Readers of this site seem to be very interested whenever I discuss anything that is Song of the South (1946) related. One topic I haven’t covered is how many animators and storymen found work, sometimes moonlighting, by doing comic books and comic strips including on a Song of the South comic strip.
The Disney Sunday comic strip distributed by King Features Syndicate Uncle Remus and His Tales of Brer Rabbit began on October 14th, 1945 and ended on December 31st, 1972. King Features was the syndicate that was also distributing the other Disney comic strips to newspapers including both the daily and Sunday versions of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
For over twenty-seven years every Sunday, it was possible to read in newspapers the full color, the Disney interpretation of the famous Joel Chandler Harris characters. The strip started appearing in newspapers over a year before the film was released to build up anticipation for the movie.
Uncle Remus was written by Bill Walsh, a multi-talented Disney staff member who joined the company in 1943 as a scripter for the Mickey Mouse comic strip after a career that included writing gags for the popular Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy radio show. Walsh would later become a Disney Legend thanks to his many credits as a writer and a producer that included the first Disney television shows as well as Mary Poppins (1964) and The Love Bug (1974).
The strip was drawn by Paul Murry, who had been an animator on Song of the South and a former assistant to the legendary artist Fred Moore. In addition, Murry had supplied animation for other features including Dumbo and Saludos Amigos. Dick Moores and Bill Wright inked the strip over Murry’s pencils.
At first, the material was a reasonably faithful adaptation of the animated sequences in the movie. Then, original adventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear and their friends began to appear. Uncle Remus was only seen as a silhouette on the title panel, although he provided necessary narration through captions to help tell the story and the moral that appeared in a box in the final panel.Paul Murry left the Studio during the Spring of 1946 with his last Uncle Remus Sunday page appearing on July 14. Ironically, he traded doing comic strip work for comic books and his first comic book assignment was Dell Four Color #129 where he penciled three stories featuring Uncle Remus and friends. All of those stories were written by Chase Craig. Other Uncle Remus stories drawn by Murry followed in 1947 including some in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories and also a Cheerios Premium comic.
Dick Moores took over as the artist when Murry left in 1946. In October 1946, George Stallings, who had worked on the story for the Song of the South feature film, took over the writing, and introduced characters such as Molly Cottontail who would become Brer Rabbit’s girlfriend.
The Sunday-only Uncle Remus strip ran a loose story continuously until February 1949 when it became a self contained, gag-a-week strip. Others who worked on the strip over the years included Riley Thomson (1951-59), Bill Wright (1959-62), Chuck Fuson (1962) and finally artist John Ushler (with scripting by Jack Boyd) who worked on the strip for nearly ten years until the strip was discontinued December 31, 1972.
At the time of the Disney Strike in 1941, many Disney staff members found themselves without work as projects were postponed or cancelled, and so they began to develop some side projects of their own.
Shaw said, “And at that time, I had started to work on Uncle Remus, which turned out to be Song of the South when they (the Disney Studio) opened up again. And while I was working on Uncle Remus, I started doing my sketches in a style similar to (Arthur Burdett) Frost if you remember his illustrations of the Uncle Remus (stories). And George Stallings was working on the story with me, and we got the idea that you could do a comic strip in that style, with the Uncle Remus tales. Each one could be a separate tale.”
Writer Stallings later launched his own comedy sports comic strip for newspapers from 1955-57 called Soapy Waters about a country bumpkin named Soapy Waters who made it to the major league as a baseball pitcher. Dick Moores did inking and lettering for the strip.
Shaw continued, “So, being that the studio was closed down, I went to Roy (Disney) and I said, ‘Could I have the rights to this thing? You’re not going to do anything with it right now’, and Roy said, ‘Yeah, go ahead and do a comic strip on Uncle Remus if you want.’ And I said he would get 5% and would retain the rights. And he agreed to that.“Anyway, George Stallings and I got the thing up. I drew the Uncle Remus things. We had a series, and we gave them to King Features and King Features in two weeks bought the whole series. Then the studio… because of the negotiations kind of thing, for every man we would take that didn’t go on (the strike), they had to take two of the strikers.
“And Roy got the idea. He said, ‘Mel, why don’t you come back and work on the Uncle Remus thing and work in the cartoon department? Then I don’t have to take two strikers back into the other part.’
“And I said, ‘Well how about the strip that we just sold?’ And he said, ‘Well, I can’t go through with that.’ He said, ‘I can’t go through with the deal. We don’t give a percentage to anybody.’ And it really burned me. And about that time, Hugh Harman had lost his contract with Rudy (Ising).
“Rudy had gone into the army. So Hugh didn’t have a partner. And Hugh didn’t have any experience in doing features, so he asked me if I would be interested in being his partner, and he was going to do (an animated feature) King Arthur. So I agreed to that, and we started on the King Arthur thing (that never got made).”
Shaw returned in 1974 to the Disney Studio as a concept artist. Stallings contributed writing to Disney’s Song of the South film and also the Disney Uncle Remus newspaper strip.