Friday, October 31, 2008

Willard Mullin's Advertising Art

When Norman Kent interviewed Willard Mullin for the Summer 1957 issue of American Artist magazine, he asked if some sports are easier to cartoon than others.

"Yes," responded Mullin. "Take boxing... that's a natural; its full of action and, as such, practically draws itself."

"This is true of baseball, hockey, basketball, and football."

"Rowing, auto and harness racing are more difficult."

Mind you, looking at the auto-related ads Mullin drew (below), its clear he had no trouble investing even the most rigid and mechanical of objects with that special Willard Mullin sense of plasticity and motion.

Kent describes Mullin as having done "the occasional advertising drawing" and its true that he did not seem to have produced the volume of ad work some other 50's cartoonists did. Thanks to Pau Medrano, of Barcelona, Spain, who contributed the Fisk Tire ad above and the Shell Oil ads below, we have more than just my small collection of Pal Injector Blades ads to enjoy today.

Pau, who who has been researching American historical tire advertising for his Master's Degree in Graphic Design, writes:

"Did you know that Mullin is included into my Thesis? Yes! He illustrate a few ads for Fisk Tires in the “Fisk Facts” 1950 campaign. Another nice coincidence.

The art of Mullin always reminded me in the master Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling (who, as a secret discovery in my Thesis, illustrated extenses campaigns in 1916 for Michelin Tires drawing an amazing Michelin-man).

Mullin was also very active on advertising (my field of interest), as you can see in the attached images. I’m interested if someone has more information about the campaign for Fisk Tires, also if someone has other different Fisk ads images from the same campaign.

Also if you or other of your contributors have more advertising commercial art by Mullin."

My thanks to Pau for contributing his scans and information! If anyone reading this post can help Pau with his research, you can contact me and I'll forward any info to him.

* My Willard Mullin Flickr set.

* Also, Harry Borgman has begun a second blog! Drop by Hairy Blogman to see what else harry Borgman's been up to lately.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Willard Mullin's Editorial Art

Willard Mullin might have been best known for his sports cartooning, but he did some editorial/political cartoons as well. I'm not familiar enough with the entire body of his work to say for sure how much, but he was a frequent contributor to American magazine in the late 40's and early 50's.

Its kind of fun to look at these old political commentaries from half a century ago. If nothing else, they certainly confirm that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

But to truly appreciate Mullin's engaging artwork, you'll want to see the full size versions in my Willard Mullin Flickr set.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Willard Mullin Draws "The Brooklyn Bum"

In the spring of 1957, American Artist magazine editor Norman Kent paid a visit to the home studio of Willard Mullin. The magazine had requested to witness the artist at work for a step-by-step article for their summer issue. Specifically, the editors had asked Mullin to do for them a drawing of his most famous recurring character: "The Brooklyn Bum".

Twenty years earlier, during the 1937 baseball season, Willard Mullin was leaving a Brooklyn Dodgers game. He had just watched the team split a double header. By winning the first game the Dodgers had climbed into the upper half division, but by losing the second they fell back where they had been. Mullin was climbing into a cab bound back to Manhattan when the cabbie inquired, "Well, how did our 'bums' do?"

It was, for Mullin, an epiphany.

In the pages of the Scripps-Howard newspapers that ran his cartoons, Mullin had already characterized (with affection) the Dodgers as a clown - and now, with a little refining, he decided to recast the team as a 'bum'. Twenty years later the lovable "Brooklyn Bum" was still going strong, his expressions and attitudes, his circumstances and situations, rising and falling in conjunction with the Dodgers' fortunes.

While the step-by-step doesn't reveal anything unexpected (Mullin's technique and materials were, as Norman Kent described "simple in the extreme"), its still always fun to see the process of a talented artist's work taking shape.

One interesting note is that Mullin credits his early experience working in the sign shop of an L.A. department store as providing the beginnings of his skill at lettering.

The drawing, an actual assignment for the New York World-Telegram, was begun at 11:00 a.m. that day under the watchful eye of the AA photographer and interviewer Norman Kent.

Kent describes the events of the day unfolding, "over a period of the next two hours, interrupted by conversation, photography, and a pleasant break for luncheon."

"With the final lettering added to the 'balloons' and the papers in O'Malley's pockets, the drawing was finished. after a few minutes of critical appraisment, Willard added a few penciled notes to the engraver in blue pencil, rolled up the drawing, encased some folding money under a rubber band, and dashed off to the railroad station - a block away."

"As the 3:50 train for New York pulled in, he handed the drawing to the conductor, who happily removed the 'fee'. On arrival in New York, the conductor would take it to Western Union in Pennsylvania Station."

"A few minutes thereafter, the drawing would be delivered by messenger to the engraving department of the paper to be 'shot' for next day's edition. It appeared on schedule in the World-Telegram and Sun on Friday, April 12, [1957]."

* My Willard Mullin Flickr set.

* Also, don't forget to stop by Charlie Allen's Blog for the latest installment of the CAWS.

* And be sure to visit Harry Borgman's new blog for his latest post!

Willard Mullin: Some Biographical Details

Looking at this 1951 basketball illustration from Collier's magazine, its no wonder Willard Mullin has been called the greatest sports cartoonist of all time.

With his remarkable ability to imbue the human face and form with a sort of expressive elasticity that enhances action and motion to the nth degree, Mullin provided a template for a legion of cartoonists to follow. One friend commented recently that surely the great Jack Davis, for instance, must have found inspiration in Willard Mullin's work. No doubt!

In the book, The Complete Guide to Cartooning, author Gene Byrnes accurately described the artist's ability to portray "violent action" as being "in a class by itself".

Willard Mullin was born on a farm in Franklin, Ohio in 1902. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was just 6 years old and he went to work in a department store sign shop immediately upon finishing high school.

He stayed for just two years before quitting to take a job with a construction firm. One day on the job he fell from a dam and nearly broke his neck! After his injuries healed he decided he wanted to be an artist after all.

Mullin found work at The Los Angeles Herald newspaper, where he learned a variety of graphic arts skills - those too menial for others in the department to bother with. Gradually, he worked his way up to photo retouching - but not with an airbrush... Mullin learned the more traditional (and far more difficult) manual fashion of painting in thin layers of wash.

He insisted that this meticulous training under the pressurized environment of a daily newspaper deadline gave him his facility with a brush and the ability to work fast.

Mullin stayed at The Herald for twelve years, developing his cartooning abilities at night after putting in a full day at his regular art department chores.

When he finally left for new York, it was at the invitation of Joe Williams, executive sports editor of the World-Telegram. There he produced 6 cartoons a week, month in and month out, and never missed a deadline, even while doing advertisng illustrations and pieces like these for Collier's and other national magazines, on the side.

In spite of the astonishing volume of work he produced, Mullin, the consumate professional, found his job got easier and easier over time. In a 1957 article for American Artist magazine, he told interviewer Norman Kent, "One builds up a background over the years of witnessing sporting events. The unexpected often happens and personalities in sports are always grist for my mill."

My Willard Mullin Flickr set.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Willard Mullin: "Tops in Sports Cartooning!"

A note arrived a few weeks ago from a TI list member... "Seeing today's Robert Bugg post with sports illustrations made me think of the great Willard Mullin. To me, his drawings--so full of vitality, character, and humor--ARE baseball in its golden age (1940s and 50s). How about doing a feature on him?"

I am only too happy to oblige. I've been setting aside pieces by Willard Mullin for quite a long time now. What I know about sports could fill a thimble... but I do love great cartooning - and Willard Mullin certainly was a great cartoonist!

As luck would have it I recently acquired a terrific article on Mullin that will provide some very interesting background on the artist - and show us step-by-step how he did his thing.

And although I don't share our reader's passion for baseball, I did happen to hear that the World Series is currently underway - so what better time to highlight the work of this remarkable cartoonist?

Besides, if the above article from the October 1949 issue of Look magazine still holds true, these posts might be as close as anyone's going to get to a front-row seat at the big game!

* Bob Staake has a wonderful tribute to Willard Mullin at his website - go check it out.

* My Willard Mullin Flickr set.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fritz Siebel: Coming Into Focus

Here is one of my favourite pieces by Frederick Siebel. I love the rich colours and sumptous environment, the energetic technique Siebel used, the zaftig model - her curves so lovingly defined...

... and most of all, I love Siebel's portrayal of the artist. I've wondered if it was in some way a Fritz Siebel self-portrait.

I believe our character - our personality - is reflected to some degree in our work, but considering the tremendous range of styles and techniques we've looked at this week, its hard to determine if Frederick Siebel was a carefree creative spirit...

...or a buttoned-down commercial arts professional.

Yesterday, the picture of Frederick Siebel began to come into sharper focus. Out of the blue, the following email message arrived:

"I just sent a link of your Fritz Siebel post to my family. What a great surprise for us. I am his son (same name) and I want to reach out. You have works we haven't seen in years. Did you know he was the original conceiver and designer of the Mr. Clean icon?

I hope to hear from you.

Kind regards, Fritz Siebel"

Isn't the Internet amazing? I sent an enthusiastic reply and hope to hear back soon. When I do, I'll post it here so we can all learn a little more about this amazing artist.

Meanwhile, another email message arrived from Pablo Medrano in Barcelona. Pablo writes, "Is it possible that Frederick Siebel signed his late works as “Fritz Siebel”? I found some references on the web about a Fritz Siebel illustrator, specialized in children books on 60s and 70s."

Pablo sent along a list of children's books illustrated by Fritz Siebel... and I was stunned and delighted to see that one of them has long been a family favourite in the Peng household: Mike McClintock's 'A Fly Went By'!

I can't begin to tell you how many times I read this book to our boys at bedtime when they were little. Not to mention, I can still recall pouring through this book in my school library back in grade 3, and being captivated by the outrageous shenannigans Siebel portrayed in his vigorous cartooning style.

Take a look at the two Siebel ads above, both from 1957, and the cover of the book below, published in 1958, and its not hard to imagine that they are by the same artist.

I've often said that Siebel's work struck me from the moment I first saw it. I just hadn't realized that moment was nearly 40 years ago!

* My Fritz Siebel Flickr set.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Fanciful Fred Siebel

For several years in the late 1940's Fred Siebel illustrated a fanciful series of ads for Textron. One of those ads made it into the 1948 Art Directors Annual.

The male-oriented Textron ads were often pretty hoaky and personally I've never given them much regard. But as I compiled a bunch for this post, I had to admit they are worth a closer look.

Siebel tucked a lot of interesting and amusing details into the backgrounds of these ads.

The Textron ads aimed at women were another thing entirely. Can you believe that the same artist who did the Collier's cover of Stalin we looked at on Monday did these?

Frankly, Siebel's Textron ads for women never much appealed to me at all. Again, it wasn't until I began preparing them for this post that I gave them closer consideration.

You get a new perspective when you've scanned something and accidentally see it cropped and close up. It struck me that Siebel really succeeded in evoking a wonderful mood in these dream-like scenes of femininity.

Sometimes its the simple sublety of a breeze wafting through a deep, leafy forest...

... or a foot dipped in the cooling waters of a seaside pool...

Other times its the amusing kitchiness of cartoonish cupids...

... but it could also be the wonderment...

... of a magical midsummer night's dream.

Like so much of what Frederick Siebel did, these ads represent only one tiny facet of his remarkable range.

* My Fred Siebel Flickr set.