Rankin/Bass Christmas special artist Paul Coker Jr. has died at 93. Coker was an artist who worked in many media, greeting cards, publications, comics, and animation. He is most notably known for his character designs for Rankin/Bass television specials.
Coker was born and raised in Kansas in 1929. He went to and graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in drawing and painting, and then got a job as a greeting cards designer for Hallmark. In 1961, he began illustrating for the magazine Mad, and he went on to illustrate over 375 articles while there. He also did freelance work for other publications, including Esquire, Look, Good Housekeeping, and Playboy. Coker’s work with Rankin/Bass began with an uncredited involvement in The Wacky World of Mother Goose in 1967. He then contributed as either a character designer or production designer to films like Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, and The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town, eventually ending with Santa, Baby! in 2001. His final onscreen work was done for the pilot of the 2002 series Whatever Happened to… Robot Jones?.
On July 23, Coker died at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, following a brief illness. His death was confirmed to Deadline by his stepdaughter Lee Smithson Burd. Smithson Burd said, “Paul was lucid and had his remarkable sense of humor until the end.”
Although Coker’s name may not be familiar, many are no doubt familiar with the Rankin/Bass animated specials he contributed to, as several have become holiday staples. Many beloved characters were developed under Coker’s supervision during his time at Rankin/Bass, including Kris Kringle (voiced by Mickey Rooney), the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn), and Burgermeister Meisterburger (Paul Frees) from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, as well as Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) and Heat Miser (George S. Irving) from The Year Without a Santa Claus.
Coker undoubtedly made a significant impact on the world of artistry, particularly in animation, illustration, and design. His character design for Rankin/Bass especially stamped his distinctive style into pop culture, and his work will remain iconic for years to come. Many fellow artists, animators, and admirers have taken to social media to express their sadness regarding the news of his passing and to pay tribute to his prolific career in artistry. Coker has surely influenced many and will be greatly missed.
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