Fifty years of Ron Campbell’s life were dedicated to the animation business. During that time, he helped produce, direct, animate and storyboard numerous cartoon shows. The native Australian animator has since retired, but he’s finding himself every bit as busy as he ever was in his regular career.
Inspired by “Looney Tunes” director Chuck Jones’ retirement plans, Campbell decided to pursue a hobby in painting. His subjects? The cartoon characters he helped bring to life from shows such as “Yogi Bear,” “The Flintstones,” “The Smurfs,” “Rugrats,” “Ed’, Edd n Eddy” and much, much more.
His collections of cartoon pop art have also caught the attention of people who experienced the boom of Beatlemania. Campbell had previously worked on two animated renditions of the immensely popular English band -- an animated TV series called “The Beatles” and the film “Yellow Submarine.”
“When I started drawing The Beatles, it connected with a lot of Beatles fans, of which there are legions,” said the 76-year-old painter. “People sort of found value in buying drawings directly from one of the directors of the TV cartoon show.”
Those paintings are more than just pretty pictures.
For some people, Campbell said, they’re purchasing “a piece of history” or “some connection” from their pasts. They are reminded of the days when they were children sitting on the living room floor in front of the TV set on Saturday mornings, throwing Cocoa Puffs at their siblings and arguing over which channel to watch.
“I think people are touched by a little tinge of nostalgia when they see my paintings, you know,” said Campbell. “They’re joyful and happy and colorful and bright.”
Campbell shares his art all across the country with his travelling exhibitions. Next stop: Sioux City. The cartoonist will debut his art show at 4 p.m. Monday (Jan. 25) at Vangarde Arts, 420 Jackson St. The gallery will extend its stay and remain open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (Jan. 26 & 27).
Campbell will paint and draw during the show and also swap stories with guests. They’ll often ask if he’s ever met John, Paul, George and Ringo -- he hasn’t -- or they’re curious about his experiences in animation.
“Some people treat me like I’m a bloody rock star,” he said with a laugh. “I try to put the kibosh on that.”
During these exhibitions, Campbell will usually remark on his time in the industry. It was so small back in the '60s, '70s and '80s, he said. He misses all the crazy friends he met during that time.
“By the '90s, it started getting very, very big,” said Campbell. “The earlier days I enjoyed more because everybody knew everybody.”
Campbell has turned his back on today’s cartoons and animation methods. When he finished his last scene for “Ed, Edd n Eddy’s Big Picture Show” -- a film that would serve as the Cartoon Network show’s series finale -- he finally decided to put his pencil down for good.
That was in 2008. Technology was already becoming more advanced for animation. A few months ago, Campbell was introduced to those updated techniques.
“I was in Florida and there was a young man doing storyboards, which is a task I used to do,” Campbell said of the method in which artists plan out a scene with a sequence of drawings. “He was doing it on a computer. He showed me the computer program and it was amazing. But I’m just an old dinosaur with a pencil in my hand. I couldn’t fancy doing storyboards the way he was doing them.”
If Campbell had a choice, he’d do it the old-fashioned way.
“The world turns on its axis, some things change. And I’m just stuck in the past, I guess.”