Monday, 30 November 2009

The Man Who Drew Bug-Eyed Monsters

A young woman with a wide-eyed stare; cleavage showing, or, at the very least, some naked flesh; the lips red and the mouth screaming; the square-jawed hero who will come to her rescue; the large creature that looms over them both or carries her helpless in his arms. You know the type of thing – sci-fi and horror posters from the 1950s and early 60s.

One artist stands out from all the others: William Ryan Reynold Brown (1917–1991), a prolific American realist. He attended Alhambra High School and refined his drawing under his teacher Lester Bonar. A talented artist, Brown met Hal Forrest, famous for his detailed work on Tailspin Tommy, the aviation strip that ran in Bell Syndicate newspapers and this led him to ‘ghost’ draw the strip himself from 1936-1937. One of his teachers at Alhambra had been Norman Rockwell's sister and Brown later met him and took his advice to leave cartooning for illustrationwas a teacher at Alhambra High, and Brown later met Rockwell who advised him to leave cartooning if he wanted to be an illustrator. He won a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute and during World War II worked as an artist for North American Aviation in California, where he devise ‘phantom’ drawings or cutaways that allow the viewer to see through the surface of the plane.

After the war he illustrated stories in several publications, such as Argosy, Popular Science, Saturday Evening Post, Boy's Life, Outdoor Life, and Popular Aviation.

He also taught at the Art Center College of Design where he met Misha Kallis, then an art director at Universal Pictures. Through Kallis, Brown began his film poster work starting with The World in His Arms. All told, he worked on over 250 promotional campaigns for movies in a variety of genres; for example, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Alamo, Al Capone, Man of a Thousand Faces, Spartacus, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. His monster movie posters were often better than the movies themselves!

Brown at work on the poster for Al Capone

After his retirement from commercial illustration, Brown found success as a fine artist, producing hundreds of oil paintings and drawings featuring the American West. He died in 1983 and his wife, Mary Louise Tejeda, whom he had met while working at North American Aviation, continues to paint.