Friday, February 18, 2011

Lives of the Artists

Mad Painter's Scandalous Escapades Revealed in Court Docs!

Those interested in misbehaving geniuses mustn't miss this article on the BBC website.

I've always liked Caravaggio's work, and was intrigued by his rotten reputation. It's amazing to think that police records like these have survived hundreds of years! Lindsay Lohan's will vanish in a few years when our digital media erodes.

I was disappointed to hear Caravaggio died in a hospital. I preferred the tale (knowing it was too good to be true) that he'd died of a heart attack while running down the beach, screaming at a boat that was taking his possessions away. A fitting way for such a hothead to cash in.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Frank Follmer's Naughty Disney

The Mystery of the Disney Orgy

This post is really a comment about a post on Joakim Gunnarson's blog, Sekvenkonst. My comment was so lengthy that I thought I'd waste my own storage space rather than fill his. Unless you read Joakim's post and its comments, this won't make much sense. So please put down your pencils and read them now. I'll be here when you return.

Welcome back. As you see, the question is whether former Disney artist Frank Follmer was the original source of Wallace Wood's infamous "Disneyland Memorial Orgy" which appeared in the underground publication The Realist in 1967. An online dealer has put a large stock of Follmer's dirty drawings up for sale, accompanied by a glowing biography suggesting the artist was a seminal contributor to Snow White and deserved a place in the pantheon shared by Disney's "Nine Old Men."

Who Was Frank?
Some Googling turned up a handful of credits for Follmer, mostly as an effects animator in cartoons and shorts. So Follmer existed and did indeed work for Disney in the 1940s. So far, so good. Several collectors on the "Comic Art Fans" display vintage Follmer pencil drawings like this "storyboard drawing from Snow White:" I have no reason to doubt their authenticity, but three things puzzle me. First, these drawings aren't in the Disney archives. The company is famous for holding on to their production drawings. Second, each collector's comments about Follmer are nearly identical. This suggests that the drawings were all bought from the same source (the hagiograpy-writing art dealer?), which prevents cross-checking. Finally, as Joakim points out, the artist doesn't draw very well.

Now, not everyone needed to be a top-notch draughtsman to work at Disney. But check out the Disney historical books. The company's board artists were very good indeed. After all, the studio was at the top of its game. It attracted the best talent. So I'm struck by the poor perspective and lifeless drawing in the storyboard panel. Consider also this sheet, offered by a different online vendor:
These are copies from vintage model sheets we've seen before. They're better than I could do, but they wouldn't have rated very highly at 1940 Disney.

What does this suggest? That Follmer was a minor Disney artist who liked to draw the studio's characters, but wasn't nearly as important as the dealer advertises.

Dating the Dirties
On to the main question: Did Follmer originate the Disneyland Memorial Orgy? You've already seen several of Follmer's versions of the scene on Joakim's site. For analytical purposes we'll use the black-and-white one, the only one with a date.
The legend reads: "The boys in the animation department--1955." Obviously Follmer liked the theme of this piece, because he created endless variations. I presume this is not his earliest version. In a 2009 post on the Realist site a contributor calling himself "John Collector" wrote:

"Few people know that Frank Follmer was the original artist[of the orgy]. Wally Wood recreated the original for the Realist #74 [in 1967] one month after Walt Disney passed away. Paul Krassner owns the copyrights and often claims he inspired the work, but I have several original versions of this piece purchased directly from Follmer in the 1950s on Disney studio paper dated 1940."

There's no reason to doubt the gist of the story, but the dates are tricky. John Collector says the original versions dated from 1940 and he purchased them "in the 1950s." If we accept Follmer's date on the black-and-white piece, 1955, then John Collector bought the drawings between 1955-1959. This and several other drawings feature Sleeping Beauty's Castle, landmark feature of Disneyland theme park, which opened in 1955. Presumably all Follmer drawings with that castle were made after 1955. Moving back in time, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan were made in 1951 and 1953 respectively. No versions including those characters could pre-date 1951. By the same token, Bambi appeared in 1942 and Dumbo in 1941; any versions with those characters were created post-1942.

Sorting everything out, it appears that Follmer produced the Disney orgies now on sale in the late 1950s. This doesn't preclude the possibility that he did do a version in 1940. It just means that such a version isn't among the current lot.

Ours Is But to Wonder Why
Why did Follmer do so many of these things? If the original had been simply a prank to amuse his fellow artists, Follmer probably would have drawn a copy or two for friends, but that's all. Maybe he planned to sell them. If so, he didn't do very well considering how many he had left to sell to John Collector. Was he simply obsessed with Disney characters fucking? After all, some fan artists are. If so, why didn't Follmer invent new poses for the participants instead of using the same ones over and over, flopping one occasionally? We may never know.

Finally, why would Follmer misrepresent the dates of his work? Many minor old-timers have told fans stories to make themselves seem more important than they were. Follmer might have been one. Or he may not have misrepresented the dates at all. He could have been vague about dates and John Collector, like many dealers, filled in the details from his imagination.

Did Woody Do It?
I began this ramble intending to find that Follmer had copied his orgies from Wood's Realist drawing. I've changed my mind. Wood drew his poster in 1967, so all Follmer's work would have to come after that date, and all John Collector's information would have been lies. A gut feeling tells me JC was gullible, but not an outright liar. He wouldn't stand to lose much by admitting that Follmer drew his orgies in 1956. That was still a decade before the Realist drawing. He had no need to fabricate an elaborate backstory dating to the 1940s.

On the other hand it's easy to imagine counter-culture publisher Paul Krassner stumbling across a copy of this underground masterpiece and viewing it as an anonymous cultural artifact like the "What Me Worry" kid. He hires Wood to clean it up (in the artistic sense only). Krassner could easily believe he "inspired" the work because he was the one who found it and introduced it to the Age of Aquarius.

That's All, FFolkes...
How close is my analysis to the truth? I'm just another fanboy...we won't know until old-timers who knew Follmer weigh in to either confirm or refute the dealer's version of the story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stuff I've Done--4

Evaporated Liquid

A long, long, time ago in a world far, far away, it was 1992. I was working with a small TV animation studio. Word came that MTV, then the outermost molecule of the cutting edge, was seeking short animated series for its hip new anthology, Liquid Television. Everyone in the studio, even me, was invited to bring their ideas to a pitch meeting.

Even back then "hip" was not what I was. If I'd been any less hip I'd have needed replacement surgery. So I decided just to be myself. I prepared two boards to present my personal mixture of art deco, obscure reference, and word play. My series was to be called Flab of Fury, Sword of Doom. It was set in a city called Decotropolis, which name I think has since been used by someone else.It's easy to tell the age of the proposal by its references: those were the days of Lone Wolf and Cub and a dog called "Spuds" who starred in Miller Light Beer ads. Mexican wrestling was still a niche genre, almost unknown outside Los Angeles.I liked my idea, naturally, but it definitely wasn't what MTV was looking for. However our company did place a series on Liquid Television: Joe Horne's The Specialists. Joe is one of the many unsung talents of TV animation. He's still in the business--he has directed dozens of series from Disney's Teamo Supremo to Boondocks--but few people remember The Specialists and its equally brilliant MTV forerunner Stevie and Zoya. We had no idea what our competition would be, but we were all confident that The Specialists would be a smash. It was clever, it was hip, it was loaded with cultural references, and at the time its visual style was absolutely unique.

Which goes to show how wrong you can be. The Specialists got barely a nod. The MTV audience doted instead upon an animated comic-book fantasy called Aeon Flux. You may have heard of it. But there was one short that even the hippest of us thought was the ugliest, stupidest, and most worthless of all the Liquid Television contenders. This was a one-shot called "Frog Football," and it introduced two characters named Beavis and Butt-Head.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chinese Revolutionary Painters

The Paint is Red

Years ago a friend gave me a monograph about one of the State painters of Mao Tse Tung's China. Over time the poorly-produced booklet fell apart. All I have left are the color pages from the center. It's just as well, because (regrettably) I don't read Chinese. It goes without saying that I have no idea of this guy's identity or biography.

His work is typical of the "social realist" painting which flourished under China's Communist government. Intended as propaganda vehicles, these works celebrated good-looking men and women involved in labor and national service. The paintings appeared in books or as inspirational posters in factories and schools.

There seem to have been three broad styles of Chinese revolutionary art: a flat-colored approach which seems to owe much to classical Chinese art and block printing; dynamic black-and-white pictures which resemble mid-20th century Western magazine illustrations; and full-dress oil paintings stylistically rooted in conservative European art of the late 19th century.

It's interesting to see a work-in-progress demo of one of the artist's oils. The approach is solidly academic: a fairly complete charcoal drawing, a wash-in using sepia tones, then opaque color worked over the underpainting.(The finished painting is the image at the top of this post)

Also interesting is the way that the subject's face changes from drawing to finish. In the drawing he's a typical good-looking Chinese man. During his transformation into a hero the model's face loses most of its ethnic traits. I've been puzzled by this before. Many Chinese revolutionary painters seemed to employ an idealized "revolutionary hero" face which didn't look very Chinese.

In the following landscapes the artist treats a factory scene, a traditional landscape, and a river view with a pleasant Impressionistic style.

Here are a lively head study and a sketch of a plaster cast (nice reflected light):These two heads may be details from larger works:Finally come three propaganda works. The picture of the miners caught my eye. In the handful of books I've seen reproducing Chinese revolutionary art appear dozens of paintings glorifying noble (and unusually clean) coal miners. It's kind of creepy in light of the many Chinese mine disasters over the years.Thus does another anonymous illustrator enter the blogosphere. If someone out there knows his name, or can translate the captions, I'd love to hear from you!