The PopCult Bookshelf
A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell
by Mark Cantrell
This is not your conventional art book. Bill Campbell was a commercial artist in the classic sense. He began his career in the military during World War II. In fact, he was involved with The Manhatten project. After the war he found work with the Hawk Model Company, creating powerful box-top paintings that depicted the aircraft and other vehicles that kids could assemble from the kits contained within.
It was while doodling ideas on the side that he created the Weird-Ohs, grotesque trolls with vampire teeth, riding around in wild, cartoonish hot-rods. His creation of these iconic gross-out toys of the 60s predated Marx Toys’ Nutty Mads and Revell Models’ Big Daddy Roth Rat Fink kits. Weird-Ohs was the first, and Bill Campbell’s creations not only inspired competing toy and model kit lines, but also generations of kids who would grow up to create their own gross-out properties like Garbage Pail Kids, Mad Balls, Uglydolls and other things that delight kids and disgust parents.
Weird-Ohs even spawned two spin-offs from Hawk Model Company, Silly Surfers and The Frantics (a goof on The Beatles).
Not merely an art book, A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell also includes a very well-written and research biography of Campbell by Mark Cantrell. Cantrell has assembled a massive amount of information, culled from personal interviews with Campbell as well as many other well-attributed sources. Cantrell has done an outstanding job telling the story of Bill Campbell’s life. Even without the art, this would be a fascinating read.
However, the art raises this book to a whole new level. Fans will, of course, be drawn to the Weird-Ohs artwork, which fills about a third of the book. We get to see preliminary sketches, fine-art recreations, box art, built-up model kits and even licensed merchandise featuring Campbell’s twisted creations.
The gravy is twofold, though. Not only do we get to see Campbell’s non-Weird-Ohs art, which includes paintings for aircraft models, advertising art, editorial cartoons and fine art paintings, there is a wealth of previously-unseen work. Campbell created dozens of sketches, concepts and paintings for Weird-Ohs that were never released.
That’s not all. This book also collects Campbell’s rarely-seen concepts for lines that could have been sequels to Weird-Ohs. The Despicables were straight-up cartoony monster kits. Aer-O-Toons took the Weird-Oh’s concept to the skys.
TrackWhackys would have been model kits that could be with or without the freaky drivers. Those concepts never made it out of the pitch room, so we never got to see these cool toys until now.
A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell is a beautiful book that collects almost 800 images of Campbells art, most of them in full color, into an over-sized 192-page softcover, along with a great biography. There is also a nice foreword by artist, Rick Ruhman.This book will warm the hearts of kids who grew up in the 1960s (or any of the many times since when Weird-Ohs have been revived, like for the 1999 CGI cartoon).
Another great thing about this book is that Campbell is still alive to see such a well-crafted tribute see print. At 94 years old, he’s still sketching, painting and happily talking about his life.
A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell is a pop culture home-run.