J. Gordon Legg’s Tree Nymphs for FANTASIA, Finally in Color!

In 1942, a beautiful conceptual artwork for Disney’s Fantasia (1940) occupied a full black-and-white page in Robert D. Feild’s The Art of Walt Disney, the first book to seriously examine the Disney studio creative processes.

Former Harvard professor Feild used the illustration to praise the Layout and Background Departments, whose artists “must possess a unique sense of design, a pictorial imagination allowing them to build up compositions that can be broken down into any number of separate pictures, each having an integral unity of its own.”

No artists were credited to any of the book’s illustrations, and the original color version of this concept has never been published until now. It was painted and signed, in August 1938, by J. Gordon Legg (1909 – 2003), one of Fantasia’s art directors, during the exploratory stage of the so-called “concert feature.” The Disney artists were exploring various Greek and Roman mythological characters and stories for possible use with music from Pierne’s ballet, Cydalise, which ultimately was replaced by Beethoven’s Symphony #6, the “Pastoral.”

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Legg’s imagery depicts a grove of hamadryads, or tree nymphs,  free spirits who, in Greek mythology, lived inside trees.

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There is mystery in the painting. It has a strange mood, at once peaceful and disturbing, its calm colors contrasted with the naked writhing  forms of nymphs visible within the tree trunks.

Click image to enlarge.  Note Artist’s signature and date, lower right corner.

Robin Allan, author of Walt Disney and Europe, quotes a 1976 Legg interview by Milton Gray regarding the design and color used in Fantasia’s “Pastoral” sequence:

“They wanted Classical backgrounds … and they didn’t care too much how accurate it was.  I kind of followed Grant Wood and Rockwell Kent — you know, cleaned up the trees, so that everything was neat and clean and precise. It was like Forest Lawn. I wanted to keep the colors rich and subtle — olive greens and maroons — played down colors like you see in the Italian School … I worked with Ken Anderson; he was the final layout director [for the “Pastoral” sequence], and a very talented artist. But I guess Disney got in there someplace and said, ‘Let’s brighten this thing up.” That’s where we got into the peppermint candy. It bothered me; I didn’t want it that way. It was too sticky, too sweet.”

One of the final “Pastoral” production backgrounds, shown below, illustrates Legg’s criticism of  the sequence’s color palette.  The circular pavilion featured in the painting  was likely inspired by the Temple of Love at the Palace of Versailles.

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Allan concludes, “Throughout this section there is reverence for and misunderstanding of sources,” or what film reviewer Helmut Farber called “Kunst und kitsch.”

John Gordon Legg joined the Disney studio on April 13, 1936 after a period as a student at Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles and work as a commercial artist. His airbrush expertise led to designing many of Disney’s short film title cards, such as Woodland Cafe (1937),

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and the pages of the large tome that opens Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

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Legg’s other art deco/Rockwell Kent-inspired “Pastoral’ concepts include:

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Apollo riding a chariot pulled by fiery horses;

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contemplative Pegasus resting;

Diana, the personification of night, shooting a star into a dark sky with her silver hunting bow.

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Legg’s original hamadryad painting is now part of the Walt Disney Family Museum animation art collection.  For help with background information on J.W. Legg, I am grateful to Joe Campana, Michael Labrie, and the late Robin Allan.

 

Hits: 225

Remembering Tissa David
(1921 -2012) Part 1

Tissa David, self-portrait, 1975. Click image to enlarge.

“Animation is the most creative art of all, because you are creating life. You are making a drawing come to life. You can’t be more creative than that!”

–Tissa David

This past January 5th marked the centennial year of the birth of Tissa David, one of the world’s great animators.

Tissa David in her New York Apartment. Click image to enlarge.

She was born in 1921 in Transylvania, in the city of Kolozsvár, Hungary.  When she died at age 91, on Aug. 21, 2012, in New York City, she was recognized within the international animation community as a film artist of inimitable sensitivity and wit, and a brave woman with an iron will and singular passion for her chosen art form.

Raggedy Ann by Tissa David, 1976
Raggedy Ann by Tissa David, 1976. Click image to enlarge.
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Model Sheet by Tissa David for Raggedy Ann and Andy’s dance. Click image to enlarge.

In motion, David’s sensual hand-drawn lines display superb timing, enormous charm, and a master actor’s sure instinct for performance.  She truly brought cartoon characters to sparkling life on the screen as distinctive personalities.   In addition to her creativity, her formidable survival skills and dedication to her work are a vital inspiration for women.  Speaking of her pioneering efforts and success in the traditionally male-dominated animation industry, she once said, “I do consider myself somebody who walked the road for the first time.”

Tissa David was also a tough-love mentor who generously shared her vast knowledge and experience with many a novice animator, including me.  During our nearly forty years of friendship, I was privileged to interview her in print and onstage numerous times.

As a tribute to this extraordinary woman, artist and teacher, I plan this year to post my personal reflections about the life and career of Tissa David on John Canemaker’s Animated Eye, augmented with rare drawings, photographs, and interview transcripts.

Click on the image to link to a video of Tissa’s Master Class for animation students as NYU Tisch School of the Arts, April 24, 2006. Running time 1hr 46min.

Although her name is not familiar to the general public, several generations of audiences grew up seeing and responding emotionally to Tissa David’s work.  Among her most famous assignments were the eponymous ragdolls in the feature “Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure” (1977), whom she endowed with enormous warmth and heart.  “I project a lot of myself into Raggedy Ann,” she once admitted.

Children viewing “Sesame Street” learned the alphabet from David; a ravenous letter M, for example, was hers. They learned spelling rules, too, from her work for “The Electric Company” and its “Letterman” segments.

Tissa David animating at her drawing board . Photo by John Canemaker. Click image to enlarge.

Adults enjoyed her versatility in scores of television commercials throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The brothers Bert and Harry (voiced by the comedy team of Bob and Ray) were her memorable work for Piel’s Beer.  She animated commercials for numerous products, including Perrier, the New York radio station WQXR, the clothing retailer Barney’s, Esso and Shell gasoline, Excedrin, Vlasic Pickles, Cheerios and IBM.

A 1950s storyboard from a Piel’s Beer commercial, used as an invitation to a party at UPA’s New York Studio. Click image to enlarge.
Death and Mother Nature, from EGGS, 1970, by the Hubley Studio. Click image to enlarge.
Two sisters, from the Hubleys’ COCKABOODY, 1973. Click image to enlarge.
EVERYBODY RIDES THE CAROUSEL, 1976. Click image to enlarge.

Tissa explored serious subject matter and deep emotions in award-winning Hubley Studio films: overpopulation in “Eggs” (1970); child development in “Cockaboody” (1973); love, in both parental and romantic forms, in “Everybody Rides the Carousel” (1976). In the last, David animated with extraordinary sensitivity a young man and a woman (voiced by Meryl Streep) negotiating boundaries of trust by literally masking their feelings.

David’s performance range was vast because she became her characters.  “Sometimes,” she explained in her soft Hungarian accent in an interview with me for my 1977 book, “The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy,” “my characters succeed to imitate me.”

Speaking in 2006 to a group of NYU animation students, she noted, “All my characters are alive . . . they are my friends. I never feel alone.”

The skating princess Sasha in “The Great Frost,” adapted from Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” for the 1977 PBS special “Simple Gifts,” is suffused with feminine mystery.  Contrast that with the macho swagger and sharp moves of the violin-playing devil in PBS’s “The Soldier’s Tale” (1984).

ORLANDO_Simple-Gifts_1977
The skating princess Sasha, from ‘The Great Frost’ segment of SIMPLE GIFTS, a 1977 PBS special. Click image to enlarge.
Devil with violin, from A SOLDIER’S TALE ,1984. Click image to enlarge.
Titania
Titania, from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, 1987, finished cel and animation drawing. Click image to enlarge.

Her Rubenesque Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1986) for Dutch public television and Channel Four London exudes languid, sleep-infused sexuality.  The film combined live-action with animation by Tissa and a small crew of friends.  “Three people did the whole thing,” under her supervision, she admitted proudly.  It was not the first time she directed a full-length film.

Tissa David’s director’s notebook matching Mendelsohn’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM music to the animated action of the cartoons. Click image to enlarge.

In Paris in 1953, she became the animation director and principal animator for “Bonjour Paris!,” produced by Jean Image Studio, becoming the second woman, after Lotte Reiniger, to direct a feature-length animated film.

Bonjour Paris 1
Above and below, magazine layouts for the premiere of BONJOUR PARIS!, 1952. Click images to enlarge.

How Tissa David got from Hungary to France, and then to America, is an inspiring story of personal courage, grit and dedication to her art.

The David family in Szeged, late 1920s. Tissa is at the center of the photo, with a bow in her hair. Click image to enlarge.
Tissa, at right, with four of her siblings, Szeged, Hungary. Click image to enlarge.

Thérèse “Tissa” David was born in 1921 in Kolozsvár, the capital of Transylvanian Hungary (now Cluj-Napoca, Romania). She was the second-eldest of 10 children.  The family soon relocated to Szeged, in southern Hungary, where her father became a professor at the University of Szeged.  He expected his children to succeed in whatever they did. Tissa was bitten by the animation bug in 1938 when she saw Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” “This is what I want to do,” she decided.

A 1942 portrait of Tissa David by her fellow art student Judit Reigl, made in Budapest during World War II. Click image to enlarge.

After earning a teaching degree, her draftsmanship was strengthened at the Academy of Beaux Arts in Budapest, but she dropped out to join a local animation studio. When she first saw a character she animated move on the screen, she recalled in an interview with me in 2002, “It was the most exciting moment in my life.”

Tissa in Hungarian Studio 1
Above and below, Tissa David at work in a Hungarian puppet animation studio, late 1940s. Click images to enlarge.

During the 1944 siege of Budapest she survived daily bombings, ate horse meat and boiled beans (“We were starving!”), and learned “how small and how great people can be.” After the war, she co-owned an animation studio until the Communists took over.

A map of the Allied Zones of Occupation in Austria, May 1949. The Hungarian border is at the right. Click image to enlarge.

In March 1950, David and an art-school friend (the now-renowned painter Judit Reigl) escaped their oppressed homeland, settling in Paris. “After you go through the Hungarian border,” she claimed, “nothing can scare you.”

Tissa David and producer Jean Image during production of the 1953 feature cartoon BONJOUR PARIS! Click image to enlarge.
A cel and background from Bonjour Paris! Click image to enlarge.

She learned French and worked as a maid, cook and house-cleaner. Within a year, she became animation director and principal animator for “Bonjour Paris!” and gave jaunty life to the Eiffel Tower itself, in the 1953 Jean Image Studio feature “Bonjour Paris!”

Tissa David at a New York City art gallery, circa late 1960s. Photo by Ray Favata. Click to enlarge image.
Grim Natwick and Tissa at a Christmas party, late 1950s. Click image to enlarge.
Grim Natwick and Tissa David working at a New York animation studio. Click image to enlarge.
Ed-Morrow-early-concept-TERROR-FACES-MAGOO-UPA-1959
An early concept sketch for TERROR FACES MAGOO, UPA, 1959, featuring a caricature of journalist Edward R. Murrow. Click image to enlarge.
Tissa and Grim as Raggedy Ann and Andy, 1976. Caricature by Dick Williams. Click to enlarge image.

In 1955 she immigrated to America (and learned English). The next year, at UPA Studio in New York, she became assistant to Grim Natwick (1890-1990), one of Disney’s lead animators on “Snow White.” As freelance professional partners, she and Natwick worked on hundreds of TV commercials and the last Mr. Magoo theatrical short (“Terror Faces Magoo” – 1959). David always claimed she learned “absolutely everything” about animation from Natwick. Publicly he took bows for the team, while privately acknowledging that because of David’s skills he was “able to work another 10 years.”

When Natwick retired in 1967, David, then in her 40s, could not find work. “In America, animation was a jealously guarded men’s field,” she said. “So girls should be assistants, inkers, painters—not animators.” Eventually, the Hubley studio, Michael Sporn Animation, R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank and Richard Williams (director of the feature “Raggedy Ann & Andy”), among others, hired her as a solo animator; and she continued to work steadily in America and abroad well into her 80s.  She developed an admirable economy in her animation, limiting it to essential storytelling drawings. “You don’t do many drawings,” she noted, “but you know how to use them.” Often she completed the storyboard and all the animation for half-hour productions, such as Michael Sporn’s superb “The Marzipan Pig” (1990).

Tissa’s storyboard for THE MARZIPAN PIG 1990, produced and directed by Michael Sporn. Click image to enlarge.
THE MARZIPAN PIG, Tissa’s animation of a talking hibiscus. Click image to enlarge.

Since 1956, she lived and worked alone on East 83rd Street in a cozy one-bedroom apartment filled with plants, books and paintings (including Ms. Reigl’s), a place smelling of baked apples and spices, for David was an excellent cook specializing in Szeged cuisine. Over the years a parade of animation novices (myself included) went there for her advice on our projects.  She combined bracing, honest assessments — “this is a lousy drawing” or “this is a very bad film” — with golden nuggets of information: “Animation is all caricature”; “Don’t show what is not absolutely necessary to the story”; “Always think of how your character feels”; and “The greatest animation is the simplest. Search for what is essential in an action or a scene.” She gave truth to us straight and we loved her for it.

Celebrating Tissa’s 90th birthday on a snowy January night. From left, John Canemaker, Tissa David, Mike Sporn and Heidi Stallings. Click image to enlarge.

Tissa’s strength and dedication to her art were rare, inspiring qualities. “Animation is such a long, hard work,” she said, “you have to keep doing, doing, doing to learn. You can only have one love if you want to be an animator: animation.  You can’t devote yourself to it part-time.”

On the evening of January 18, 2003, the Museum of Modern Art in New York honored Tissa David with a film retrospective of her career in animation, co-curated by Josh Siegel and me.   In my introduction to a full-house of her admirers, I noted that “Dizzy Gillespie once called Louis Armstrong ‘Jazz in person.’  To those privileged to have known her personally, and those who know her only through her extraordinary art, Tissa David is ‘Animation in person.’”

Tissa David MoMA retrospective, Jan. 18, 2003, interviewed on stage by John Canemaker. Click image to enlarge.
Tissa David after her 2003 MoMA retrospective talking with animator/designer Dan Haskett, one of her colleagues on the 1977 RAGGEDY ANN & ANDY feature. Click image to enlarge.
John and Tissa in Bridgehampton, 2003. Click image to enlarge.

Click here to access the full illustrated transcript (.pdf) of my interview with Tissa David on September, 18, 2002, in which she candidly speaks at length, publicly, about her harrowing escape from communist Hungary in 1950, her life and work in animation in Paris, and her first experiences working in animation in New York with, and without, her mentor Grim Natwick.


Tissa David in 1976 at her animation desk with Raggedy Ann drawing. Photo by Riad Traboulsi. Click image to enlarge.

COMING SOON: TISSA DAVID ANIMATES THE EPONYMOUS STARS OF RICHARD WILLIAMS’ FEATURE, RAGGEDY ANN & & ANDY: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE (1977).

Dick Williams flipping RAGGEDY ANN & ANDY animation drawings with Tissa David, 1976. Caricature by Jim Logan. Click image to enlarge.

Hits: 419

FANTASIA’S 80th Anniversary – and a 1975 interview with Art Babbitt

The premiere of Walt Disney’s FANTASIA at New York’s Broadway Theatre on November 13, 1940.

November 13 marks the 80th anniversary of Walt Disney’s Fantasia.  It is my favorite Disney film.

How I wish I could have attended the 1940 premiere at New York’s Broadway Theatre – the first time those now-familiar Technicolor animated visualizations of eight classical music scores were screened with “Fantasound,” a pioneering dimensional soundtrack system.  What a thrill it must have been.

John Canemaker interviewing the great animator Art Babbitt, on June 4, 1975, NYC.

During my years as an animation historian, I’ve met and/or interviewed numerous artists who worked on the film (such as Joe Grant, Richard Huemer, Ollie Johnson, Bianca Majolie, Lee Blair, John Hench, Ken Anderson, Les Clark, Preston Blair, John Hubley, Bill Peet, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Ken O’Connor; and several artists’ family members, including Sylvia Moberly-Holland’s daughter; Vladimir Tytla’s widow;  John Parr Miller’s brother; James Bodrero’s daughter; Oskar Fischinger’s widow and daughters.

Art Babbitt (1907-1992) was a brilliant animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Dumbo, as well as key scenes in Fantasia.  Late in his career, I got to know him quite well and interviewed him privately and in public venues numerous times when he was a star animator on the feature, Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977), the subject of my first book (The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy). 

 

 

Three photos of Art Babbitt during the interview, age 68 in 1975.

To celebrate Fantasia, as well as Mr. Babbitt’s long, influential and controversial career, I offer the transcript of my first wide-ranging, freewheeling, unedited interview with him on June 4, 1975 – typos, misspellings and Art’s candid opinions and rueful wit galore.  Transcribed by me from my battered old Panasonic cassette tape recorder.  I also offer the edited version of the interview that was subsequently published in a 1975 issue of Millimeter Magazine.

My friend Carol Millican, gifted animator and friend, recorded the session in photographs.

The original transcript of my interview with Art Babbitt. Click on image to open.
The edited version published in Millimeter Magazine, 1975. Click on Image to open.
A 1970 letter from Babbitt when he was head of the commercials department at Hanna-Barbera studio.

 

A November 1972 drawing by Art Babbitt of the dancing mushroom characters the animated in FANTASIA in 1940. Click image to enlarge.

 

The camera layout drawing used by Babbitt for the choreography of the final scene of the mushroom dance. Click image to enlarge.

 

A pastel concept drawing by Elmer Plummer for the mushroom dance in the Nutcracker Suite sequence. Click image to enlarge

 

Another Nutcracker Suite dance sequence animated by Art Babbitt using thistle and orchid dancers. Click image to enlarge.

 

 

In FANTASIA’s Pastoral Symphony sequence, Babbitt animated the giant gods Zeus and Vulcan. Here are two layout drawings by Ken Anderson of Zeus’ first appearance. Click images to enlarge.

 

Assorted 1940 FANTASIA books, illustrated with art from the film. Click image to enlarge.

Thanks to Jake Friedman for his help with this article.

Update:

Two readers of my Facebook page noted that Art Babbitt strongly defended his turf — namely, the animation of the mushroom dance in FANTASIA — when it was challenged by two colleagues who claimed it as their own, namely Jules Engel and Elmer Plummer, former Disney artists who later taught at Cal Arts.

Submitted below, for the historical record, are two hand-written, hotly articulate letters to me from Babbitt, dated 23 and 27 February 1976.  I was, at the time, animation editor at Millimeter magazine.

Letter from Art Babbitt, dated Feb. 27, 1976. Click image to enlarge.

 

Subsequent letter from Art Babbitt, dated Feb. 27, 1976. Click image to enlarge.

The matter generated enough controversy that it prompted Jack Hanna, another Disney studio alum who was also a Cal Arts instructor, to write this to me:

“I had nothing to do with the mushroom dance. But I like mushroom soup!”

 

Hits: 639

John Lennon Sketchbook – 1986

Today, October 9, is John Lennon’s 80th birthday, and it is still hard to believe that in just two months we will mark the 40th anniversary of his death. 

Above and below, two cel setups from the animated short JOHN LENNON SKETCHBOOK.

I’d like to remember him with an account I wrote of my working with Yoko Ono in 1986 on JOHN LENNON SKETCHBOOK, an animated short based on Lennon’s personal drawings. It was written for the Sept/Oct 1987 issue of How magazine. Click on the cover image below to read the article:

Although the four-minute film was never released theatrically, it is available on YouTube:

Design and characters based on drawings by John Lennon
Animation produced and directed by John Canemaker
Executive Producer: Yoko Ono
Copyright © 1986 Ono Video

This autographed record album was a gift from Yoko and Sean, after we finished production on JOHN LENNON SKETCHBOOK.

 

Imagine.

Hits: 700

ALFRED BENJAMIN HUNT:
Color Comic Strip Pioneer

Winsor McCay – His Life and Art, my biography of the innovative pioneer of comic strips and animated films, has been revised twice since Abbeville Press first published it in 1987.   In the 2005 Harry N. Abrams edition and, again, in the current 2018 CRC Press/A Focal Press Book edition, I updated and expanded the text to include new information about McCay that had come to my attention in the last three decades. 

I am particularly pleased about one informational addition in the new CRC/Focal Press edition, concerning a gentleman I first described, in 1987, as merely “a Mr. Hunt of the [New York] Herald  color department.”  His name had come to my attention in the margin of an original Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip board, on which Winsor McCay  penciled an instructional message in non-photographing blue pencil:

Mr. Hunt,
This is a snow forest. All the trees and foliage are snow. Plenty of purple and blue tones. The only bright color will be in the costume of the figures.  An orange sky. The rest all pale blues, pinks and purples. Creme colored [indecipherable] with cold blue shadows.

Mc.

(The strip,  which was published on January 21, 1906, had Nemo tunneling through snow while being chased by a polar bear.)

The New York Herald color department was located in an Italianate building at 35th Street and Broadway modeled after the Palazzo del Consiglio in Verona.

I figured Mr. Hunt was one of the so-called “artists in zinc,” a master of the Ben Day printing process which allowed shading on color pictures for reproduction in the Herald.  It was an intricate, labor intensive artistic/mechanical/chemical operation that lent McCay’s Little Nemo and other Herald Sunday comic strips the most subtle, stunningly beautiful array of colors ever seen in early news print. 

The vast press room in the basement of the Herald Building allowed passersby on Broadway to peer through the tall glass windows and see news being made. Click to enlarge

I later happened upon an April 20, 1914 Herald article,“Exhibit of Color Print Art Pays Tribute to Work Done by the Herald”, which describes in detail the problems of etching on plates of zinc to achieve gradations of light and shade or tone. 

The etcher on copper, after great labor, is able to produce this effect with the needle . . . The Ben day process consists in placing a fine meshed, inked screen over the parts of the plate to be shaded and then making dots by passing a roller over it. That portion of the plate which is not to be printed on is protected by a gamboge solution. The screen is regulated by a delicately adjusted gauge, manipulated by a thumb screw, and the ground may be light or dark as the operator thinks best.  It is in the various modifications of the process, the placing of dots and lines in greater number where deeper color is desired, and in the soft blending of tones that the artist-artisans of the Herald plant excel.

An informative article on the color print process at the NY Herald, published on April 20, 1914. Four of the colorists, including Alfred B. Hunt, head of the department, are not identified. Click to see full article.

Four colorists appear in as many photographs.  Unfortunately, the men pictured are not identified, though their intricate jobs are described in detail and their “high skill” praised:

[The artists in zinc] have to foresee what the effect of the various color combinations will be when the final proof is made, because often four or five different plates are used in the preparation of one color page.  The harmony of colors depends much upon the ability of the makers of the plate. The slightest variation in tone may destroy the conception of the artist and produce an effect that would be harsh and coarse.  The men of the Herald color department turn out plates of exceptional excellence, and yet rapidly enough to meet every requirement of newspaper speed.  

I wondered if Mr. Hunt might be among these four men.  Perhaps he was a foreman who collaborated with McCay on color choices for the Nemo strip.   Pity, I thought, not to know something, anything, about his job, background and personal life.  I feared he and his co-workers, who participated in creating such beautiful graphic imagery, would remain as anonymous to history as the artisans of ancient Egyptian monuments and craftspeople of Chartres.

But — “the gods smile on film historians,” wrote animation historian and author Donald Crafton in his seminal book, Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898 – 1928.   Or, as Tennessee Williams put it, “Sometimes – there’s God – so quickly.”  

In late November, 2011, I was surprised by an email from Carmen and Jennifer Armstrong, two sisters who knew of my McCay biography.  They wanted advice on the value of a collection of color proofs on tear sheets from the New York Herald newspaper’s Sunday color comics, a family legacy from their great-grandfather —  Mr. Alfred B. Hunt. 

Alfred Benjamin Hunt (1854 – 1947) was a pioneer in the Ben Day process of hand color work used in newspapers. He headed the color work department for the New York Herald comics and magazine sections for 28 years (1896 – 1924).

“[He] was a colorist (I think they called them),” Carmen Armstrong wrote.  “For the Herald in NYC.  He did the coloring for the Little Nemo in Slumberland and other comics. He saved every proof that he did at that time.  They are the size of a full page of the NY Times.”

Thanks to the generosity of the sisters Armstrong, I learned a great deal about the formerly mysterious Mr. Hunt when I visited their Long Island home that December, as well as the identity of two of his colleagues  on the Ben Day process, depicted in the 1911 Herald story: Al Heatherington and Louis Kreamer, Sr. :

Al Hetherington, one of the Herald colorists “Laying the Tint.”
Louis Kreamer, Sr. “Painting Out Tints.”

Alfred Benjamin Hunt was born in 1854 on Clarkson Street, Brooklyn, the son of Benjamin Hunt and Hannah Flower Hunt, both natives of England. 

In 1886, at age 32, Hunt married the former Lilian Butler and they lived for 47 years in a house they owned on Macon Street, Brooklyn. They had a daughter named Iola. His wife died in 1933.

When Hunt was three, the family moved to Brookside Avenue, Freeport, Long Island, where his father operated a nearby farm.  During the Civil War, the Hunt family lived in Freeport, where young Hunt attended school in Roosevelt. When he was a youth, the family moved back to Brooklyn.  Hunt was a graduate of the Academy of Design at Cooper Union, New York City, and began his career working in the printing industry.

It is not known where this group photo was taken of Hunt as a young man, standing in the back row, third from right. It may have been a lithograph studio where he gained on the job experience in the Ben Day process, which was introduced in 1879.

Alfred B. Hunt indeed worked directly with Winsor McCay on the magnificent Little Nemo in Slumberland series, from its beginning in October 1905 (Hunt was then age 51 and McCay age 38) until McCay joined Hearst’s papers in June 1911.

Hunt also supervised color choices and processes for Johnny Gruelle (1880 – 1938) and his Sunday comic fantasy strip, Mr. Twee Deedle, about a magical wood sprite who befriends two human children.  The beautifully drawn whimsy, which dips into surrealism on occasion, was the winning entry in a 1910 New York Herald contest that sought a replacement for Little Nemo, when McCay left for Hearst. 

Mr. Twee Deedle ran for four years from 1911 to 1914, until it was abruptly discontinued by a new Sunday editor.  The Herald publisher, James Gordon Bennett, noticed the omission while traveling in Europe.

“What became of Twee Deedle? cabled Bennett.

“Discontinued by Sunday editor,” was cabled back.

“Discontinue Sunday editor,” was Bennett’s succinct reply. 

Mr. Twee Deedle lived another four years.

In 1918, Johnny Gruelle created beloved Raggedy Ann, whose stories, and those of her brother Raggedy Andy, quickly became a publishing and merchandising bonanza for the cartoonist.

A  Bonham’s catalogue, for a December 11, 2013 sale of Mr. Hunt’s collection of Herald color proofs, described Mr. Hunt’s work:  “After the illustrators brought in their black and white drawings and paintings, Hunt would then apply watercolor to black and white proofs to guide the printers in the final Ben Day color scheme.  Among the artists and cartoonists Hunt worked with were Harrison Fisher, Arthur I. Keller, Winsor McCay, Thomas Nast, R. F. Outcault, W. A. Rogers and Dan Smith.  Included are many of the Christmas supplements and a large number of the weekly “Fluffy Ruffles” pages written by Carolyn Wells and illustrated by Wallace Morgan.”

After 28 years at the Herald, Hunt left at the time of its merger with the New York Tribune in 1924. He was 70 years old, but then worked at the Boro Engraving Company, Brooklyn, until he finally retired in 1941 at age 86.

Alfred Hunt, late in life, pointing at artwork as he confers with an unidentified man. This photo may have been taken at the Boro Engraving Company.

Hunt moved back to Freeport in retirement, living at South Long Beach Avenue.  His hobby was gardening, laying out and planting vegetable and flower gardens at his home, a continuation of his love of color, this time in three dimensions.  Mr. Hunt was the oldest living member of the 23rd regiment of the National Guard, at the rank of sergeant.  He was on active duty on many occasions, and received an honorary membership in the Veterans Association of the regiment. He was affiliated with the Williamsburgh Congregational church, Brooklyn, and the Tompkins Avenue Congregational church.

Alfred B. Hunt had only been ill a week when he died on June 23, 1947 at a Rockville Centre convalescent home at age 92.  

Carmen and Jennifer Armstrong generously allowed me to copy family photographs, newspaper clippings, and their large collection of original, color-test page proofs, and I am very grateful for their kind support.   

These exciting, full-size newspaper pages included over fifty mint-condition Little Nemo in Slumberland color sheets from 1905, 1908, 1909, 1910, and more than 150 full-size color sheets of Johnny Gruelle’s comic strip series Mr. Twee Deedle, among other artists of the period, including an original R. F. Outcault drawing of Buster Brown and his dog, Tige.

I was able to include some of the new biographical information about Alfred B. Hunt in the CRC Press edition of Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, but it was not possible to include  photographs or extra artwork.  

This post, and the illustrations in the gallery below will, I hope, rectify that omission by filling in some gaps of about the art and skill of Mr. Hunt, a man who participated in the development of a new art form and helped bring into the world enchanting beauty.

Gallery:

The Little Nemo in Slumberland and Mr. Twee Deedle images here are taken directly from Alfred B. Hunt’s original page proofs, which preserved the vibrant colors of the Ben Day process.

A colorful July 31, 1909 page proof of Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, an episode when Nemo and friends visited a zoo on Mars. Click to enlarge.
A close-up of the Nemo-on-Mars page shows the Ben Day dots and subtle gradations of the vibrant colors. Click to enlarge.
The Martian “Freckled Chump” held captive for 600 years and in his place by a spike in its tail reflects McCay’s angry mood and frustration working at the Herald; he was already plotting his escape to Hearst’s papers in June 1911.
In this October 23, 1910 page proof, Nemo and friends, flying on an airship en route to New York, pass over the New Jersey Meadowlands and encounter giant mosquitos, known in vaudeville comedy routines and McCay’s second animated film, How a Mosquito Operates (1912) as “Jersey Skeeters.”
Above and Below: Close-up views of the mosquito episode’s beauty in design, draftsmanship, composition and exciting color choices, combined with the horror of the threatening bloodsuckers. Note the printing registration plus-sign in red and blue circle on the bottom of this color test page.
Click to enlarge.
Johnny Gruelle’s delightfully whimsical Mr. Twee Deedle of September 03, 1911, a comic strip showcasing cinematic staging and animation, delicate but assured draftsmanship, and painterly colors. Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Like many cartoonists, including McCay, Gruelle often re-used ideas; here are two beautiful illustrations from his 1917 book, My Very Own Fairy Stories, telling once again the transformation tale of “The Ugly Caterpillar.”

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Information courtesy of:

The Collection of Carmen and Jennifer Armstrong

Nassau Daily Review-Star, 24 June 1947: “Alfred Hunt, 92 Dies; Color Print Pioneer”

Special to the Herald Tribune, Rockville Center, L.I. 23 June 1947 “Alfred B. Hunt”

New York Herald, Mon. 20 April 20, 1914: “Exhibit of Color Print Art Pays Tribute to Work Done by the Herald.”

Addendum  

Bonhams – 11 Dec 2013 auction of Alfred B. Hunt collection:

Winsor Zenas McCay (1867-1934).  Little Nemo in Slumberland. 

59 Color Printer’s proofs Sunday “Comic Section.”  The New York Herald 1905-08 sold for US$ 5,250. inc. premium.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, pen and ink on illustration board, final panel signed “Silas” (pseudonym for McCay). 

Full-page cartoon for the “Comic Section,” The New York Herald, April 27, 1913.  A pride of lions fight over a captured man.

Sold for US$ 10,000 inc. premium

Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938).  Mr. Twee Deedle. 

196 color printer’s proofs Sunday “Comic Section,”  The New York Herald 1911-1914 sold for US$ 2,000 inc. premium.

Bonhams – 09 Aug 2016 (The Summer Sale):

Richard Felton Outcault (1863-1928). 

“A Bad Cat,” pen and ink on Bristol board. Half-page cartoon for “Comic Section,” The New York Herald . Sold for US$ 62 inc. premium.

Richard Felton Outcault (1863-1928).  “The girl, a dog, and her mother’s hat.” Sold for US$ 1,750 inc. premium.

Richard Felton Outcault (1863-1928). “Buster Brown,” pen and ink on Bristol board. US$ 4,750 inc. premium.

Richard Felton Outcault (1863-1928) “Buster Brown and Tige.” US$ 4,375 inc. premium.

Richard Felton Outcault (1863-1928) “Buster Brown in Mischief Again.” US$ 3,500 inc. premium.

 

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The Art of Kathy Rose

Kathy Rose is among the world’s most original visual/performance artists. She suffered a fall last month, but is making good progress, according to her family.

A unique and beloved member of the independent animation filmmakers who began working in the 1970s, Kathy has continually developed her art through the years in startlingly beautiful ways, expanding, as she explained, “the image out of the flat screen to become an integral physical part of color and fantasy in a sculptural domain.”

In tribute to her artistry, and with high hopes for her speedy recovery, here is my article on her remarkable career published in the Jan/Feb 1995 issue of Print magazine (click on image below for link to article):

And here are two original animation drawings by Kathy Rose from her 1978 film, Pencil Booklings, a gift of the artist. (Click to enlarge)

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HANDS to Premiere Nov. 7 at The Wexner Center for the Arts

I will be returning to The Wexner Center for the Arts, at Ohio State University in Columbus on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7:00pm, for the world premiere of HANDS, my 17-minute, hand-drawn animated adaptation of a story from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919). The film follows Wing Biddlebaum, a lonely former schoolteacher whose hands led to a scandal that drove him from his previous town and life’s calling.

Following the screening, I will discuss and demonstrate my process of animating the film. A display of original artwork used in the making of HANDS will be on display in The Wexner Center’s lower lobby from October 21–November 10.

HANDS was supported through a 2016–17 Wexner Center Artist Residency Award.

For ticket information, see https://wexarts.org/film-video/hands

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Steve Brodner – A Must-See
Exhibition at SVA Chelsea Gallery

John Canemaker and Steve Brodner at the opening reception, October 10, 2019.

Steve Brodner is an Honoré Daumier for our troubled times.

The avenging spirit of the prolific French cartoonist, who mercilessly roasted 19th century politicians and society, like pigs on a spit, lives on in Brodner’s drawing instruments. His pen and brush are razor-sharp weapons, lancing 21st century boils of fetid political animals.

The Court of King Donald I, 2017, watercolor.

Like Daumier, Brodner is a master draftsman. No matter how ugly the people being caricatured are, or how dastardly their deeds, you cannot take your eyes away from Brodner’s compelling and strangely beautiful imagery. He offers superb elegance of line, strong poses and clarity in his visual storytelling, to convey his powerful messages: empathy for innocent or hapless victims; disgust for villainous, stupid men and woman who abuse their power.

Bush and Bugs, 1991, ink.

Animation plays a powerful part in showing the psychological side of the characters he depicts. Former CIA man George H. W. Bush removing his head, releasing hundreds of “bugs” escaping in a torrential spray; his son, George W. Bush as Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, attacking Saddam Hussein and giving rise to an endless army of jihadists; Jimmy Carter, in four sequential drawings, floating into a question mark; Donald Trump in mid-comb-over, revealing a Nazi swastika embedded on his bald dome; Rush Limbaugh as a cigar-smoking buttocks.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 2004, watercolor.
Under Trump’s Comb-Over, 2015, watercolor and digital.

Perfect visual metaphors, all!

Earth to Washington, 2008, watercolor and gouache.

Brodner’s style often uses wild exaggeration, a far-out distortion, reminding me of the 16th century anamorphosis paintings, which could only be deciphered with an anamorphic mirror or lens to correct the distortion. Somehow, sans mirrors and lenses, Brodner maintains the look of the person and their personality.

Detail of the gallery’s wall collage.

Steve Brodner is being honored with a spectacular exhibition of 50 years of his amazing art — “The Master’s Series: Steve Brodner” — now through November 2, 2019 at the SVA Chelsea Gallery (601 West 26th Street, New York City).

It is a must-see celebration of a modern genius of graphic communication and a crusader for truth and justice in America’s latest Dark Age.

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Alex Da Corte’s “Marigolds”

John Canemaker and Alex Da Corte at the September 20 opening celebration of Da Corte’s exhibition Marigolds Private Artist Walk-through at Karma Gallery. A giant dimensional neoprene (synthetic rubber) carrot-flute looms.

Run, don’t walk, to Karma Gallery (188 East 2nd Street & 172 East 2nd Street) to see ALEX DA CORTE’s exciting new show, Marigolds, now through November 3. Link here.

Da Corte discusses his art with Karma Gallery guests in front of a dimensional broken pumpkin.

Alex Da Corte’s immersive art is often grand in scale and complex in concept: gorgeous color-saturated installations in large spaces, and provocative, elegant videos express the artist’s obsessive desires and interest, such as fantasy, horror films, sex, pop culture, and comic books, cartoons, and animation.

Comic book sources (above and below) for Da Costa’s neoprene imagery are also displayed.

Marigolds is a walk-through puzzle, with subliminal messages to be deciphered on multiplane levels. “Decoding or seeing something that may not be readily present,” Da Corte comments. The viewer must “dig deeper. It is a call for empathy.”

An enigmatic word search puzzle greets visitors with a hidden message.

Karma will publish a fully illustrated catalog of the exhibition, which will include newly commissioned texts by animator and historian John Canemaker and writer Tausif Noor, as well as the eponymous short story Marigolds by Dr. Eugenia Collier.

A giant blue boa based on Saint-Exupery’s famed drawing of a hat which, The Little Prince explains, is really a snake digesting an elephant. Behind, a blow-up of an M.C. Escher painting.

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Marge Champion’s 2012 Visit
to the NYU Animation Program

In continuing celebration of dancer/choreographer Marge Champion’s 100th birthday earlier this month, I am posting a video of her February 2012 visit to NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she met with animation students and discussed her early work with Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia, as well as her long career in film, television and on stage.

This was her second generous appearance at NYU, the first being in 1994. Ms. Champion, born on September 2, 1919, was a vivacious, charming and articulate 92-year old who delighted her student audience for an hour and eight minutes. We are fortunate that it has been preserved for posterity.

Click here to link to the video. (PASSWORD: nyuanimation)

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