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The godfather of Saturday morning: A conversation with cartoonist Ron Campbell


How this for a resume? -- art by Tim Taranto and Jaime Gowans
How’s this for a resume? — art by Tim Taranto and Jaime Gowans

Beatles Cartoon Pop Art Show featuring Ron Campbell

Iowa Artisans Gallery — starts Tuesday, July 14 at 12 p.m.

On a misty muggy day in Iowa City, Ron Campbell, creator of the Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series and the film Yellow Submarine, spoke with Little Village from his home studio in Phoenix Arizona.

Many are familiar with the work you did with the Fab Four, but you’ve enjoyed long and prolific career in cartoons. You created one of my all time favorites, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels. I loved to draw Captain Caveman.

That was the first cartoon we created at Ron Campbell Studios. We sold it to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera that same year. But I also worked on the Jetsons and the Flintstones, Scooby-doo, Snorks, Rugrats, Ed, Edd, n Eddy. A decade with the Smurfs.

When my sister had the remote, it felt like a decade with the Smurfs. You’ll be featuring your current work at the Iowa Artisans Gallery. Would you mind speaking a little about this new body of work?

The paintings I’m producing these days are representational scenes, pop art scenes, that feature characters and imagery from my career in cartoons.

The images are consistent with your animated work, but I’m curious as to how the process changed? What sort of mediums were your working with then as oppose to now?

With the animated images we were working on celluloid, creating images in reverse, which creates a very vibrant, very flat image and that’s something I wanted to retain. For that reason I use some rather intense watercolors, ink, and dyes, Dr. Ph. Martin’s and that sort of thing, all on archival paper. The watercolor is not as forgiving, but I’ve come to prefer it.

Do you feel that many of your current patrons are fans of your cartoons? What role does nostalgia play?

Nostalgia is a big part of it! Who doesn’t want to remember the halcyon days of their youth? Yes many of the people who are interested in my paintings recall watching my cartoons in the living room, arguing with their siblings and munching cocoa puffs while their parents slept off their hangovers from Friday night’s party.

Have many of your peers from the cartoon and television community made the transition to painting?

Oddly enough, no. Most of my peers are dead, and of those that are alive, not many are making art. Although it was a cartoonist who first gave me the idea, the late Chuck Jones, creator of many of the Looney Toons, and Merrie Melodies shorts. I saw his paintings of his characters Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote. Chuck was a big inspiration for me.

What other works, other individuals, inspired your career in cartoons and painting?

I grew up down in Australia, and when I was a kid, we had Children’s Matinee on Saturdays at the local movie house. They’d show Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Hopalong Cassidy, but also Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry was very important to me. I’d come home and draw the characters and soon I was painting on film strips, creating my own animations and projecting them on the wall of my bedroom. I can remember animating Tony the Tiger, and trying to figure out how exactly he moved, he jumped, he raised his arm.

With such a mighty career in cartoons, with millions children watching your images over the decades, do you ever consider the impact you’ve had on the collective imagination?

That’s a way to put it! I suppose I have had some effect on the world’s imagination, how we create images. I suppose that in a million years archaeologists will probably know more about Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone than Tallulah Bankhead.

Ron Campbell will be in Iowa City from Tuesday July 14-16 at the Iowa Artisans Gallery (207 E. Washington Street), 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. The gallery will be featuring Ron’s new work, all works available for purchase.


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