Category Archives: Rubylith

It’s a Small World After All

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Although it sports an unassuming, slapdash cover, Trademark Designs of the World is one of the most stimulating books I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning. First published in 1975, the slim paperback is the result of an offbeat collecting quest done by Japanese designer Yusaku Kamekura (1915-1997). All it amounts to, really, is a bunch of black and white company trademarks – 699 of them, to be exact – designed throughout the flourishing, consumerist post-World War II Modernist period. Kamekura arranges each trademark with great care and precision, with subtle numbered annotations next to each one (their credits and countries of origin are printed in an index in the back).

This book contains hardly any text, just page after page of ’50s-’60s Midcentury Modern Graphic Coolness. Although a preface by the famous designer Paul Rand might indicate that Kamekura’s collection is centered on iconic American trademarks (such as Rand’s IBM logo), most of the contents, surprisingly, are European and wonderfully obscure. While the pages contain a lot of the kind of austere, abstract stuff one would expect, most of the trademarks have a playful vibe, cleverly distilling letters, heraldry, and animal shapes to their most basic forms. Kamekura’s well-thought-out groupings of various trademarks on each page also inspire. I still find new, exciting stuff from paging through this book, despite having it for several months now. As a matter of fact, it’s proving to be a great resource for the visuals in my own upcoming how-to book.

In 1981, Trademark Designs of the World was reprinted as a low-cost paperback by Dover. While that edition has gone out of print, the book can be found cheaply at Amazon.com or Ebay.com. Highly recommended, folks!

Sun and rooster logos.

Sun and rooster logos.

Logos based on traditional European heraldry designs.

Logos based on traditional European heraldry designs.

Logo for Droste & Sohn, a German canned beef company.

Logo for Droste & Sohn, a German canned beef company.

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Logo for Hotel Sherman.

Logo for Hotel Sherman.

Fantastic spread with animal logos.

Fantastic spread with animal logos.

Pinwheel and abstract logos, artfully arranged.

Pinwheel and abstract logos, artfully arranged.

A favorite - London Mystery Magazine logo by  Eric Frazer.

A favorite – London Mystery Magazine logo by Eric Frazer.

Industrial objects, incorporated into modern logos.

Industrial objects, incorporated into modern logos.

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They Drew As They Pleased: the 1930s

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I’ve been following Disney historian Didier Ghez since the mid-2000s, when he first started writing about old-style Walt Disney Studio goodness on his blog, Disney History. It was delightful to find that his labors have brought forth a fancy coffee-table-style book of vintage Disney studio art – the first of a series! The handsome 2015 hardback, They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s pays homage to overlooked artists who worked at the Disney studio in its prime.

They Drew As They Pleased gives a new spin to a familiar subject, shedding light on four particular artists with mini-biographies and a host of previously unpublished artwork. Even for those well-versed in what the Disney studio was working on in the ’30s – Mickey Mouse cartoons, Silly Symphonies shorts, the features Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia – there’s a lot of surprises within. Although the idea of using “concept artists” in film and TV production is pretty common today, back in the ’30s it was pretty rare. Indeed, Walt Disney was the first animation producer to realize the potential of hiring imaginative artists strictly for the purpose of inspiring the look and feel of the final product. The projects that these artists worked on included not just the classics listed above, but also films not released until much later (Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella) and shelved projects (Ballet de Fleurs, Streubel Peter, Japanese Symphony).

The artists profiled in They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s are pretty fascinating, especially given that I was familiar with just one (the brilliant Gustaf Tenggren). They are –

  • Albert Hurter (1883-1942), Disney’s first story artist. Hurter’s imaginative, spontaneous pencil drawings provided visual flair to many a Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoon. Some of his stuff reproduced here pushes the limits, going in a surreal, Dr. Seuss-like direction. Hurter’s life story was as unique as his talent (Disney kept him on the payroll, even as failing health had him in a convalescent home).
  • Ferdinand Horvath (1891-1973) lent his wide-ranging abilities to layouts, animation, gag drawings, illustration at the studio over a period of several years. Horvath had had a tempestuous relationship with Disney, although it doesn’t show in his whimsical, kinetic and polished work.
  • Gustaf Tenggren (1896-1970). Like Hurter, Gustaf Tenggren was an eccentric European expat whose visual flair left its mark on a variety of Disney productions. Most significantly, his gorgeous production art brought an immersive Old World sensibility to Snow White and Pinocchio. That celebrated art is reproduced here, along with some fascinating storyboard art and production studies. Tenggren’s bio, like Hurter’s, reveals a fascinating, quirky life (will someone do a long-form bio on this guy? I’d snap it up.).
  • Bianca Majolie (1900-1997). Besting Mary Blair by a few years, Majolie was Disney’s first female concept artist. A classmate of Walt’s from Chicago, Majolie endeared herself to Disney by contributing a feminine touch to a handful of short subjects (a few of which went unreleased) in the late ’30s. Unfortunately, the overtly macho atmosphere in Disney’s story department prompted Majolie to resign in 1940. Too bad – based on this book, her work was delightful.

They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s was published in 2015 by Chronicle. A follow-up volume, the first of two covering the 1940s, just came out last month. Ghez himself told me that there will be six volumes published, in total (yeah!). Both current volumes can be purchased at Amazon.com here and here.

Tenggren artwork for Ballet de Fleurs (L) and The Old Mill (R).

Tenggren artwork for Ballet de Fleurs (L) and The Old Mill (R).

Foreword spread with Horvath studies for The Fox Hunt (1938).

Foreword spread with Hovarth studies for The Fox Hunt (1938).

Majolie character studies for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Majolie character studies for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Hurter studies for a seductive hippo, possibly for Fantasia.

Hurter studies for a seductive hippo, possibly for Fantasia.

Tenggren concept art for Little Hiawatha.

Tenggren concept art for Little Hiawatha.

Horvath at the easel, from his biographical section.

Horvath at the easel, from his biographical section.

Each artist profile has a beautiful opening spread - here's part of  Tenggren's.

Each artist profile has a beautiful opening spread – here’s part of Tenggren’s.

Majolie ideas and drawings for the abandoned short Japanese Symphony.

Majolie ideas and drawings for the abandoned short Japanese Symphony.

Back cover, sporting some great Pinocchio concept art from Tenggren.

Back cover, sporting some great Pinocchio concept art from Tenggren.

Look What I Found: Loyd Tireman’s Cocky

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We saw a lot of terrific things on a recent visit to the Heard Museum, a local institution here in Phoenix which focuses on Native American art, past and present. Something that really stoked my imagination could be found not in the museum, proper, but in the bookstore. Neatly lined up on a shelf, there was a group of kids’ books – colorful volumes focusing on animals of the Southwest, done in a vivid 1940s style. It was the Mesaland series: a set of seven volumes written by Loyd Tireman and published by his employer, The University of New Mexico, from 1943 to 1949. These enchanting books were brought back into print by the University press in 2015. As evidenced by Cocky, Tireman’s tale of a feisty road runner and his young family, the books are well worth checking out.

The fourth Mesaland book, Cocky (1946) takes place in a contemporary desert setting brimming with wildlife, with some intrusions by humans (like Felix Slatkin’s classic Bambi, although not quite as preachy). Cocky arrives to set up a nest with his mate, Mrs. Cocky, his odd appearance puzzling a jackrabbit named Hop-A-Long (introduced in a previous Mesaland volume). While attempting to raise chicks with Mrs. Cocky, Cocky encounters a variety of foes, including a rattlesnake and a hunting human. He also sneaks into a farm’s chicken coop to pilfer some food, annoying a hot-blooded rooster. Tireman, a long-tenured professor of elementary education, makes the story both educational and entertaining. The story is fairly realistic and attuned to how real animals behave – like Bambi, it’s not sugar-coated. Having lived and worked in New Mexico for so long (32 years at the University alone), Tireman imbues the story with the ambiance of the Southwestern desert – something totally unprecedented in the ’40s!

All of the Mesaland books are enlivened by dynamic, Dr. Seuss-ish artwork from Ralph Douglass, one of Tireman’s colleagues at the University. Along with Cocky, the series included Baby Jack and Jumping Rabbit, Hop-a-Long (both about rabbits), Dumbee (focusing on a bee!), Big Fat (a groundhog), Quills (a porcupine) and 3 Toes (a wolf).

The reprinted Mesaland volumes are unabridged and nicely bound as compact, dust jacket-free hardbacks. The original two-color printing is done a bit differently in the 2015 books as a standard four-color process, a difference which likely will be only noticed by graphic designers. Cocky can be purchased at the University of New Mexico website, or at Amazon.com. Since the original books have long gone out of print, commanding high prices on the used market, it’s excellent that these wonderful books are back on shelves.

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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.

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Look What I Found: Two from Raymond Briggs

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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.