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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

An "Illostribute" to Al Dorne

Monday, November 28, 2011

One of my favourite illustrators, Albert Dorne, is the subject of a tribute on one of my favourite blogs, Toby Neighbors' Illostribute.

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Toby describes the Illostribute concept as "a new, collaborative illustration blog. The idea is to pay tribute to “master” illustrators (and occasionally fine artists) by seriously investigating their work, through interpretation."

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Toby has posted many great examples of Dorne's work (I'm happy I was able to help out with that)...

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... he wrote a great biographical synopsis on Dorne...

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... and his contributors created some wonderful, original interpretations of Al Dorne's work (as they always do each time Toby devises a new "Illostribute").

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I hope you'll take a few minutes to get truly inspired - visit Toby Neighbors' Illostribute -- and while you're there, be sure to have a look at the many other excellent posts Toby has assembled for your viewing pleasure!

John McDermott: "In the early '50s he did some paperback covers..."

Friday, November 25, 2011

The entry on John McDermott in Piet Schreuders' "The Book of Paperbacks" is brief. After a paragraph of biographical info, it reads simply:

"In the early '50s he did some paperback covers for Pocket Books, specializing in action scenes."


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Not mentioned is that McDermott can lay claim to having illustrated the cover of one of the 20th century's most memorable pop culture tomes...

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... or McDermott's dynamic graphic experimentation, which he began incorporating into covers he illustrated in the mid-'50s.

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In fact, John McDermott continued illustrating paperback covers well into the mid-'60s...

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... and continued experimenting with a variety of impactful graphic techniques that gave his work a thoroughly contemporary (for the times) look.

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While paperback cover art will never be more than a footnote in John McDermott's diverse, prolific career, its certainly worthy of an appreciative glance...

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... and, I think, a great way to finish up this week!

* many thanks to Flickr friends U.K. Vintage, John McClaverty and severance_23, who provided all of today's scans.



John McDermott: Tough Guy Illustrator

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

After the young John McDermott graduated from Hollywood High School (and without any formal art training) he landed a job as an animator at Walt Disney Studios.

As last week's guest author Ken Steacy noted, McDermott was there during the legendary 1930s Disney animators strike, which explains the title and tone of one of his other books, The Rat Factory.

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When WWII came, McDermott joined the Marines. He served as a combat artist with the 3rd Amphibious Corps. His work documenting the invasion and takeover of the Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa are now part of the Marine Corps Art Collection.

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That experience must have served McDermott well after the war. He made his way to New York City, found representation with Thompson Associates, and began illustrating tough guy stories for the 'men's sweat' magazines like Bluebook, True and Argosy.

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Over the last few days I've scoured my magazine collection for McDermott artwork. I looked through hundreds of 1950s issues of Good Housekeeping, Colliers, Cosmo, American, Woman's Home Journal, Woman's Day, Redbook, McCall's and Esquire and found hardly a trace of McDermott. By contrast, his work appeared regularly in Outdoor Life, Saga, and the other manly mags mentioned above.

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If John McDermott did in fact contribute all the prop art seen in the 1970 film 'Loving,' as we suspect he did...

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... that would seem like a natural fit. If he also did romance art like the example shown in the film, then it must have been a far rarer subject for him. I couldn't find a single example in my collection.

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I don't know if illustration work sustained McDermott during the 1960s, when there was a general decline in demand, but the restless McDermott was busy with other interests. According to Francis Fay Jr., the author of a 1996 newspaper article on McDermott, the artist had begun producing "home television documentaries with a 16mm camera."

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McDermott would storyboard his movies during the week, then employ friends and neighbours to act them out for his camera on the weekends. Early amateur short films entitled "The Cornfield at Antietam" and "Chancellorsville" lead to a more ambitious hour-long film called "Pickett's Charge", that caught the attention of a producer at PBS, who made it a segment on a series called "The Odessey." It was later rebroadcast (twice!) on CBS television with an introduction by President Eisenhower and British Field Marshall Montgomery.

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John McDermott was on a roll: The success of "Pickett's Charge" resulted in a Ford Foundation grant which McDermott used to make a two-hour production called "Belleau Wood," about a failed WWI battle - a low point in Marine Corps history.

But even his success in illustration and film making was not enough for McDermott. As we already know, during the '60s he became the published author of "Brooks Wilson Ltd." and "The Rat Factory." But it was news to me to discover he had two other books published during that same period. All in, McDermott authored four published books in four years and had one (Brooks Wilson Ltd.) turned into the feature film "Loving".

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One would imagine that would have pleased anyone - but not John McDermott.

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According to Francis Fay Jr., McDermott was so incensed by the treatment Hollywood gave his book that he showed up at the Westport premiere of the film sporting a large button that read: "They Changed It!"

* Thanks to Ken Steacy for the screen grabs from the film, Loving, used in today's post.

* Thanks to Bill Peckmann for the scan of the cover of his original first printing copy of "The Rat Factory" used in today's post.

* Thanks to Brian Postman for the scan of a McDermott original he owns used in today's post. If anyone is interested in purchasing the original (its the large panoramic crime scene in orange seen above) Brian will entertain serious inquiries at bpostman58[at]gmail[dot]com

'Loving' ... John McDermott!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Last week's series by guest author Ken Steacy on Brooks Wilson Ltd. and the 1970 feature film Loving certainly garnered a lot of interest from readers... and really piqued my curiosity. Just who was responsible for all that prop artwork Ken showed us in his screen caps from the film?

I managed to ID this one piece, below, as being by John McDermott...

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... and reader David Apatoff surmised that since McDermott was the author of the book, it makes sense that he would have provided most or all of the artwork used in the film.

So just who was this John McDermott?

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Francis Fay Jr., the author of a 1996 newspaper article on McDermott, described him as "a tall, handsome man with heavy dark eyebrows, piercing eyes..."

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"... and a sardonic wit."

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McDermott's long-time friend, artist/art director Howard Munce, said McDermott was "an ongoing fireworks display."

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Munce continued, "There wasn't a moment when he wasn't dealing in imagery of some kind, and he could verbalize whatever image came into his head."

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John McDermott carried with him the burden of a terrible childhood trauma: when he was just five years old, growing up in Pueblo, Colorado, his father committed suicide.

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Francis Fay Jr. suggested that one can see a manifestation of that "haunting trauma" in some of McDermott's work.

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Further, he describes McDermott's book, Brooks Wilson Ltd., as being "autobiographical in its treatment of a struggling illustrator."

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There's more - quite a bit more - of interest about the complex, restless John McDermott.

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This week we'll take a closer look at his work and his life.

"Loving" the Attention to Detail!

Friday, November 18, 2011

By guest author Ken Steacy

(This is the conclusion of Ken's look at the 1970 George Segal feature film, 'Loving', which was based on the book, 'Brooks Wilson Ltd.')

What makes the film really fascinating is the remarkably accurate depiction of Brooks’ working method. There are no credits at the end of the film for the artist who created this amazing prop, so if any of the members recognize the work please let us know.

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We see him shooting reference for what appears to be a spread for a women’s magazine. As usual, the budget sucks so he employs himself and his wife as models - look familiar, folks?

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Brooks employs an interesting setup in his studio, using a footswitch operated lazy Luci to project the photographic reference onto his board.

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We watch as he slaps on the acrylic (or is it casein?) then outlines the figures with marker.

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The lights come on, Brooks raises the overlays, and we see this terrific illustration!

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Both the book and the film focus on the difficult career of a freelance illustrator, at a time when technology was forever changing the rules of the game. Neither tells us if Brooks ultimately prevails, but there’s a curious scene in the movie that offers a clue. While passing a midtown gallery, he nervously eyes some very creepy paintings, which glare back with unsettling intensity.

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Is our anti-hero contemplating a transition to ‘Fine Art’ as a career move, once photography destroys his livelihood (a decision some illustrators took at the time) or is his guilty conscience simply arrested by these images?

I leave it to you!

* Many thanks to guest author Ken Steacy for a fascinating topic this week. If you can help us identify any of the illustrations in the screen caps Ken provides, please do! Of course any and all other comments are also very much welcome and appreciated ~ Leif

Brooks Wilson Strikes Back!

By guest author, Ken Steacy

Amazingly, a feature film based upon Brooks Wilson Ltd. was made in 1970. Titled ‘Loving’ (for no apparent reason!), it starred George Segal in the title role with support from Eva Marie Saint as his long-suffering wife, Keenan Wynn as his bullying agent, Sterling Hayden as the impossible client Mr. Lepridon, and Roy Scheider as the harried agency flack. The director was Irving Kershner, who George Lucas tapped a decade later to direct 'The Empire Strikes Back'!

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It’s a condensed version of the same sad story: Brooks the hapless freelancer is torn between his artsy girlfriend in Manhattan and his family back home in (where else?) Westport Connecticut. A drunken tryst with a randy neighbour, televised by CCTV at a suburban Xmas party from hell, finally sinks him, and the film peters out as Brooks attempts to placate both the GF and his wife with news that he finally got the Lepridon account.

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Early in the film Brooks discovers his agent has yet again locked himself in the bathroom, being too cheap to fix the doorknob. In the background we see plenty of tearsheets and stacks of originals, and it appears that the boxer illo bears the signature Brooks Wilson.

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Back home, he hires a shapely model, who he poses in the livingroom - Brooks’ young daughter sits and reads a book during the session, his wife’s way of ensuring there’s no hanky-panky!

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His agent’s smarmy underling arrives with a stack of illos, all of which require inane revisions ASAP. Brooks refuses, but this show of spine is more to impress the model, who he eyes with other than professional interest.

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While in the city, Brooks gets bombed and makes a spectacle of himself at the ‘Artist’s Club’ which was actually shot at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan. You can just make out their 60‘s-era logo on the coffee cups, as Brooks makes new friends (and enemies) over a multi-martini lunch.

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Tomorrow: we bid farewell to the feckless Brooks Wilson, but not before he ably demonstrates his journeyman skills as an illustrator!

* We'd love to have your best guess at which artists where actually responsible for the prop artwork attributed to Brooks Wilson in the film. I'll get the ball rolling by ID'ing the "Bear Attack" illo, which I recognize as being by John McDermott, from a 1960 issue of Outdoor Life. ~ Leif
 

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