Monday, May 2, 2016

Coloring book inspiration

I am currently working on and researching a mural project about the Ozarks. Studying Ozarks folk tales recorded by Vance Randolph. My research took me to photos of Silver Dollar City (SDC) in Branson, MO. I live in Springfield (45 minutes away) and my family has season tickets to SDC. I have always loved the old timey theme and the subtle artistic genius it took to create this theme park. From funny advertising posters pasted on the walls, to engineering plans for some outlandish invention, to the cartoonish shapes of buildings, it all works together to give a fun atmosphere that has sparked my imagination my whole life. Another place that feels like my mind turned inside out is the City Museum in St. Louis, but that's another story...

I am from South Kansas City and my first visit to the "City" was when I was about 5 years old. My family went camping in Southwest Missouri with my Montgomery cousins from the hills of North Missouri. I don't have too many memories from the trip except the ones that ended up as family legends (apparently I got car sick in my uncle's van?!). I do remember snippets of Silver Dollar City: Fire in the Hole and the Flooded Mine are two rides that stood out to me. I vaguely remember asking my parents what a Baldknobber was– I think there were some in costume walking the streets that day. My second trip was ten years later as an excursion from summer youth camp.

One treasure my parents must have bought me that day was a coloring book. It showed hilarious cartoon scenes of the attractions and the bearded heroes. I didn't color but a couple of the pages, but I have carried it with me through many moves and have it in my collection of "inspirational" art books.
See, there's his name. Somehow I missed it all these years.
Until last week, I had no idea about the artist, though it has his name inside the front cover. Dennis Jones recently posted some of his original pages and re-imagined a couple of the drawings 35+ years later. Apparently he grew up close to Springfield and went to school at Ye Ol' Southwest Missouri State University (where I graduated from) and did this coloring book fresh out of art school. I always admired the characters in this book. They were so goofy and had crazy feet! They were my heroes. As I look at the drawings now, they are in a cartoon style made popular by Jack Davis who I didn't discover until after college.

I never bought many comic books as a kid, maybe because they weren't funny. I liked (and copied) super hero art, however, but could care less about the fantasy story line. I became frustrated that the story would progress so slowly from magazine to magazine so I gave up. I think I would have liked MAD Magazine, but it was not allowed in my house (I got in so much trouble one time for bringing home a pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards from the drug store). I am the oldest of three boys so I think my parents had a pretty tight reign on what I collected. (My youngest brother, however got to buy a Weird Al Yankovic CD in middle school!) Lucky!!!

I like weird things.  I think it's in my DNA. My wife rolls her eyes a LOT! I always loved an "Alfred E. Neuman for President" poster my uncle John had hanging in his closet at my grandparents house in Unionville, MO. I could stare at that face for hours (I'm sick, I know). Uncle John also had red, velvet paisley wallpaper. I think he and I were cut from the same cloth. When I was 16 or so, my grandparents moved to Chillicothe, MO and I snagged that poster off the door and today it lays crumbling in a make-shift envelope at my house. A relic of the '60s. I need to restore it somehow so I can hang it on my own closet door.

Anyway, being able to reconnect and catch up (on Facebook -Jones lives in Indiana) with one of my anonymous, artistic childhood heroes from the Ozarks has left my mind reeling. Don't take this the wrong way, Dennis, but it's like looking back at a pop star from your parent's college days and wondering whatever happened to them. Then you find out they've been performing in Branson... and they are even groovier today!

I photobombed Greg Brady (Barry Williams) at a Birthplace of Route 66 Festival press conference 2016.