from the dark, moody, bipolar corner of the nation…
by Art Chantry ( email@example.com):
The northwest has contributed many wonderous things to world culture. from the dark moody bipolar corner of the nation came such tantalizing creations as the flying saucer, the new age church, bing crosby, baskin & robbins, the murphy bed, men in black, ted bundy, m&m’s, louie louie and even (dare i say it? the english music historians do) punk rock.
You historians out there may note the little conceit that all of these beautiful cultural wonders came from tacoma (the city of destiny). when most folks think of culture in the ‘northwest’, they assume i’m talking about seattle. but, in reality, everything that’s cool that has ever been associated as ‘coming from the northwest’ (aka seattle, the jet city, the queen city, now the emerald city. no wonder they keep changing their nickname) is in reality actually from tacoma. it’s the known center of the universe and nobody knows it.
you may also notice that i specifically didn’t include chihuly on that list. we in tacoma talked it over and we decided that if you take credit for chihuly (and get him to leave us alone) , we’ll just LET YOU take all the credit for nirvana, too (even though they lived in tacoma until long after their record ‘nevermind’ reached the top of the charts. they couldn’t afford to live in seattle until their royalty checks started to come in). so, we offer seattle a “twofer”: if you want to take all the credit for nirvana so bad, then you HAVE TO take chihuly along with the deal. no negotiating. it’s firm.
to be fair to that poor sad bully to the north (seattle is 30 miles north of tacoma), i want to sort of even the playing field and talk about the one great contribution to world culture that the emerald city has managed to hold forth: THE CARTOONING WEATHERMAN.
You see, back in them olden days of yore, before satellites and computer modeling and doppler radar and all that, the weather was considered one of the big attractions to drag folks in to watch the evening news. in the early days of television (even before color tv) the evening news was a ‘community obligation’. it was only there to gain the rights to use the public airwaves. believe it or not, the evening news LOST MONEY! in an era of 24-hour cable news as entertainment, it’s hard to fathom. but, the news was a dog, a loser.
The only reason people tuned in to evening newscast back then was to find out what the weather was going be tomorrow. in the northwest, it’s notoriously unpredictable, in fact it’s pretty crazy. just look how often the current modern weathermen get it completely backwards – and they have all the marvels of modern technology at their fingertips. so, the competition to grab those weather viewers was fierce.
Many things were tried to get those viewers to tune into a station –
tty girl weather’men’, goofy weathermen, stern “mr. science” type weatherman. it’s a wonder they didn’t try clown suits. i forget exactly which local station came up with the idea of a ‘cartooning’ weatherman (i think it was king tv, please correct me if i’m wrong). but when they did, all heck broke loose.
In fact, the national phenomonon of the weatherman who stands up next to a board and draws marvelous little cartoons to forecast the weather started with bob hale. he was the ORIGINAL cartooning weatherman (many folks better remember bob cramm. but he took over after bob hale got fired). bob hale’s standard routine was sketching in clouds and lines and squiggles as he told the weather foreast, only to have it all come together in the end as a big cartoon of a happy flower or a rainsoaked fisherman to sum up tomorrow’s weather. it was great entertainment and bob hale absolutely KILLED the competition in the ratings.
It’s actually a clever spin on an old entertainment technique know as “the chalk talk stunt”, where a guy stands at a chalk board and scribbles while he talks and the image he creates as he goes delivers the punch line for the joke. it was taught as an ‘easy way to make money in your spare time’ and was taught in those ‘commercial art’ correspondence school courses that i’ve mentioned before as the source of traditional american graphic design education.
bob hale’s cartoon style was firmly rooted in that school of thought. many other commercial cartoonists, even locally, worked in a similar vein, but bob was THE star. after all he was on the TV! his local celebrity was enormous and he (alongside jp patches and stan boreson and wunda wunda) often showed up to help open grocery stores and introduce pie-eating contests and the like. the guy was local royalty. and he was GOOD at it. at least at first.
the problem with bob was that he was man of his era. he was part of that “cocktail nation” and loved nothing better at the end of the day than to unwind among pals with a nice shot of bourbon (or whatever). and, frankly, it got him. he was eventually fired for showing up on air a little, shall we say, DRUNK one too many times. i still remember him slurring his words and snapping angrily at people off camera. so, ol’ bob hale, the original cartooning weatherman, was sent to pasture.
he remained a local celebrity, but a fading one. as time went on, was forced to go back into the sign painting trade, still exploiting his waning celebrity. his ‘bob hale’s sign painting studio and school’ was on aurora avenue (cheap rent). he picked up piece work, doing hand painted signs for local small businesses. he taught others the traditional techniques of the brush and maul stick (maul stick in one hand, brush in the other, a shot glass in the third.) during that time managed to influence an entire generation of cartoonists.
yup, ol’ bob was the first FAMOUS CARTOONIST in the region. a couple entire generations learned to draw from watching him on tv. without his efforts, we may never have become the cartoonist mecca that we’ve become. i wonder if lynda barry or matt groening or gary larsen watched bob hale do his cartoon weather ‘chalk talk’ stunt and thought, “hey, that looks fun. i can do that!”
this photo is of an old sign that was found in courtney miller’s and dan trager’s garage when they bought their house. the photograph is courtesy of jamie sheehan, who still has this huge thing hanging in her house.
AC: kaplan is gone now. did you know that his illustration work is peppered all through the very first issue of CA magazine? turns out it was founded uo here in seattle (the coynes were buddies with the people who founded the SVA and were associated with cornish). when they did the first issue (i found a mint copy in a junk store for $1) they had their buddy irwin fill in all the dead unsold ad space with is drawings. funny, weird and cool to see….
…he also did wonderful “peter max-ish” work for seven up or something like that. basically, he could do it all whenever he wanted. didn’t he do the original rainier beer logo/label?
i’m also trying to find out more about even earlier lettering sign painter dudes who changed the world while hiding in the northwest.
here’s a big question:
does anybody out there know anything about Ross F. George? he’s the guy who did the Speedball lettering books. he was a seattle guy. dang, he practically single-handedly taught every american sign painter in existence, it seems. all through his little pen system and associated ‘how-to’ books.
we’re still using (stealing?) his typeface designs today. i see old speedball fonts used by computer hipsters constantly and they have NO IDEA where they came from. they’re all over tv commercials, too….
…another ignored/lost northwest master designer is the legendary doug fast. among his many accomplishment are the logos for little outfits like K2 skis, red hook brewery and some stupid coffee shops chain called “starbucks”.
i remember a big article in rolling stone magazine a few years back where they asked milton glaser to talk about each logo on their list of ‘most famous logos of all time’ or some such list crap. he told the story of every designer for every logo on that list. but when he came to starbucks, he hadn’t a clue. he just sorta filled space with some twaddle and let it go at that.
the fact that nobody knows who designed the starbucks logo is simply a result of it not being designed in nycity. if it doesn’t happen in new york, it doesn’t happen. media truth. ‘new york provincialism.’…
…did you ever see that article about doug fast in CA magazine? i still have it somewhere – it’s back in the late 60′s. it’s about those barns he was painting (back when he was called ‘the splendid sign company”. you could see them from the interstate and he’d do these amazing huge murals on the side of barns advertising rainier beer and the like. the photos have him with hair down to his butt. he looks like an old biker, but he was a kid….
…cheeseburger graphics, bellingham. i wish some of you guys could have seen what that town looked like circa 1975. i fell in love.
now it’s a microyuppie retirement community. you can’t afford to live there….
…by the way, all this lettering and cartooning of hale’s was ‘sign-painter’ style – standing up, paper on the wall, working over sized. it’s a secret weapon….