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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Original Art of Basil Wolverton

from the Collection of Glenn Bray
September 1 - November 11, 2007
Opening Reception: September 1, 7-10 p.m.
Grand Central Art Center
125 N. Broadway,
Santa Ana, CA 92701
General Phone: 714.567.7233

Basil Wolverton
Coincidentally, last week, archive supporter Marc Schirmeister stopped by with a stack of rare fanzines from the late 1960s and early 70s. Included among them were two great issues of Graphic Story Magazine devoted to Wolverton. Here is an article Wolverton wrote in 1948 for the Daily Oregonian...

Basil Wolverton

By Basil Wolverton

The so called comic strip on my drawing board showed a heavy horse stepping on a bozo's bean. The horse was tramping on the guy's head in a delicate way, of course, so the situation would be more entertaining than grusome- depending on the reader's sense of humor. But, like an old silent movie, the cartoon needed something, and that something was sound. There had to be a heavily lettered word oozing out from the exact point of contact between the horse's hoofs and the man's head. Thus the reader, pronouncing that sound word to himself, would actually hear within his mind the excitingly comical noise that would eminate from such action.

Basil Wolverton
Summoning both brain cells hurriedly together, I tried desperately to imagine just what sort of sound would ensue if a nag were to step on someone's skull. The word CRUNCH popped into my mind. Then CRONCH. Then CRANCH. I settled for CRANCH because somehow it seemed more refined. But before I could letter the word on the cartoon, I suddenly recalled my latest unhappy interview with the person who publishes my comic strips.

Basil Wolverton
"I want realism!" he had bellowed. "No more of this wild imaginitive stuff that's causing some people to want to ban our comic books! From now on, get that realism in there, and your strips will be horribly funny! Then the readers will go into hysterics and laugh like crazy, and our books will be acclaimed the most laugh provoking on the stands!" That meant that an imaginative word like CRANCH was taboo. It was up to me to get the real sound word. I looked furtively about as a preposterous plan permeated my pate.

Basil WolvertonBasil WolvertonIt was easy to rent a horse. It wasn't as easy to argue my brother in law into placing his pan on the pavement, and letting me ride the nag over his noggin. "Horses are so heavy!" he foolishly kept countering. "Besides, I have a cold sore." As he waddled away, I realized my plan was hopeless- until he stumbled over something in the street. Before he could pull his chin out of the asphalt, I had steered the rented mare over him, and her hind hoof scored a bull's eye on his bare bean.

The sound? It was far from CRANCH. The real thing turned out to be SLORNK. It was a sort of a slippery liquid sound. That was probably because my brother in law has oily skin and a thin skull. With the noxious noise fresh in mind, I streaked into my studio and feverishly lettered the word SLORNK boldly across the cartoon.

Basil Wolverton
Weeks later the fan mail began pouring in. They all said the same thing. In fact, both of them were worded the same. The first one read "I want to congratulate you on that completely true to life cartoon you drew of the horse stepping on a man's head. The word SLORNK describing the sound was absolutely accurate. I know, because I am always getting my head stepped on by some careless nag." The second letter was the same as the first, except for the signature. I figured when I wrote them that there should be some difference. Otherwise the publisher might get wise when I showed them to him.

He was dumbfounded when he saw them. After recovering, he slapped me on my sunburn and rammed one of his dollar cigars into my mush. Unfortunately, he stuck the wrong end into my mouth. Besides, he was smoking it. "Two fan letters in eleven years" he murmured incredulously. "My boy, you have arrived! It's just like I predicted," my publisher beamed, "your horribly realistic sound words are paying off!"

Basil Wolverton
I leaped on his desk. "Then I'm ripe for a raise?" I queried. peering so anxiously and closely into his red-rimmed readers that I could detect his wife's fingernail scratches on his contact lenses. Anticipation was causing me to quiver like a rat terrier with radio-active fleas on a cold day. The suspense was terrible. Finally he opened his trap. He was grinning. This was the day for which I had waited eleven long years. "It does not!" he roared, brushing me off his desk. "I was merely feeling pleased that at last you may be worth almost as much as I've been paying you!"

While I gathered my teeth up off the floor, he pointed at me demandingly. "If you want a raise, every one of your sound effect words will have to be absolutely authentic! In other words, don't draw a single sound word into your strips until you've actually staged the cartoon situation with real people and things!"

Basil Wolverton
(Incidentally, you readers should stop worrying about my brother in law. Ever since the day the horse stepped on his head, he has had nothing but good luck. Why shouldn't he, what with a horseshoe embedded in the back of his bean? Furthermore, he's the only living person who can slide his head inside those record-in-the-slot phonographs without crushing his ears.)

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