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Amid Amidi talks about his book Cartoon Modern

Readersvoice.com aims to pick up a few interesting reading tips. Modernism is a presumptuous sort of label, if you think about it; as though that style was going to be modern forever. Kind of like New Journalism. But there was a distinctive simplified style with many 1950s cartoons. Amid Amidi tracked down many cartoonists from the 1950s era of animation, and many rare cels, stills, sketches, and model sheets, for his book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation (Chronicle Books). I asked Amid Amidi about Cartoon Modern, and picked up a few reading suggestions.

READERSVOICE.COM: What sorts of books do you generally like to read?

AMID AMIDI: My reading nowadays is almost exclusively non-fiction, though that’s due more to limited time than any propensity towards non-fiction.

RV: Can you recommend a few titles of some books you’ve really liked recently and maybe say why you liked them?

AA: I’ve been trudging my way through Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy, which is dense but highly enjoyable.

West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California by Ted Gioia is an excellent read.

It totally rips apart the notion that California jazz was lightweight and inconsequential compared to East Coast jazz, and it hipped me to the work of a lot of great jazz musicians.

I’m always reading books on architecture…go figure. A few I’ve read recently are Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Free-Form Modernism (David Underwood), Albert Frey, Architect (Joseph Rosa) and Eero Saarinen (Antonio Roman).

It’s not like we need any more Hitchcock books, but one I constantly reference is Hitchcock at Work by Bill Krohn, which is a good companion to Truffaut’s famous interview book [Truffaut Interviews Hitchcock].

Ultimately, I think my favorite types of books are ones about art and photography because then I can just look at all the pretty pictures instead of actually having to read them.

A recent fave is Bay Area Figurative Art (Caroline Jones), which has some really exciting work by painters like Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira and David Park.

RV: You tracked down some animators from the 1950s for your book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation.

Can you talk about how you tracked down one or some of them and how they reacted when you contacted them, and what they’d been doing since the 1950s?

AA: Often times it was as simple as doing a quick search online and finding an artist’s phone number.

Other times it would take more legwork and I’d have to ask a lot of different people until I finally found somebody who knew how to get in touch with the artist I was looking for.

All the artists were happy to be interviewed, but it amazes me that so many of the individuals I spoke to, like Ray Favata, Rod Keitz, Ed Smith and Charles McElmurry, had never been interviewed before.

That’s the sad case with animation research in general.

Very few artists have had their careers properly documented.

So many of the Golden Age artists have already passed away and the opportunity to record their careers has also passed us.

Who knows what insights these artists could have shed onto the craft and art if only somebody had bothered talking to them.

The exciting thing is now that the book is out, I’m discovering other artists who I didn’t even know were still around.

For example, I’ve been chatting recently with Art Lozzi, who painted some great backgrounds at Hanna-Barbera in the late-1950s.

After he left animation in the 1960s, he moved to Greece where he worked as an architectural interior designer for Hilton International hotels and various cruise ship lines.

I would have never known how to find him if not for this book.

RV: What is it that appeals to you the most about 1950s animation?

AA: The best of Fifties animation design makes such a powerful and bold graphic statement.

It’s a lot of fun to look at obviously but there’s also a lot of graphic meat that you can chew on.

Cartoons like Rooty Toot Toot and Gerald McBoing Boing are similar to great cartoons from any other era; you can look at them dozens of times and get something new out of them every time.
-copyright Simon Sandall
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