nothing is real: hipster fake psych look

A look at yellow submarine, a pop culture adventure with the blue meanies…

Art Chantry (

I know it sounds crazy, but when you ask 99.9% of Americans, “who did the animation in the movie, “Yellow Submarine?”" they say, “Peter Max.” Crazy huh? That’s the power of hustle and brand.

the guy who actually created the look and style (basically ‘drew it’) was a German fella named Heinz Edelmann. he had already been working in that style for a very long time before being asked to do the movie animation. In fact, Edelmann had been literally pioneering new cool design and illustration styles in Europe for over a decade prior to that movie. In fact, he developed styles and then abandoned them to others time and time again. I wonder how many individual illustration styles he worked in during his lifetime? It must be dozens. A truly great inventive restless design mind.

AC:here we go into to the 'rip off or not' argument cycle that has no end. the truth is right there in your face - everything we do is a rip off. it's always the one position no heady academic has the guts to take. Lichtenstein was ripping off. so what? romita didn't rip off his ideas? there is no purity. this is language. we don't invent words, we just use them in interesting ways.

However, the style he’s historically been locked to is the style of that movie. If people remember him at all it’s that fool film that they remember. But, dang, ain’t it grand? I wish I could be remembered for a project like that. Heavenly.

Now, a lot of you will bark out in a kneejerk fashion – “but Peter Max did it first! Edelmann RIPPED HIM OFF!!!”. These days of self-righteous and ignorant artist’s brand control has spawned a childish over-protection of ‘copyrights’. every Tom, Dick and Harry assume their own scribblings are so precious that they must be protected against – whom? I dunno. But we all seem to fight until blood is drawn over the most minute and silly infringement imaginable. It’s like we’re in some amateur professional wrestlin’ match of GIMMEE! so boring.

The truth is that we exist in a post modern era where creativity has become hopelessly derivative and exploitative. We don’t come up with original thoughts any more, we come up with new adaptations of older ideas – appropriation. That is the hallmark thought process of the modern world we have. There are NO orignal ideas in (especially) graphic design any more. Show me the piece and I can show you precedent after precedent – and done better. The very idea that we have original ideas to copyright is laughable.

AC:i think i was told that edelmann was in contact with pushpin in the earliest days - just like tad yokoo and norman laliberte. Pushpin like a clearing house of dented new blood emerging on the scene. so, their reach and influence was enormous. who was first? who gives a rat's ass! it's all just old crap, now. let's rip it off! oh, whoops. i guess we already do.... read More:

So, whenever I hear about the ‘who was first’ argument, I laugh. E

ially when it comes to the most famous and popular “ideas” – like ‘Yellow Submarine’.

Yes, Peter Max ripped off Heinz Edelmann, not the other way around. but, Peter Max (more importantly) – was directly ripping off push-pin studio work of Seymour Chwast and John Alcorn and Milton Glaser (ESPECIALLY milton glaser). Max went so far as to rip off Milton Glaser’s ‘signature’ stroke. It was embarrassing.

Peter Max didn’t have an original bone in his body. He was a professional copy-cat. But, the one thing he DID have that put him ahead of the rest of the pack was a supreme salesman personality. He was a world-class hustler. In fact, he’s still at it today. He sells his crappy work through ‘art galleries’ in shopping malls and on home shopping networks for a hefty 5 and 6 figures. He still promotes himself as a guru. He’s hilarious, but very very wealthy.

---The movie’s mod-psychedelic look, which typifies the era’s spirited graphic art, emerged around the same time as the related psychedelic work of Terry Gilliam, Alan Aldridge and Victor Moscoso, but it has its own whimsical aesthetic. The bulbous Blue Meanies, which personify an evil mood as actual villains, pursue the innocent, well-coifed cartoon Beatles across an ever-shifting milieu of mysterious seas and holes that can be magically picked up and moved--- Read More:

But, Peter Max was also a really experienced and truly gifted design production artist. He knew the process down cold. If you carefully examine his old posters, you can see that it’s absolutely exquisite hand work along with a mastery of the printing process bordering on genius. One poster I looked at was only a three color printing job – three ‘passes’ through a single color press. Nothing really that special at first glance.

But, it was all split fountains. Sometimes the color splits were three and four carefully selected hues of the same basic color. Then he would overlap these colors to ruthlessly build new colors . The results are his secret weapon. It’s what we are really admiring when we look at his crappy designs. It’s his printing skills that we see and gawk at.

His earlier work (he was just another hack low-level freelance illustrator working the ad agency circuit) was nothing special – crosshatch and watercolor/guache washes. Very solid average for the period.

When he discovered Pushpin studios (and who didn’t back in that same period. they hit like a thunderbolt), he jumped on the bandwagon and never looked back. Then he promoted himself as the official “New York City hippie godhead” and cashed in. He’s been uber-famous ever since. If you’re uber-famous in nyc, you’re uber-famous forever. They have a very powerful and lazy media empire centered there. He knew this and exploited it mercilessly.

---Visiting the Tate Gallery one day, the producer of The Yellow Submarine, Al Brodax and Brian Epstein had been impressed by the colours in Turner’s Burial at Sea, and this helped to overcome Epstein’s resistance to appointing Edelmann artistic director, as he was an artist capable of realising such a vision. Although a chain smoker, Edelmann insisted that he had never taken LSD and that his knowledge of psychedelic experience was second hand. Despite this, his colourful creations became the visual signature of the drug enthused generation of the 1960s. There was clearly a political element as well, epitomised by the Blue Meanies, who so presciently anticipated the cruel regime of Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister a decade or so later and put an end to the joyful era ushered in by the Beatles. The flying glove, based on the US flag, was a symbol of puritanism and a wonderful evocation of the US imperialism of the Vietnam War.--- Read More:

However, that begs the question: did Pushpin invent that style? Well, no. not really. There is evidence that Edelmann was working in that style even before Pushpin. but, Pushpin didn’t rip off Edelmann, either. They were all borrowing from Japanese graphics. The heavy cartoon stylings of Japanese painting (it derived from brush stroke, so it tended away from sculpting and into flat line work) was coming on strong in the postwar exploitation period.

Japanese illustrators worked in a cartoon outline tradition and the western “sculpted” painting stylist world freaked when they discovered it back in the late 1800′s. Those cheapo pop Japanese prints that are so highly valued today were like baseball cards to the Japanese. They used them to wrap the porcelain they exported. the French painting avant- garde discovered them in the trash and immediately saw something new to them. The result was an important step toward impressionism and the whole modern art dialog of the last 150 years.

Read More:

Pushpin studios – the young lions of the New York marketing design world back in the late 50′s/early 60′s, also paid attention to the Japanese art world. – particularly the illustration and design work that was re-entering the popular eye back then.

One of the marvelous little ideas that inspired the Pushpin kids was the simple idea that the line-art drawing (before you add the color areas like a coloring book) didn’t HAVE to be printed in black ink. You could use red. Or blue. Or green. Then you fill int the regions (again, like a coloring book – or even stained glass, if you must) and the results looked – well, … Japanese. So modern, So cool.

Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast and John Alcorn and others in their circle dabbled in many technical styles in their earlier days, but when they developed this new ‘Japanese’ look, they took off like a rocket. And when a million dumb kids copied them, you had the ‘Peter Max’ fake psychedelia style that we all know and so deeply love today the original hippies didn’t work in style remotely like this. It was a product of professional illustrators working in the New York City business world pretending to be psychedelic. Salesmen hustling their version of what the kids were up to. Fake kulture.

So, when Heinz Edelmann did ‘Yellow Submarine’, it was in his style (developed along the same lines as the pushpin boys). The fact that it was an extremely popular professional hipster fake psych look was pure gravy. That was why he got the gig. He looked right.That’s how this stuff works. It’s what cements our thinking together.

So, nest time you get asked the question, “who did the animation on ‘yellow submarine’, think before you answer. The answer is not a single name, but a vast complex movement of popular design thought. Clumsy, but true.

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