In 1963, when animator Ron Campbell was approached about directing a new Saturday morning cartoon series for something called the Beatles, he was underwhelmed, to say the least. “I told them, ‘Insects make terrible characters for children’s cartoons,’” Campbell says. Sixty years later, Campbell—who’s now plenty familiar with the four lads from Liverpool—is still drawing and painting cartoon versions of the Beatles (the band, not the bug) and plenty of other animated icons. His paintings will be on display this weekend at Bitfactory Gallery in a pop-up exhibit titled, “The Beatles Cartoon Art Show.”
In addition to his work with the Beatles, Campbell, an Australian native who now calls Arizona home, helped produce, direct, or animate an exhaustive list of beloved children’s television shows over the course of his career. His resume includes work on Beetle Bailey, Krazy Kat, Scooby Doo, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, the Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rugrats, and the Emmy- and Peabody-award winning series Big Blue Marble. Today, Campbell incorporates many of the characters from his 50-year animation career into his paintings.
Campbell’s best-known work, however, is arguably the 1968 feature-length film Yellow Submarine, on which he served as animator. The iconic movie is often cited as a turning point in animation history, not only for its psychedelic portrayals of Beatles hits like “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “Nowhere Man” (the latter of which Campbell helped animate), but also for its role in elevating animation as a respected art form.
If the Beatles hadn’t been under contract to produce a third and final film for production company United Artists, though (they’d released A Hard Day’s Night and Help! already), Yellow Submarine might never have been. Such as it was, the band liked the freedom that animation afforded them, especially since they had travel plans. “All they had to do was hand over seven songs and then they could go to India,” Campbell says. The project may not have been a high priority for the band, but the film was an instant hit, and 50 years later, it continues to resonate with Beatles fans young and old.
In 2008, Campbell permanently retired from the animation industry and exchanged his pencil for a paintbrush. The majority of Campbell’s paintings draw from his experience with Yellow Submarine and the Beatles cartoon series, but the 77-year-old continues to bring his extensive cast of characters with him. Consequently, art show attendees can expect to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo among tangerine trees and marmalade skies, along with other cartoon favorites like Scooby Doo and the Rugrats in their familiar surroundings.
As part of his three-day show, which will display about 50 paintings, Campbell will also be live-painting pieces. All of Campbell’s work will be available for purchase, but if you can’t find something you like, the artist is happy to entertain personal requests—as long as it’s within his cartoon repertoire. Thankfully, he has 50 years of TV shows to draw from.
If you go: The Beatles Cartoon Art Show will be on display at Bitfactory Gallery, 851 Santa Fe Dr.; Friday, August 11, 4–8 p.m.; Saturday, August 12, noon–6 p.m.; Sunday, August 13, noon–4 p.m.