Tag Archives: artwork

Toonerville, a Place I Once Lived In

There is a place so like the place where my heart and mind were born that I feel as if I have always lived there.  That place is a cartoon panel that ran in newspapers throughout the country from 1913 to 1955 (a year before I was born in Mason City, Iowa).  It was called Toonerville Folks and was centered around the famous Toonerville Trolley.

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Fontaine Fox was born near Louisville Kentucky in 1884.  Louisville, of course is one of the two cities that claims to be the inspiration for Toonerville.  Apparently the old Brook Street Line Trolley in Louisville was always run-down, operating on balls of twine and bailing wire for repair parts.  The people of Pelham, New York, however, point to a trolley ride Fox took in 1909 on Pelham’s rickety little trolley car with a highly enterprising and gossip-dealing old reprobate for a conductor.  No matter which it was, Fox’s cartoon mastery took over and created Toonerville, where you find the famous trolley that “meets all trains”.

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I didn’t learn of the comic strip’s existence until I was in college, but once I found it (yes, I am the type of idiot who researches old comics in university libraries), I couldn’t get enough of it.  Characters like the Conductor, the Powerful (physically) Katrinka, and the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang can charm the neck hair off of any Midwestern farm-town boy who is too stupid to regret being born in the boring old rural Midwest.

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I fancied myself to be just like the infamous Mickey (himself) McGuire.  After all, we have the same first name… and I always lick any bully or boob who wants to put up a fight (at least in my daydreams).

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So, this is my tribute to the cartoonist who probably did more to warp my personality and make me funny (well, at least easy to laugh at! ) than any other influence.  All of the cartoons in this post can be credited to Fontaine Fox.  And all the people in them can be blamed on Toonerville, the town I used to live in, though I never really knew it until far too late.

Toonerville 35 1931_12_18_Pelham_Sun_Section_2_Pg_1_Col_2_Toonerville_Comic 10-17-2010 07;49;35PMToonervillecolor021531

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Homely Art – Amos Sewell

Still being under the weather and filled with sinus head-pain, I decided to go back to a subject I love so much that the post will simply write itself.  You know I love Norman Rockwell and his art, and I fervently believe that kind of mass media oil-painting does not put him in a lesser category than Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Raphael or any other painter with a ninja turtle namesake.   He is a genius, and though he is not a realist in so many ways, his work is more truthful than practically any other kind of painting.  If you are taken by surprise and didn’t know I had this passionate obsession, maybe you should go back and look at this post;   Norman Rockwell

Now that I got that out of my system, here is another Saturday Evening Post artist that is often confused with Rockwell.  His name is Amos Sewell.

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Sewell was an amateur tennis player who was talented enough to win tournaments.  He was an employee of Wells Fargo who was headed towards anything but an art career until he decided to make a leap of faith in 1930.  He started as an illustrator for Street and Smith pulp fiction, and soon caught the notice of the big-time magazine markets for his art.  He published art for Saturday Evening Post,   Country Gentlemen Magazine, and Women’s Day.

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Like Rockwell, he was able to find the funny in everyday scenes, like the dance party to the right.  That young man at center stage is trying so hard not to step on the feet of the red-headed girl, that you want to laugh, but can’t because it’s obvious how embarrassed he would be, and the charm of the picture leads you to shun the thought of interrupting.  The scene is so real the boy would hear you laughing as you looked at the Post cover.

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More expert on this kind of art than I am is the Facebook site that I first got turned on to Sewell by.  Children in Art History

They can also be found on WordPress.  Children in Art History (WordPress)

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There is no doubt that Amos Sewell belongs in the same pantheon of artists as Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, or Paul Detlafsen.  They are all artists who achieve in their work exactly what I have always striven for.  I want to be able to hold the mirror up to our world the way they did.  I want to capture both the fantasy and the reality in the subject of everyday family life.  I also want to share this work with you because I cannot stand the idea that such artistic ambrosia could one day be forgotten in archives where no one ever looks at it and feels the message in their heart.

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Homely Art – Part Two – Paul Detlefsen

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Back in about 1968 my Grandma Beyer was seriously scandalized by an artist named Paul Detlefsen.  Detlefsen did a lot of covers for the “Ideals Magazine” that Grandma always had on her coffee tables.  He scandalized her by putting a painting on the cover that showed a young boy taking his pants off, the rear view only, so he could go skinny dipping with a group of naked boys.  Truthfully the picture shown above is by Detelfsen, but it is not the one that offended her.  I have discovered that this painter of old-timey things like blacksmith shops and one-room school houses has painted at least four different versions of “the Old Swimmin’ Hole”.  And Grandma was easily scandalized when we were kids.  She was a very conservative woman who loved Ronald Reagan and his politics most severely and thought that Richard Nixon was a leftist radical.  She didn’t like for people to be naked, except for bath time, and maybe not even then.  She is one of the main reasons, along with this painter whom she adored, that I came to learn later in life that “naked is funny”.horseandbuggydays-print  http://www.freeplaypost.com/PaulDetlefsen_VintageArtPrint_A.htm

Grandma Beyer also seriously loved puzzles, and besides “Ideals” covers, Paul Detlefsen did a beaucoup of jigsaw puzzles. (Beaucoup means a lot in Texican, I tend to think in Iowegian and talk in Texican and completely forget about the need to translate for those people who don’t know those two foreign tongues)   One of the puzzles we spent hours working on was “Horse and Buggy Days” that I pictured here.  They were the kind of puzzle paintings where every boy was Tom Sawyer and every girl was Becky Thatcher.  And there were a lot of them.  Here is another;

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http://www.bigredtoybox.com/cgi-bin/toynfo.pl?detlefsenindex

Grandma had this in puzzle form also.  We put the puzzle together, glued it to tag board, and framed it.  It has hung on the wall in a Grandparent’s house, first Grandma Beyer’s and then Grandma Aldrich’s, since the early 1970’s.  My own parents now live in Grandma Aldrich’s house, and that puzzle-painting may be hanging in an upstairs bedroom to this very day.  Detlefsen is not known as a great artist.  He was a humble painter who painted backdrops for films for over 20 years.  In the 1950’s he switched gears and started doing lithographs that were turned into calendars, jigsaw puzzles, laminated table mats, playing cards, and reproductions you could buy in the Ben Franklin Dime Store in Belmond, Iowa and hang on your back porch at home.  I believe I saw his paintings in all these forms in one place or another.  According to Wikipedia (I know, research, right?) “In 1969, UPI estimated that his artwork had been seen by 80 per cent of all Americans.”  That is pretty dang good for a humble painter, better numbers than Pablo Picasso ever saw.  Let me share a few more of his works, and see if you recognize any of these;

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Thanks for the Memories, Mr. Disney

This post is going to sound an awful lot like stuff and nonsense, because that is what it primarily is, but it had to be said anyway.    Last night my family took me to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks, a deeply moving biographical story of P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, and how she had to be convinced to surrender her beloved character to the movie industry which she so thoroughly detested and distrusted.  It is also about one of my most important literary heroes, Walt Disney, and how he eventually convinced the very eccentric and complicated authoress to allow him to make her beloved character into a memorable movie icon.

“We create our stories to rewrite our own past,” says Disney, trying to tell Mrs. Travers how he understood the way that her Mary Poppins character completed and powerfully regenerated the tragedy of her own father’s dissolution and death.  This is the singular wisdom of Disney.  He took works of literature that I loved and changed them, making them musical, making them happy, and making them into the cartoonish versions of themselves that so many of us have come to cherish from our childhoods.  He transforms history, and he transforms memory, and by doing so, he transforms truth.

Okay, and as silly as those insights are, here’s a sillier one.  In H.P. Lovecraft’s dreamlands, on the shores of the Cerenarian Sea, north of the Mountains of Madness, there roam three clowns.  They are known as the Boz, the Diz, and the Bard, nicknames for Charles Dickens, Walt Disney, and William Shakespeare.  These three clowns, like the three fates of myth, measure and cut the strings of who we are, where we are going, and how we will get there.  They come to Midgard, the Middle Earth to help us know wisdom and folly, the wisdom of fools.

Why have I told you these silly, silly things?  Do I expect you to believe them?  Do I even expect you to read all the way to paragraph four?  Ah, sadly, no…  but I am thinking and recording these thoughts because I believe they are important somehow.  I may yet use them as the basis of a book of my own.  I enjoy a good story because it helps me to do precisely as Mr. Disney has said, I can rewrite my own goofy, silly, pointless past.

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Maxfield Parrish Pictures

Much of what I draw is inspired by Maxfield Parrish, the commercial artist who created stunningly beautiful work for advertisers in the 1920’s and 30’s, and went on to paint murals and masterworks until the 1960’s.  He is noted for his luminous colors, especially Parrish Blue, and can’t be categorized under any existing movement or style of art.  No one is like Maxfield Parrish.  And I don’t try to be either, but I do acknowledge the debt I owe to him.  You should be able to see it in these posts, some of mine, and some of his.

Mine; (In the Land of Maxfield Parrish)

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His; (Daybreak)

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Mine; (Wings of Imagination)

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His; (Egypt)

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Believe me, I know who wins this contest.  I am not ashamed to come in second.  I will never be as great as he was.  But I try, and that is worth something.  It makes me happy, at any rate.

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Dippy Duck Dreams

The hardest dream-to-reality connection to make is my duck nightmare.  I know I bummed the world out yesterday with unfunny dream deliberations.  But in this post I explore the lighter side of nightmares.  It all began when I was about four years old and we went to the Deer Park Zoo in Mason City, Iowa.

Truthfully, when you look at it from the proper point of view, at four you are small and all animals look like monsters.  The three ostriches they had in a chicken-wire pen were at least several hundred feet tall.  The deer were huge with giant Bambi-eyes.  I was little and still very much in a touchy-feely stage of life.  And the goose-pen had a large hole in the front, just large enough for a goose head and neck to fit through at high speed.  That is exactly what happened when one wide-eyed nerd-child wandered close enough to give a gander a premium chance at a beak-first goosing.  Whether my pants had to be changed immediately afterwards is something I have yet to work up the courage to ask my parents about.  No rush.  They are only in their eighties now.

Anyway, I was left with a recurring nightmare, always involving a duck or very similar waterfowl with big, massive, white dentures.  Yes, you heard right, a duck with teeth.  It’s all right for you to laugh now, but I woke up in cold sweat every single time I had that nightmare.  Right from the moment when I realize that the evil little duck-mind has fixed its wishes on taking a nice, big bite, to the split second where the toothy duck-head zips towards me, I am gripped with total existential terror.  And it wakes me up.

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So what does this doozy of a dream mean?  Do dreams have to have a meaning?  All two-hundred-plus times?  (I lost count, so sue me.)  I do believe, however that it must be some kind of anxiety dream.  And the last occurrence was now four years ago, so the possibility of duck-dream remission is very real to me.

If my last post chilled your innards, then hopefully this one lit them up with laughing gas.

Leap of FaithThis closing Paffooney from yesterday is entitled “The Leap of Faith”.  I’m not sure why that is important to know, but it is.

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Truthfully…

Truthfully… for a fiction writer, a humorist, a former school teacher of junior-high-aged kids, telling the truth is hard.  But in this post I intend to try it, and I will see if I can stand the castor-oil flavor of it on my tongue.

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  • The simple truth is, I rarely tell the unvarnished truth.  And I firmly believe I am not alone in this.
  • Yesterday I battled pirates.  (While this is not literally true, it is metaphorically true.)  They were the scurvy scum o’ the Bank-o’-Merricka Pirates who are suing me for over ten thousand dollars despite my efforts of the last two years to settle 40 thousand dollars worth of credit card debt.
  • I hired a lawyer, but in spite of what he told me, I expect to lose the lawsuit and be wiped out financially.  I also believe Donald Trump will win as President.
  • I am a pessimist.  And it helps me through life.  I am always prepared for the worst, and I can only be surprised by happy and pleasant surprises.
  • My son in the Marines has developed an interest in survivalist gear and chaos-contingency plans.  We are now apparently preparing for the coming zombie apocalypse.
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  • I like to draw nudes.  I have drawn them from real-life models who were paid for their participation.  But no bad things happened.  It was all done with professional integrity even though I am an amateur artist.  Chaperones were a part of every session.
  • In high school I identified as a Republican like my father.  In college I became a Democrat (Thanks, Richard Nixon) and voted for Jimmy Carter.  I argued with my father for eight years of Ronald Reagan and four years of George H.W. Bush.
  • My father has now voted for Barack Obama twice and will vote for Hillary this fall if he is still able.  We spent most of our conversations this summer exchanging “Can you believe its?” about Donald Trump.
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  • I have been collecting pictures of sunrises for three years now.  I stole the idea from my childhood friend who now lives in Florida and takes beautiful ocean sunrise pictures over the Atlantic.  But I do it because I know I don’t have many more sunrises to go.  I have six incurable diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and COPD.  I could go “BOOM! …dead” at any given moment.  I believe in savoring it while I have it.
  • I was sexually assaulted when I was ten years old.  I can only tell you this particular truth because the man who assaulted me and inflicted physical and emotional pain on me is now dead.  It is liberating to be able to say that.  But I regret forty years’ worth of treating it is a terrible secret that I could never tell anyone.
  • Telling that last truth made me cry.  Now you know why telling the truth is not easy.
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  • I really do love and admire all things having to do with Disney.  And when I was young, I really did want to find a picture of Annette naked.  There was no internet back then.  That quest helped me learn to draw the human form.  I know how bad that sounds… but, hey, I was a normal boy in many ways.  And I don’t draw her naked any more.
  • Finally, I have to say… in all honesty… I don’t know for sure that everything I have told you today is absolutely true.  Truth is a perception, even an opinion.  And I may be wrong about the facts as I know them.  The human mind works in mysterious ways.  I sometimes think I may simply be bedbug crazy.
  • (P.S.) Bedbugs are insects with very limited intelligence.  They cannot, in fact, be crazy or insane.  Their little brains are not complicated enough for that.  But it is a metaphor, and metaphors can be more truthful than literal statements.

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Wally Wood

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A self-portrait by Wallace Wood.

I am a bit of a cartoonist for a reason.  I started drawing cartoons at the age of five.  I read everything in the Sunday funny pages, not just for the jokes.  I poured over the drawings and copied some.  I drew Dagwood Bumstead and Blondie.  I drew Lil’ Abner and Charlie Brown and Pogo.  Cartoonists were heroes to me.

But my parents wanted to protect me from the evils of comic books.  Superheroes were off limits most of the time.  Things that are associated with evil were out of the question.  So Daredevil was beyond reach.  And Mad Magazine was full of socialist ideas and led kids down the dark path of satire.  So the truth is, I didn’t discover Wally Wood until I was in college.  His corrupting influence didn’t take hold of me until I was older and full of hormones.  Ah, youth and the propensity for sin!  Wally taught me that cartoons could be real.

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Wally Wood was one of the original artists working for EC comics who formed Mad Magazine with it’s spoofs and irreverent humor.  Wood worked together with the Great Will Eisner on the Spirit.  He went on to work for Marvel on the comic book Daredevil where he innovated the red suit and double-D logo, as well as doing the primary story-telling that brought that comic book from the bottom of the Marvel stack to almost the very top.  His work on Daredevil resonates even until today where there is now a big controversy that the popular show on Netflix does not list Wood among the creators of Daredevil in their credits.  I must remember to complain about that later.

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But the thing that drew me to Wood more than anything was the realistic style that he brought to the unreal realm of cartoons.  The man could draw!  He did marvelous detail work and was a leader in the development of dynamic composition in an artistic industry that tolerated and even often encouraged really poor-quality drawing.  He took the comic book from the age of the glorified stick figure to an age of cinematic scope and know-how.  Here it is revealed in his classic break-down of innovative comic-book panels;

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But it is also important to realize that the more power you put into art, the more it can blow up and hurt people.  Wood had a dark side that went a bit darker as he went along.  He had an issue with the kind of false front comics had to throw up in front after the anti-comics crusade of psychologist Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of Innocents.  He is probably the artist behind the cartoon poster The Disneyland Memorial Orgy.  He started his own cartoon studio that produced increasingly erotic and pornographic comics like Sally Forth, Cannon, and Gangbang.  He became increasingly ill, lost the sight in one eye, suffered severe headaches, and eventually committed suicide in 1981.  With great power comes great responsibility, and we are not all superheroes in the end.  But I will always admire and emulate the work of this great artist… and selfishly wish he could’ve lived to create more of the wonderful art he gave us.

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Mangled Metaphors and Purple Paisley Prose

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I have rather regularly been revising and editing old writing.  One thing I have discovered is that I am capable of the most gawd-awful convoluted sentences filled with mangled metaphors and ideas that can only be followed while doing mental back-flips or managing miracles of interpretation.    That last sentence is a perfect example of purple paisley prose.  Paisley, in case you didn’t know this, is a printed pattern on clothing or other cloth that makes an intricate design out of the basic twisted teardrop shape borrowed from Persian art.   The basic motif, the teardrop shape, is a leaf or vegetable design often referred to as the Persian pickle.  I write like that.  You can pick out the Persian pickles in this very paragraph.  Alliterations, mangled metaphors, rhyming words, sound patterns, the occasional literary allusion, personification, bungles, jungles, and junk.  “How can you actually write like that?” you ask.  Easy.  I think like that.

To make a point about mangled metaphors, let me visit a couple of recent scenes in novels I have been working on;

From The Bicycle Wheel Genius; page 189

Mike Murphy and Frosty Anderson sat at the kitchen table eating a batch of Orben’s pancakes, the twentieth try at pancakes, and nearly edible.  Mike could eat anything with maple syrup on it… well, maybe not dog poop, but these were slightly better than dog poop.

From The Magical Miss Morgan; page 7

Blue looked at Mike and grinned.  It was an impish and fully disarming grin.  It made Mike do whatever Blue said, even being willing to eat a lump of dog poop if she asked him to, though she would never ask him to.

So, here’s the thing.  Why is there a repetition of the dog-poop-eating metaphor?  In one case it is Mike Murphy expressing in metaphorical terms his love of maple syrup.  In the other, it is Mike Murphy expressing his love of Blueberry Bates’ dimpled grin.  He is a somewhat unique character, but why would anybody associate love with eating dog poop?  I don’t know.  I just wrote the dang things.

I like to take a convoluted plot and complicate it with complex sentences and numerous running gags, with a seasoned-sauce of mangled metaphors poured on top like gravy.  I will use sentences like this either to make you laugh, or give you a headache.  I’m almost sure it is one of those.  So if you have gotten this far in this post without a headache, then I guess it must be funny.

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My Mother’s Dolls

Tom Sawyer without the straw hat, as created by Lois Beyer

Tom Sawyer without the straw hat, as created by Lois Beyer

You may already know about my doll-collecting mania.  You may have already called the mental health people to come take care of the problem, and they just haven’t arrived at my door yet with the white coat that has the extra long sleeves.  But you may not know that my mother is a doll-maker and has something to do with my doll-collecting hoarding disorder.

In the early 1990’s my mother and I put our money together and bought a kiln while we were visiting my sister’s family out in California.  It wasn’t the most expensive model, but it wasn’t the cheapest, either.  We both had enough experience with ceramics that we didn’t want to buy a burning box that was merely going to blow our porcelain projects to kingdom come.  Mother had doll-making friends in Texas who taught her about firing greenware and glazing and porcelain paint and all the other arcane stuff you have to know to make expensive hand-made dolls.  Now, honestly, at the start we could’ve made some money at it selling to seriously ill doll collectors and other kooks, but we were not willing to part with our early art, and by the time we were ready to do more than just have an expensive hobby, everyone who would’ve paid money for the product was making their own.  So dreams of commercial success were supplanted by the hobbyist’s mania that made more and more charming little things to occasionally display at the county fair.

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The two dolls I have left to share on my blog from that era were both crafted by my mother.  She lovingly fired the porcelain body parts, painted the faces by hand, and created the wardrobe on her Singer sewing machine.  I made some dolls too, but never with the wondrous craft and care that made my mother’s dolls beyond compare.

Tom Sawyer was originally a boy doll who was supposed to be able to hold a model train in his hands.  My mother had the pattern for the little engineer’s uniform and hat that she would use on another doll instead.  He is named after the Tom Sawyer clothing pattern that my mother bought and sewed together to dress him in.  He has a cloth and stuffing body underneath his clothes together with porcelain head, hands, and bare feet.

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The other doll I have left to brag unctuously about is a doll named Nicole after the niece my wife and I have whom this doll bares a striking resemblance to.  She displays a beautiful little girl’s sun dress with quilted accent colors that my mother sewed from scratch with the help of a pattern she was truly fond of and used more than once.

These dolls were gifts to my wife and I, presented shortly after my mother bought out my share of the kiln when she retired and moved back to the frosty land of the Iowegians.  I haven’t kept them as thoroughly dusted and cobweb-free as they deserve because I have been a somewhat lazy and slovenly son… but I do love them almost as much as (and sometimes more depending on recent behavior) my own children.  (After all, porcelain kids rarely make a mess, overspend allowances, or hog the television too much.)

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