Topps #5: Heinz Edelmann and Yellow Submarine
It was late summer or early fall of 1968 when the Brooklyn-based Topps Chewing Gum sent me and Art Spiegelman into Manhattan to an advance screening of Yellow Submarine to determine if the company should do trading cards on the movie. Naturally, we found the film dazzling, and we both said yes. Why Topps decided otherwise, I don't know. In a similar fashion, there was no interest when we proposed Topps publish its own variation of psychedelic posters. Six months later, someone brought in Fleers' psychedelic posters (sold rolled, not folded) and asked why didn't we do something like that? We just looked at each other and laughed.
Heinz Edelmann (1968) As I recall, not long after Yellow Submarine opened that November, I saw animation cels being displayed and sold for the first time in New York. You could walk down the street and see one of the film's cels in the window of a bookstore with a handwritten sign giving an $80 price tag. It would be interesting to know how many were sold that way. (I know matted cels were sold in Disneyland-area gift shops during the 1950s.) According to Al Brodax, thousands of Yellow Submarine cels were thrown away. Here's Al Brodax on the pre-history of Yellow Submarine.
Heinz Edelmann died last week (7/21), and thus this scintillating selection of his artwork. In Joe Strike's 2005 interview, Edelmann talked about his role as the art director of Yellow Submarine and problems with the production:
At that time it was debated whether a non-Disney animated feature was possible at all. So the one intelligent thing I did that I didn’t tell anyone about was to make the film a set of interlinking shorts. I think the production was so chaotic that this decision really saved the day and I could control most of the picture through the design. I only think the film falls apart when they get to Pepperland and everything has already been designed. I lost control on the Pepperland sequences, which I think are pretty conventional. They’re okay, but the film somehow loses its special quality once they arrive... The production went its chaotic way as I stayed on. I resigned about every two weeks until nobody took it seriously. I think half of the film’s budget went into one pub — old-time animators always used to drink a fair amount. At the stroke of one o’clock everybody was down at the pub until three. Everybody returned to some kind of work and at six, shoop, they were all magically back down there. They hardly ate, they just drank. There was no script. So this was a bit unnerving. I had to do it all from the top of my head. I never could go back and redo anything. It just had to stand as it came out and this after a couple of weeks proved to be quite unnerving.
While there have been a few notable instances of graphic design supporting just and noble causes, its overall influence seems somewhat overrated. The world will not be saved by a single set of posters, however brilliant. Salvation takes a very long communal effort... Design is more complex than art. There is good-good design, bad-good design, good-bad design, and bad-bad design. Art is just art. Computer design, that looks like computer design is mercifully disappearing. The computer has become a perfectly normal design tool, unfortunately one that I am not intelligent enough to use, so I have to find smarter, younger people to operate it for me... At the end of the year, I will hang up my pencil-not quite the dramatic gesture that hanging up one's gun, saber or even monkey wrench would be. The poor old 2B is going to look pretty ridiculous up there.
I saw it in preview, remember sitting in front row of projection room smoking as it played, the beam of the projector cutting the veil of smoke. Perhaps it was a preview we attended together. I remember that it was not a memorable film and being unimpressed with both animation and soundtrack and have never had the remotest urge to revise my opinion.
I continue to find Yellow Submarine a touching illustration of the Beatles' songs and the Beatles' individual personalities. I always wonder about the influence of Saul Steinberg on the style of Heinz Edelmann.