Firm grasp on a shaky line
R.O. Blechman’s career has spanned illustration, graphic design and film-making. His deceptively simple style masks a fierce intellect
R. O. Blechman’s first book, The Juggler of Our Lady, was published in 1953. Made in a single evening, that book (a graphic novel before the term existed) established a way of working that has remained remarkably consistent over a career now well in to its seventh decade. It is an extraordinary career. A career so wide ranging in its output and achievements that it becomes nigh impossible to summarise. (I would gently urge you to seek out a copy of his 1980 book R. O. Blechman, Behind the Lines, which includes a foreword by his friend Maurice Sendak.) Blechman, known as Bob to his friends, is many things – an illustrator, a cartoonist, a film-maker, a designer, a writer – but above all he is one of the great storytellers.
Artwork from Blechman’s 56-minute version of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), made by his animation studio The Ink Tank for PBS’s Great Performances series in 1984.
Top: Portrait by Maria Spann.
Matt Willey: You were born in Brooklyn in 1930. Tell me a little about some your early memories.
R. O. Blechman: I was born a year after that great storm, the Depression, struck. But there was no sign of it on East 26th Street, Brooklyn. None. The men all went to work, ties neatly knotted on their shirts, Stetsons set firmly on their heads, the wives setting up tables for their regular games of Mah Jongg, and us kids playing stickball with our homemade bats – broomsticks with their brushes sawed off. No, life was good in our little suburban-like kingdom. The only interruption to our routine was when a long shadow lazily drifted over us, a Zeppelin returning to its home base in New Jersey.
Franklin the Fly, Creative Editions, 2007, is a children’s book about a philosophical fly from New York City. Franklin later saves a country-dwelling butterfly from capture by bothering a net-wielding collector.
Matt Willey, graphic designer, art director of The New York Times Magazine
Read the full version in Eye no. 95 vol. 24, 2018
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. You can see what Eye 95 looks like at Eye Before You Buy on Vimeo.