Monday, January 3, 2011

Roy McKie: The Early Years

... continued from here...

I'll begin by saying that a few years back, Roy McKie's son, Todd, left a comment on my blog in reference to the fact that I thought his father had passed away. He set the wrong right and was gone. A wonderful artist in his own right, I always remembered Todd's little comment and came to it again recently with the idea of interviewing his father in earnest. Being Roy's number one fan, I was disappointed that there was so little written about him online and I set out with the initial intent of fixing that injustice.

When I first contacted Todd, his father was in the midst of moving to a retirement home with his wife, so after a few months holding off, I was finally able to make contact. Our conversation lasted about two hours, and in that time, I was able to see a little bit close up of a man I've often admired from afar. There is such joy and innocence in Roy's work, it's difficult not to get caught up in his world once you begin to dig a little deeper.

Let's begin with the facts.

Roy was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1921 to an primary-school teacher who raised four boys and a veteran turned railroad man. Though neither of his parents were artists, some of Roy's earliest memories twinkle with hints.

"I was a somewhat sickly child, and my father would sit by my bed and take brown paper bags and draw pictures on them of what he could see outside the window to show me."

Sometime during elementary school Roy remembers...

"I would pick up a small book -- like the kind a grocer keeps his records in -- and draw little pictures in the edges where there was no printing. The family would listen to the radio -- Amos & Andy -- and I'd try and draw what they were doing in the story."

In high school, he began to branch out...

"There was a contest to draw the history of the school. It was a tough school; there weren't many people who were interested in things like art, and I won. There was no money to go to art school, but I was tested to go to the Massachusetts School of Art on Saturdays -- $5 for a half year -- and a friend of my father's gave me the money to go. Of course, my father had nothing having come home from the war shell-shocked, filled with shrapnel. On and off for a few years, he would stay at Chelsea Mass and come home once a month for the weekend."

His father suffered greatly from the war, an experience that was not lost on young Roy...

"My father was a very sensitive guy, went to England after he was drafted... as a machine gunner... he went through hell. When he finally came home to stay, he got a job at the north station of the Boston and Main Railroad as a gate man. Sometimes we'd go into town with our mother, and if we saw father at the station, all the people who drive the engines would wave to him. I always liked that."

In Boston on the weekends during the last few years of high school, Roy would spend two or three hours trying still lifes, but once graduation came, he was faced with the reality of having to help support his family full time...

"From very early on, I always worked. As a five-year-old, I sold newspapers at the railroad station. After high school, I went to work in a canning factory, a furniture factory, and off hours, I worked at the Howard Johnston making cream sodas."

After a few years, Roy realized he wasn't going to get anyplace doing factory work, and went back to school at the famed art institution, Vesper George where Al Capp (creator of Little Abner) taught and Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings) was its most famous alumnus. There, he built a strong foundation in the basics and acquired skills that were at last a marketable commodity...

"I graduated in 1941 and went to work for a man in Boston who had a small advertising concern, and I did almost nothing. I think he hired me because he wanted someone to keep him company. During that time I ran into a fellow student who told me he was working for a man named Bruce Anderson."

Later he was hired on and to this day still looks at his time spent at Bruce Anderson Associates as life changing...

"Bruce was a very kind man who helped me a great deal. There were five or six young people who worked in his office and I worked on art for posters and booklets for American Airlines. He was so encouraging and I remember he said to me, 'Roy, you're never going to be Norman Rockwell, but you just might be a cartoonist.' If it hadn't been for Bruce, I don't know what I'd be doing now."

During this time, Roy met and fell in love with his first wife Lois, and had a son Todd, and a daughter, and eventually was hired away to work for N.W. Ayers in Philadelphia, the first advertising agency in the US, where he met Leo Lionni, the incomparable art director and future author of children's books classics like Alexander and the Wind up Mouse.

It was there that his artistic future began to take shape.

...continued here...

(Images taken from Gatochy's flickr stream via Roy's Zodiac personality books.)

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Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Etsy!

2 comments:

Meghan said...

i love knowing you. you have such wonderful acquaintances. this will be a knockout series. i can't wait for tomorrow.

Kimberly said...

How fantastic that you got to have a conversation with the talented Roy McKie and are now passing along this interesting background information to your blog followers. Thanks! I'm looking forward to tomorrow's post!

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