of the book and ditch the rest. We both ended up thankful that it was kept intact.

From what I can tell, this scrapbook was kept by a young kid, probably about my age (b. 1968), who likely lived on the East coast of the U.S. The earliest dated item is a small Disneyland pamphlet guide from 1975, while the last items are news stories promoting Disney’s first PG-rated feature, The Black Hole, from December 1979. This kid saved everything – souvenirs from Disneyland and Walt Disney World, toy packaging, wrapping paper, mail-in items promoting Disney collectibles, TV Guide ads for Disney movie broadcasts, even an example of the little blue Mickey Mouse price tag familiar to many a Disney park visitor of the time.

Apparently the most loved Disney thing to this particular fan was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Live On Stage, a limited engagement musical which premiered at Radio City Music Hall on October 18, 1979. Strangely, the scrapbook has nothing at all related to The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, two favorites of mine from that era (1977).

They saved the groovy outside packaging on this SCRAP BOOK.

They saved the groovy outside packaging on this SCRAP BOOK.

Helpful into on '70s Walt Disney World.

Helpful info on ’70s Walt Disney World.

River Country closed? Waaah.

River Country closed? Waaah.

The magical little blue price tag.

The magical little blue price tag.

WDW shopping bag, newspaper ad for Sleeping Beauty re-release, cut up LP cover.

WDW shopping bag, newspaper ad for Sleeping Beauty re-release, cut up LP cover.

The Winnie the Pooh Sunday comic strip never ran in MY paper.

The Winnie the Pooh Sunday comic strip never ran in MY paper.

Brochures from Disneyland and Anaheim hotels.

Brochures from Disneyland and Anaheim hotels.

Snow White lives again, according to the NY papers.

Snow White lives again, according to the NY papers.

Wrapping paper for every mood.

Wrapping paper for every mood.

Dumbo Pop varieties and hard candy wrappers.

Dumbo Pop varieties and hard candy wrappers.

Does Richard Schickel still think it "simply blows one away!"?

Does Richard Schickel still think it “simply blows one away!”?