Monday, March 26, 2012

Comedians by Norman Rockwell

Bob Hope


Jack Benny

the printed cover

Rockwell Painting Benny
Jerry Lewis, Ed Wynn

Rockwell & Lewis
Johnny Carson

Three created for the "Stagecoach" film poster:

Bob Cummings

Red Buttons

Slim Pickens

thanks to Ben Fentington

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Caricature Art of John Johns

Sid Caesar by John Johns

The late illustrator/caricaturist John A. Johns (1921-2005) might very well be the textbook example of a "big fish in a small pond", the small pond being Pittsburgh (not to disparage Pittsburgh). Johns was born in Pittsburgh and worked and remained there his entire life. Aside from perhaps Andy Warhol, Johns was the most renowned artist ever born in that city, although unlike Warhol, outside of Pittsburgh he was virtually unknown.

In 1952, Johns became an in-house "staff artist" at the Pittsburgh Press, drawing caricatures, spot drawings, even maps, all on demand. Beginning around 1960, towards the end of each week, finally came the big perk for him: creating a full color cover image-- usually a current TV star,  for their Sunday TV GRAPHIC magazine. Johns usually had little time to render these covers, perhaps several hours from start to finish, and in some cases less than an hour, yet for the next decade, he somehow managed to turn out over 100 beautiful covers, vivid, lush and funny images, some far more weirdly distorted than others. In fact he was a master of distortion. It became a ritual for many in Pittsburgh to look forward to the John Johns TV caricature every Sunday.

Johns ended his tenure with the Pittsburgh Press in 1970, which was also the year he made his single contribution to MAD magazine, illustrating a 3 page piece written by Larry Siegel  (scroll down below). MAD would often test potential contributers (including me) with an initial assignment and then decide whether the artist was worthy to join the ranks of "the usual gang of idiots". Similar to his fellow illustrators Sanford Kossin, (who wound up doing a total of 2 assignments for MAD), and Bruce Stark, (who would do 3), Johns would only appear in MAD once.  I'm not up on the facts, but speculate that his finished art for the piece was perhaps a bit too similar to Mort Drucker's in style, and MAD didn't need another Mort Drucker.

No matter, John Johns went on to be an (and according to many, a much loved) art instructor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for the next 30 years, even becoming it's president for a decade. 
The renowned caricaturist Zach Trenholm is a walking encyclopedia on caricature and it's history and recently introduced me to the amazing work of John Johns who I had never heard of (although I did vividly recall his lone MAD piece from 1970, especially his Sammy Davis, Jr. faces!) Many of these John Johns images come from Zach's collection. Check out his caricaturist site to see more great examples of current  and forgotten caricaturists:
Sid Caesar, the printed cover
Bob Hope
Danny Kaye
Fred Astaire
Bing Crosby
Ernest Borgnine
Art Carney & Harvey
Vince Edwards as Ben Casey
Carol Burnett
Jack Benny
Fred MacMurray
Raymond Massey & Richard Chamberlain: "Dr. Kildare"
Dean Martin
Jackie Gleason
James Arness: "Gunsmoke" 
Don Knotts & Andy Griffith
Raymond Burr
George Burns
Lloyd Bridges
Henry Fonda
Mike Wallace
Alfred Hitchcock
Lucille Ball
Richard Boone
Jack Webb
Dennis Weaver, Rickey Der: "Kentucky Jones"
Johnny Carson
Barbra Striesand
Charles Bickford: "The Virginian"
Bill Cosby, Robert Culp: "Eye Spy"
Joan Blondell: "Here Comes the Brides"
Mitch Miller
Imogene Coca
Sid Caesar & Imogene Coca
Hugh Downs: "The Today Show"
Jonathan Harris, Robot, Billy Mumy: "Lost in Space"
Merv Griffin
Lee J. Cobb
the cast of "Mission Impossible"
Eddie Albert
a montage of Johns images created for the National Cartoonist Society,
 including Tennessee Ernie Ford,
top right

A recent display of Johns original art


1968 Pittsburgh Press interior cartoon by Johns
Pg's one and two of John Johns' only piece for MAD magazine, from 1970, issue #133 (click to enlarge)
Pg. three

A later sketch of Prince Charles by Johns
montage of various friends of John Johns, including Johns himself
 (on lower right with bow tie) and "Famous Monsters"
editor Forrest J. Ackerman
directly above him.

John's handwritten bio from the 1980 National Cartoonist Society Album
A nice blog post on John Johns...
Special thanks to Zach Trenholm and Richard Greene