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Animated Filmmaker R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank Collection Comes to WashU

A significant collection of works and documents from the animation studio The Ink Tank, owned and operated by cartoonist and animator R.O. Blechman 1977 – 2004, is finding a permanent home in the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis. The Library specializes in the collection, preservation and study of popular illustration and cartooning, and houses the papers, works and archives of many graphics-industry leaders.

From "The Soldier's Tale" by R.O. Blechman
From “The Soldier’s Tale” by R.O. Blechman

Among Blechman’s best known works—sparingly drawn with his trademark wiggly line—are the talking pink stomach from a 1967 TV commercial for Alka-Seltzer, numerous illustrations for The New York Times Book Review featuring his big-nosed Everyman, the PBS Christmas special Simple Gifts, and a sixty-minute animated film visualizing composer Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale). The latter three-year production won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animated Programming in 1984.

The D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library is honored to receive the archives of The Ink Tank, which include the production materials for some 384 commercials and the films Simple Gifts and The Soldier’s Tale; as well as short animations for NBC, CBS, and others; and unfinished works such as the film Candide (screened at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art [MoCCA] Arts Festival, New York, in 2016). There are also drawings, watercolors, animation cels, storyboards, DVDs, and related studio and business materials and documents, all in fine condition. Ephemera related not just to The Ink Tank’s daily operations but also to the cultural life of New York City include photographs, programs, invitations, and Christmas cards.

Professor D.B. Dowd, Director of the Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, says, “What I most admire about R.O. Blechman’s animation work is how subtle, lovely and specific it is. The tempo of the movement (and the editing) is the tempo of lived experience, not the hyped-up superfast cutting we have grown so accustomed to. Blechman fashioned a way of drawing, designing and directing for the screen that was all his own. We are devoted to telling a story of modern American life through popular sources like magazines, posters and films, and we could not be more thrilled to have R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank archive coming to Washington University and the Dowd MGHL.”

Drawings, designs and paintings are by Gary Baseman, Guy Billout, Seymour Chwast, Jack Davis, Jean-Michel Folon, Andre Francois, Milton Glaser, Al Hirschfeld, James McMullan, Ronald Searle, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Maurice Sendak, Charles B. Slackman, Edward Sorel, Tomi Ungerer and other luminaries of illustration and cartooning. Over 100 other drawings and watercolors are by Blechman himself.

Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak

This culturally rich collection will directly benefit students in Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, who work with the special collections in the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library in assorted studio and history classes. The Library may also loan objects for exhibition to the University’s own Kemper Art Museum and elsewhere. This acquisition also benefits advanced scholarship in American studies, visual culture, and business—foci currently pursued by many faculty and visiting researchers.

Born Oscar Robert Blechman in Brooklyn, NY, in 1930, young Blechman attained early success shortly after attending Oberlin College, when his illustrated Christmas story The Juggler of Our Lady became a hit in 1953. It was turned into an animated film in 1958, and the original book was reissued in 1997. It is now considered a classic and a progenitor of today’s thriving art form of graphic novels. An anthology of Blechman’s graphic stories titled Talking Lines was issued by the esteemed comics and graphic novels publisher Drawn & Quarterly in 2009.

Edward Sorel
Edward Sorel

Blechman opened a design studio in 1960, followed by The Ink Tank animation studio in 1977. Projects he directed spawned creative collaborations with eminent peers, such as children’s book author-illustrator Maurice Sendak and Push Pin design studio alumni Seymour Chwast and James McMullan. His diverse client list, which includes IBM, General Motors, Burger King, McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson, Hallmark, Sony, Perrier, the Smithsonian, and MTV, demonstrates just how widespread Blechman’s impact on American visual culture and commerce has been.

Blechman, who has been publishing cartoons and illustrations for the thinking man or woman since 1949, has always imbued his seemingly gentle cartoons with poignant social commentary, from race relations in 1958 and the Vietnam War in the 1960s to intolerance and disenfranchisement today. These have appeared in Humbug, The Village Voice, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Story, The Nation, and Huffington Post.

R.O. Blechman has been appointed to the Art Directors Hall of Fame and the New York Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, and was honored with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Cartoonists Society. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curated a retrospective of The Ink Tank’s accomplishments in 2003.

For more information, please contact Skye Lacerte, curator D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, (314) 935-7741 or