Michael J. Smollin (1925-2010) was an illustrator whose scratchy, distinctive style was one of the defining Sesame art styles in the 1970s, alongside Joe Mathieu and Michael K. Frith. Smollin's first Sesame storybook, the 1971 Little Golden Book The Monster at the End of This Book, was an immediate sensation, selling two million copies in its first year of publication.
Michael Smollin was born in 1925 and grew up in East Hampton, Long Island. As part of the 75th Infantry Division he served in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds. After returning to the United States he studied advertising design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn under the GI Bill.
Smollin worked as an ad executive for many years, but left the industry in order to become a freelance illustrator. He was a frequent contributor to TV Guide, providing humorous illustrations for articles throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Sesame Street work
Smollin provided the artwork for the covers and gatefolds of several early Sesame record albums, including The Muppet Alphabet Album and The Official Sesame Street 2 Book-and-Record Album in 1971, Havin' Fun with Ernie & Bert in 1972 and Merry Christmas from Sesame Street in 1975. Smollin also drew pictures for five Sesame calendars between 1976 and 1982.
Smollin did not participate in any of the "Sesame Street Storybook" anthologies of the early 70s. Instead, the versatile Smollin seemed to specialize in the unusual formats -- the large-format Big Bird's Blunder Book and The Amazing Mumford and His Amazing Subtracting Trick; the rounded Cookie Monster's Circle Book; and a set of small die-cut storybooks published by Playskool in 1975. Smollin illustrated cloth books, waterproof books, small "chunky" books and even books with wheels.
After the success of The Monster at the End of This Book, Smollin and writer Jon Stone collaborated on a few more books featuring Grover, including Would You Like to Play Hide & Seek in This Book With Lovable, Furry Old Grover? and Lovable Furry Old Grover's Resting Places.
Smollin's involvement in Sesame Street illustration tailed off in the mid-80s, although he returned to illustrate two books in the mid-90s -- Mother Grouch Nursery Rhymes in 1995, and Another Monster at the End of This Book in 1996, a sequel to the classic storybook that he illustrated 25 years previously.
In addition to his varied Sesame work, Smollin also worked on a Bob and Ray storybook by Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, a set of joke books based on The Electric Company, and a set of Strawberry Shortcake storybooks. In 1999 and 2000, Smollin collaborated with his son Mark to create a set of Lego activity books published in Europe. This was Smollin's last professional work before he retired.
Other Sesame illustrations
- Children's Television Workshop Newsletter. Number 27, February 1, 1973.
- "Michael Smollin - Artist Profile", Smollin.com.