Saturday, June 24, 2006
The United States in the '50s was symbolized by the Cold War, Marilyn Monroe, Univac mainframes and the NY Yankees. The decade also saw the evolutionary emergence of a species of fleshy tuberous plant life that took root on upholstery -- the Couch Potato. Viewers in 1953 watched an average of five hours a day, which translates into commercial overload. As part of a campaign to draw sponsors to the still-nascent medium, the CBS Television Network produced a cartoon booklet extolling the sales potential of this talking furniture. Flora was hired to illustrate the 7" x 3-1/2" industry-circulated publication, entitled Primer for Prophets.
In single-word alphabet book fashion, P4P depicted the activities of TV-watching Americans during their non-viewing hours (e.g., A = Ate; G = Groomed; Q = Quaffed; S = Smoked), which suggested their purchasing habits. Every page of P4P is a Floralogical gem. His classic RCA Victor LP style is in full-bloom, with sharp features and instantly recognizable idiosyncrasies that scream Flora. Facial features are pointed and angled, teeth fang-like. Characters abound with fried-egg eyes, toucan snouts, and shoes shaped like fingernail clippings.
The "J" page, represented by "Jived," shows a teen couple gyrating near their record changer, with 45s scattered about the floor (giving the heebie-jeebies to vinyl junkies). Though ostensibly human, the teens are genetically Florafied. In paintings and commercial offerings, Flora had a penchant for outsized body parts and bonus legs. Two eyes and one mouth were rarely enough -- Flora often generously doubled nature's standard allotment. Counting on your fingers, Flora-style, would not necessarily produce multiples of five. In "Jiving Teens," an octopedal chick is dating a quintapedal guy. (Their offspring would be arachnids.) That's not all -- these kids are equipped with spare parts. Each seems to have partial -- and disconnected -- lower extremities capable of jitterbugging by some supernatural quirk of anatomical remote control. It's fun -- and disturbing. Which is why we called the first Flora collection "Mischievous" and the forthcoming edition "Curiously Sinister."
When I found Primer for Prophets in the archives, my instinctive reaction was to someday publish a limited edition facsimile reprint. It's a charming Flora rarity, and deserves circulation. Several pages of P4P will appear in the next Flora anthology. The "Jiving Teens" image currently appears on a T-shirt marketed by the Flora family.