Progress, 1968

Ron Cobb is an American cartoonist who was mostly active in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was known for his sharp and poignant political-social cartoons which were published in underground newspapers all over the world. Later in his career he reinvented himself as a film set designer for various Hollywood science fiction and fantasy films.

Early life and career
Ron Cobb was born in 1937 in Los Angeles. His main graphic influence was Chesley Bonestell. Despite having no formal training in graphical illustration the 18-year old Cobb applied for a job at the Walt Disney Studios and was hired! Like most newcomers he started at the bottom, working as an "inbetweener", drawing the required amount of drawings between each animated pose. He became a "breakdown artist", summarizing all movie production elements into one script. Cobb only worked on one animated feature, 'Sleeping Beauty' (1959), before being laid off again. He did various little jobs until 1960, when he was drafted in the U.S. army. Originally his duties consisted of little else than delivering classified military documents to the right military units. To avoid being sent to the U.S. infantry, Cobb signed up for an extra year. Unfortunately the United States got involved in the Vietnam War soon after, and thus he was shipped off to Vietnam, where he spent two years as a draughtsman for the Signal Corps.

Cartoon by Ron Cobb

Political cartoons
In 1965 Cobb returned to his civilian life. He decided to become a cartoonist, but his initial work was rejected by Hugh Hefner's Playboy. He found a less censor-heavy environment in the underground newspaper the Los Angeles Press. Cobb's cartoons were notable for their thought-provoking and wry criticism of the Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon administration, pollution, racism, militarism, poverty, consumerism, religion, nuclear energy, the Watergate affair and the Vietnam war. Their anti-establishment attitude perfectly incapsulated the spirit of the times and therefore they were featured in various sister publications of the Los Angeles Press and many other left-wing magazines all across the globe. They appeared among others in the Berkeley Barb, the Chicago Seed, the East Village Other, Lot's Wife, and Farrago. Cobb also illustrated covers for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. Cobb stayed with The Los Angeles Reader until 1970. His work was published in six compilation books: 'RCD-25' (1967), 'Mah Fellow Americans' (1968), 'Raw Sewage' (1971), 'My Fellow Americans' (1971), 'The Cobb Book' (1975) and 'Cobb Again' (1978).

Cartoon by Ron Cobb

At the time Cobb was notable enough to design the album cover of Jefferson Airplane's record 'After Bathing at Baxter's' (1967). His record cover featured a double decker airplane, which inspired bluegrass musician John Hartford to compose the song 'Steam Powered Aereo Plane' (1971). In 1969 Cobb furthermore designed the Ecology symbol, which is still part of the Ecology Flag today.

In 1972 the cartoonist and his lifelong friend, folk artist Phil Ochs, travelled to Australia and New Zealand for a slideshow tour in fourteen major cities. The project was organized by the Aquarius Foundation, the cultural branch of the Australian Union of Students. One of the people involved was Robin Love, whom he'd would later marry. After spending a full year in Oceania he returned to California, but eventually moved back to Australia where he still lives today. His work was published in the Melbourne newspaper The Digger.

Cartoon by Ron Cobb

Artistic designs for film and TV
Yet by the mid 1970s Cobb decided to quit cartooning. Despite pleasing a worldwide audience of left-wing hippie readers he was nevertheless barely able to earn a living from his cartoons. He also found it increasingly difficult to reach his daily deadlines and fell into a depression after the untimely suicide of his good friend Phil Ochs in 1976. Cobb would occasionally create new cartoons from time to time which were published in the L.A. Times and more obscure publications. But most of his time and energy went to a new passion: artistic design for films and TV series, which consequently paid a lot better too.

Cartoon by Ron Cobb

From the mid 1970s on Cobb became a film set and production designer for various fantasy and science fiction pictures. He designed most of the spaceships in 'Dark Star' (1973), 'Alien' (1979, along with H.R. Giger), 'The Last Starfighter' (1984), 'Aliens' (1986) and the laser technology in 'Real Genius' (1985). Cobb was furthermore responsible for some of the extraterrestrial creatures in the cantina scene in 'Star Wars' (1977), the Nazi airplane in 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' (1981), the armor, weaponry and architecture in 'Conan the Barbarian' (1982), the initial design of the DeLorean time machine in 'Back To The Future' (1985), much of the aquatic platform and scuba diving material in 'The Abyss' (1988), the technology and architecture in 'Total Recall' (1990) and the bombs in 'True Lies' (1990). He and Giger were furthermore involved in Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's science fiction novel 'Dune' into a film, but this project eventually went nowhere and was given to David Lynch, who would direct his own film version in 1984. Another cancelled project was a supposed sequel to 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977). Cobb wrote a script, with artistic designs, but only parts of it were used to make a different film altogether: 'E.T.' (1982). An overview of Cobb's film set design can be read in the book 'Colorvision' (1981). In 1991 he also directed a film of his own, the Australian comedy 'Garbo' (1991) which starred comedians Neill Gladwin and Steve Kearney.

Cartoon by Ron Cobb

Cobb was also active in television. For the 1985-1986 reboot of Rod Serling's mystery TV series 'The Twilight Zone' he co-wrote the episode 'Shelter Skelter' with his wife Robin Love. The episode in question stars Joe Mantegna (best known as Joey Zasa in 'The Godfather III' (1990) and the voice of Fat Tony on Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons') and a friend cut off in a nuclear shelter after an atomic explosion. Cobb also was co-designer of the opening titles for Steven Spielberg's 'Amazing Stories' (1986) and directed the live-action segments. He was art director for ZZ Top's music video 'Rough Boys' (1986) for which he won an MTV Movie Award. Cobb's designs for a TV series about Douglas Adams' 'The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy' weren't used but he remained good friends with Adams for the rest of his life. To top his achievements off, he also designed the video games 'Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine' (1994) and 'The Space Bar' (1997).

Legacy
Matt Groening is an admirer of Cobb and based the format of his 'Life In Hell' book covers on both Cobb's cartoon books as well as Cal Schenkel's cover design for Frank Zappa's album 'Hot Rats' (1969). Another cartoonist influenced by Cobb is Geof Darrow.

Jesus Christ

www.roncobb.net

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