The magazines arrived in the mail every month when I was just a kid growing up in Santa Barbara. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the publications. You’re probably not old enough to remember The Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, McCalls Magazine, and the other publications of that era. What was special about these monthly magazines and what interest would a young kid have in what was usually referred to as, women’s magazines? Well, the articles were seldom of any interest to me. However, the magazines pages were filled with amazing illustrations by the cream of the crop of mid- century illustrators such as, Coby Whitmore, Al Parker, Jon Whitcomb and Joe DeMers. The magazine stories focused on love and romance, while the more masculine stories might have featured a beautiful illustration by Robert Fawcett. Most of my fellow students at Art Center College of Design were dreaming of careers as magazine illustrators and we were lucky enough to have a few of the masters on our teaching staff. Sadly, by the time many of my fellow students had graduated, the illustration field was beginning to dry up. It would appear many publications were moving toward photography and the golden age of illustration was quickly becoming a thing of the past. 

One of my fellow students, a talented artist named, Guy Deel took a position as a development artist at Walt Disney Studios because the magazine illustration field was no longer as robust in the seventies. Guy Deel continued with Disney for a number of years, but I know he probably would have preferred doing magazine illustration. Of course, this is not unlike what’s happened to traditional hand drawn animation. The film studios, much like the fifties publishing magazines decided they needed a change. Photography replaced illustration in the fifties and the encroachment of digital production totally marginalize hand drawn animation in the late nineties. Yet, one might ask, why can’t beautiful illustration co- exist with photography? And, why can’t hand drawn traditional animation share the screen with computer graphic imagery? Why does it have to be one or the other? A zero sum game? The titans of the publishing world made a decision over sixty years ago and it pretty much ended a fabulous era of awesome magazine illustration. Likewise, the animation studios rallied together and pronounced hand drawn animation dead. Naturally, it was a self fulfilling prophecy. 

Of course, we all know it doesn't have to be this way. The advent of photography did not put an end to painting and illustration. Why should CGI film production spell the end for a film making technique the public still eagerly embraces?I remember standing next to a gentleman watching Disney cartoons on a huge video display a few years ago. He wondered out loud, “why don’t cartoons don’t look like this anymore?” I reassured him that hand drawn animation was alive and well, but there was little chance it would be embraced by mainstream studios in the near future. I further stated, as long as the major animation production houses maintained this perception, things would not be changing anytime soon. Finally, I’d like to mention the gifted magazine illustrator, Jon Whitcomb. While on a fifties visit to the Walt Disney Studios some years ago, Whitcomb completed several sketches of Mary Costa, Helene Stanley and Margaret Kerry as a tribute to the fascinating women of Disney. Naturally, all the Disney artists were thrilled to have such a remarkable illustrator visit the Walt Disney Studio. Recently, the iconic movie poster illustrator, Drew Struzan was nice enough to pay us a studio visit. Struzan created the amazing, “The Force Awakens” poster for the J.J. Abrams film. Yet, the amazing illustrator was given short shrift by Disney when their film marketing department decided to replace the work created by the artist with a computer generated hodgepodge. Even in today’s film world the computer still trumps traditional hand generated artwork.

I still remember the impressive illustrations of the nineteen fifties and the artwork that inspired me as a child. I dreamed of emulating these mid-century masters and perhaps finding a career in art myself. I still get steamed whenever I see a film marketing boss choose a Photoshopped image over an actual painting. Or dismiss a painting because it looks too much like, “art.” It’s a sad, sorry situation for art and artists and there appears to be no resolution in sight.

The amazing fifties illustrator, Jon Whitcomb. I've seen his original illustrations and they were gorgeous.

The amazing fifties illustrator, Jon Whitcomb. I've seen his original illustrations and they were gorgeous.

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AuthorFloyd Norman