Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation is a fantastic hardback book from Amid Amidi — founder of Animation Blast magazine and editor-in-chief of the CartoonBrew blog — presenting rare and classic examples of mid-century modern cartooning. Amidi showcases the art, the artists, the production companies, and the stories behind them that make us long to see all of these trend-setting animations in their entirety. Cartoon Modern is wonderful as a coffee table book and as a reference work, and no matter how many times we have leafed through it before, we can’t help picking it up again. Here is a sampling of the stylish jewels Amidi has included in his book:
The House of Tomorrow is one of a series of cartoons directed for MGM by the influential animator Tex Avery in 1949. He pokes fun at the technology of the future as well as at the live action promotional films common in mid-20th century theaters. With one gag after another (typical of Tex Avery’s work), this cartoon previews what a modern home and its appliances would look like in the middle of the 21st century. Most inventions are customized for mom, dad, junior, and the ill-fated mother-in-law, who bears the brunt of the cruel jokes. Avery’s work wasn’t known for being politically correct, but then again, many animators and directors in his day produced cartoons that would raise eyebrows today. Of course, not all cartoons produced today are politically correct, either, for that matter.
These rare 1955 commercials designed by Tom Oreb feature a modern-style Mickey Mouse as the pitchman for American Motors’ Nash Rambler. Oreb was one of the main designers in Walt Disney’s television commercial unit that operated only during the 1950s. He’s the same artist who designed “Destination Earth“.
Rooty Toot Toot is a 1951 UPA animated short film directed by John Hubley. UPA (creators of Mr. Magoo) was among the most highly acclaimed animation companies of the 1950s, with graphic design driving the animation. This cartoon is one of many renditions of the much-sung Frankie and Johnny saga, featuring highly stylized, simplified illustrations and textured backgrounds that bring the characters to life.
Petroleum industry and anti-communist propaganda aside, the 1956 industrial cartoon Destination Earth produced by John Sutherland is a whimsical example of Mid-Century Modern cartooning and space age illustrative stylings. Directed by Carl Urbano and designed by Tom Oreb and Victor Haboush, this 13-minute clip is a fascinating view of the future from the past, gushing with irony and humor like oil from a Texas drill rig.