The 1966 “Batman” television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward earned a place in television history for its high camp and pop art aesthetic that captured the spirit of the Swinging Sixties. Now we’re getting a whole new appreciation for the work that went into creating its signature look, thanks to a series of production drawings unearthed by the Batgirl Bat-Trap blog.
The concept art is the work of A. Leslie Thomas, a Hollywood veteran who had previously worked as an art director and production classic ’50s B-movies like “I was a Teenage Werewolf,” and “Blood of Dracula.” His acrylic and ink sketches mostly convey the wacky style of the series, and the movie released between the first two seasons, but the colors are muted, and the aesthetic is more in line with pulp covers and comic books. The Technicolor psychedelia of the final filmed product is absent in these drawings, but all the other now familiar visual trappings are very much in evidence.
At least one of the drawings showcased by Batgirl Bat-Trap belongs to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Comic Arts Collection. “Louie the Lilac’s Oil Vat Cellar” was painted for the third season episode, “Louie, The Lilac,” and features an interior view of Batgirl trapped in the lair of the violet-suited villain (played by Milton Berle), who dealt in illegal perfume and had a thing for flesh-eating lilacs.
It is one of 38 “Batman” concept art pieces donated to the university in 2005 by alumnus David Anderson, three of which were exhibited in late 2015 at the New-York Historical Society’s “Superheroes in Gotham” exhibition.
VCU’s collection “includes more than 50,000 comic books; the papers and drawings of political cartoonists and related manuscript collections; reference books and journals; science fiction, fantasy and comics-related fanzines; and original newspaper comic strip art.” It also houses the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Archives.
Another piece of Leslie Thomas concept art recently surfaced on “Antiques Roadshow” and was appraised at $6,000-$8,000 by Laura Woolley of the Collector’s Lab. The painting, depicting the infamous bar fight from “Batman: The Movie” was purchased by the current owner from a Virginia collector for $1,000, and may at one time have been part of the larger collection that was donated to VCU.
You can view the “Antiques Roadshow” appraisal video here.
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