Fellow readers, after 80 columns dedicated to animator breakdowns, I feel that it’s time for a change of pace —this doesn’t mean the end for the breakdowns, but I’ve had this idea in my head for quite some time. This new column will profile the connection between Golden Age animators and “funny animal” comics. There will be a switch from the subject of animator drafts and funny animal comics from hereon in.
On the subject of Golden Age animators working on “funny animal” stories, many readers might understand why former Disney artists Carl Barks and Walt Kelly went on to greater acclaim, drawing and writing for comic books, after they left animation. However, there were a large number of animators who freelanced in such fare, in addition to their regular studio jobs, especially those in the East Coast studios.
In the early 1940s, one of the more popular genres of comic books besides superheroes were “funny animal” stories—Dell Comics published two different series of magazines based on the popular animated characters, Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories and Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics. Their later magazines New Funnies featured Walter Lantz characters, Our Gang Comics covered the MGM cartoons and Animal Comics, for a stretch in 1944, did adaptations of Famous Studios characters.
To capitalize on Dell’s success, Ned L. Pines, owner of the Nedor Publishing Company, convinced publisher Benjamin W. Sangor to issue monthly comics with original talking funny animals through his Cinema Comics outfit, operated on 45 West Forty-fifth Street in New York.
When Paramount’s Famous Studios returned to New York from Miami in early 1943, many of its animators worked on Sangor’s “funny animal” stories in their spare time. The studio was in close proximity to the Cinema Comics building. Famous Studios was located on 25 West Forty-Fifth Street. In addition to the pay from the animation studios, these artists were given $15/page for an eight-page story on a 64-page magazine. (By 1944, this shrank to 48 pages, due to wartime paper shortages.)
Arguably, the most prominent animator from Famous Studios to freelance on funny animal stories was Jim Tyer, at the time serving as head animator/de-facto director on the Popeye cartoons. His style of drawing displayed a wild, eccentric energy and spontaneity, which matched strikingly with his comic book work.
Tyer’s stories inaugurated Sangor’s line of comic book magazines—including Coo-Coo, Giggle, Ha-Ha, Goofy and Happy Comics — by the fall of 1943. (His stories for Barnyard Comics occurred in its second issue, in 1944.) In addition to the stories, Tyer also drew various covers, illustrations placed in text stories, and even the logos (particularly, for Giggle and Ha-Ha) for their early issues.
Around 1946, original comic book stories starring Felix the Cat appeared in issues of Four Color, published by Dell Comics; previous Four Color magazines with Felix were reprints of earlier newspaper strip adventures. Otto Messmer, responsible for the success and popularity of the Felix cartoons during the 1920s, was working for the Douglas Leigh Organization, creating animation for electric signs. He enlisted Tyer and Joe Oriolo to assist him with the new Felix stories.
In issue #119 (September 1946), Tyer worked on the Felix story, “Ancient Egypt”, where Felix brings merriment to a bored kingdom by inadvertently “inventing” various musical instruments; in one instance, he uses serving trays to capture a fly, with each hit creating a musical “CLANG”. The king sees this, and clashes them together in merriment, enjoying the new discovery of cymbals. Tyer hadn’t drawn many Felix stories for Dell—instead, he drew selected pages for the next Four Color special with Felix, in issue #135 (February 1947) for the stories “Starburst” and “The Great Inventor.” For issue #162 (September 1947), Tyer took over most of the drawing duties for the story “Weather Profit”.Besides the magazines published by Cinema Comics and Dell, Tyer also worked for other established publishers, including one story for Timely Publications’ (later evolved into Marvel Comics) Krazy Komics, issue #23, published August 1946 — Casper Cat in “O Sol-o Mioz”. Tyer also worked on a story with Chad Grothkopf’s Sherlock Monk and Chuck the Duck for Fawcett’s Funny Animals — issue #55, published November 1947.
Later, Felix the Cat was given his own series of comics from Dell by early 1948. Messmer (and presumably Joe Oriolo) drew the first several pages, and Tyer handled the remainder of the stories “Misdeal” and “Laffographs” in the first issue, published February-March 1948. In issue #3, Tyer was given his own Felix story, “Solo Fright”, for issue #3 (June-July 1948).
In most cases for Golden Age funny animal comics, a studio animator’s drawing style in a comic book story helps identify their work in an animated film. This reel containing Jim Tyer’s animation for Van Beuren, Jam Handy, Famous Studios, Terrytoons — and his work for television animation for ex-Famous animators Joe Oriolo, Hal Seeger and Paramount’s King Features — might provide an insight on the parallel between animators’ studio jobs and freelance work for comic books.
Sorry to have to do this right at the start of a new column, but due to a very busy movie shoot (as a script supervisor), with production days often lasting up to 12 hours and, in addition to my regular job, the time to prepare another for next week isn’t looking so good. The week after (November 2), Jim Tyer’s comic book career will continue to be profiled, touching upon his later work on the Terrytoons characters, and stories from the 1960s. Click HERE for Part 2.
In the meantime, you can look at several of Tyer’s stories from the Sangor line of comics, compiled into three different collections, here.
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Frank Young for their help.)