Here's how Bob Jones first knew he would one day become an artist: as a boy growing up in Beverly Hills in the 1930's, Bob loved to spend his summers fishing at the family summer house on Long Beach. "In Second Grade at grammar school," Bob recalls, "my teacher came up with an assignment one day... she said, "Everybody draw a fish."
"Well I thought to myself, oh hell, this is no problem."
"After I finished, everybody said, "Wow! What an incredible drawing!" Bob laughs as he remembers that day... "I said, well, this is what I'm going to do!"
"I used to copy all the Disney characters... Mickey, Goofy... and all the newspaper comics, like Popeye... I did all the yearbooks, I did posters for high school. I was a terrible student in school (I had a C-plus average!) but because of all the yearbook stuff, all the posters, I was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed!' "
At age 16 (during World War II) Bob got a job as an 'in-betweener' - the artist who draws the the several steps in between the two ends of an animated action - at Warner Brothers. At age 18 he enlisted in the Navy and became a cartoonist for a Navy newspaper. After the war ended, Bob still had six months of duty to complete. He served out those months at a Naval base in Jacksonville, FL, drawing a Navy newspaper comic strip he created called ' Jackson Wolf Esq.'
After his service he attended USC for two years, taking art courses - then moved over to Art Center School in Los Angeles because he "really wanted to be a commercial artist." In the midst of all that education, Bob also got married.
"When I showed my portfolio to the head of the art school at the end of my time there he said, "You could stay in L.A. or move to San Francisco, Chicago or New York." I didn't feel L.A. was going to be the right place for my kind of stuff... but I hated to leave California. I mean a move across the street was traumatic! But my wife and I discussed it and we figured, what the hell, let's go to New York -- if we're gonna move, then we might as well really move."
Bob explains, "What really convinced me was my wife's father went to school with Willard Mullin. He happened to be visiting out there in California, and he said, "let's see your portfolio." So I showed it to him and he said, "God, you're crazy if you don't come to New York!"
"He said, "You can stay with me and Helen at our place in Long Island until you get situated."
"So I stayed at Willard Mullin's for a couple of weeks. I went around with my portfolio all over the place, and I got a job right away from American magazine for a little travel thing. So I thought, wow - this is easy!"
"The rumour at Art Center was that Cooper Studio was really the place to be -- and Barbara Briggs got a job there. So I made an appointment... and I saw Chuck. Sheilah Becket (example below) had just left, and my work kind of filled in where Sheilah Beckett used to be. So Chuck hired me!"
"He said, "How much do you want to make?" And I said, "Gee, I dunno... um.. sixty bucks a week?" and he kinda snickered. He said, "I'll start you at a hundred a week." and I damn near fainted. That sounded like all the money in the world!" Bob chuckles, " A hundred bucks a week was a big deal then, in 1952."
Bob began illustrating right away. "The first job I got was a sketch of a baby blanket on a baby lamb. And I thought, boy, I gotta knock myself out on this sketch." He chuckles again as he recalls the occasion, "Well they bought the sketch as a finish!"
After a year or two, Chuck Cooper would change the arrangement with his artists. As they became established, the studio would split the commission on advertising jobs 50/50 with the illustrator... but all were encouraged to try to get editorial (story) assignments - and Cooper took none of that fee at all. Bob got his first big Saturday Evening Post job (below) in 1955. He explained to me that the Post paid $1,200 for a double page spread - quite a jump in pay from a $100-dollar-a-week salary.
That first spread must have been well received, because it lead to three or four more assignments of a similar nature.
"The next one was an alligator," says Bob. "Bernie D'Andrea really saved my neck on that one!"
Bob explains, "I was gonna put him on a couch and everything and Bernie says, "No, no, put him on the floor with pillows - to Hell with the couch!" (Bob chuckles) "and it turned out great!"
Bob says, "That animal stuff, that stylized stuff... that was what I was doing then (at the beginning) but I really wanted to get into more realistic stuff. I was a big admirer of Albert Dorne and a guy named Jim Williamson.
"They were kind of 'realistic/humorous' illustrators. I was really interested in humorous illustration."
This 1957 assignment for Outdoor Life may have been an early opportunity for Bob to try his hand at 'realistic humorous' illustration.
"I never set animal drawing apart from the rest of my work, " Bob once said in an interview with Nick Meglin for the book, The Art of Humorous Illustration. "I feel that drawing is drawing, whatever the subject... so its surprising that I've become a 'specialist" in this area. Naturally, I'm pleased at such favorable response to my animal work, but I'm confused by the whole thing."
* My Bob Jones Flickr set.