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Roger Armstrong, 89; drew for `Bugs Bunny,' `Flintstones' books

June 20, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Roger Armstrong, whose five-decade career as a cartoonist included doing artwork for "Bugs Bunny," "The Flintstones" and numerous other comic books as well as for comic strips featuring characters such as Little Lulu and Scamp, has died. He was 89.

Armstrong, a longtime art teacher and a noted Southern California oil and watercolor painter, died of cardiac arrest June 7 at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, said his wife, artist Alice Powell.

As a cartoonist for Western Publishing in Los Angeles in the 1940s, Armstrong worked on Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. characters -- including Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd -- as well as Walt Disney characters such as Little Hiawatha, the Seven Dwarfs, Donald Duck and Pluto, and Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker.

Armstrong also was one of those who drew the Bugs Bunny newspaper cartoon strip from 1942 to 1944, the year he was drafted into the Army.

Armstrong, who had been cartoonist Clifford McBride's assistant on the comic strip "Napoleon and Uncle Elby," took over the strip when McBride died in 1950 and continued doing it for a decade. He also drew the cartoon strip "Ella Cinders" in the 1950s and later returned to working on the "Bugs Bunny" strip, in addition to working on the strips "Little Lulu," "The Flintstones" and "Scamp."

At Western Publishing in the 1960s and '70s, Armstrong did comic book artwork for the Flintstones, Scooby Doo, the Pink Panther, the Inspector, Super Goof and the Beagle Boys, among others.

"He was a pioneer of doing funny animal comic books, taking an animated property from the screen and adapting it to the comic book page," said Mark Evanier, a TV writer who wrote "The Flintstones" and "Super Goof" comic books when Armstrong was drawing them in the 1970s.

Western Publishing, Evanier said, "put Roger in everything. He was in those books for decades doing this wonderful work and kind of setting the bar for the other artists who drew for those comics."

Cartoonist Greg Evans, who does the "Luann" comic strip, said Armstrong "was just one of those incredibly gifted cartoonists who could effortlessly draw anything in any style."

Evans, a friend of Armstrong, likened the white-bearded artist to Santa Claus, complete with twinkly eyes. "Roger had this kindly, impish, gentle, fun and funny nature," he said.

As a painter, Armstrong was primarily known for his watercolors.

His paintings are in more than 300 private collections and in a number of public collections, including the Museum of Cartoon Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution and the Laguna Art Museum.

"His art is really the art of everyday life in Southern California," said Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum, which specializes in the art of California in the early 20th century and has two of Armstrong's paintings in its collection.

"He painted a large series of paintings when he lived in Los Angeles and later on when he lived in Crystal Cove and Laguna Beach," Stern said. "He's one of those artists we really like because they paint their everyday life and the things and people around them. Essentially, where he lived became the subject matter."

Armstrong, a former president of the National Watercolor Society, served as director of the Laguna Art Museum from 1963 to 1967.

Over the last four decades, he taught painting and drawing classes at a number of schools, including Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, the Irvine Fine Arts Center and what is now the Laguna College of Art and Design (formerly the Laguna Beach School of Art and the Art Institute of Southern California).

Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 12, 1917 -- his father, Roger Dale Armstrong, was a silent film writer and director -- Armstrong knew by age 10 that he wanted to be a cartoonist.

At 16, he was earning $1 for drawing six ads per week for a local advertising agency. After graduating from high school, he attended Chouinard Art Institute on a scholarship from 1938 to 1939 but was forced by the Depression to quit and find a job.

He was working on an assembly line at Lockheed Aircraft in 1941 when he was hired at Western Publishing to draw Bugs Bunny for a new Warner Bros. comic book, "Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics."

Armstrong, who also had a stint working as an assistant animator at the Walter Lantz Studio in the 1940s, was the author of "How to Draw Comic Strips," a 1990 book published by Walter Foster Publishing Inc.

Among Armstrong's survivors, in addition to his wife, are his daughter, Julie Armstrong Vance; his sons, Michael Armstrong and Jon Prince; and his sister, Teresa Mackenzie.

Instead of flowers, his family suggests that donations be made to the Roger Armstrong Scholarship Fund, Laguna College of Art and Design, 2222 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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