MOONLIGHTING ANIMATORS IN COMICS: Marty Taras (Part 1)
Marty Taras started his animation career as an in-betweener at Van Beuren Studios. By 1935, Taras was an assistant animator, in the midst of union organization, due to mistreatment of his fellow workers—particularly disputes over unpaid weekends and overtime. He left Van Beuren and went to work for Max Fleischer’s studio. However, like the few animators who joined along with him, Taras was forced to accept a lower position and salary, and was demoted back to in-betweener.Fleischer’s studio also warranted labor unrest; by 1937, an in-betweener’s pay averaged $24.45, compared to a full animator’s $90.80 a week. As a practical joke, Taras gave one of his co-workers a “hot foot”, which was seen as a fire hazard by management, given the volatile nitrate in animation cels. The incident was reported and Taras was fired the next day—something he and his colleagues felt was due to his union activities. That summer, he moved to Paul Terry’s studio, either as an in-betweener or assistant animator.
Shortly after, Terry became desperate for new artists, after several animators such as Joe Barbera, Jack Zander, Dan and George Gordon left for the West Coast. According to animator Cliff “Red” Auguston, who started as an assistant animator around this period, it took six months until he was promoted to full animator—it’s probable that Taras, and the other artists who worked alongside him, including John Gentilella, rose to this position in the same amount of time.
Taras continued animating for Terry in the early 1940s, when the average rate for an animator was $95 a week, while other studios paid higher wages up to $150 to $500. In 1943, the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild of Hollywood sent union organizers to New York to initiate an organization in the East Coast. The next year, after violating the Wagner Act (which addressed the relations between unions and employers) by firing animators John Gentilella and Gordon Whittier for union activities, Terry signed a contract. However, Terry decided to fire many of his key artists to rectify the additional cost of the union contract in September 1944—Taras was one of them.He was directly hired by Paramount’s Famous Studios, at first animating for Graham Place’s unit on the Popeye and Little Lulu cartoons. Taras shifted to Dave Tendlar’s unit in the mid-‘40s, where he became one of his mainstay animators.
In between his move from Terry to Famous, Taras began drawing “funny animal” stories, primarily for Jason Comic Art (JCA), run by publisher Edward Jason. Taras’ vitality in his drawing, composition and inking also supplanted into front covers and stories by Parents’ Magazine Institute’s Calling All Kids and Alfred Harvey (Clown Comics and Nutty Comics), before the latter’s company acquired the Famous characters.
Here’s a reel of Taras’ animation from Terry, Famous Studios and a few of scenes from Ralph Bakshi’s 1970s features Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. Examples of his unique style of animating dialogue, violent action and a few select scenes with curvaceous female characters (Carmen’s Veranda, Of Mice and Magic and Ants in Your Pantry) are presented here.
And here are samples of his 1940s comic book work, before his affiliation with drawing the Paramount characters for St. John and Harvey. Taras’ comic book work during that period is pretty vast, and choosing different comic book stories with different characters wouldn’t fit in this one post. Therefore, the subject, that also includes the origins of Baby Huey, will be split into a separate column. It will be published a week after the special holiday post I’ve prepared for this year—keep an eye out for it…
• Buddy Beaver—Nutty Comics #4 (May-June 1946).
• Frosty and Gabbie—Frisky Fables #8 (August 1946).
• B. Fuddle—Clown Comics #3 (Winter 1946).
• “Flip-Flap and the Crying Hyena”—Calling All Kids #7 (February 1947).
• Chucky and Bob—Frisky Fables #26 (February 1948).
• “Paddy Penguin Listens Too Long”—Calling All Kids #22 (December 1948).
(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Milton Knight, Charlie Judkins, Thad Komorowski, Nick Richie, Tom Sito, and Harvey Deneroff for their help.)