Friday, 18 March 2016

King-Size Canary Backgrounds

As the characters grow in Tex Avery’s King-Size Canary, so the scene of action gets vaster. They start inside a home, then around a suburban neighbourhood, then around big city downtown skyscrapers, then the great outdoors and finally, the whole planet.

Here are some of Johnny Johnsen’s backgrounds in the latter part of the cartoon. You can get the idea of the colours and shading he used for good effect. He even fits some green in the strata lines of the Grand Canyon. You can probably recognise the skyscraper designs; he used them in cityscapes in other MGM cartoons. Same as the lattice-work billboard signs; he liked that a lot, too.

John Didrick Johan Johnson was born on July 23, 1885 in Denver, at least according to U.S. census and military records. But his parents, Didrik Johan and Karen Assine (Aanonsen) Johnsen didn’t emigrate to the U.S. from Norway until 1893, and Norwegian baptismal records state he was born in Norderhov, Norway and christened there in 1886. So I’m stumped. (To add to the confusion, his sister Rakel was born in Norway in 1888. His brother Taule Arnt was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1894). By 1906, the family was in Los Angeles where Johnny was working as an artist for the Los Angeles Express in 1908. He was a commercial artist for Neuman-Monroe Co. in Chicago when he registered for service in World War One. By 1920, he was working in the Detroit area (Highland Park) and then back in Los Angeles by 1930.

Johnsen joined the staff at Leon Schlesinger some time in the 1930s; Griff Jay and Bugs Hardaway were on staff and both former newspaper artists. Johnsen’s work can be seen in Tex Avery’s Merrie Melodies and he stayed at Warners briefly before joining Avery at MGM in 1941 or 1942. When Metro got rid of its Avery unit in 1953, Johnsen retired. He died on February 7, 1974.

1 comment:

  1. Johnsen's background work in oils on the 1940-42 Merrie Melodies look spectacular on the big screen in their full Technicolor glory. He seemed to get away from that once he went over to MGM (except for the borrowed/recreated background for the start of Avery's "Outfoxed").