I scanned these images from a book found in Keith Fawkes Books in Hampstead, London. It’s the messiest and most chaotic bookshop I’ve ever been into, but those are the kind of places where strange treasures like “Visions of the Future” can be found. The subtitle reads: “An exciting and novel selction of science fiction art of today”. The book was a British publication, featuring at the time young British artists. Judging from a quick round on google, most of them seem to be active still. So there is plenty of inspiration out there! Here are five of my favourite artworks from the book, which stood out among all the weird and funky sci-fi kitsch.
This short cartoon from 1943 is considered in Japan to be one of the greatest anime movies of all time. Even though I didn’t watch an awful lot of anime, it makes perfect sense to me that this wonderful little movie has gained such a standing. Kenzō Masaoka, who created Spider and Tulip is an important figure in the history of Anime, as he was the first to introduce both cel animation and synchronized sound to the genre. He was also a master animator, rivalling his contemporaries in the USA and elsewhere with exceptional drawing skills and stylistic confidence. In Spider and Tulip, we meet an innocent, singing little ladybug, and the sly Mr. Spider, who cunningly tries to capture her in his web.
If you happened to watch Dumbo as a kid, you might remember the scene where dumbo falls into a tub filled with champagne and accidentialy becomes intoxicated by alcohol. Dumbo’s hallicunations however are quite wild, and point in the direction of something else having found its way into the drink. Did Disney’s animators draw inspiration from some other, more exotic substance, back in 1941 when they created this segment of the Dumbo movie? I guess we will never know, but in any case “Pink Elephants on Parade” remains one of the most colourful and fantastic moments in the history of animated cartoons.
This surrealistic animation from 1978 is a real feast for the eyes, so full of wonky weirdness you can not avoid being amazed. It’s a bit like seventies counter culture meets Betty Boop and Koko the clown in outer space. In fact Sally Cruikshank has admitted to being influenced by Fleischer Studios (who made Betty Boop) – but that said, she is a one of a kind genius – owing her success to a wildly creative imagination. In addition to making her own movies, Sally Cruikshank worked for many years producing short animations for Sesame Street. The inspiration for this film seems to be the flimsy world of healing, astrology and new age hocus-pocus.
The cat and mouse game has been a favourite theme for animators and audiences alike since the early days of the animated cartoon. Whether the predator is a wolf or a cat, and whatever animal the innocent victim may be, these films always follow the same pattern; the big bad wolf/cat looses his chances to eat bunny/bird/mouse steak due to arrogance, stupidity and slow response in the defining moment. The audience loves to see the innocent little animal making a fool of the big bad animal trying to eat him. It is a deeply rooted theme, also present in fairytales from every corner of the world. It seems we all like to see the big and strong being overpowered by the small and helpless. In the case of Nu Pogodi, we have a cigarette smoking wolf constantly assaulting an androgynous little bunny rabbit – luckily to no avail.
Canadian animator Ryan Larkin has sadly become just as well known for his unfortunate life story, as his powerful animations. After being nominated for Oscars with “Walking” in 1969, he followed up the success with this amazing little film in 1972. Unfortunately, Street Musique became the last complete movie he made. Somehow Larkin ended up on a path of alcoholism, drug abuse and homelessness. A few years before his death in 2007, he did however have a little comeback; as the director of the music video “spare change”, but only as a vague shadow the creative genius he once used to be.
Until very recently Felix the Cat had been just a pop culture icon to me, without actually having seen him in any cartoons. I love the black and white animations from the twenties and thirties, so I decided to have a look at the original Felix. And what a great surprise – here is one of the absolutely funniest cartoons I have ever watched. Felix the Cat was created by cartoonists Otto Messmer and Pat Sullivan in 1919. He was the first animated character reaching the popularity needed to draw significant movie audiences, and continued to do so throughout the 1920s. Felix was a silent movie character, so when sound cartoons entered the stage towards the end of the decade, he gradually lost his popularity. When Sullivan’s studios finally decided to move to sound in 1929, it was allready too late, by then Mickey Mouse had become the new superstar of the cartoon world. Production of the original Felix the Cat cartoons ended the following year, in 1930.
Betty Boop was created by animator and director Max Fleischer, who somehow came in the shadow of his contemporary Walt Disney. But he was no less important in shaping the animation history of the 20th century. In addition to creating Betty Boop and bringing Popeye and Superman to the movie screen, he was the inventor of the rotoscoping technique, where stills from live action movies are traced to create animation frames. It is still a widely used thechique. In this movie, Koko the Clown, Betty Boop and Bimbo come to town to sell magic medicine, causing wild exitement and havoc among the public.