Roger’s Comic Ramblings: The Library of American Comics/IDW’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics

Roger Ash

Roger Ash

by Roger Ash

Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 1

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 1

The Library of American Comics and IDW recently completed their Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics volumes which collect all of the Silly Symphony comic strips. The series had never before been collected in its entirety and the four hardcovers include many strips that have not been printed since their original appearance. There’s a lot of history in these volumes. There’s the first Disney character created for comics (Bucky Bug); the first appearance of Donald Duck in comics; the first appearance anywhere of Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie; comic strip adaptations of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Bambi; work by Disney legends Al Taliaferro, Merrill De Maris, Bill Walsh, Earl Duval, Paul Murry, and others; and much more. And best of all, these strips are just plain fun.

Silly Symphony cartoons were originally a line of Disney animated shorts. They were set to music, were often based on fairy tales, and usually featured standalone stories as opposed to the continuing adventures of characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. They occasionally served as tryouts for techniques or animation styles prior to using them in animated feature films. The most famous of the Silly Symphony cartoons is The Three Little Pigs, one of the few in the series that had sequels.

The Silly Symphony comic strip begins with the adventures of Bucky Bug, a brand new character created for the strip, with art by Al Taliaferro. Bucky got into all sorts of adventures in Junkville with his girlfriend June, pal Bo, and others. The most memorable of these is War with the Flies, which features a moving story and stunning visuals. A conceit of the strip is that all the captions and dialog are in rhyme. Perhaps it felt more like music if it was written this way? Bucky would eventually move to comic book adventures, but he never became an animated star. Bucky’s star shone brightly for a while, but he is not well known today outside of Disney fans.

After the final Bucky strip, the series switched to adaptations of Silly Symphony cartoons. Sort of. While sharing the same name, these are not strict adaptations. They share some story elements but often veer off on their own storyline, making for something very different than what you see in the cartoons. A prime example of this is The Tortoise and the Hare which has next to nothing to do with the cartoon and is now a tale of mystery.

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 2

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 2

It is these adaptations that lead to Donald Duck’s first comic strip appearance. Donald first appeared on screen in the Silly Symphony cartoon The Wise Little Hen. So it comes as no surprise that Donald’s first comic strip appearance is in the adaptation of that cartoon. A few years later, Donald would take over the Silly Symphony strip for a number of months as a tryout for his own comic strip. It was during this run that we first met his sister’s three sons Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

After Donald departed for his own strip, Disney celebrated the release of their first animated feature film with an adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not only is it a first, but the art looks very different than usual as regular artist Al Taliaferro stepped aside for this tale lavishly illustrated by Hank Porter. Taliaferro would not be on the strip much after Snow White as his focus would shift to the Donald Duck daily and Sunday strips. This was a momentous change as he had been with the strip since its beginning nearly 4 years earlier.

Another major change occurred as the Silly Symphony cartoons ended and, as an obvious result, so did their adaptations. The final adaptation was a short, four week version of The Ugly Duckling. But that was far from the end of the strip. Adaptations of Pinocchio and Bambi followed as did a number of interesting strips. There’s a series of Pluto strips that are quite funny and hint at what could have happened if he had been given his own strip. Little Hiawatha, a Native American character from a Silly Symphony cartoon of the same name, took over the starring role in the strip for eight months. These are all gag strips with a recurring cast of characters including his girlfriend, his rival, and his parents. As you may guess from the name, this is not the most PC run of the comic.

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 3

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 3

The last few years of the strip featured characters that may catch modern day readers by surprise. First up is Jose (Joe) Carioca, the parrot from Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. His adventures take place in South America and he always seems to be working a scheme to get the girl, get the money, or, if possible, both. One of his adventures features a race against Panchito, the rooster from The Three Caballeros. This foreshadows things to come as the strip concludes with Panchito as its star. The strips are fun with some of my favorites centering on his relationship with his horse. While they are not characters well remembered in the US today, Jose remains popular in Brazil where he’s still featured in new comic book stories.

In a special treat for Disney fans, many of the Jose (Joe) Carioca and Panchito comics are drawn by Paul Murry, who is well-known as the artist for the popular classic Mickey and Goofy serials in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories.

All four volumes include informative essays. These help to place the strips in historical context, not only as to what was going on in the country and the world, but also how they fit into what was happening at the Walt Disney Studios. The reproduction of the strips is wonderful with art coming from the Walt Disney Archives and new coloring based on the original publication notes.

I really enjoyed these four volumes. I knew Taliaferro’s Duck strips from reprints in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories and loved them long before I knew his name. His work has been overshadowed by Carl Barks’ comic book stories and I’ve always thought it was a shame that he never got his time in the spotlight. That’s changing some with these collections and the collections of the Donald Duck daily and Sunday strips. It’s a real treat to see his early Duck strips here as well as so much more. The first two collections, plus a bit of the third, are a testament to his talents as an artist.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Bucky Bug strips. I read some of his comic book adventures in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories as a kid and found them a bit too saccharine for my taste. But here the stories have an edge that I don’t recall from those tales. Yes, they have their sticky sweet moments, but there’s also action, adventure, and at times, a real sense of danger.

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 4

Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: The Sunday Newspaper Comics Vol. 4

As a Disney fan it was a real treat to get to read these comics, many of which have never been reprinted. Discovering something from Disney that’s new to me is always exciting. Yes, some of the material is dated, but much of it holds up very well. It’s also an excellent look at what was going on at Disney in the ‘30s and ‘40s. So congratulations to The Library of American Comics and IDW for bringing this part of Disney history to modern audiences in such beautiful and informative collections.



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