Saturday, February 28, 2009

Morris "Mo" Gollub

As many of you know I am a big dinosaur nut and was crazy for Dell's TUROK SON OF STONE comics as a child. The best covers of those early issues were etched into my brain each time a new comic came out and the reason was that they were painted by an extraordinary artist named Morris "Mo" Gollub although I would not learn his name until many years later. (Many of the other good early ones were by the prolific George Wilson, but that is indeed a whole 'nother story.) Anyway I got in touch with Mo's son, Jim, and he sent me some information on his super talented dad (for example, Mo storyboarded the "stag fight" scene for Disney's Bambi!)

Here's some of Jim's email to me:

"Hello Pete: Thanks for the note, I will check out the site. Nice to hear that Mo will be remembered for that work. (meaning TUROK- PVS) far as I can remember my father's sources for dinosaurs and mamals were the many text and reference books he piled up over the years, as well as an extensive morgue (as he called it) of magazine clippings (the original clip art). Among the reference books were any number of everyday natural history books (many I still have--mostly 1950s vintage). But one four voulume set I have are a a pre WWII German series called "Das Reich Der Tiere" (by Professor Doctor H.c. Othenio Abel, 1937 through1939). The volume on the paleolithic (cave era) was titled "Tiere der Vorzeit in iherem Lebensraum", filled with terrifici black and white photos of bones, excavation sites, sketches of dinosaur bone structure and reprints of color paintings of individual dinosaurs in action. The book also goes on to cover the of the post ice age period 20,000 to 35,000 years ago...presumably Turok's world...with many animals that my dad covered in the Turok covers--giant bears, mamoths, saber tooth lions and other now extinct beasts. Obviously the dinasaurs are guests in the Turok world. Both worlds being present in that book as well. Interestingly, my wife and I had made a pilgrimage last year to Southwestern France explicitly to visit the sites of cave art--Lascaux and many others. We loved it and were amazed and refreshed to see how little we have really changed from that period artistically, at least. Another volume from that time from 1947 was Animals of the World (Garden City Publishing) which had many black and white photographs of mammals of all kinds. There were markers in specific places where he had selected, for example, some shots of orangutans for consideration. As I said, he had vast files of pages torn out of magazines filed by animal type that he would draw from in his illustration. This was an encycolpoedia of images that permitted him to examine how others had represented specific animals in their habitats--resting, leaping, eating, grooming, hunting, playing and so on. I must say, to his credit, he was able to bring animals to life in a way that none of the images from across that time period were able to do. What Mo may have lacked in ability to draw funny (as he admitted he just could not do well) he made up for in his ability to 'annimate' or bring life to his drawings and paintings of wildlife of any kind--prehistoric or comtemporary, people included. Mo was always very respectful of other artists work and admired Edweard Muybridge in particular. He had (and I still possess) volumes of his photo studies of animals and humans. I have the 1899 edition of Animals in Motion, for example (or so the copywrite line says) which presents the multiframe shots of animals--from children and tree toed sloths to the famous galloping horses (that proved how horses really ran). There are other volumes that focus on studies of humans. In fact we have quite a few old anatomy books--such as Arthur Thompson's Handbbook of Anatomy for Art Students (1896), Oxford Press. Very quaint in its quasi-modesty and very detailed in their deconstruction of the muscles and bone systems...These books date from Mo's days in art school at Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri). My father loved books, buying them rarely and purposefully from an old art dealer in New York, who I still remember as a kindly, very courteous old european scholar who would write very eloquent letters to Mo about his search for a particular book. My father loved horses and one of the books he prized was a rare reprint of a giant anatomy text book of the horse. That book was eventually found for him long after the Turok days, but I could see how he valued it. This was Anatomy of the Horse, by George Stubbs, 1766, with contemporary veterinary commentary. The book is 17 inches by 12,I still have several box loads of his materials (including, for example, tons of magazine images of deer he had used in the 1930s for Bambi and later for wildlife drawing assingments."

Thanks to Jim! I had asked what Mo's sources were for his animal art.

We also talked about Mo's Jewish roots (so many great artists and comics creators were Jewish as you may know, such as Lee and Kirby, Siegel and Schuster, Joe Kubert, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Bob Kane etc etc) and Mo's career in animation. Here is another fascinating discourse from Jim Gollub:
"Yes, (Mo) was the son of turn of the century immigrants, but truly as All American as they come. His father ran a dry cleaning establishment as was (for those times) middle class, he and his two brothers were Eagle Scouts; He loved watching the old Tom Mix serials and hand cranked movies as a kid (he loved the West). Mo was a champion wrestler (very midwestern) and body builder, but also was a horseman and horse lover (odd for an big boy from urban St. Louis), an art school graduate who turned down a football scholarship, a CCC participant and WPA muralist, then part of the "foundry" of American iconography at Disney, a fellow who knew that all artists deserved credit and fair pay for their contributions to that inconography; then just another sailor photographer's mate in the South Pacific during WWII (and happy to be there), a post war illustrator just trying to find his way, lucking into comics thanks to his buddy Walt Kelly, then morphing back into TV during the 60s at H&B, always an Audubonist, and nature-lover, etc., and always very secular in practice. If you had asked Mo he would more likely identify with being just another first generation American. He loved all his cohorts at work--those boys from the Disney days (they were all about 24-25 when they started there) were as broad a spectrum of America as anyone could ask for (I am excluding the slightly older inner circle at Disney): Dan Noonan, Walt Kelly, Tom Armstrong, Phil Klein, Ray Massey, Dave Hilberman, Dave Rose, Bernard Garbut, Phil Eastman John Stanley and many more whose names I can no longer recall. They were from all over. Most were "hams" with inner theatres they could translate into graphical characters. The next generation, born during or after the War included more first and second generation Japanese cartoonists--Willy Ito, Iwo Takamoto (Japanese born, actually) and more European born, Alex Ignatiev and others (of course I may have everyone's names wrong). But my memories of the struggles of these fellows during the 50s and beyond tells me that they were and are just guys trying to make a living by drawing. Most of them were not very entrepreneurial. They wanted to work on projects and take care of their families. A few were innovators and entrepreneurs. There was never that much room in "town" for too many players beyond the original studios--Disney, MGM, Warners (post Fleisher and others?). But by the late 1950s and early 1960s H&B, Jay Ward, Depatie Frieling, Filmation and the coop UPA were the first generation of surviving spin-offs (there were several failures as well). While I know little about the animation industry, I thought that it was perhaps Don Bluth and the Secret of NIMH that started the renaissance of animation, which fostered other efforts. He was very heartened by Bluth's work, though not by his wage packages. He wanted Bluth to survive and prosper--anything to encourage more work for animators of all ages. But it was not until the Mo was dead and gone that the computer-based revolution in animation he had always anticipated but did not live to see took shape with the Pixars and Pacific Data Images in partnership with the larger studios. He had intimations of what was to come when he saw the special effects of the first and second Star Wars. He knew the world was changing and tried to set up retraining for animators focusing on computer based tools at the union. He never rejected it, although he felt strongly that unless cartoonists knew how to draw they would not produce good computer generated art. Little did he know how much more storyboarding, model development and layout and new forms of actual multilevel animation would grow in demand from TV to film to special effects. Of course, I really don't know, so I can't really say what he would have thought. But I believe he would have loved the creativity of the range of today's animation--both the major studio computer driven works, like Finding Nemo, Antz, Bugs Life, Toy Story and so forth but also the less computer driven works--ala the Disney-type works, like Little Mermaid, Pochahontas, Triplets of Bellville and a few of the Japanese epics (I rarely see any of these, so can't speak on his metaphorical behalf). He might even have celebrated the diversity of Bevis and Butthead or Spongebob Squarepants or South Park (although I don't think he had too much capacity for edgy visual irony--it would have caused him too much stress), but he would have been absolutely entranced by the Simpsons, as he was with All in the Family, and all Norman Lear commentary on American life (but he still might have cringed about the reductive animation). Mo would not have been surprised by the globalization of animation--as it had started by outsourcing to Japan, Korea and Australia during the late 1960s, accelerated in the 1970s and, obviously, is today a global industry. Yet, oddly, it is still prisoner of channels that are available for distribution. And while there are now more cable venues for animation as well as more interest in the medium, most of the buying still goes, or so I believe, through Hollywood broadcast and cable companies--narrowing the funnel of buyers for this globally energized trade. The Internet, of course, is opening many new prospects, but as yet no pathways that "pay". By the way, since Mo never liked comic books, I have no idea what he would have thought about the amazing world of Manga and 'Zines of various graphic styles. Perhaps he would have been embarassed by, what he in his self-conscious way, would have observed as their obsessiveness with sexual and violent motifs and exageration of the physical. But, then he was never tolerant of adolescent fantasy (probably his own anxiety). Yet, he did find interest in Japanese animation and very much appreciated their more open sensuality and eroticism (or so he said to me). In fact, he never really had an opportunity to draw "that way" due to the world in which he worked. But I think he would have thrived, today if his inhibitions had enough time to drop away. He did enjoy, however briefly, working on the San Rio film, "Metamorphoses: A Rock Fantasia". His scenes of the wave foam turning into horses breaking onto the shore were the only images that actually ever were circulated as poster art once the film was pulled. Anyway, all this storyline is to say that Mo remains an interesting model of an archtypical American. To early for today's computer graphics-driven marketplace, he loved illustration and loved good animation (hated rotoscopers...). I only wish he was around to boggle or complain about today's abundance and the continuing struggles of the next generation to earn a living and own more of what they produce."

What a guy! I have attached some classic Gollubs including a good look at an original. Also a rare photo of Mo posing for a Turok cover- evidently he took a lot of reference snapshots like that. Mo was a short stocky guy and many of his figures are also short and stocky and now we know why!


Lancelot said...

Muito grato! Apreciei a informação sobre Morris Gollub... Também não sabia que era capista da DELL e que as capas do TUROK e MYGTH SAMSOM eram dele... Muito bom! Obrigado pelas informações. Parabéns pelo blog!

Sam Thompson said...

I have been thrilled to find the information you provide on Moe Gollub, especially the wonderful letter from his son, Jim.I never thought I'd be able to find out anything about the artist who drew the superb panels for the "Champion the Wonder Horse" strips I read and loved so much as a child in the distant, British 1950's, when I got "comic annuals" of U.S. reprints as my Christmas presents. As a 60-year old, I still marvel at the dynamism and energy of equine [and human] movement conveyed so masterfully, and, it seems, effortlessly, via the "humble" media of the comic strip.

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