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Another candidate for the small list of comics drawn in the groovy style (or a diluted version of the same), the first comic-book adaptation of Yellow Submarine was a single 64-page issue published by Gold Key in February 1969. Low-quality copies have been circulating for years on fan sites but there’s now a copy available here with the pages scanned at a higher resolution. Whatever the quality, the cheap paper doesn’t help the artwork, but for a cash-in this isn’t a bad adaptation. The background details don’t always keep up with Heinz Edelmann’s invention but artist José Delbo maintains the character style of the animation throughout, while the script by Paul S. Newman pads out the missing song sequences with additional japes and bad puns. I’ve seen claims that the story is based on an early draft of the film script but can’t say whether this is true or not. There are a few notable deviations from the film, however, such as additional seas—The Sea of Consumer Products, The Sea of Cinema—and an extra character, Rita the Meter Maid, who looks nothing like a British traffic warden of the 1960s.

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The last time I mentioned this comic I also referred to a more recent adaptation by Bill Morrison which had been commissioned, partly drawn then inexplicably cancelled. Morrison’s pages were superior to the Gold Key adaptation in their design and their fidelity to the animation style of the film so it’s good to see that the various licence-holders have allowed him to complete his work. The book was published by Titan for Yellow Submarine‘s 50th anniversary in 2018.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The groovy look
The South Bank Show: The Making of Sgt Pepper
The Sea of Monsters
Tomorrow Never Knows
Yellow Submarine comic books
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
Heinz Edelmann
Please Mr. Postman
All you need is…

The art of John Alcorn, 1935–1992

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Ad art for Seventeen magazine, August 1970.

Another member of the Groovy Set, John Alcorn was a very prolific illustrator and designer whose career included a period at Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast’s Push Pin Studios. Alcorn’s art predates the groovy look, and also extends beyond it, but since I have a taste for this quasi-psychedelic style all the examples here are from the late 1960s/early 1970s. An overview of Alcorn’s career may be found in John Alcorn: Evolution by Design, a book edited by Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi which was featured at 50 Watts. And since I keep referring back to it, I’ve added some updates to the original groovy post.

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The Astrology Album, 1967.

From an astrological album to astrological covers for Sydney Omarr’s books, 12 of which were published by Signet in 1969.

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Switched-On… hits and misses

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The first pressing of Switched-On Bach with a cover showing a Bach-alike confounded/dismayed by the sounds issuing from the machine behind him. The cover was soon swapped for the one below.

After mentioning the proliferation of Switched-On… synthesizer albums in the previous post, curiosity impelled me to see how many of these things were out there. A lot more than I expected is the answer, almost enough to make this cul-de-sac of novelty exploitation into a sub-genre of its own. As mentioned earlier, it was the huge success of Switched-On Bach (1968) by Wendy Carlos that began the trend. The album had a rare crossover appeal so that it could be sold to classical listeners as well as to a younger audience interested in electronic sounds, those for whom the words “switched on” echoed the druggy/erotic intersection of “turned on”. Carlos had an advantage over other musicians thanks to a long association with Robert Moog which meant she had a head start in exploring the recording potential of the new Moog synthesizer and innovations like Moog’s touch-sensitive keyboard. In 1968 few people could afford a Moog system; those who could usually needed to hire technicians like Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause to help them operate the thing. For a brief while it was enough to simply use the instrument to make strange noises, hence Mick Jagger’s droning score for Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969), and George Harrison’s preposterous Electronic Sound (1969), 44 minutes of very amateurish Moog-doodling. Switched-On Bach sounds a little primitive today—it sounds primitive next to its follow-up albums, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969) and Switched-On Bach II (1973)—but Carlos and collaborators Rachel Elkind and Benjamin Folkman spent much more time refining their recording techniques than the knob-twiddling horde who rushed to capitalise on their success.

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The rules of the Switched-On… idiom are as follows: a title that begins with the words “Switched-On”, obviously, although there’s a subset of the form in which an album may have a different title while a subtitle mentions something about “switched-on recordings”; the music must be cover versions of familiar songs or compositions, originality here is surplus to requirements; and it’s not essential but the cover art often alludes in some way to synthesizer technology and/or “the future”, with the latter represented by Space Age typefaces such as Amelia, Computer, Countdown or Data 70. I’ve not heard many of these albums, and I’m fairly certain that I don’t want to hear most of them, but I’ve heard enough Carlos cash-ins to know that the cover designs are often the best thing about them. The remastered CDs that Wendy Carlos released in the 1990s feature additional tracks that give some idea of the amount of work involved in the creation of each album. The early cash-ins, by contrast, tend to avoid time-consuming multi-track composition in favour of using a synthesizer as though it’s merely an expensive keyboard. The success of these albums musically may be gauged by the lack of reissues. They may be of interest to the so-bad-it’s-good “Incredibly Strange Music” crowd but I prefer to spend my time listening to other things. Beware.

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Switched-On Rock (1969) by The Moog Machine.

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Switched-On Bacharach (1969) by Christopher Scott.

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Switched-Off Bach (1969) by Various Artists.

CBS exploits the success of the electronic album by packaging a collection of earlier non-electronic recordings.

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The groovy look

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Peter Max, 1968.

Artists complain justifiably about the constraining effect of labels but sometimes you really do need a label in order to identify a particular idiom. The artwork here is what most people would regard as psychedelic even though the subject matter isn’t always psychedelic at all. I doubt that Citroën intended their new Dyane car to be associated with LSD when they asked Michel Quarez to create a comic book to promote the vehicle, while Quarez’s Mod Love comic is just as hallucinogenically chaste. I tend to think of this style as “groovy”, an unsatisfying term with other associations but “post-psychedelic”, while accurate, feels too cumbersome for such playful graphics. The groovy look is where the purely psychedelic style enters the mundane world, and where the intended audience may be youthful but isn’t always a crowd of experienced lysergic voyagers; a watering down of psych delirium mixed with a dash of Pop Art, all bold shapes, heavy outlines and very bright colours, comic art (or actual comics) with the edges and detail smoothed away and the gain pushed to the maximum. I keep wishing someone would put together a collection of this stuff. There’s a lot more to be found.

Update 1: I knew I’d forgotten somebody. I replaced the book cover by Gray Morrow—an artist who was never really groovy in the manner of these other works—with a contraception poster by Nicole Claveloux, who was very much in the Groove Zone in the 1970s.

Update 2: Added designs by Miguel Calatayud, Mike Hinge, György Kemény, and Tito Topin. Thanks to Vadim for the tips!

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Guy Peellaert, 1967.

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Guy Peellaert, 1968.

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Guy Peellaert, 1968.

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The Adventures of Jodelle by Pierre Barbier and Guy Peellaert, 1966.

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Weekend links 500

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Projet onirique (tombeau pour un poète) (1901) by Henry Provensal.

• “20 years later, Sexy Beast remains something of an oddity…It offers a deconstruction of the genre, which is then reconstructed to marry the unhinged, convulsive beauty of surrealism with sturdy, universal storytelling.” Thomas H. Sheriff looks back at Jonathan Glazer’s debut feature.

Blau Gers, a new piece by The Alvaret Ensemble: Greg Haines (piano), Jan Kleefstra (voice, poems), Romke Kleefstra (guitar, bass and effects) and Sytze Pruiksma (percussion).

Wendy Carlos: A Biography by Amanda Sewell, the first study of the life and work of the electronic composer, is out in March.

The prejudice against writing sex in Anglo-American literature is something that utterly baffles me. What a bizarre thing it is to claim that this central, profound territory of human life is off-limits to literary or artistic representation. Sex seems to me one of the densest and most intense human phenomena, one of the things I find it hardest to think about—and so something I want to think about in art. The biggest surprise to me about the reception of my first book—other than the fact of there being any reception at all—was how much discussion there was about the sex in it. There isn’t very much sex in it! It said something about the culture of mainstream publishing in America in 2016 that a novel with maybe three or four pages of explicit sex between men could seem surprising.

Garth Greenwell talking to Ilya Kaminsky about literature and life

• Some (but not all) of the museums of Paris have made thousands of artworks available for free online.

• The Work of Fate: AS Hamrah introduces a screening of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée.

La Labyrinthèque: Histoire de l’art jouissive & enchantements littéraires.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the art of the (book) cover.

Tom Huddleston on 10 great stressful films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Malcolm Le Grice Day.

François de Nomé’s Imaginary Ruins.

Sexy Sadie (1968) by The Beatles | Sexy Photograph (1995) by Ui | Sexy Boy (1998) by Air