FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
May 19, 2013 posted by Fred Patten

Animals That Should Be Animated

I said in my first column that the earliest animated cartoon that I can remember seeing was Disney’s Pinocchio, on its first rerelease in October 1945, just before my fifth birthday. My mother, who was 100 years old last September, says that I’m wrong; she took me as a babe in arms to see Bambi with her. I will take her word for it. Bambi was released in August 1942; I was just over 1 ½ years old. I really do not remember it at all.

andypanda_comicsEven though Pinocchio was the earliest animated theatrical feature that I can remember, there were plenty of other funny animals from my fifth birthday until I entered my adolescence, theatrically and in the comics. Theatrically, there were all the cartoon shorts with the Disney stars; MGM’s Tom & Jerry and Droopy Dog; the Warner Bros. funny animals; Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle and Gandy Goose & Sourpuss and Little Roquefort & Percy; Famous’ Herman & Katnip; and Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy. I was vaguely aware that other funny animals that I was familiar with in the comic books such as Baby Huey and the Fox & the Crow were supposedly based on popular theatrical cartoon characters, but I do not remember ever seeing them on the big screen.

The newspaper comic strips and comic books offered lots more. I dimly remember Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck fighting Nazi spies and involved with Home Front themes, but most of my memories are of post-war stories. Other comic book funny animals such as Super Rabbit fought the Nazis, too. I read plenty of superhero comics during my preadolescence – Captain Marvel, Superman (I remember what a thrill it was when Superboy #1 appeared) and Batman, the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics – but my favorites were the funny animal titles: Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck one-shots; Dell’s Animal Comics where I first read the works of Walt Kelly, and other licensed characters who appeared in more adventurous plots than in their theatrical cartoons, or weren’t in theatrical cartoons at all (by that time), like Andy Panda & Charlie Chicken, and Oswald Rabbit.

comiccaval_51My favorites of the other funny animal comic books were most of the DC titles – Animal Antics, Funny Stuff, the later Comic Cavalcade issues, Real Screen Comics with the Fox & the Crow, and especially anything written & drawn by Sheldon Mayer. My earliest comic-book hero, who I wanted to grow up to be just like, when I was five or six years old, was Mayer’s Amster the Hamster, a short con-man who could talk ANYbody (usually bigger characters) into ANYthing! As a five- or six-year-old surrounded by big adults, I thought that this would be a wonderful talent to possess. I later learned that Amster the Hamster was a funny-animal version of W. C. Fields. But all of Mayer’s funny animals were hilariously funny with snappy dialogue: Doodles Duck and his bratty nephew Lemuel, Dizzy Dog, Buttons Bunny, Gus Goose, McSnertle the Turtle, Bo Bunny & Skinny Fox (who were a funny-animal Abbot & Costello), the Three Mousketeers, even the one-shot characters like Ferenc the Fencing Ferret. (I did not know it at the time, but Mayer also wrote but did not draw many of DC’s superhero stories.)

Decades later, when I was writing a special funny-animal theme issue of Amazing Heroes (#129, November 1987), I was thrilled to get the chance to personally interview Sheldon Mayer about his funny animals. I asked which of them had been his favorite? “None of ‘em! I thought the whole idea of funny animals is stupid! They would’ve been better as funny humans like Henry Aldrich or Jerry Lewis, or kids like the Our Gang bunch. Unless the plot required them to be tiny fantasy people, when you could make ‘em human-looking elves or pixies. But DC wanted funny animals and assigned me to draw some, so I did.” Oh.

giggle_kattIn addition to DC’s comic books and Dell’s (or Western Printing’s) Disney titles, my favorite funny-animal comics were ACG’s now-forgotten Giggle Comics and Ha Ha Comics. Giggle starred Superkatt, an ordinary housecat who impersonated a costumed hero in his owner’s baby’s bonnet and diaper. Ha Ha featured Robespierre, a black alley cat who was always getting into trouble with his yellow brawny but impulsive pal Tiger. Aside from those series, with Superkatt signed by Dan Gordon and Robespierre by Ken Hultgren, Giggle and Ha Ha were filled with funny but interchangeable funny animal short stories by Gordon and Hultgren, and by Jack Bradbury and Don “Arr” Christiansen and Jim Tyer and others. I found out years later that they were all part of a workshop of moonlighting or ex-animation artists organized by Gordon to provide funny animal comics for publishers without their own in-house artists. Gordon had been with the Fleischer Studio (he has a writer credit on some of Fleischer’s Superman cartoons), and quit when Paramount closed Fleischer’s studio in Miami and moved the animators back to New York. Hultgren’s regular job was with Disney; he was most famous for designing the Id monster that Disney’s Joshua Medor animated for the s-f movie Forbidden Planet.

Nobody seems to know how or why, but there was a single Superkatt animated cartoon; the May 1947 Columbia Phantasy Cartoon Leave Us Chase It. It was definitely based on the Giggle comic book series: a cat is inspired by reading the comic book stories to don a baby bonnet & diaper. A generic housecat-chases-mouse story follows, showing none of the imagination of Gordon’s comic-book series. The cartoon’s story is credited to Cal Howard, who was one of Dan Gordon’s crew of moonlighting animation studio personnel. Maybe Howard pushed the cartoon to try to get an animated series for his pal Gordon’s character. Who knows?

My family got its first television set just in time for the premiere of the first animated TV cartoon, Crusader Rabbit, on KNBH in Los Angeles on August 1, 1950. I was 9 ¾ years old, and I was mesmerized. I watched the five-minute episodes so religiously that I can still sing the adv’t jingle from the dog food commercials regularly shown during it:

Feed him Dr. Ross Dog Food; do him a favor.
It’s got more beef, and it’s got more flavor.
It’s got more flavor ‘cause it tastes the way it should;
Dr. Ross Dog Food is doggone good!
Fido knows best … ARF!
Fido knows best … ARF!

I wonder if the animated TV commercial was also made by Alex Anderson’s & Jay Ward’s Television Arts Productions?

crusader_rabbitI liked Crusader Rabbit (the original TAP 1949-51 black-&-white series; I was in college by the time the Cartoon Spots 1957-59 color series was broadcast) so much that when I began to get a reputation for writing articles about Japanese animation, I took some time out to research an article about Crusader Rabbit. (“2 ½ Carrots Tall, Television’s First Animated Cartoon Star. Pt. 1, The Story Behind Crusader Rabbit”, the history of the two series’ production, in Comics Scene #6, November 1982; and “2 ½ Carrots Tall, Television’s First Animated Cartoon Star. Pt. 2, The Stories of Crusader Rabbit”, plot synopses of all the serials, in Comics Scene #7, January 1983.) It was a joy to talk face-to-face or in telephone interviews with most of the voice actors and production people who had made both series. (Jay Ward declined to be interviewed, though.) Everybody loved Alex Anderson and Jay Ward; everybody shut up or had nothing printable to say about Shull Bonsall, who produced the color series; who had the foulest mouth of all and boasted about how he had screwed people. Jerry Fairbanks, the producer who took TAP’s animation & sound tracks and produced them into films for TV broadcasting, was almost 80 years old and said, “That long ago … I just don’t remember much. But I still have my scrapbooks, and you can look through them.” A GOLD MINE! I sure hope that Fairbanks’ scrapbooks went to some archive upon his death instead of being thrown out.

Fairbanks had the original memos, correspondence, and press clippings for everything: Anderson’s & Ward’s business trips from San Francisco to NBC in New York in 1948 to try to sell their proposed three-segment The Comic Strips of Television series; NBC’s liking only the Crusader Rabbit segment (another segment that NBC turned down was Dudley Do-Right, which Ward used later in Rocky and His Friends), but being willing to buy it only if they had Jerry Fairbanks in Los Angeles produce it (NBC and Fairbanks had a sweetheart arrangement); Fairbanks’ efforts all during 1949 to sell Crusader Rabbit, which consisted mostly of exaggerated press releases that implied the whole series of 130 five-minute episodes (65 episodes were added later) was ready for broadcast, while TAP was still churning out the cels and voice dubbings (one fascinating detail was that Fairbanks tried to make the limited animation sound like a cutting-edge new technological advance: “new Teletoon animation process delivers the quality of theatrical animation at a fraction of the cost” (I wonder if anyone in Canada’s and France’s TV industries knows of this prior use of “Teletoon”?); Bob Ganon, who worked on both the black-&-white and the color series, told me, “We just called it ‘cheap animation’; decide for yourself whether this is ‘the quality of theatrical animation’.”); Jay Ward’s business trips from TAP in San Francisco to Fairbanks in L.A. to coordinate the production (Ward’s full, legal name was J Troplong Ward) …

hollywood_funnyfolksWell, I am running overlength for this column, and I have wandered off-topic which was supposed to be that while some of my favorite funny animals of my youth were in animated cartoons, many were not. It would have been great to see theatrical cartoons of Sheldon Mayer’s characters, of Robespierre, of Superkatt as Dan Gordon had written him, of Fauntleroy Fox & Crawford Crow (yes, I know that they originated in Columbia’s theatrical animated shorts, but I only encountered them in Real Screen Comics), of Dunbar Dodo & Fenimore Frog; of Nutsy Squirrel; of Walt Kelly’s Pogo Possum while the stories were still tremendously witty but still innocent children’s comics, before they turned into adult social satire.

Is it too late? One of the greatest of the he-oughta-be-animated comic book characters of the 1950s was Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, who was finally animated in Disney’s TV cartoons in the late 1980s. Disney seems poised to do new things with 1927’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to keep him alive. The rights to Superkatt et al. are presumably available cheap … if it’s not in the public domain by now.

18 Comments

  • I personally wouldn’t mind seeing The Fox and the Crow again on screen, or at least have all of their cartoons restored and released as a box set. The series is so easily overlooked even though it involved talents such as Frank Tashlin and John Hubley.

  • Not to put too fine a point on it, but Scrooge McDuck made his animated debut in 1967 in “Scrooge McDuck and Money.” He also starred in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” in 1983 before appearing the “DuckTales” TV series.

    • Just prior to Duckales, Scrooge (as well as the triplets, and the beagle boys ironically) appeared in ‘Sports Goofy in Soccermania’. Apparently this started at Feature animation with a theatrical release in mind, but eventually was aired as part of a TV special on NBC.

    • Oh< I also we both forgot the 1955 Mickey Mouse Club intro which has scrooge in a cameo.

    • At least there were stabs at bringing Scrooge McDuck to the cinematic screen before DuckTales.

  • Sensational column, Fred. Thanks for so articulately sharing all those great memories.

  • Great remembrances, Fred! You’re just a little older than me, but my favorites are the same!

    I didn’t know that Dan Gordon was the one who set up the ‘Moonlighters’ conglomerate out here in L.A. to supply stories to ACG/Nedor/Pines/Standard — I had always heard it was Jim Davis. Maybe they worked in tandem?

    I used to think the main cast of Standard’s BARNYARD COMICS would have made a great animated series, with its big cast = Hucky Duck, Barney Rooster, Billy Bull, Dudley Pigg, etc.

    Thanks for the fun memory-jogging!

    • As I understand it, Jim Davis did set up the group. It’s really complicated.

      In the mid-1930s Benjamin W. Sangor (1889-1955) and Richard E. Hughes (real name: Leo Rosenbaum, 1909-1974) in New York formed a company, the Sangor Comics Shop, to produce comics features as a supplement for newspapers. In 1939 it switched to producing comic books for Sangor’s son-in-law, Ned L. Pines, operating as Nedor Comics. In 1941 Sangor produced ‘Cinema Comics Herald’, a short-lived, tiny comic-book giveaway for theaters to promote the movies that they were showing. One of its issues included a comic-book condensation of Paramount/Fleischer’s December 1941 ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’. This apparently brought Sangor into contact with the Fleischer Studios’ Jim Davis (1915-1996), an animator on the ‘Superman’ cartoons and others. I don’t know whether it was Sangor’s or Davis’ idea, but Davis started agenting moonlighting animators from Fleischer’s and other studios, including Dan Gordon (1918-1969), to produce funny-animal comic book stories for Sangor to supply to his clients.

      In 1943 Sangor’s company, under its own name or that of the Creston Publishing Company, began printing comic books of its own (under numerous imprints including the American Comics Group), as well as providing cartoon stories for other publishers. Starting in 1944, the Sangor Comics Group and Jim Davis formalized this with a contract. ACG relied heavily on this group for all of its comics. Gordon was one of the most prolific artists and writers for this group. In 1945 he drew the cover for and may have edited a 132-page ‘Hi-Jinx; The Comic Book of Laughs’ one-shot anthology for one of Sangor’s imprints, the La Salle Publishing Company of Chicago, of thirty short funny-animal stories by Gordon, Hubie and Lynn Karp, Jim Tyer, Don “Arr” Christiansen, and others; and he produced ‘Superkatt’ regularly for ‘Giggle Comics’ from 1944 to 1955. Davis himself concentrated on drawing the Fox and the Crow for a variety of DC titles, mostly ‘Comic Cavalcade’ at the time.

      In mid-1948 Benjamin Sangor decided to get out of the comic-book business and retire. He turned his company over to his editor, Richard E. Hughes, and to his business manager, Fred Iger, who became co-owner. They consolidated all of the company’s imprints into the American Comics Group name, which they had begun using prominently by 1946. ACG stopped supplying art & stories to other publishers and began buying directly from the artists and writers. At or about that time, Jim Davis turned the group over to Gordon and dropped out to draw for DC Comics exclusively. Davis continued drawing the Fox and the Crow for DC until 1968, then went back to animation. Some of his later animation work was for DePatie-Freleng’s ‘The Pink Panther’. Gordon continued producing for ACG (his main 1950s output was teenage humor comics like ‘Cookie’) until 1957, when Joe Barbera persuaded him to return to animation as one of the original staff for the brand-new Hanna-Barbera studio. Gordon was instrumental in creating ‘The Flintstones’, which was very much like the Fleischer Studios’ ‘Stone Age Cartoons’.

    • I should clarify that I don’t really know how closely Davis ran the moonlighting artists’ group after he set it up, and how much he relied on Gordon. I got the impression that Davis more or less let Gordon be in charge of the material supplied to Sangor’s group, while he (Davis) handled the DC material; but I’m not sure what the group produced for DC Comics besides the Fox and the Crow, which Davis just drew. I think that he had two or three writers over the years. DC had lots of other funny animal characters besides the Fox and the Crow and Sheldon Mayer’s distinctive (and signed) stories, such as Nutsy Squirrel and the Dodo and the Frog, and I don’t know whether they were produced by DC employees or by the moonlighters. I also don’t know whether the moonlighters produced comics for any publishers besides DC and Sangor/ACG.

    • The Sangor studio only produced comics for DC, ACG and Standard, and, as you outlined, eventually allowed its free-lancers become directly employed by each publisher. For DC, Davis and others (Don Christensen did many of the early REAL SCREEN Fox & Crow stories) did The Fox and the Crow, Flippity and Flop (Flip & Flop from the cartoons), Tito & His Burrito, and the Hound and the Hare. All other DC funny-animal characters were created for the comics (except, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), and, with the exception of the Sheldon Mayer creations mentioned above, all were exclusively drawn by animation veterans (understandably from the New York-based studios): Rube Grossman, Otto Feuer, and (early on, at least) Howie Post. Oh yeah, Frederick Iger, who inherited the reins of ACG group when Ben Sangor retired, was the son-in-law of Harry Donenfeld, publisher of DC, adding yet another relationship to this operation..

    • Thanks, Fred, for that incredibly detailed run-down of the Sangor/Hughes/Iger publishing empire — it’s the best I’ve ever read!

      Jack Bradbury had lots of memories of working on stories for their comics late at night in a little studio he shared with Al Hubbard above a butcher shop in Montrose, CA . . . and he always mentioned doing the work for Jim Davis. I don’t believe I ever heard him mention Dan Gordon.

      And thanks for the link to that big Hi-Jinx comic — I’m not sure I ever saw that before! Very similar to the one-shot ‘Funnybone’ comic with many of the same artists.

  • Thanks for the memories,Fred! I,too,would like to see a comprehensive collection of Columbia toons,including the Fox and Crow,if just for historical significance.That one shot Superkatt was pretty good!

  • I’ve always wondered about a lot of the animated-looking funny-animal characters that weren’t based on any actual animated cartoon characters from the period of several years on both sides of 1950. Was there some intent by publishers, too cheap/too slow/too low-budget to get the actual rights to anything, to give the impression that their original characters really *were* based on actual animated cartoon characters that the reader just hadn’t happened to have seen but other kids in some other city might have? “Gee, I’d love to see some Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal cartoons, but they must not show them around here. Guess I’ll just have to read the comic book instead…” After all, a comic book based on a real cartoon character, even if you haven’t seen any cartoons about him, has to be better than some all-original comic book with characters some artist or writer made up that nobody ever heard of, right?

  • Sadly, my first memory of seeing a Disney film growing up was “THE SWORD AND THE STONE”, but animation still had such charm to me that *ANYTHING* that fully animated was amazing–and then there was “THE TOM & JERRY FESTIVAL OF FUN”. In between that our house got a black and white TV and, when I discovered morning animated cartoon blocks of programming, I was glued to the set! I unfortunately discovered CRUSADER RABBIT, shown early on NBC, too late to get “hooked” on it, but I did enjoy what I’d seen. To me, both series deserve to be issued on DVD, although I would prefer to see *ALL* the Jay Ward originals. As for funny animals, well, I could write a whole article on that, finding the strangest universe of this in Hanna-Barbera cartoons and comics. In some series, the funny talking animal stars are the only animals in the particular universe, like on TOP CAT where the colorful alley cats deal each day with an otherwise all human world, save for the occasional other cat, like T.C.’s and Choo Choo’s feline girlfriends. There is also the occasional AUGGIE DOGGIE cartoon in which Auggie’s friends are all human kids. I cherish those early toons and comics, though.

    • I can’t remember what my first was, either Bambi or Snow White, but it was the early 80′s and TV would take up a good deal of my childhood fascination with cartoons personally, watching whatever came on network TV and cable, it’s red-headed stepchild that wanted to be brash and bold and it got there before the mainstream caught on.

  • Great post! I loved Fox & Crow, and when I grew up, I began a collection. I might read a few tonight!

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