Alibi V.28 No.9 • Feb 28-March 6, 2019 

Aural Fixation

Animating The Beatles

Ron Campbell draws pop culture

Ron Campbell
Ron Campbell
courtesy of the artist
To my mother Virginia, the arrival of the continent-conquering moptops in America at the end of a brutal, dream-killing winter was a symbol of hope. It was if the lyrics sung by the fab four were not-so-secretly saying that everything was OK, that it was good to hope and that love might even be in the air—even after the ultra-violent and untimely death of a beautiful young president a few months prior.

By the time I got the word, most of that had been distilled into an abstraction. I was fascinated by the drugginess of the late period Beatles, something my mother detested and used as an excuse to give up on the group after John went on the Dick Cavett Show with Yoko.

But I never gave up and gathered up and consumed as much of the output of “Los Paranoias” as possible, including peripheral media like television shows and movies.

So I said heck yeah when offered an interview with Ron Campbell, the Australian artist who animated The Beatles for Saturday morning cartoon audiences after their American entrada as well as being one of the driving forces in the creation of an animated film called Yellow Submarine.

Campbell will be in Burque in a couple of weeks for an art show featuring work from his storied career fashioning popular culture—he also had a hand in animating Krazy Kat, George of the Jungle, Scooby-Doo and Rugrats—so we talked for a few minutes about Campbell, pop culture and the still-ubiquitious Beatles.

Weekly Alibi: Hi Ron, How are you doing?

Ron Campbell: I’m doing great, August!

“Yeah. It was in the middle of the night when I got the call from King Features in New York, I was in Sydney. And I remember saying, ‘Insects make terrible characters for children’s programming.’ Another thought flashing around my brain at that moment was that they were talking about cars.”

Do you have a few minutes to talk about your work, about The Beatles, about your upcoming exhibition in Albuquerque?

I sure do!

I heard this exhibition is going to feature work you did for The Beatles teevee show and for Yellow Submarine. Can you tell our readers about your work as an animator?

It was a process, of course. I first got interested in making cartoons when I was a child. When I came out of art school, teevee had come along and there was a demand for animation. I was able to go around pretending I knew how to make animated films. While I was doing that, King Features, an American company, came sniffing around looking for production help. So I made some cartoons for American teevee through King Features.

Then they asked me to direct the episodes they were going to produce in Australia of The Beatles teevee cartoon. I started getting job offers after that and moved to Los Angeles, getting work with Hanna Barbera. After I went off on my own, I was asked to work on Yellow Submarine; they were having a lot of problems with it, had a lot of difficulties getting things done on time.

What was it like working on a Beatles-related project?

Well, I recognized them for who they were at the time. I knew it was going to be a significant film because of the fabulous design work being done by Heinz Edelmann in a psychedelic style. And of course the music was brilliant.

Were you listening to The Beatles? Were you part of the counterculture?

At that time I was certainly listening to The Beatles; I think the whole world was. However, when I was asked to direct The Beatles teevee cartoon show in early 1964, I didn’t know who they were at all. I thought the show was going to be about insects or something.

Really? [laughs heartily] That’s arch!

Yeah. It was in the middle of the night when I got the call from King Features in New York, I was in Sydney. And I remember saying, “Insects make terrible characters for children’s programming.” Another thought flashing around my brain at that moment was that they were talking about cars.

The Volkswagen Beetle was very popular. Why should our readers come out, visit you, see your show, buy your work?

That’s easily answered. If you had happy memories as a child of watching Saturday morning cartoons or listening to The Beatles and you want to meet one of the people that created those cartoons, made those memories, then come by and say hello.

Well it’s been an honor! You’re someone that has actually shaped pop culture with your cartoon depictions.

I appreciate the sentiment. We couldn’t do these shows without people like you.

Man, I couldn’t write half of the stuff I’m on about without dudes like you.

[Campbell laughs heartily and the call ends].

The Beatles: “Eleanor Rigby,” from Yellow Submarine

Work of Ron Campbell, Animator
Weems Galleries and Framing
7200 Montgomery Blvd NE, Ste. D
Friday, March 8 through Sunday, March 10
Friday 4 to 10pm; Saturday Noon to 6pm; Sunday Noon to 4pm