Suspended Animation #272
John “Jack” Morin Bradbury was born in Seattle, Washington on December 27th, 1914 and passed away on May 15, 2004 at the age of 89. Thanks to the kindness of my friend Dave Bennett, I met Bradbury briefly while we were standing in line waiting to go into a San Diego Comic Book Convention and we had a nice conversation. I am glad that I got a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed his work.“I first got interested in cartoons when I was in grammar school,” Bradbury revealed to Dave Bennett in 1986, “Because I liked cartooning, I started looking through all the fields. I wasn’t much interested in commercial art, but from what I had seen of the newspaper strips, I knew that was at least the direction I wanted to head.
“Then, about 1933, I saw Disney’s Three Little Pigs which was playing at the Fifth Avenue theater in Seattle. It took the whole town by storm and this opened up another area of interest for me. The entire town was going around singing the theme song.
“I heard through a friend that they were looking for new art talent at Disney’s. I wrote and sent down some of my work. They sent back an answer and said for me to come on down and take a two week tryout. Of course, they did that for everybody. They said to be sure to have enough money to take care of yourself and enough money to get back home if necessary. So I did. I had about $50.00 which was enough to get there and live on for a couple of weeks. I passed the test, and then went to work for Disney at the great high salary of $15.00 a week.”
At the age of twenty, he joined the Disney Studio and worked as an inbetweener from 1934-1938 on such cartoons as The Band Concert, Through The Mirror and even Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
He worked as Bob Wickersham’s assistant. (Wickersham’s nickname was “Wick” and he later did comic book work under the name “Bob Wick”.) Ken Hultgren, Don Lusk and Bradbury were the clean-up men for the funny animal stuff being animated by Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, and Jim Algar. Those three animators did much of the animal animation in Snow White.
“When we were getting through with that, I started doing some personal tests for animating which you could do at any time. You had to draw, do some animation, set it up and have it filmed. Then you could run it on the movieola to see how it looked. It could then be corrected, changed, whatever. I did some stuff and gave it to Ham Luske, who was then directing. He took it up to Walt Disney who approved it, and that started me animating,” Bradbury told Bennett.
Bradbury worked with Ham Luske on Ferdinand the Bull and Fantasia and always said he considered him a major influence, “I loved working for Ham. One of my real joys of being at Disney was working for Ham.”
Bradbury was soon made a full animator at the studio from 1938-1941 where he worked on several key scenes in Disney animated features, including the stag fight in Bambi, the Pegasus family gliding in to a watery landing in Fantasia, and Figaro walking across Gepetto’s bed in Pinocchio.
He also continued to produce animation for the shorts including Ferdinand the Bull (the sequence where the young bulls were fighting in the field and the scene where Ferdinand sits on the bee) and Farmyard Symphony.
“I started working on The Wind in the Willows. Jack Kinney was directing some of the sequences. I had just gotten started when the strike happened. We all went out on strike, and were out for about six or seven weeks. When it was all over, I got a telegram to come back. I came back to work for awhile, then Disney started to lay off a bunch of guys.” remembered Bradbury.
After a short time working in an aircraft factory, he worked in Friz Freleng’s unit at Warner Brothers from 1942-1944 on a variety of shorts including those featuring Bugs Bunny. In 1944, he started illustrating comic book stories featuring funny animal characters like Fremont Frog, Spencer Spook and others for ACG and also providing artwork for Bagshaw Bear, Hucky Duck and others for Nedor/Standard. He continued working for these comic book companies until around 1951-52.
This work was done as part of the Jim Davis (the animator, not the creator of Garfield) shop that utilized animators to moonlight doing comic book stories for extra money–roughly $15.00 to $25.00 a page to write, pencil and draw–and included such folks as fellow animators Al Hubbard, Hubie Karp, Bob Wickersham, Owen Fitzgerald, Ken Hultgren and Davis himself.
In 1947, Bradbury also started doing work for Western Publishing where he illustrated coloring books, activity books, big little books (Goofy in Giant Trouble), and hundreds of comic books for the Dell/Gold Key labels.
He drew practically all the Disney characters from Mickey Mouse and Goofy to Little Hiawatha, Gyro Gearloose and Li’l Bad Wolf not to mention all the Disney ducks. Bradbury also produced Disney material featuring Mickey, Goofy, the Ducks and Chip’n’Dale among others for overseas use.
As friend Mark Evanier wrote when Bradbury died, “He was the main artist on Pluto stories but could and did draw almost every animated character they published. His renderings of the Disney characters were so ‘alive’ and so faithful to the source material that Walt Disney himself reportedly told the Western editors that they didn’t need studio approval of anything that Bradbury drew.”
In addition to the Disney characters, Bradbury also drew comic books featuring the Walter Lantz stable of characters, the Warner Brothers characters and Bob Clampett’s Beany and Cecil. Yet, Bradbury never wrote any of the stories that he illustrated. His characters, while on model, could often be distinguished by looking a little taller and thinner than some other artists.
“I continued to draw for Western until about 1969. Then I started having some eye trouble. Towards the end, I was only penciling with somebody else inking the stuff. So they asked me if I would prefer just getting into the writing.
“I had never written for Disney before, except I had contributed an occasional story to Western and sold a few. I had never gone into it seriously. So I said, ‘yes’ and wrote for awhile with sort of on-and-off success. Toward the end of that time, I was getting close to retirement age, so I got to the point where I quit. I was getting tired of everything, and just stopped,” Bradbury told Bennett.
Bradbury’s eye problem was called “macula degeneration” which is basically degeneration of the retina where “the little protein spots in the center of the retina move out and your center vision goes with it”.
For too many animation and funny animal comic book fans, Bradbury is unknown and underappreciated. It was Dave Bennett who brought his work to my attention and who worked hard to give Bradbury comfort and recognition in the remaining days of his life.
For more about Bradbury’s career in comics, see this previous Cartoon Research post by Devon Baxter.
To learn even more about Bradburys career, his son created this website dedicated to his fathers work.