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.”
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.
In 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.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.
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:
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.• “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.
(Thanks to Dave Gerstein, Michael Barrier, Thad Komorowski, and Matt Yorston for their help.)