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Rowland B. Wilson, cartoonist

Filed under: In Memoriam

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Rowland B. Wilson, cartoonist

Rowland B. Wilson, whose watercolor cartoons were instantly recognizable to readers of Playboy, the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire and the New Yorker, died on June 28 at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, Calif. He was 74 and lived in La Costa, Calif.

The cause was heart failure, his daughter Megan Wilson said in a statement. His sketches for a new cartoon for Playboy were on his drawing board when he died, she said.

Long a mainstay of Playboy, Wilson's full-page color panels often were playful but generally tamer than those of fellow artists in the magazine. He enjoyed drawing dragons, poker-playing reindeer and Santa Claus, whom he once depicted, surrounded by elves, accepting an award "on behalf of all the little people who did so much to make it possible."

Wilson's cartoons poked fun at the blandness of human response to trauma and danger. "You think I'm obligated to come across now, don't you, you male chauvinist pig!?" says a disenchanted damsel to her exhausted knight and rescuer in a Playboy cartoon. In another one, an airplane pilot's view of the landscape is a Monopoly board.

In the early 1970s, Wilson moved to London, where he worked in animation. After returning to the United States, he was an animator on the Disney films "The Little Mermaid," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "Tarzan" and "Hercules." He was awarded a daytime Emmy for his animation on "Schoolhouse Rock!" His cartoon collection, The Whites of Their Eyes, was published in 1962.

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

On the discussion board Animation Nation, an illuminating post by Michael Hirsh:

Oddly enough, I read this news just as I finished optimizing some scans of the painting guides he handed out to us background painters at Don Bluth's studio in Ireland. (Link in post below)

Rowland was a good mentor to me in those days. As well as contributing to the art direction of Thumbelina, he also acted as the live action reference for one of the characters in the film; King Colbert.

As they say in Ireland: "His likes will not be seen in these parts again".
If you would like to view the background artist's painting guides written and illustrated by Rowland, you can download them here:

Layout Composition (3 pages)
Illusion of Space (4 pages)
Painting Light (4 pages)

These scans have been optimized for printing out onto A4 paper. They are around 1Mb each.

I did not have (or could not find) the colour version of the Illusion of Space painting guide, but it still makes sense if you take the time to read it. [Smile]

The guides are delightful, not to mention beautiful and useful, both for visual artists and the rest of us. "Leave some air or breathing space for the eye to rest in." "In the best Disney layouts, the lights describe the objects. The light-struck parts emerge from basically one tone of shadow. Study them." "The importance of harmony cannot be overstressed." "Be a witness. Make your picture what the witness saw."

Gallery of Wilson images [theispot]
Eight Wilson illustrations [Graphic Collectibles]
Rowland B. Wilson, R.I.P. [Cartoon Brew]

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Does anyone have a copy of Rowland Wilson’s cartoon about “Don’t fire until you see the whites of his eyes?”

Sheldon RubenfeldNovember 08, 2008

Closest I can come is a shot of the cover of his book that takes its title from that cartoon. It looks like perhaps that cartoon did not appear in The New Yorker; that book is listed as a 1962 release, but Wilson had hardly done any cartoons for The New Yorker at that time.

It was great fun to see a mention of Rowland B. Wilson’s classic cartoon. It has had an interesting and extended shelf life as has the New England Life series whose original gag line also mutated over the years (from “My insurance company? New England Life, of course. Why?” to “What’s your insurance company?”.)
Rowland’s major years with The New Yorker were 1965 through 1967. The cartoon with the caption “When shall we open fire, sir?” first appeared in Esquire Magazine in 1959. It inspired the title of the cartoon anthology “The Whites of Their Eyes” published by E.P. Dutton.
I have a copy available. Additionally you might enjoy seeing a preliminary watercolor sketch of the scene in a green field. It demonstrates the artist’s mind at work before the brilliant decision to limit the palette to red, white, and blue.
The greatest fan (and widow) of Rowland B. Wilson

I worked with Rowland from 1963 t0 1966 at the New York office of Young & Rubicam, the Advertising Agency. He was a talented art director with the firm. And I was a young Junior Executive at the time.

I was so impressed with Rowland’s easy going style and gentle manner which was so out of place in this highly competitive business. It is one of the reason’s people were drawn to him. One day he gave me an illustration of me in the role of Richard Whitmark in one of his early films where he pushes an old woman in a wheel chair down a flight of stairs. I was thin and blonde and did look a little like Richard Whitmark. I thought it was terrific. Little did I know he was already a very accomplished cartoonist. I did follow his work over the years and was happy to have been his friend. I was sorry to learn of his passing.

James K. EllerbrakeJune 27, 2009

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