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.