Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cartoon Hero: Ron Cobb

One of the first editorial cartoons that stuck with me as a kid was the one above, by Ron Cobb. I saw it in the L.A. Free Press, which my eldest brother (by 10 years) had a subscription to. Not only did I like the actual drawing, but the dark sense of humour behind it appealed to me as well. I was only 13 and hadn't seen Dr. Strangelove yet, so I didn't know you could make a comment about something like nuclear annihilation and be funny about it.

Every week after that, whenever a new copy of the Freep plopped through the mail slot, I grabbed it and sought out the Cobb cartoon. At the time I had no idea who this guy, or even what his first name, was (he was just "R. Cobb" the way that Robert Crumb was "R. Crumb" in the underground comix I also probably should not have been reading). But the combination of clean drawing style and dark irony had me hooked.

This was at a time when I was also being exposed to the work of Jules Feiffer, thanks to another one of my brother's subscriptions, this to the Village Voice. But Feiffer's sensibility as a cartoonist was of another era, primarily the late 50s, with his focus on neurosis and self-analysis (much like Woody Allen). Cobb's outlook was more contemporary, more hooked-in to the 60s "movement" mentality and the counterculture. Plus he could draw really cool machines (which I never could and still can't do).

Sometime in the early 70s I lost track of Cobb and didn't hear of him again, thinking he had either crashed and burned like all my other 60s idols or just vanished into a commune or something. Imagine my delight when I ultimately found out he was connected with some of my favourite movies. Unable to make a decent living as an editorial cartoonist, Cobb had turned that dark sensibility and talent for churning out pictures of great machines into a gig as a production designer on such films as Dark Star, Star Wars and Alien. He also contributed designs to The Abyss, Total Recall and Back To The Future. More than almost any other designer, Cobb helped shape the look of science fiction movies from the 1970s right into the 90s.

What a cool guy.

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