Amidst all the (justified) doom and gloom that this week has brought us, there is one bright spot that comes just in time to save this week from being a complete downer. It’s Eldon Dedini’s birthday! (He was born in 1921, on June 29th.) Yes, I know that he died in 2006… but his joyous, delightfully hedonistic art lives on. As a Russian whose father once started a rowdy party because it was Mozart’s birthday, I claim the privilege of celebrating Dedini’s jour de naissance by raising my glass of rosé (satyr-approved, of course) in his honour.
He was one of Gus Arriola’s closest friends. To quote Arriola, «calling Eldon a cartoonist just christens the tip of an impressive iceberg. Beneath the surface is a superb painter, a remarkably inventive illustrator, philosopher, and humorist—a keen observer, revealing life’s little truths with his unerring brush. His chief reward was the viewer’s invariable burst of laughter. He was a walking repository of eclectic knowledge about art, history, jazz, wine—you name it. I gave up using my encyclopedia on a subject search: it was faster to pick up the phone and call Eldon.» By the way, I pulled this quote out of a R.C. Harvey article published in the Comics Journal titled “Viewing Life Through a Twinkle”, which gives you an idea of what a fun read it is.
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Dedini is merrily frolicking satyrs, closely followed (or preceded) by unapologetically buxom women, all of this merry crowd looking to have some fun of the most basic kind. It’s not all randy woodland gods, though; there’s also room for lascivious gnomes, salacious wolves and whatever other lechery comes to mind. (Most of these were published in Playboy Magazine.)
« But will you love me when I’m old and gray? » From Playboy’s August, 1971 issue.
Although it’s easy to be blown away by Dedini’s take on Grecian and Roman mythology – I think fabled creatures gave him an easy outlet for his joie de vivre – he could seemingly draw anything he wanted to, stunning forest landscapes or historical costumes, capturing carpet textures, clothing accessories or musical instruments with equal ease.
To wrap up, here’s a sweet anecdote from the aforementioned Viewing Life Through a Twinkle:
“During an intermission at one year’s Festival, Dedini and some other PBL members went up on stage to have their photograph taken. Duke Ellington was still on stage, seated at the piano, putting eye drops in his eyes. When Dedini was introduced as “a cartoonist who sometimes draws jazz cartoons,” Ellington got up and, without saying a word, pulled out his wallet and started looking through it as he meandered, aimlessly, around the platform. Finally, he found what he was looking for, a folded up magazine clipping. He carefully unfolded it and spread it out on the piano: it was a cartoon Dedini had done for Collier’s. The cartoon depicted two Russians in Red Square, one of whom is obviously a dealer in blackmarket phonograph records: he has opened his coat to show the other fellow the record that he has tucked inside, saying, “ … Cootie Williams, trumpet; Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Harry Carney, baritone sax; Duke Ellington, piano …” Said Dedini: “Ellington loved that cartoon because when he toured Russia the people of Russia loved his music, but they couldn’t buy the records.” For years thereafter, Ellington sent Dedini a Christmas card. “I have about twenty,” Dedini said. “He sends them in June.”