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Pop stars take over world of cartoons

by Jordan Green

‘ jordan@yesweekly.com

Adam Casey fondly recalls seeing Mama Cass Elliot in an hour-long episode of the “Scooby-Doo” franchise in the early 1970s. Then there was singer-actor Ann-Margret’s cameo turn in a 1963 episode of The Flintstones.

It seemed natural then for Casey, who can often be found working behind the counter at Ssalefish Comics, to marry the worlds of cartoons and music. What if, he asked himself, Hanna-Barbera made a cartoon about the Ramones?

That question launched Saturday Morning Cartunes, a collection of cartoon stills from imaginary shows revolving around bands and pop performers.

Casey’s exhibit is the first of a series curated by Jane Buck, who organized the popular Art on Record exhibit at the store last year. The new series of solo and tandem exhibits will change out every two months. Upcoming shows include Millicent Greason with Peter Spivak, Nick Weir, Ian Bredice and Mike Duggins.

Lining the back wall at Earshot are images from Casey’s collection: Buck Owens and Roy Clark grinning on the set of Hee Haw in the 1960s, the Ramones kicking ass in the ’70s, Debby Harry of Blondie surfing the new wave, the Beastie Boys rep-ing the ’80s, Morrissey from the Smiths crooning on “Top of the Pops,” and the White Stripes and OutKast bringing the project up to date.

“I tried to match them to cartoon styles as if they had come out in that time period,” Casey said.

Owens and Clark have oversized heads, not unlike Capt. Peter Peachfuzz or Boris Badenov in “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” The three Beasties are running through a decaying urban setting fleeing the archetypal villain — in this instance, Casey said, it may be assumed to be an angry group of PTA moms. Infantilized renditions of Jack White and Meg White, are drawn with simple lines in the economized style of the Cartoon Network’s “Dexter’s Laboratory.”

Casey, who moved to Winston-Salem from Smithfield in 2000 to attend UNC School of the Arts, is an avid student of art production techniques and reveres the process of hand-drawn animation. Each of the art pieces in Saturday Morning Cartunes feature backdrops painted on Bristol board with characters painted on celluloid, a clear plastic material that was commonly used for animation before digitization overtook the industry in the early 1990s. The layering makes the figures pop from the scenes.

Casey’s obsession with preserving the techniques of a bygone era goes to the point of buying animation cels on eBay and acquiring the production notes for “King of the Hill,” one of the last cartoons to rely on hand-drawn animation.

Casey’s exhibit hits viewers on several different levels of enthusiasm. His own is infectious.

“I think everybody has their favorite bands,” he said. “If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. I think the Piedmont has such a strong local music scene. I’ve seen local acts outdo professional acts for five dollars at the Garage. When I moved up here in 2000, that was so apparent to me.”

Casey’s love for cartoons ran along a parallel track. “I went to the School of the Arts for film, but I fell in love with stationary images,” he said. “You know, ‘The Flintstones’ was on primetime. ‘The Simpsons’ is on primetime. In Japan, cartoons are primetime viewing. Cartoons have this quality of being a vessel that can communicate anything. It can be about education. It can have a controversial aspect. It can convey a political viewpoint.

“It’s kind of like fire,” he added. “If you make a fire, everybody’s going to want to gather around it. If you put a comic book on a couch, people are going to freak out.”

WANNA go?

Saturday Morning Cartunes, Adam Casey’s exhibit of rock and roll-inspired cartoon paintings, remains on display at Earshot Records, located at 3254 Silas Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem, through May 31.

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