1950s Cartoon Art: Who Influenced Who?

If you flip through some magazines from the 1940s looking for ads with cartoon elements, you'd very likely find quite a few that looked like this.

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But during the 1950s the style of cartooning changed dramatically. Why?

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TI list member John Norall, who was there when the change occurred, sent me a note the other day with some thoughts on the subject. John wrote, "I transitioned to TV in '55 and during those years when TV was really sweeping the world I saw a lot of sample reels from houses in LA, SF, and NYC. It seems to me that the animated tv spots in their B&W glory influenced print styling."

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"Partly because TV budgets were ruling the budget roost and print campaigns were obligated to support them."

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John continued, "And what style did the animators tend to use? It tended to be shapes that would animate easily and fast. There was the UPA group with "Gerald McBoing Boing" who were revolutionaries from the more demanding Disney style."

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"No question about it, that simple style conveyed the stories just fine - but in their dominance at the time I think we lost a lot of line character and drawing quality in the world of cartooning."

Some interesting thoughts. And a quick check through my mid-'50s Art Directors Annuals seems to confirm John's observations...

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From the introduction to the TV Art section of the 1955 AD Annual

I've spent a lot of time over the last few years researching what happened to the illustration (and by extension, the cartoon art) business during the mid-century period. The profound effect of television on the decline of print markets for illustration is more than clear. But how art produced for television fit into the larger picture of the industry transitioning is something I really hadn't considered. John's insight was a revelation. Still I have to wonder; did animators influence the look of print cartooning... or did more print cartoonists get into doing art for animated tv commercials?

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Consider someone like Cliff Roberts -- his "Book of Jazz," done in a style so reminiscent of Jim Flora's work, was incredibly well received by readers of Today's Inspiration. Roberts began his career as a Detroit print cartoonist. In the early '50s he left Detroit to join the growing New York tv commercial scene. Roberts' old friend Harry Borgman told me, "Yes, the cartoon styles changed dramatically when the new TV commercials started running, and Cliff fit right in."

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Harry continued, "Cliff just couldn't keep busy enough in the hard-boiled automotive-oriented art studio of Detroit. When he left McNamara Brothers Studio, where we worked together, he joined Jam Handy, a film and animation company where I think he met Gene Deitch, not sure, but he did work with Deitch somewhere."

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How many others like Roberts saw the opportunities in this new emerging market, and how many abandoned print to pursue those opportunities? The back pages of all my Art Director Annuals are thick with ads for studios and artists' reps... and beginning in the early '50s, ads for a new kind of studio began appearing there - ads that offered services specifically to the television industry. and those ads almost always prominently featured cartoon art.

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The November 1953 issue of Art Director & Studio News featured a two-page spread describing in detail how animation was changing the ad industry landscape.

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A couple of paragraphs directly address the topic at hand, and again reinforce John Norall's first-hand account of the situation at the time...

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All of which helps to explain why the look of ads with cartoon elements changed so dramatically during the '50s... but as for who influenced who, that remains unclear.

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Tomorrow: Who drew all those awesome ads?

* My Ads with Cartoon Elements Flickr set

* My Art for Tv Flickr set

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