BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
November 16, 2016 posted by Devon Baxter

Moonlighting Animators In Comics: Gil Turner

AUTHOR’S NOTE: As you’ll see in this column, Gil Turner’s work in comics wasn’t strictly for “funny animal” stories, so the name of this recurring columns sub-title shall be henceforth changed to “Moonlighting Animators in Comics.”

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Gil Turner worked as an iceman before joining Walt Disney’s studio by January 1933—however, there are no known credits, production materials or other related documents bearing his name. Turner left Disney and animated for Harman-Ising on their Happy Harmonies in 1934; he is credited for scenes in the draft for their fifth release, Toyland Broadcast, and Alias St. Nick, released a year later. He moved to Detroit, animating at Jam Handy’s studio, which specialized in industrial and promotional films. Around 1938, he left Detroit and went back to the West Coast to animate for the Ben Hardaway/Cal Dalton unit at Warners, later shifting to Friz Freleng’s crew of animators when Freleng returned from MGM.

farnsworth-Fox-600In the early ‘40s, while he was animating for Freleng, Turner was one of the first animators from the West Coast recruited by Fleischer/Famous animator James Davis to freelance in comic books. Davis recruited several other West Coast artists to draw “funny animal” stories for the line of comics from Benjamin W. Sangor, including Coo Coo, Ha-Ha, Barnyard and Happy Comics. While the East Coast animators worked on their stories in Manhattan, Davis set up his shop for the freelancing animators at the Raphael G. Wolff Studios in California, which produced industrial and training films for the Armed Forces. After the stories were finished, the pages would be mailed to Sangor from Davis.

Gil Turner migrated to MGM as an animator for Tex Avery (only credited on 1948’s What’s Price Fleadom) and the Preston Blair/Mike Lah unit on their Barney Bear cartoons. His stint at MGM was brief—he left the studio, and the animation business altogether, to concentrate on his comic book work by 1946. Meanwhile, Carl Barks wrote and drew comic book stories with Barney Bear and Benny Burro for Dell’s Our Gang Comics (later re-named Our Gang with Tom and Jerry) since 1944. In the last period, Barks exhausted his interests with these characters, and accepted scripts from Turner, which Barks thought were “rich in gags and situations,” though, Barks would often re-write them in his style. Turner certainly enhanced the Barney/Benny stories; in issue #31 of Our Gang Comics (February 1947), Turner introduced Barney’s combative next-door neighbor Mooseface McElk. After issue #36 (July 1947), Barks departed from the series, and Turner took over, both writing and drawing.

First appearance of Mooseface, in Our Gang #31 (February 1947). Script by Gil Turner, art by Carl Barks. Click to enlarge.

First appearance of Mooseface, in Our Gang #31 (February 1947). Script by Gil Turner, art by Carl Barks. Click to enlarge.

Soon after, Turner took over the writing and drawing duties for another established series from Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, by issue #85 (October 1947), which featured Zeke the Big Bad Wolf and his son Li’l Bad Wolf, after Carl Buettner, Roger Armstrong and, occasionally, Paul Murry had drawn the stories. Turner’s strong scripts for these stories appeared after Carl Barks’ Donald Duck ten-pages. In the comics, Li’l Bad Wolf doesn’t share the same appetite as his lazy and easily disgruntled father Zeke; instead, he is more benevolent to those his father wishes to eat, or swindle.

Turner’s comic book work wasn’t limited to “funny animal” stories. In the late ‘40s, Turner drew a few stories about youth culture in Sangor’s teen-oriented comic magazine Cookie, with a young female character Trudy. In 1950, he drew a weekly syndicated comic strip, Holly Wood, for the Redwood Journal-Press-Dispatch. That same year, he wrote/drew featured stories with Pancho Vanilla for Dell’s comics with the Warner Bros. characters, first in holiday issues, then regularly by 1952. The similarity to his “Li’l Bad Wolf” stories for Disney was clearly obvious—Pancho Vanilla’s toreador father was usually as indignant as Zeke.

Turner wrote and drew the “Li’l Bad Wolf” stories for almost a decade, but the series wasn’t entirely exclusive; intermittently, other artists such as Harvey Eisenberg, Jack Bradbury and Ken Champin—all of whom, like Turner, had studio animation experience—handled the drawing duties. He returned to animation at Walter Lantz’s studio around September 1952, while drawing the “Li’l Bad Wolf” and “Pancho Vanilla” stories in his spare time. Turner was hired by UPA by May 1955, as an animator, and his comic book work seems to end around 1956. He later became a director at UPA on the Mister Magoo series, also serving as a sequence director on their first feature -with Magoo – 1001 Arabian Nights. He spent the rest of his career at Hanna-Barbera up until his death in 1967, at the age of 53.

Redwood Weekly, May 10th, 1950

Redwood Weekly, May 10th, 1950


Redwood Weekly, May 24th, 1950: Turner draws a self-caricature in the last panel of this Holly Wood strip.

Redwood Weekly, May 24th, 1950: Turner draws a self-caricature in the last panel of this Holly Wood strip.

Evidently, Turner had his own set of rules when it came to writing for Dell Comics, which recently surfaced in a letter addressed to Hope Blair—wife of animator Preston Blair—who wanted a job as a writer. The irony, which lies within Turner’s guideline, is intriguing—many of the rules were regularly ignored, especially in Carl Barks’ work. (#8 is certainly contradictory, given the Mexican stereotypes/dialect humor portrayed in his “Pancho Vanilla” stories.) Here are the pages from the letter pictured here, written a month after he started animating for Lantz:

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Another bonus for this column is a selection of sequences animated by Gil Turner, which I’m certain are his, to give readers an idea on his drawing style, which transitioned into his comic book work. Admittedly, most of his animation isn’t particularly strong—his work in the early ‘40s Freleng cartoons often seems mushy. Interestingly, his animation often uses comic-strip carryovers, particularly in character reactions—for instance, the Wolf’s annoyance of Red entering the house a third time in Little Red Riding Rabbit. Moreover, in the “Li’l Bad Wolf” stories, Zeke appears more like the Freleng wolf in that film than Disney’s Big Bad Wolf from the Three Little Pigs films, but in the same clothing.



Last but not least, a sampling of Turner’s comic book work, both from Sangor and Dell Comics.

“Ol’ Tabby”—Ha Ha Comics #5 (February 1944): One of Turner’s earliest, if not first, comic book stories. The inking in this particular comic has a more illustrative essence, similar to Walt Kelly’s Pogo the Possum comics.

From GOOFY COMICS #18

From GOOFY COMICS #18

“Fur Goo’ness Sakes!”—Goofy Comics #12 (March 1946): The plot for this story is strikingly similar to Friz Freleng’s The Trial of Mr. Wolf (1941), where a wolf is kidnapped by Red Riding Hood and her grandmother for his valuable pelt. Turner’s comics for Sangor were often lettered by Melvin “Tubby” Millar, a former story-man from Warners in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.

“Custer Has Double Trouble!”—Coo Coo Comics #32 (March 1947): Custer’s peaceful drive out to the country turns into a ludicrous court trial, instigated by a constable dog and a duck judge.

“Thanksgiving Turkey”—Our Gang with Tom and Jerry #41 (November 1947): Barney Bear and Benny Burro try to keep their turkey away from the irate Mooseface McElk’s yard. Interesting to see them feeling sympathetic towards the well being of their captive birds, too.

Trudy—Moon Mullins #1 (December 1947-January 1948): Trudy has three dates to the junior/senior prom, but her father only approves of one, conspiring the other two against each other in a boxing match. An obscure in-joke: one of Trudy’s dates is named Bud Crabe, named after one of Turner’s colleagues at MGM.

“Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing” (Li’l Bad Wolf)—Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories #104 (May 1949): Li’l Bad Wolf plays the woodsman who saves Little Red Riding Hood in his school play, and Zeke plans to sabotage the production. “Boy, this is a killer! Me disguised as m’self!”

“Pop’s Easy Money” (Li’l Bad Wolf)—Christmas Parade #2 (November 1950): Instead earning of working an honest job, Zeke plans a few schemes of his own, on Brer Bear and the Three Little Pigs.

“Hibernatin’ Brer Bear” (Li’l Bad Wolf)—Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories #123 (December 1950): Zeke creates his own snowstorm (using feathers) so he can steal the food from Brer Bear’s family during their hibernation. Great touch with Brer Bear’s POV on page 6.

Little Pancho Vanilla—Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies Comics #130 (August 1952): After being fired from bullfighting, Pancho’s “papacito” tries his hand as a merchant, with disastrous results.

Little Pancho Vanilla—Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies Comics #133 (November 1952): Pancho harbors a saguaro owl inside of a cactus, where an escaped “bandito” takes refuge.

Magic-Mirror

(Thanks to Dave Gerstein, Michael Barrier, Thad Komorowski, and Matt Yorston for their help.)

10 Comments

  • Yeah. On Turner’s rule #4 for comic book writing, I started by counting the average number of words in a comic book speech balloon that didn’t look overcrowded, then making sure that the dialogue in my speech balloons didn’t exceed that. (I wrote a handful of comics stories in the 1980s & ‘90s.)

    That sample page of “The Scarecrow” shows Turner’s experience in American animation: ALWAYS draw crows with yellow beaks. (And he’s drawn dressed like the crows in Disney’s “Dumbo”, too.) Look at any real crows; their beaks are as black as the rest of them. But it’s difficult to show a cartoony talking crow with a black beak; the black doesn’t show up as well. Most American comic books also show crows as having yellow beaks. Crows in Japanese manga, which don’t have this tradition, have black beaks.

    So why are animated and comic book alligators always dark green instead of a realistic gray?

    • I’m guessing that iconography is a lot more universal than yellow-beaked crows (and hell, I thought they were yellow too, as a 5 year old watching one in Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH).

    • When I worked briefly for Julius Schwartz at DC in the early ’80s, we were limited to 35 words per panel for super-hero stories. In my limited funny animal work, I rarely reached that number since I was also drawing the art and was very cognizant of how much of that art I was covering up. A writer who’s not drawing layouts has a very different approach to his story than one who also has to handle the art…which is why many artists actively hate some of the writers they’re paired with.

  • I’ve said this before, but the “three carrots” gag in “The Hare-Brained Hypnotist” is really funny.

  • I recall the Little Pancho Vanilla comics stories. If I remember Little Pancho Vanilla was a “one shot” animated cartoon about a young chubby (now considered obese) boy named Little Pancho Vanilla who wanted to win a Washing Machine for his Mamacita (and win the hearts of a trio of girls in the village) by entering a bullfight. In later years Little Pancho & his Mamacita become part of The Looney Toons/Merry Melodies comic book. Pancho looked a little trimmer in the comic book while Mamacita remain the same and even though Papacito wasn’t in the cartoon he became part of the comic book stories of Little Pancho Vanilla.

    • That’s Dell Comics for ya!

  • Thanks for this terrific series, Devon!! I’m learning a lot that I never knew, despite the fact that this is one of my main interests!

    I had not heard of the Raphael G. Wolff Studios before, where much of the west coast freelance work was apparently done. Jack Bradbury told me he and Al Hubbard and a couple of others rented their own tiny studio space in the small town of Montrose, just north of Glendale, to do their pages for Davis and Sangor and that they all had a rousingly good time up there!

  • A lot of work for the Freleng unit just seems very mushy during the early to mid forties (Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt, Fresh Hare, and The Hare-Brained Hypnotist are possibly the most stand out examples….).

  • It’s interesting how different the timing of Gil’s animation was working for Clampett on “Hare Ribbin’” as opposed to all the Freleng and Lantz stuff. Clampett must have had a good influence on Gil, as his drawing of Bugs Bunny’s face is sharper than usual, and the big extremes, such as the Russian Dog’s tongue being pulled out and the “vibrate to a stop” recovery on the dog’s body feel really snappy and have much crisper follow-through than most of Gil Turner’s typical timing. Especially on Woody and Magoo, his timing on dialog is unmistakable, he keeps the character moving slowly at all times through a dialog line, even during pauses in the recording. This kind of dialog phrasing seems a little stale. Thanks, Devon, for a thought-provoking post.

    • It looks as though someone (McKimson himself?) was redrawing a lot of the Bugs faces in that scene precisely because Turner was veering so far off the Clampett/McKimson model.

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