In 1965, Beatlemania was still at its zenith. John, Paul, George, and Ringo dominated the pop culture landscape in all its forms — including Saturday morning TV. “The Beatles” cartoon show debuted on ABC that year, and for three seasons delighted young audiences with stories of the animated exploits of the Fab Four.
Ron Campbell, Australian animator, and veteran of shows like “Krazy Kat” and “Beetle Bailey,” would direct numerous episodes of the show for King Features. Now, over a half-century after his rendition of the Beatles took to the airwaves, his version of the Fab Four will take center stage as part of the touring Beatles Cartoon Art Show, stopping at River House Arts on October 17 and 18. Campbell will appear in person.
“Chuck Jones was the director of many Bugs Bunny films, and Coyote and Road Runner. He was a generation before me,” Campbell said. “And when that time in life came to him, he started doing paintings of the work that he had done. And I thought that’s a pretty good idea. And I thought, Why don’t I paint, based on all those films?”
THEY’RE JUST DRAWINGS
The Beatles may headline, but pieces representing Campbell’s work throughout his career will be on display and available for purchase. “Scooby Doo,” “Rugrats,” “The Smurfs,” “The Flintstones” and many more classic series all have seen Campbell’s involvement. And all of it stems from a question a young Ronnie asked after watching Tom and Jerry and their ilk at the movies: What are cartoons made of?
“When I asked my great-grandmother about it, she said to me, ‘Ronnie, they’re just drawings.’ I remember vividly because it was like struck from the blue, an epiphany for a small child. ‘Drawings? You mean, I can do a drawing that can come alive?'”
Campbell decided then and there that animation was for him. He began drawing all throughout his childhood and high school, eventually attending art school in Melbourne. Right as he was graduating, television came to Australia, and he began getting steady work as an animator of commercials. From there it was regular work for King Features in New York, while Campbell still lived in Australia, which meant that one very important phone call came at a very late hour.
“It was like the middle of the night, Australian time, and I get a call. It’s a daylight call from New York,” Campbell said. “He says, ‘We’ve just signed a contract, we’re making 12 or 13 episodes of The Beatles!’ And I said, ‘The Beatles? Al, insects make terrible characters for children’s cartoons!'”
TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF TALENT
Campbell and his team ended up animating about half the finished show themselves. His work was so well received that soon he was asked to contribute to another enduring Beatles work — “Yellow Submarine.”
“They had trouble getting the right animators to do some of the personality animation, with the chief Blue Meanie, and the Nowhere Man. And so, Bob Balser, one of the directors, under the instigation of Al Brodax, the producer, who had produced the cartoon show, called me — again in the middle of the night, this time because he was in London and I was in Los Angeles.”
Over eight months of work went into producing the roughly 12 minutes of finished film that Campbell’s team added to “Yellow Submarine.” And as fans of the Fab Four and more of Campbell’s creations come together to celebrate his work, he hopes that attendees remember all the other talented people who put in long hours to make these classic adventures come to life.
“Do not for a minute think that everything that was great in those films was done by me. There was a tremendous amount of talent that goes into the making of a film. No film is ever the result of one man, ever.”
“The Beatles Cartoon Art Show” will appear at the Secor Ballroom adjacent to the River House Arts Gallery on Jefferson Avenue on October 17 and 18 from 3-8 pm. All pieces exhibited will be available for purchase. For more information, visit beatlescartoonartshow.com.