For the past few years, L.A. artist Steven Daily has brought together a wide variety of artists to explore the animated influences in the group show “Gag Me With a Toon.” Where previous installments of the event focused specifically on the cartoons of the 1980s, this year's show broadened the scope. The decision makes sense. After all, how many Angelenos spent our '80s youth watching classic Popeye shorts on KTLA? Certainly, cartoons can have a very long shelf life.
“Gag Me With a Toon 4” opened at Culver City's WWA Gallery on St. Patrick's Day and runs through April 21. I stopped by last weekend to check out the show. Below are 10 impressive pieces inspired by retro cartoons.
10. The Passion of Evil-Lyn by Jasmine Worth
It couldn't be easy being the only lady in Skeletor's crew. It's probably harder, though, to deal with Skeletor's delusions of grandeur on a daily basis, especially when you have your own ambitions. Using religious symbolism, Jasmine Worth captures the essence of the complicated, perhaps even misunderstood, Evil-Lyn.
9. Sailorman by Jon Chase
When you grow up watching a lot of Popeye cartoons, it's easy to wonder what the sailor might look like in real life. Jon Chase's airburshed piece accomplishes that. Check out the size of Popeye's forearm and the way his face wrinkles as his mouth contorts and he squints an eye.
8. Gossamer by Gunnar
There wasn't much of a Looney Tunes presence inside Gag Me With a Toon, but Gunnar's rendition Gossamer made up for that. Gossamer isn't one of the best known characters in the Looney Tunes canon, but the cuddly-looking monster is certainly familiar to those of us who grew up watching the classic cartoons. Gunnar plays upon the cuteness of the Chuck Jones-created character, with big, smiling eyes and casually unlaced sneakers.
7. Gargamel's 1st by Daniel T. Galvez
Daniel T. Galvez's rendition of Gargamel — with eyes closed and a serious, yet calm, expression on his face — appears to be in the midst of composing a symphony. Does the Smurfs' perennial nemesis have secret Beethoven ambitions? The title of the painting might indicate that. But the villain's “1st” might also refer to the cutout of Smurfette, who Gargamel created.
6. Jon Why You Let Me Become This? by Jhonen Vasquez
Maybe in a couple years, we'll see artists referencing Jhonen Vasquez's beloved animated series, Invader ZIM, in “Gag Me With a Toon.” In the meantime, though, Vasquez's own contributions are more concerned with dark humor than reverence for nostalgia. Last year, the comic book and cartoon creator eviscerated a Smurf. This time around, he covered Garfield in cold sores and flattened the cat's face so that he looks more like the sun. With bugged-out eyes and cracked, blood-tinged lips, this version of Garfield is far more disturbing than anything you saw on Saturday morning TV.
5. Sigmund the Freud Monster by Suzy SPLAB
Sigmund and the Sea Monsters was a show from Sid and Marty Krofft that originally aired in the early 1970s. Though it wasn't a cartoon, the puppet-centric show certainly fits in with the theme of nostalgia in “Gag Me With a Toon.” Suzy SPLAB's mash-up of lead character Sigmund and the famous Dr. Freud is charming. The tentacles popping out of the piece lend a 3-D element that stands out amidst the rest of the work in the show.
4. Cheetara by Dan Quintana
Dan Quintana has a knack for bringing out the sultriest characteristics of the women depicted in his work. For this year's “Gag Me With a Toon” show, he turns ThunderCats heroine Cheetara into a hyper-real '80s bombshell, complete with big, wavy hair and extra-long fingernails.
3. Captain Planet Is a Doucher by Craig Edmunds
Remember that time you and a friend were trying to have a good time at your favorite spot and then the person you can't stand walked through the door? Remember how this person had a knack for making all your good work pale in comparison with his or hers, for making you feel like you just aren't as cool? You tried to hide your face, but this person still recognized you from the outfit you seem to wear everywhere. It was awkward, sure, but it's good to know that Wonder Woman and Superman go through the same thing when Captain Planet shows up at the local bar.
2. No Goodniks (After Robert McGinnis) by Justin Bloomer
Robert McGinnis is an illustration titan whose book covers, as well as posters for movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's, Barbarella and several James Bond flicks, helped define the look of the mid-20th century. Artist Justin Bloomer parodies McGinnis' cover of the novel Legacy of a Spy in No Goodniks, by substituting the cover stars with Rocky and Bullwinkle villains Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. Bloomer plays up the romanticized image of the spy who permeated 1960s pop culture as well as the Cold War-era satire that permeated the cartoon series in this piece.
1. Walter Flintstone by Dave MacDowell
Dave MacDowell actually had two Big Lebowski-inspired pieces in the show, one mashing up the cult film with the Peanuts and then this Flintstones hybrid. “Walter Flintstone” is the sort of piece that prompts you to recall all of that pop-culture knowledge you have stored deep in your head. Remember when John Goodman played Fred Flintstone? That was just a few years before he took on the role of Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. Now it all makes sense.