Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Making A Piece of Excitement

The original 1943-45 run of Coda, the Columbia Records new release monthly, seeded a fan base for Flora's impertinent caricatures. His byline appeared in each issue. "Every art director in the country was buying jazz records, and everybody knew my name," he related in a May 1998 interview. "Everybody wanted to be on the mailing list for this little booklet." Flora designed Coda cover to cover. "I took them home and did them," he explained. "This was my fancy, and I wasn't going to let anyone else do it."

The legendary UPA cartoonist Gene Deitch was a Floraphile who became a lifelong friend. "Every week I would make a bee-line for my neighborhood record shop to pick up the Columbia Records release brochures designed by Flora," said Deitch. "His stuff just sent me into a graphic buzz, and I was brazenly imitating his style in my work. Flora eventually came across some of my stuff, and claimed he admired MY work! We met, and he turned out to be the sweetest, most good-humored and good-hearted person I ever knew."

Today's entry features a series of Flora illos from two 1952 editions of Coda. This was the rag's second incarnation, when Flora was jobbed the assignment on a freelance basis. As ever, it appears that his caricatures escaped parental supervision. Does that look like country crooner Lefty Frizzell? Er, no. Are those gospel singers? Beats me. The Mahler Symphony No. 8 earns a pastiche of interlocking shafts, crossbars, and dingbats which, as usual, reveals more about the guy at the drafting table than about the crusty composer. Asked if he listened to the music before designing his devilish LP covers, Flora replied: "If they had something to give me to listen to, they would give it to me. But mostly I just did them from the top of my head, and they gave me a great deal of freedom." He didn't care what musicians thought about his unrecognizable portraits: "I always thought that they did their thing, and it was my turn to do my thing." Suppressing his inner Eulenspiegel was not an option: "All I wanted to make was a piece of excitement."

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