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Cliff Roberts Mid century Illustrator of Jazz and Muppets

August 21, 2013

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Cliff Roberts (1929-1999) was a cartoonist and animator. His cartoons appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker and Playboy. He  worked on inserts for Sesame Street as well as the spin-off comic strip and Sesame Street Magazine. Roberts spent much of his early career in New York City as a freelance commercial artist and director. For Sesame Street, Roberts created Jasper and Julius, two characters who would engage in debates over body parts, as well as Christopher Clumsy. These characters were brought over to Roberts’ Sesame Street strip, alongside Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster.

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Thanks to the flickr site of Ariel S Winter for these great B/W images of Langston Hughes ‘The First Book of Jazz’.

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How stunning are these ? Such simple lines but beautifully drawn and wonderfully expressive.

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There’s such energy in his work.

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He also worked as a photographer, with work displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair, and contributed cartoons to Playboy and The New Yorker. He soon became a popular designer for animation, creating character model sheets for Terrytoons and UPA projects. Roberts’ style, reflecting his commercial illustration background, involved flat but appealing forms and a minimal color palate; most of his characters were white blobs with occasional splashes of color.  Roberts later worked on the Saturday morning cartoons The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo, and The Pink Panther.

‘Depth Study’, is a 1957 sales film for CBS Television which shows Cliff at the peak of his career. Thanks to Amid Amidi over at Cartoon Brew for this.

Thanks to Eric Sturdevant over at Fun All Around Blogspot for posting these illustrations which were some early work done by Cliff Roberts for FORD TIMES magazine in the late forties. He was in his late teens when he drew  these !  Roberts cites illustrator Jan Balet as an influence of his from this period.

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More full colour illustrations from the Ford Times again and one of Cliff’s books called ‘The Dot’ (c.1960)

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I do prefer his work in the book ‘Thomas’ (1956) where his ornate, whimsical style really has a chance to shine out, or should that be Purrrrr !

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More stills from Cliff working on animations for Sesame Street over on Muppet Wiki  and a great article by Leif Peng over on Todays Inspiration Blogsopt too. He retired in 1993 and sadly passed away 6 years later at the age of 70. Such a talented guy. I sense from looking through his work, that he was a larger than life figure, who liked jazz, enjoyed his work and had a great sense of humour. What do you think ?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    August 21, 2013 5:51 pm

    What fun work! Love that mid-century goodness, thanks for sharing these!

    • August 22, 2013 10:13 am

      You said it Lisa, isn’t it fab ! Glad you liked it too.

  2. September 9, 2013 2:44 pm

    Great illustrator, especially like his work for Ford Times

  3. Kiley permalink
    November 28, 2015 7:11 pm

    Cliff Roberts was my father. He was amazing & yes, full of so much humor & so much talent. Thank you for writing & posting such a nice article about him. I miss him every single day!!

    • November 30, 2015 10:47 am

      Hi there. I also appreciate you leaving a comment to tell me that. If you’ve any photos of your dad’s work or memories you’d like to share then please let me know and I’d be glad to add them to the post. Such a talented chap.

    • August 25, 2016 1:34 am

      Cliff Robert did the cover illustration for The Light on the Island by Helene Glidden pub 1950. Does the family still own the copyright or have his sketches. I wonder? We would like to display the original cover art in our new Patos Island Lighthouse museum.

      • August 25, 2016 4:23 pm

        HI Linda, you would have to contact the family direct, I have no connection to them i’m afraid I just did the post on Cliff’s work. Good luck.

    • November 26, 2019 6:05 pm

      What an amazing father to have!!! I’m sure you have a treasure trove of his amazing work. Lucky you!!! His drawings are a huge part of my 60s childhood memories : )

    • Mark Morey permalink
      January 12, 2021 12:23 am

      Your dad was (is) one of my all time favorite artists. For me his work is the embodiment of the style Amid Amidi calls “Cartoon Modern.” I wish there was a giant book with everything he ever did contained in it.

    • May 25, 2021 6:00 pm

      Hello Kiley,
      I’m currently working with a french publishing house called Les Grandes Personnes and we are starting a new imprint focusing on reissuing fantastics books that have been forgotten or/and out of print for too long. I’m looking for the Cliff Robert’s books rights holder and, if i understood correctly, you’re one of his children.
      So i hope this message finds you somewhere in order to start discussing the work of your father.

      Kind regards,

  4. August 25, 2016 3:57 am

    Kiley, I am looking for a digital photo of the original art of a book cover your father designed for, “Light on the Island”. Our non-profit, Keepers of the Patos Light, would like to enlarge the art for a lighthouse display. The book was written by Helene Glidden who lived on remote Patos Island as a child when her father was a lightkeeper in the early 1900s. We would like to enlarge the book cover for a public display in the lighthouse. We would give credit to your father, of course. Lisa

  5. Mary permalink
    October 10, 2018 2:07 am

    Such a treasure, this man. As I near the end of my 32+ year career as a kindergarten teacher, I can totally relate to Cliff Robert’s books, Start With a Dot and The Hole. They are both filled with childhood wonder, imagination, and simplicity, all of which I am a big fan. Long live his talent!

  6. May 25, 2021 6:01 pm

    Thanks for this amazing article!

  7. August 21, 2013 3:26 pm

    Thanks for the linkback


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