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Here Comes Comic-Con…!

Fall - William Stout

Comic-Con is almost here! I’ll have a large, never-before-seen batch of fantasy art with me for sale. I’ve included one of my favorites (“Fall”) with this Journal posting. I have a new model that I’m nuts about. We plan to collaborate on a number of works in a very new direction for me. What I call my “fairy tale” or “Dulac/Rackham” work is beginning to take on a deeper and sometimes darker aspect. I also plan to do a series of extreme figure drawings with the same model.

I’ve been feeling complacent lately, and that was really beginning to worry me. I don’t trust what comes too easily to me. It makes me fear that I might be getting artistically lazy or in an artistic rut. I have a need to break new ground within my work: always learning, always pushing that creative envelope.

My fairy tale stuff was getting too facile. I enjoyed doing it, but was concerned by the ease with which I was able to produce pieces in that style. So, I decided to re-examine what I’ve been doing, delve deeper and challenge myself more. I hope you will like the results of this new experimentation and direction.

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Ellie Frazetta, R.I.P.

I learned recently of the passing of Ellie Frazetta, the wife of my friend, acclaimed artist Frank Frazetta.

Like a lot of Frazetta fans, I first met Ellie over the phone. Ellie was Frank’s great protector. She shielded him from the daily onslaught of fans once he had achieved his spectacular world fame.

Years ago I was writing an introduction to a book on Frazetta’s funny animal comic book work. She could answer very few of my questions (I was asking about some pretty obscure stuff; and most of Frank’s funny animal work was drawn before he and Ellie had met), so she had to holler my questions to Frank, who was sitting in the next room. After a few minutes of this she became exasperated and handed the phone over to Frank so that he could answer me directly.

When I first met Ellie face-to-face, we bonded over our mutual interest in business, negotiating and, to a lesser (but related) extent, artists’ rights. Ellie and I shared a lot of business info. Though relatively new to the field, Ellie took to the business end of art like a shark to water.

Ellie Frazetta was extremely important to Frank’s career. She helped to establish record prices for Frank’s work, was involved in the building and establishment of the Frazetta Museum and negotiated unheard-of royalties for Frank in the book publishing world. Not everything she did (or the ways she did them) was wise in my opinion, but Ellie was the primary force behind the protection of Frank and his legacy.

Over the years she grew more protective of Frank. She could make it very difficult to meet the guy. I knew this and approached each possible meeting with Frank pretty philosophically: If it happens, great; if not, well, I tried, and Frank & Ellie deserve their privacy. I tried to make Ellie understand I never had an agenda in spending time with Frank. I wasn’t trying to wheedle sketches or autographs from him, or cut a deal for his art outside her negotiating parameters. My sole goal was to show Frank a good time. I deeply admired Frank and his work. He had been an enormous influence on me, and I just wanted to give something back. Perhaps a lot of Frank’s friends and fans professed the same thing, for I felt that Ellie nevertheless seemed to regard me somewhat suspiciously. I found that amusing, as at a certain point there wasn’t much more I could do to prove my lack of duplicity.

One time I was in Connecticut, visiting my oldest son at Yale. Months prior, I had arranged to see Frank during that trip. As I had promised, I called Ellie the day before to confirm the get together. I wasn’t surprised when she told me our meeting was off. I kind of suspected that might happen. I changed the subject to her family. One of her kids had just been diagnosed with cancer. I was empathetic and knowledgeable. I asked her a lot of questions. In our conversation she revealed a vulnerable side I had never seen before.

After a few minutes she asked, “When were you planning on coming?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow morning would be bad.”

“When would be good?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“About 4:00?”

“5:00 would be better.”

“You got it. I’ll be there at 5:00, on the dot.”

I visited Frank and Ellie the next evening and the following morning. I talked a little business with her. She told me I should stop messing with black and white books and start publishing my work in full color (I do both now). That Halloween morning was the last time I ever saw Ellie.

I hope this tough Irish gal, this fearless promoter and protector of one of America’s greatest artists and his work, now rests in peace. You did a darn good job, Ellie, of helping to get Frank the recognition, financial and artistic, that he deserved. Thank you from us all.

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New Sketchbooks!

Just a quick note: My friend (and frequent Journal visitor) Rick Tucker kicked me into gear recently, getting me off my ever-spreading duff to list my new sketchbooks in the William Stout Bazaar.

So, I did! They’re both now available!

They are:
William Stout – 50 Convention Sketches – Volume 15
This book’s highlights include:
• A Barsoomian cover!
• 7 preview pages of new dinosaur drawings from Bill’s forthcoming full color Flesk Publication, Dinosaur Discoveries! See them before they were colored!
• 3 new preview pages from Bill’s forthcoming Flesk book on fantasy women!!
• 20 pages of rare & unpublished art from the Stout Archives!
• Back cover full face portrait of Tar-Man!
• Each book signed and numbered by William Stout!
• Limited to just 950 copies!


Dinosaur Sketchbook – Volume 4
This book’s highlights include:
• 12 preview pages of new dinosaur drawings from Bill’s forthcoming full color Flesk Publication, Dinosaur Discoveries! See them before they were colored!
• Prehistoric cartoons drawn for the Natural History Museum of L.A. County!
• 4 pages of cover ideas for Ray Bradbury’s Dinosaur Tales!
• The cover to the unpublished sequel to The Little Blue Brontosaurus!!
• The unpublished cover rough to Greg Bear’s Dinosaur Summer!
• 2 pages of concept art for Bill’s Jim Henson dinosaur movie!
• Each book signed and numbered by William Stout!
• Limited to just 950 copies!


I look forward to seeing lots of you at my booth at Comic-Con. I’ll be in my usual place, right between Jim Silke & Mike Mignola and my friend Kookie of Kookie Enterprises, and around the corner from Mark Schultz, Gary Gianni and John Fleskes. Visit John’s booth and see the full color preview of our next book, Dinosaur Discoveries, due to hit the streets this Fall. There’ll be two versions, one for little kids and a larger, expanded version for more mature readers and dino-fans (mature dinosaur fan…is that an oxymoron?). And, of course, I’ll be signing my murals books.

So come by and say “Hi!”

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Mickey At 60

A fan of mine from France, Guillaume, recently purchased my two “Mickey at 60” comics through my website’s William Stout Bazaar. He had some questions about the origin of those books that I answered in an e-mail. I thought it would be fun to share our dialogue with you.

How did this project originate? Were some strips passed along? (scribbles passed on during meeting brainstorming?)

William Stout:
When I was at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), it happened to be during the time of Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday. We were being inundated with Mickey’s 60th birthday promotions and hype. I was getting sick of it. I thought, “What would Mickey really look like if he were 60?”

I figured physically, like a lot of old movie stars, he would have let himself go. I proceeded to draw a simple, overweight, grungy cartoon version of Mickey. The little drawing got a great reaction when I passed it around at a meeting. I loved that minimal effort was put into the drawing; it was very spontaneous. I started thinking about Robert Crumb’s comics, and how simple and unpretentious his drawing style is. The spontaneity and freedom of his work greatly appeals to me. Known for my work’s slickness, I wanted to try something along the lines of what Crumb did and see if I could pull it off.

I drew a three-panel comic strip with Mickey expressing various emotions. I drew word balloons but I left them blank. I passed it to my friend (and colleague at WDI) Jim Steinmeyer. He filled in the word balloons. What he wrote was hilarious. I drew some more strips this way and passed them to Jim, just to see what he would write. His text in those was brilliant as well. I collected the strips, put them all on to one page and made xerox copies. Then I distributed the copies to anyone who was interested there in our office area at WDI.

The pages got a great reaction, so we did more. I made a promise to myself not to get slick with any of this. I did not pencil the strips. They were all drawn actual printed size. It never got boring because Jim never knew what I was going to draw and I never knew what Jim was going to write. I occasionally gave Jim a brief guideline (“Mickey’s in the stages of having a heart attack,” or “Mickey’s getting audited by the Internal Revenue Service,” for example), but I never dictated any of Jim’s dialogue, as tempting as that was.

If you look at the first book, it’s easy to spot the early strips. My style for that book rapidly developed. After just three or four pages it codified into a cohesive style. It continued to change after that, but only by slight increments.

After awhile, I thought, “I think we might have enough pages here to make a book.” In keeping with its underground flavor, I wanted it to be as raw and crude and underground as possible in its presentation: crude printing (xerox), crude binding (two staples). I called it an “Anti-Comic.” I printed up the books and began to sell them within WDI. They sold briskly. Then I took a box of the remaining copies to San Diego for Comic-Con. Whooosh! They sold out within two hours! Some people bought six copies each!

Working as full time consultants for Disney, Jim and I didn’t feel right about making money from this, so we donated the profits from the book to the Crippled Children’s Society.

The “underground” aspect was important to me, as underground comix were pretty much dead at that point in time and I really missed them. I also was inspired by Ed Ruscha’s self-produced fine art books from the late 1960s. I saw the “Mickey at 60” books in a similar light, as signed, limited edition fine art artist’s books.

“Mickey at 60” was my first self-publication. It laid the groundwork for my highly successful sketchbook line that was to follow.

Did people at Disney know your and Jim’s project before it was finished?

Yes; it began as a form of office humor. As we created more and more pages, the demand for those pages grew. Eventually, the first issue was collected and published. After hearing about it through the Disney company grapevine, Michael Eisner personally requested a copy of the first book from me. I sent it to him through our inter-office mail system.

Did you know Jim before Disney ? I just read some strips of volume 2 but it seems that there’s great mutual understanding in the description of the Mouse (socially, politically…)

Jim and I were hired at WDI the same day and immediately put on a huge project together. One day mysterious anonymous (and brilliant) caricatures of members of our group began to appear on the walls of our meeting room. For months the identity of this mystery caricaturist was unknown. Eventually, it was revealed to be Jim. He’s like that. Very private, very mysterious — but always with a great sense of humor behind whatever he is doing.

Jim Steinmeyer is one of the most interesting (and funniest) guys you’d ever want to meet. He’s legendary within the magic community. What I call his “day job” is creating grand illusions for the world’s greatest magicians. Jim was close to Orson Welles and developed magic for him. He created all of Doug Henning’s tricks. He created the big illusions for the Las Vegas shows of Lance Burton and Siegfried & Roy. He made the Sleeping Beauty Castle and Statue of Liberty disappear on live TV for David Copperfield. He created the magic illusions for the live “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” stage shows and recently for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. Jim is also a successful television special producer (as is his wife, Frankie Glass). He is the world’s greatest authority on late 19th century stage illusions and has written several books on the history of magic. We collaborated on his best seller “Hiding the Elephant – How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear” (I drew all of the magician’s portraits for the book).

Jim rarely performs himself, preferring to be the Man Behind the Curtain, but when he does, he’s incredibly charming and charismatic in a sweet, funny way.

Through our time at WDI, Jim and I became very close. We both shared a similar sense of humor; very dark and with no respect whatsoever for authority. Because I worked in film and Jim worked in various aspects of show business, we both had met lots of show biz personalities. We incorporated what we knew about The Biz in our Mickey strips. “Mickey at 60” was quickly not about Mickey Mouse at all; it immediately became a vehicle for show biz satire and parody.

Jim and I are no longer at WDI, although we still occasionally work on projects there. Our collaborations since WDI include “Hiding the Elephant…” and a number of magic posters for the magic conference Jim presents in Los Angeles every two years.

What about vol.3?

I’d love to do a volume three. I’ve roughed out some ideas already. It takes time, though — both mine and Jim’s. I get easily distracted by paying jobs…

I also began writing a “Mickey at 60” one man show. I was originally writing it for our mutual friend, Roger Cox. Roger would have been ideal to portray Mickey on stage but he sadly passed away. Roger’s death took a lot of the wind out of the sails of that project. I would still like to get back to it and finish it. I think it would make a great one man show and a hilarious “autobiographical” (from Mickey’s point of view) graphic novel.

You worked on other projects ( I know of illustrations for one of Jim’s books) but did you stop because both of you left Disney ?

The second “Mickey at 60” was drawn eight years after the first one, long after I had left WDI. It was an election year. Mickey Rooney had just announced his candidacy for President. I thought the timing was pefect to do another Mickey in which Mickey ran for President. I talked it over with Jim and we produced the second volume.

Jim and I are still close. We try to collaborate whenever possible. We live in two different work worlds, however, so it’s not always easy to find something we can work on together.

Did people at Disney say they wouldn’t tolerate any more books?

No. In fact, Michael Eisner wrote me a personal letter telling me how much he enjoyed the first issue of “Mickey at 60.” There was even talk of including “Mickey at 60” as a presence in the Comedy Warehouse (a club I helped to design) within the Pleasure Island section of Walt Disney World. I drew up “Mickey at 60” drink napkins and Jim wrote hilarious word balloon dialogue for them. They were never manufactured, however. It seemed strange and ironic that WDI was going to license our “Mickey at 60” character from us.

“Mickey at 60” is one of the projects of which I am proudest. I truly think it’s one of the funniest comic books ever written. The show biz satire is dead on and hilarious. I look back at those drawings and wonder how I did them. It’s some of the simplest, yet most expressive work I’ve ever done.

Unlike my other work, neither book ever got reviewed or distributed because of a great Fear of Disney. So, “Mickey at 60” has remained to this day a great, but little known, “underground” icon.