Inspired by his father, who was an original Disney animator, a Monmouth County artist celebrates generations of imagination
by Laura D.C. Kolnoski
It took Mike Quon awhile to grasp the awesomeness of his father’s occupation, but when his grammar school classmates began asking for sketches of Mickey Mouse in droves, the full impact of having a Walt Disney’s animator as a dad sunk in.
Milton Quon, 104 and still creating, drew for Walt Disney Productions’ classic animated feature films Fantasia and Dumbo. Just 27 in 1939 during Fantasia’s production, the elder Quon worked on its Chinese dancing mushrooms, cupids, goldfish, and the dewdrop fairies for “The Nutcracker Suite” sequence. Milton was First Assistant Animator for Dumbo before joining the international advertising agency firm BBDO, where he became its first Chinese-American art director.
“When I saw Fantasia for the first time, it was a major event and an eye-opening experience,” Mike Quon recalled. “It was then I was able to relate to my dad about the scenes he had worked on. At home, I would occasionally see an animation cel or other Disney artifacts, not knowing how valuable they would become. Dad even met Salvador Dali at the studios while Dali was collaborating on project with Walt Disney.”
Mike Quon was eight when he attended the invitation only Disneyland grand opening with his family in 1955—one day before the theme park opened to the public.
“I had an early inclination toward art,” said Mike, whose three siblings chose other careers. “When we were adults, my dad uncovered drawings he had saved by each of us. He pointed out that my work was noticeably more detailed and formed.” The budding artist sketched animals, sports figures, and soldiers, made models, and built toys before graduating to cartooning. Gentle guidance was provided by Milton, who was classically trained in anatomy (the norm for animators of his time).
“Dad wanted me to find my own way and style, telling me I was doing just great on my own,” Mike related. “A legitimate way of learning is by watching the masters, like him. He introduced me to Chinese School, where we learned to handle bamboo brushes and do Chinese calligraphy. It was a real gift that helped me in finding my style.”
The younger Quon helped popularize that style when he entered the commercial art world in the 1970s. The Los Angeles native studied art and design at UCLA, moving to Manhattan after graduation. After stints as an art director at J. Walter Thompson and Young and Rubicam, he started his own award-winning design office, and during its 30-year run,
Quon worked with Fortune 500 clients and multinational companies, including Disney. His work has been seen in advertising campaigns around the world, in Times Square, Giants Stadium, and Manhattan subways, and internationally at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, at World Cup Soccer games in Paris, and a Tokyo department store chain, and he also created the original New York Lottery logos. His vibrant, often whimsical artworks are in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New York Times, the New York Historical Society, The U.S. Air Force, and private and corporate collections.
Quo’s first art show with his dad will take place at Red Bank’s Oyster Point Hotel, March 24 through April 30. Milton doesn’t travel from his California home anymore, so, to create their collaborations, Mike starts a drawing or watercolor and sends it to his father, who completes and returns it.
“It is always a nice surprise to see what comes back; it keeps us connected,” Mike said. The artist connects to his community by donating works to worthy organizations for auctions and other fund-raising. Beneficiaries include the Red Bank and Little Silver Public Libraries, Two River Theater, Habitat for Humanity, YMCA, Clean Ocean Action, and UNICEF.
“I get to make art all day long and have a great time doing it,” the affable artist summed up.