ANIMATION ANECDOTES
November 5, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

The B’rer Rabbit Comic Strip

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.

Four Color #129 – cover art by Carl Buettner

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.

Mel Shaw worked at Disney for decades doing animation, design work, writing and more from Bambi (1942) to The Lion King (1994) but he was going to be a comic strip artist.

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.

A “Br’er Rabbit” giveaway by Carl Buettner

“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.

11 Comments

  • A bodacious post, Br’er Jim! I had no idea the Br’er Rabbit comic strip ran for so many years, and I’m curious as to how many newspapers carried it. I can tell you that it did not appear in the Detroit News or the Macomb Daily, to which my family subscribed; nor was it in the Detroit Free Press, whose comics section I used to borrow from a friend because it had Peanuts. I recall that I only ever saw the Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny comic strips in rural newspapers when we went on vacation, and I wonder if Br’er Rabbit might likewise have been geared mainly to rural readership. (On the other hand, the News ran Li’l Abner, and the Freep ran Snuffy Smith, so….)

    Even if it had been published in my area, I don’t think my parents would have approved of me reading it. They were always worried about me picking up bad language — which in their eyes included not only swearing, but also double negatives, split infinitives, and subject-verb disagreement, all of which the Br’er Rabbit strip seems to have contained in abundance.

    Last June I bought a bootleg DVD of “Song of the South” at a used bookstore. It was a transfer from an old theatrical print, rather than from a VHS tape or subtitled DVD; the live-action portion of the film is rather drab, and the scenes in Uncle Remus’s cabin are pretty murky, but the animated sequences are still vibrant. What surprised me was how much my wife liked it; she says she doesn’t “get” the American South. I guess it just goes to show that the story transcends the setting. Have a Zip-a-dee-doo-dah day, everybody!

  • Grew up reading the Sunday Brer Rabbit strip in my hometown paper during the sixties along with Scamp and Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales. Even as a kid, I thought the other two were sort of phoned in, but I really liked the Brer Rabbit comic.

  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried the Uncle Remus strip in the mid-60’s. I don’t know the reason, but my parents switched from the Seattle Times to the Seattle P-I and I remember being delighted with the comics section, which thanks to King Features carried many of my favorite franchised characters in comic strip form, including Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck. Among these treasures of comic strip reading was included the Uncle Remus comic strip as well as Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales. This was in the days when the Sunday comics section was impressively large. As the 70’s approached, the Sunday comics started getting smaller and smaller, not only in quantity, but in size as well. Several strips were dropped, including the one in question. I still have fond memories of the Uncle Remus comic strip.

  • Sorry to hear about Steve’s pet emergency. I wish him and his wife well.

    It would be nice if Fantagraphics would be able to reprint the comic strip. However, due to Disney’s recent concerns about the film, it will be very difficult feat for the comic publisher to able to make that happen.

  • I remember reading that “Tales of Bre’r Rabbit” Dell comic book when I was spending summers of my childhood on Chesapeake Bay at my grandmother’s cottage. We had a box full of old donated comics from various cousins and ourselves and this was one of them. And I was heartbroke when my aunts threw the box in the garbage!

  • Interestingly, Brer Bear and Brer Fox are regulars in Disney comic book stories featuring Zeke Wolf (aka Big Bad) and others such as one with Chip n’ Dale being detectives (few decades before Rescue Rangers). Several stories with the characters have been reprinted in the past few years.

  • I have been puzzled for a long time about the correct spelling of Riley Thom(p)son’s surname. There seems to be no consensus in the community or even within this post…

  • I am truly hoping the Fantagraphics compilation of these strips announced this past summer will see the light of day. I was quite shocked by the announcement, frankly, but hope it can be a step toward more meaningful discussion. Thank you for another interesting read and for being willing to discuss the film TWDC won’t.

  • Song of the South as well as Scamp ran for years in New York’s Hispanic paper El Diario well into the 1970s after their original runs. It was great seeing that beautiful art.

  • Out of curiosity, Joe, was the Spanish translation of the strip in any particular regional dialect?

  • I hope your pup is okay, Steve!

Leave a Reply to Jay Pennington Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *