They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era, The 1950s and 1960s By Didier Ghez (Chronicle Books).
Floored! That was my immediate take when I first flipped through the pages of Didier Ghez’ latest book – the fourth (and final?) volume of his They Drew As They Pleased series for Chronicle books. Upon closer inspection, and a good read, I now declare this one of the most important books of the year. A Cartoon Research must-buy.
The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era, The 1950s and 1960s examines and celebrates the five principle artistic movers and shakers of 50s Modern design that the Disney studio embraced – in the before-during-and-after of the UPA movement. Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Tom Oreb, John Dunn and Walt Peregoy – all five have been identified and acknowledged before, but here is a deeper dive into who they were and a lush, well curated exhibit of their rare pre-production/inspirational art.
And inspirational indeed! After digesting this treasure chest of previously unseen Disney art its now impossible to watch the classics without seeing the hand of these artists on screen. For example, Lee Blair’s Pleasure Island sequence (in Pinocchio), The Dance of the Hours (in Fantasia) and Little Pedro (in Saludos Amigos); Mary Blair’s visuals for Blame It On The Samba (from Melody Time), Cinderella and Peter Pan (among much else); Tom Oreb’s designs for Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians; John Dunn’s contributions to Mars And Beyond, Magic Highway and Donald and the Wheel; and Walt Pergoy’s concept paintings and backgrounds for 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book and the abandoned Chanticleer – all now deserve reevaluation in consideration of their work now fully exposed. Didier’s books in this series makes viewing Disney’s animated classics a richer experience – and literally transforms the way I will watch them in the future.
Loaded with new research, information and gorgeous visuals – and a great introduction by Eric and Susan Goldberg – this one gets my highest recommendation.
Kem Weber: Mid-Century Furniture Designs For The Disney Studio by David A. Bossert (Old Mill Press)
What a pleasant surprise this book is! Most of us didn’t work at the Disney studio during the golden age – or in the decades before Bob Iger’s current reign. But for those who did – and didn’t – this book is a love letter to the Burbank lot, and the aesthetically beautiful and incredibly functional furniture designed exclusively for Walt Disney by designer Kim Weber.
Disney veteran Dave Bossert has been writing about Weber recently on Cartoon Research, but his book ties it all together; the thinking behind Disney’s decision to hire Weber – and impact that his designs would have on the classic animated features produced in Weber’s buildings, rooms and furniture. This is one of those books that has you asking at first, “Why do I need this?” But once you open it up and start to read you begin to think “Why hasn’t anyone written about this aspect of Disney before”?
Bossert writes from the heart – as well as from his own experience using Weber’s desks, shelves and cabinets. The story behind Weber and his association with Disney is fascinating, Bossert’s writing is quite informative – and the book’s production values are somewhat lavish. The reproduction here of rare photographs and concept art is particularly lush. Each illustration feels like its printed on glossy photographic stock – with gorgeous crystal clarity. Even the book’s wood-grain dust jacket looks and feels authentically like wood!
I have no hesitation in supporting this project whole heartedly and give it my highest recommendation.
The Disney Christmas Card by Jeff Kurtti (Disney Editions)
Talk about a perfect Disney Christmas gift book! I love the concept – a beautiful coffee-table book that presents each of Disney studio’s Christmas Cards (and occasional corporate Christmas Greetings from Disney Imagineering) covering over 70 years of incredible design, craft and in most cases rarely seen art by the best of the studio’s artists.
Christmas cards – even from the Disney Studio – are ephemera. Meant to be disposed of after January 1st and they often were. To me, the material printed here are works of art. More personal in the 1930s, less so in the 1940s and 50s, and quite business like in later years. But there is much fun to be had here – and much candy for the eyes. Promoting the studios latest characters, features and theme parks seems to be of equal importance to the wish of Seasons Greetings.
I adore the 1930s images by Tom Wood and Hank Porter; and the 1940s with Porter in his prime – tying Christmas wishes to the likes of Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music and Victory Through Air Power. Beyond the cards (which alone would make this book worth having), author Jeff Kurtti adds sidebar bios on studio artists Wood, Porter, Bob Moore and my favorite unsung Disney commercial artist, Paul Wenzel. There is also additional material and rare Disney archive memorabilia pictured throughout – including twelve replica Disney Christmas cards that are removable and usable. My only gripe with this otherwise perfect product is the odd “theatre-style case cover” – the book opens awkwardly from the center, making it hard to read in a traditional sense. Laid out on a coffee table is perhaps the best way to peruse it.. and I do indeed recommend it.
Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures Archival Editor: David Gerstein (Fantagraphics)
If you thought David Gerstein’s relationship with the masterful Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse comic strips ended with volume 12 of the Fantagraphics Gottfredson Library series, you’d be mistaken. Archival editor Gerstein – along with publisher Gary Groth, editor Mike Catron and designer Jacob Covey – have reformatted seven of Gottfredson’s greatest adventure stories, added color, splash panels and laid them out in comic book style – and published them in this wonderful hardcover volume that stands as a tribute to the cartoonist and his best work.
Being a Gerstein production, it again provides a showcase for even more rare Gottfredson art and miscellany. In between stories, the pages are crammed with obscure publicity pieces, paintings and photos. Gerstein provides a Foreword introducing the reader to Gottfredson’s career, and an overview of the strip. Gerstein’s Afterword compares the Mickey’s comic strip personality to his screen persona.
The stories themselves range from the earliest days of the 1930s, with westerns and gangsters, to the way-out science fiction and secret agent episodes of the 1950s. Re-reading these stories in color, in comic book style (6-to-9 panels per page), you can appreciate the storytelling in an even more enjoyable way. In fact, this book makes a great introduction to Gottfredson’s work to friends and family unfamiliar with the comic strip Mickey. All in all, a perfect gift for the Disney lover in your circle.
SHOUT OUTS and SHORT TAKES
Walt’s Imagination: The Life of Walt Disney (Disney • Hyperion), by noted biographer Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Disney/Bluth veteran artist John Pomeroy, is a delight. It’s aimed at children, written in a concise way so younger minds can easily comprehend the the life of Walt Disney and the scope of his career. But for us, the full page paintings by Pomeroy tell the story in a way never seen before, using the visual medium to communicate his story. The book brings a smile to my face every time I look through it and – considering the subject is Walt Disney – that seems about right.
Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food (Disney Editions) by Marcy Carrier Smothers takes a closer look at something we all take for granted – the food at Disneyland. It may seem that every tiny aspect of Disney historical minutiae is getting a coffee-table book these days – and I suppose that’s true – but it turns out everything Disney did IS worthy of such study. Through rare photos, art and menus, Smothers takes a look at what Walt ate, and what kinds of food was offered at the original theme park. Nostalgic images take you back to the way things were and her text is informative and fun. There are also recipes for dishes and desserts so you can experience a little bit of the Magic Kingdom in your own kitchen. So if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to grab a “Stromboli Special” (Beef Ribs) with some Donald Duck orange juice – and top it off with a cup of Dole Whip for dessert!