Lou Brooks’ Banana Bob, “Boy Inventor of Harding High”

« Pretty soon, they had me working at the stat machine and the PhotoTypositor, or touching up stripper photos for the Trocadero Burlesk ads. Mostly putting some underwear on them. I may as well have been Vincent Van Gogh, for all I knew. I was in heaven. » — Brooks recalls his formative years

At first blush, I’ve immensely admired cartoonist-illustrator-historian (and so on) Lou Brooks (1944-2021) and his assured line. An ever-eager autodidact, Brooks handily achieved a feat that sets the mind a-reeling: soaking up ‘low’ illustration styles and the essence of faceless pictorial ephemera (think comic book ads, matchbooks, bar coaster and napkin art…), Brooks miraculously derived, from this primeval soup, his unique style, paradoxically bland (by design!) yet instantly recognizable.

One of Brooks’ earliest jobs in the badlands of professional cartooning was a strip he produced for Scholastic‘s Bananas (1975-84), a skewing-slightly-older companion to the publisher’s big hit Dynamite (1974-92). Banana Bob, “Boy Inventor of Harding High” exploited the time-honoured gizmo formula hatched in 1912 by Rube Goldberg with the twist that here, the doodads were contrived by readers and given visual interpretation by Brooks. Banana Bob ran for the mag’s first twenty-nine issues.

With the early strips, Brooks was still fine-tuning the works. With a dozen or so under his belt, he hit his stride. This one’s from Bananas no. 12.
From Bananas no. 13. Foo! There’s our pal, Bill Holman’s Spooky the cat (though he’s lost his bandage)!
From Bananas no. 16.
From Bananas no. 18.
From Bananas no. 19. And add a dash or two of Bill Holman… Brooks knew his stuff, all right.
From Bananas no. 20.
From Bananas no. 21. I see shades of a Jay Lynch influence!
From Bananas no. 24.
From Bananas no. 25.

From Bananas no. 26.
From Bananas no. 27.
From Bananas no. 28.
… and the series’ full-page finale, from Bananas no. 29, aka the 1979 Bananas Yearbook.

Though Brooks had already developed his trademark style — as evidenced for other illustrations he did for Bananas — he didn’t fully employ it on the Banana Bob strip. If memory serves, here’s where I first encountered a full-fledged Lou Brooks wallop, and I suspect I’m not alone in this (our younger readers are likelier to have first come across his exemplary revamp of the old Monopoly game):

For the feature’s duration — a decade or so — Brooks logos ushered readers into Playboy’s comic strip section (created in 1976 by hip new hire Skip Williamson) that featured over the years such heavyweights as Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Jay Lynch, Bobby London, Frank Thorne, Chris Browne

Here’s another, er, pair:

… and speaking of Mr. Spiegelman, here’s a collaboration between titans. It appeared in the January, 1980 issue of Playboy.

Of course, there’s so much more to Lou Brooks than one could conceivably cover within a mere blog post. To that end, we have a handy little biopic entitled A Guy Named Lou — filmed entirely in Illustr-O-Vision!

Brooks was an assiduous chronicler of the history of reprographics — don’t miss his jaw-dropping Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. While he did a bit of everything to keep himself amused and occupied, he never lost sight of his vocation, of his one true love — I mean, he was in a band (with Bill Plympton!), but it was called Ben Day and the Zipatones!

-RG

Don Madden’s Luxuriant Oasis of Dames and Dogs

So little is known about cartoonist-illustrator Don Madden (especially given the existence of John Madden, American football coach, who tends to smother all other search results), that I can’t really say much. Born on October 14, 1927, he has drawn a number of cartoons for Playboy, and illustrated and/or written a number of children’s books. Apparently he lives in Ballston Spa, New York… or at least he did in 1993, as claims the blurb to one of his books.

On the (absolutely highly recommended) blog My Retro Reads, I found this, likely taken from the back cover of Oxygen Keeps You Alive (illustrated by Madden and written by Franklyn M. Branley, 1971):

« Don Madden attended the Philadelphia Museum College of Art on a full scholarship. Following graduation, he became a member of the faculty as an instructor in experimental drawing and design. The recipient of gold and silver medals at the Philadelphia Art Director’s Club exhibitions, Madden’s work was selected for reproduction in the New York Art Director’s Annual, in the international advertising art publication, Graphis, and in the Society of Illustrators Annual. In addition to being the author of The Wartville Wizard and Lemonade Serenade: Or the Thing in the Garden, Madden is a well-known children’s book illustrator who has worked on a variety of projects, including Incognito Mosquito, and many books in the HarperCollins Let’s Read and Find Out series. »

The first part of this quick biography is dreadfully boring (I have a short attention span!), but at least it provides us with some context. Interestingly, this makes no mention whatsoever of his Playboy cartoons, probably having decided that children’s books and Playboy do not go hand-in-hand. Madden’s style is easy to recognize, so I have no doubt that all these Maddens are the same person (excepting the football coach, of course). Well, hey, there’s always Shel Silverstein to explore these kinds of dichotomies; see Shel Silverstein: Without Borders and Take Ten With Shel Silverstein, although we’ve never specifically talked about his contribution to children’s literature.

We can assume that Madden has written two books (the aforementioned Lemonade Serenade, Or, the thing in the Garden, 1966 and The Wartville Wizard, 1986) and illustrated a myriad of others. In the latter category, I will make a special note of Harold S. Longman’ The Castle of a Thousand Cats (1972), which I would love to get my hands on someday.

Here is a selection of Don Madden’s Playboy 60s and 70s cartoons (he joined the magazine’s stable at the dawn of the 1960s), as always graciously scanned by co-admin RG from a score of anthologies in our collection.

I see no antagonism between Madden’s girly cartoons and his illustrations of boys hanging out with dogs or cats living in castles; his florid style lends itself equally well to voluptuous women or magical ships, and he clearly has a real affinity for drawing animals replete with personality and charm.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday Masters: the Formidable Gahan Wilson

«  I will eliminate this ignominious blot on the city’s reputation. I will correct this annoying oversight. And so Ostap undertook the actions dictated to him by his reason, his sound instinct, and the situation at hand. » – the magnificent Ostap Bender, from 12 Chairs by Ilf & Petrov

With considerable dismay, I recently realized that Gahan Wilson had yet to be featured as a Tentacle Master, despite having thoroughly deserved this title not only with the sheer number of tentacles in his cartoons, but their impeccable quality as well. Co-admin RG wrote a lovely piece on this prolific artist in Gahan Paints What He Sees!, and we’ve included his work in a multitude of posts, but he certainly deserves this official TT accolade.

Without further ado… and with many thanks to co-admin RG, who figured out where these were published and on what date, as well as doing a lot of scanning and editing while I was grappling with myriad technical issues at work (instead of grappling with tentacles, he-he).

« Looks like this fellow you came across could be bigger than we thought! » (Playboy, Aug. 2007).
« Occupant, apartment 5C; Congratulations — you may have already won the all-electric Colonial split-level house of your dreams… » (Playboy, July 1974).
« Well, sir — it looks like things are getting pretty serious for Peter and Pauline. » (Playboy, July 1992).
« I think something’s wrong with the baby, dear! » (Playboy, May 1997).
« Harry, I really think you ought to go to the doctor. » (Playboy, Feb. 1968).
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gahanaug73a.jpg
From Playboy, Aug. 1973.
« Er, driver, just let me off right here, please! » (Playboy, Nov. 1981).
From Playboy, Oct. 1979.

A friend sent recently sent me an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from November 1974 that has that characteristic, lovely aroma of aged paper. Lo and behold, some Gahan Wilson tentacles lurked within! I came for Mushroom World by Stephen Tall, and stayed for the charming doodles introducing different sections of the magazine… Here are the three together, once again scanned & processed by RG:

🐙 ds

Even More Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood!

« Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. You know, the birth of Santa? » – Matt Groening

We’re back with another piping hot batch of Holiday cartoons from the pages of Playboy. I have striven mightily to represent most of the big guns (Kiraz and Smilby are among the missing — better luck next year, gents!) whilst keeping it to a tidy, cherry-picked dozen. One can only take so many ‘Randy Santa’ gags, even when they’re lavishly illustrated… that’s only a fraction of the culling process.

An early one by John Dempsey (1919-2002); it appeared in Playboy’s January, 1961 issue (what gave it away?)
Austrian master Erich Sokol (1933-2003) shared his playful erotic visions with the readers of Playboy from 1958 to 1975, when he returned to his homeland, and again from 1992 until his passing. This one’s pleasantly gentle and understated.
Readers of this blog will already know that Leo ‘Dink’ Siegel (1910-2003) is a favourite of mine. I showcased some of his Playboy work last year in Dink Siegel’s Swingin’ Roommates. Now *this* particular bit of impending marital strife and comeuppance appeared in the January, 1972 issue of the magazine.
Mighty Texan Rowland B. Wilson (1930-2005) was a dazzlingly-skilled illustrator and animator, as evidenced by this late-70s piece. His association with the magazine was long and fruitful. To wit, « on the day of his death, a sketch for a new Playboy cartoon still lay on his drawing board. »
Second only to Saucy Santa jokes were the Scrooge sex jokes. But Eldon Dedini (1921-2006) really nails this one, from the pages of Playboy’s December, 1980 edition. And for your further edification, here’s my co-admin ds’ fond salute to this lovely, talented man.
Sure, we love Bernard Kliban (1935-1990)’s cats, but I’m frankly more partial to his anarchic, surreal, free-form wit. This sweet slice of… well, just desserts saw print in Playboy’s December, 1981 delivery.
Hardly-frosty Ontarian Doug Sneyd (1931–) has his go at Charles Dickens’ moral fable, with pretty solid (or so Ebezener hopes!) results. Mr. Sneyd knows his antiques, that’s evident.
Dog aficionados everywhere best know Charles Barsotti (1933-2014) for his canine cartoons. This habitué of The New Yorker magazine (from 1970) also created several comics strips, was cartoon editor of The Saturday Evening Post, and generally a hard-working, genial man of tremendous talent. This lovely panel was buried near the back of Playboy’s December, 1982 issue.
Phil Interlandi (1924-2002) sold his first cartoon to Playboy in 1955, just a couple of years into the magazine’s existence. He soon had earned his permanent spot in the roster. Here he contributes his bit of Dickensian sauciness to the canon.
Among the Playboy cartoonists, Gahan Wilson (1930-2019) surely was the one most left to his own devices, and wisely so. He created scores of gleefully macabre Christmas cartoons for the magazine, but this one’s a real standout. Every element counts. Exemplary cartooning from the December, 1987 Playboy. And beware — more Gahan awaits you here.
Certainly a cut above the usual ‘Lascivious Saint Nick’ fare, this lush piece by Robert ‘Buck’ Brown came along in Playboy’s December, 1988 issue. Pray note the fretful reindeer peering over the roof’s edge. That’s cartooning!
While he’s mostly renowned for his work in The New Yorker (which continues to this day), Bill Woodman (1939 –) also contributed (this beauty, among others) to Playboy. From the December, 1988 issue. Yeah, our cats too.

And that’s our crop for this year… hope your holidays are bright and merry, under the circumstances. Joyeux Noël, one and all!

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 7

« Stop! Please, I need a jump start! » — the good doctor F.

From the pages of Playboy (Oct. 1990), a seasonal (well, soon to be!) cartoon by Texan Rowland Bragg Wilson (1930-2005).

You have to expect these things whilst motoring through the Carpathians.

In addition to his magazine work (the cream: Playboy, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, The New Yorker), Wilson made his mark in the animation field with Schoolhouse Rock! (with Phil Kimmelman & Associates) then as a concept designer with Disney Studios (The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan…). Quite the impressive waybill.

One more, on the same classic theme? Sure.

This one goes: « If I can bring this lovely creature to life, she will bring me lasting immorality! », and it appeared, of course, in Playboy (Nov. 1981). Ah, the difference one letter makes!

-RG

More Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood!

« … every idiot who goes about with a ‘Merry Christmas‘ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. » — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Whoa, is the accursed Holiday Season upon us again already? Given the rather baffling (but greatly appreciated) popularity of our previous brochette of Christmas-themed Playboy cartoons, which took off in… April and just kept gathering steam, we’ve chosen to just go with the flow and present you with a sequel. We’ve had more time and opportunity to dig further, so we’ve cherry-picked a dozen, both naughty and nice, with plenty left over for next year. We’ve taken pains to include some of the worthy cartoonists who were somehow left out of last year’s legendary Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood.

Here we go, then. Season’s greetings and all that rot!

DediniXmasTreeA
One from adorable bon vivant Eldon Dedini (1921-2006), previously spotlighted here.

RowlandProvisionA
A late-career entry from Rowland Bragg Wilson (1930-2005), from Playboy’s January, 2002 issue.

SmilbySantaBagA
It was bound to happen: for a change, Santa decided to indulge in a little *receiving* of his own. This mutely eloquent cartoon from the pages of Playboy is by the steady hand of Smilby, pseudonym of American blues-loving Englishman Francis Wilford-Smith (1927-2009).

DinkMistletoeA
Here’s a Dink Siegel piece I’d saved for this occasion, once more featuring his “roommates”. It debuted in Playboy’s December, 1969 issue. Feast your jaded eyeballs upon our recent Dink Siegel spotlight right here.

ESimsCampbellClubA
A lush yet understated œuvre by pioneering African-American genius Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971), from Playboy’s December, 1962 numéro.

SokolTelegramA
Austrian künstlerisches Genie Erich Sokol (1933 – 2003), whose work, for my money packs the strongest erotic charge of all the Playboy cartoonists’, painted this marvel for the December, 1969 issue of Playboy.

BuckBrownFoulPlayA
We couldn’t, in good conscience, leave out Buck Brown’s famously naughty ‘Granny’. This undated cartoon is likely a marker preliminary.

ThorneRosesA
Noted comic book artist Frank Thorne provides this whimsical quote from Clement Moore’s perennial The Night Before Christmas, featuring a gorgeous aurora borealis night sky. The candy cane keepsake is a lovely signature, Not-so-Saint(ly)-Nick.

MikeWilliamsHoHoHoA
For a change of pace, here’s an unctuously cynical one from Liverpudlian stunner Mike Williams (b. 1940); from Playboy’s January, 1982 issue.

BuckBrownConcessionsA
A more colourful specimen of the lush artwork of Robert “Buck” Brown (1936 – 2007), another brilliant African-American whose Playboy work was but a single facet of his incisive, multifarious and socially-engaged œuvre.

SneydTinyTimA
I must confess that my fellow Canadian Doug Sneyd‘s (b. 1931 in Orillia, ON, birthplace of Gordon Lightfoot and Mitch the Ferret) style isn’t really my cup of tea. But my partner ds enjoys his work, and that’s good enough for me.

GahanCloggingA
And last but not least, our dear Gahan Wilson, who just recently left us. Here’s our earlier salute to this macabre maestro. This bittersweet creation appeared in the October, 1964 Playboy.

-RG

Dink Siegel’s Swingin’ Roommates

« I have the best roommates in the world! It creates a fun sense of family… and that’s really important to me. Things can get so lonely without it. » — Kristen Bell

It’s late November, and, to quote John, the Wolfking of L.A., « All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray ». Outside my window, just about everyone’s dressed for a funeral and there’s a traffic jam in dire shades of monochrome.

How did we come to this? Bah.

I think it first struck me how afraid of bright colour* we’d become, as a society, from years of ads for Bose’s odiously-designed Wave® sound systems, as consistently expensive are they are hideous (so they must sound fantastic!), circa the early 2000s.

BoseWaveAdA
Available in all your favourite colours, neither of which is technically a colour: Platinum White or Graphite Gray.

BoseWaveSilverAdA
Be still my fluttering heart: in 2009, Bose figured “what the heck, let the paint chips fall where they may!” and introduced a new “colour”: yes baby, Titanium Silver!

Today, I’m going to (gasp!) restore some colour to your lives. This may lead to a sudden jolt, so avert your eyes if necessary.

Strictly speaking, I don’t have a favourite Playboy cartoonist — honestly, how could I, with that sumptuous, half-century-plus embarrassment of multifarious riches? Ah, but I certainly hold Leo ‘Dink’ Siegel (June 30, 1910 — Dec. 28, 2003) in quite lofty regard, thanks to his fantastic sense of design, his bold, delicious colour palette and his fastidious attention to detail (pay and treat your cartoonists well, and see what you get!). Today, I’ll concentrate on Siegel’s ‘roommates’ series; there’s generally a black pussycat hanging about, a fine furry bonus.

Here we go!

DinkFortuneSellerA
From Playboy Magazine (Mar. 1966). From what I can discern, Siegel mostly worked in gouache and coloured pencils.

DinkSoonerA
From Playboy Magazine (Nov. 1966).

DinkElevatorA
From Playboy Magazine (Dec. 1966). One can’t help but wonder whether Mr. Siegel had a sideline in interior design.

DinkModelA
From Playboy Magazine (Aug. 1967). I see art students were always fairly blasés.

DinkFiremenA
From Playboy Magazine (Sept. 1967).

DinkMouthwashA
From Playboy Magazine (Jun. 1968).

DinkWorstWayA
From Playboy Magazine (date unknown).

DinkDidn't-TomA
From Playboy Magazine (Mar. 1970).

DinkDullPartyA
From Playboy Magazine (Apr. 1970). I love that the girls seem to have an existence beyond the confines of the jokes: they have jobs, various hobbies and interests and, obviously, active social lives.

DinkWallsA
From Playboy Magazine (Aug. 1971).

– RG

*Oh, do check out this pseudo-scientific cluster of twaddle and pop-psych claptrap!

Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood

With every passing year, I have more and more trouble getting into the spirit of Christmas (especially since all the snow has now melted). An early present of Rodney Crowell’s Christmas Everywhere helped a bit, but to speed things along some more – and before Christmas Eve takes me by surprise – I’d like to titillate everybody’s taste buds with this spread of Playboy Christmas cartoons.

BuckBrownChristmas
Cartoon by Buck Brown (real name Robert Brown), an African-American cartoonist and painter, creator of the naughty (and adorable!) Granny.

SokolChristmas
Cartoon by Austrian Erich Sokol. A little linguistic tidbit: “sokol” means “hawk” in Russian.

And on the topic of bedding Santa Claus…

DougSneydChristmas
Cartoon by Canadian Doug Sneyd.

DediniChristmas
Eldon Dedini! (We ran an earlier exposé about him here.) Who needs naked women when you have the (slightly grabby) three magi?

JackColeChristmas1955
Cartoon by the ineluctable Jack Cole! Don’t forget to take a peek at my mate’s post, The Unforgettable Jack Cole.

PhilInterlandiChristmasPlayboy
Cartoon by Phil Interlandi.

And, on a slightly morbid note, three cartoons by Gahan Wilson (who paints what he sees!)

GahanWilsonChristmasDrunk

GahanWilsonChristmasSanta

GahanWilsonChristmas

~ ds

Newsflash: check out this post’s sequel, the imaginatively-titled More Playboy Cartoons for a Festive Mood!

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 27

« It only hurts when I exist »

Another astonishing madman from the Playboy magazine stable, Bernard Kliban (1935-1990) is mainly remembered for his much-merchandised « Cat » cartoons, but he was a true master of a vein of absurdist humour that few mine with such success. It’s high time for a collected œuvre or at the very least a comprehensive anthology. Fantagraphics, are you listening?

KlibanMonsterA
« Since when do we use the red thread on a green monster? »

KlibanMonsterWifeA
« I’m the monster’s wife… can I help you? »

KlibanStartledA
« Harry, you startled me! »

Kliban20YearsA
« I spend twenty-seven years making monsters and what does it get me? A roomful of monsters! »

KlibanMonsterLivesA
« Look, Igor, the monster lives! … and not badly, either! »

These pieces were gathered in the Playboy’s Kliban collection (1979) and its sequel, Playboy’s New Kliban (1980). Every single one of the man’s books (of which only the Cat books remain in print, I believe) is assuredly worth seeking out, but fair warning: left to his own devices, and away from the Playboy ethos, Kliban goes much farther afield into (extremely inspired) absurdity and abstraction.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 11

« It’s astonishing how terrible people can be. » – Gahan Wilson

Chez Gahan Wilson (as with his esteemed colleagues Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, for instance), it’s always Hallowe’en! Here’s a trio of particularly fitting cartoons published over the years in Playboy magazine, always one of the finest homes for wayward cartoonists. Gahan was pretty much the only guy Hugh Hefner didn’t encourage to draw buxom females. 

GahanCommercializeA
Playboy, October 1959.

GahanSetArrivedA
Playboy, November 1967.

GahanTreatsA
Playboy, October 2005.

Early in the magazine’s existence, Hef was looking for a Chas. Addams to call his own (the man himself was under exclusive contract with The New Yorker), and he found him. Yet, as Hefner said in his introduction to Fantagraphics’ extraordinary collection, Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons: « I don’t think I could have imagined before the fact how Gahan was going to grow. What one saw in the beginning was only the promise. »

– RG