For decades, Italian comics historian Alberto Becattini has been researching and writing about American funny animal comics. In this first volume of his two-part opus, Becattini presents the fruits of his labors, the definitive guide for funny animal fans, collectors, and historians alike.
Becattini examines the funny animal phenomenon, starting from its origins in popular and children’s literature, and continuing through its appearances in newspaper comics, comic books, and comic magazines.
All of the more famous characters are included, such as those created at Disney, Lantz, Warner Bros., MGM, and other cartoon studios, as well as the many lesser-known characters that appeared in obscure comic book titles issued by equally obscure comic book publishers.
During the writing process, and while viewing thousands of comic strips and comic pages, Becattini had many discoveries and “epiphanies” that let him shed light on the identities of hitherto uncredited artists and writers. While his aim has been to highlight the talent behind the comics, rather than the stories and characters themselves, he also provides in-depth coverage of virtually every funny animal comic book, illustration, and animated cartoon.
A must-have title for any serious funny animal fan!
Chapter 1: Genesis and Early Development
Chapter 2: Black-and-White-Faced Multimedia Characters
Chapter 3: Disney Beyond Mickey
Chapter 4: Major Fun at DC Comics
Chapter 5: Western Printing: the Fun Factory
Chapter 6: MGM: Home of Tom and Jerry
Chapter 7: Walter, Woody & Co.
Chapter 8: Warner Bros and the Art of Laughter
Chapter 9: The Rise and Fall of the Sangor Shop
Chapter 10: Marvel-ously Funny
It was a mailbox which gave me a sense of the power of American comic books. When I first visited the United States with my parents in 1984, I had just turned thirteen and the French teenager that I was could not believe his eyes: those odd mailboxes that I had seen in Disney comics really existed! By landing in the US I had just stepped into Mickey Mouse’s universe. In other words, it was through American funny animal comics that I first became exposed to American culture and the impression it left on my mind was an indelible one. So much so, that when my wife and I relocated to Florida five years ago I felt as if I had finally come home.
I had to wait more than thirty years to finally read in book form an in-depth history of those Disney comics that I loved, thanks to Alberto Becattini’s magnum opus Disney Comics: The Whole Story (Theme Park Press, 2016). While devouring that book, and while conducting my own research on the artists who had worked on the Disney shorts of the Golden Age, however, it dawned on me that Disney Comics was only part of the story. Many of the Disney artists who had left the studio in the 1930s and 1940s had later become comic-book artists. I wanted to learn more about their post-animation careers, including the comic books they had created involving non-Disney characters. I also had a nagging sense that I could not properly understand the history of Disney comics without also being exposed to the history of American comic books, especially American funny animal comic books.
What I did not expect was for Alberto to tackle two such massive tasks and to do it so soon after writing Disney Comics.
Comics are an integral part of European culture: you find them in high-end bookstores and in the best libraries. You find them in kids’ rooms but also in the rooms of grown-up intellectuals. If you exclude Disney comics, however, they are often French, Belgian, or Italian comics. By tackling the history of American funny animal comics, Alberto opened a brand-new universe to me: a fascinating universe and one that I am planning to revisit again and again. And after reading this book, I am convinced that you will, too.
Right after I finished writing my previous book, Disney Comics: The Whole Story, I knew I wanted to write another book that would be somehow connected with it, a book that was to deal with one of my all-time passions—funny animal comics. Although I have never really cared for humorous comics as a whole, I have always loved those whose characters are derived from animated cartoons, or that have, anyway, an “animated” quality about them. I am, of course, referring to the Golden Age of animated cartoons, from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s, which was also the Golden Age of funny animal comics, as many of those who wrote and drew those comics were the same who provided scripts, gags, and animation for the shorts and features at the various Hollywood and New York studios.
Once again, my aim when writing this book has been to highlight the talent behind the stories, rather than the stories and characters themselves. When I started out I knew that covering such a vast sub-genre would be quite a task, but as I proceeded leafing through hundreds of pages and comic titles I realized it was going to be an almost herculean enterprise—for me, at least. As much as I had been researching this particular comic field for decades, I soon realized that I still had a whole lot to learn about it. It was a long, time-consuming, toilsome task, which nevertheless allowed me to take an exciting trip through a myriad of color and black-and-white pages I was not familiar with yet, and to make quite a few discoveries, too. I had the pleasure to discover works I had not seen before by some of my favorite artists—Harvey Eisenberg, Phil de Lara, Connie Rasinski, and Marty Taras, among them; and I first met characters and authors whose existence I had hitherto ignored, learning to appreciate them.
The writing proceeded parallel with the research, but two big questions soon came to mind: how could I possibly arrange this enormous body of information in a coherent and cohesive way? And since I realized I would have to make a selection, how would I select what to include in the book, and what not to? Eventually, I chose a mixed approach, both chronological and thematic, starting from the very origins of the funny animal genre, then going on by writing about the earliest funny animal newspaper strips, followed by the first few animated characters that made the transition to comics—or vice-versa. Then I thought it necessary to dedicate separate chapters to funny animal comics or “animated” comics by the animation studios or outstanding publishers where they originated. Then proceeding by decades, according with the many developments and changes this sub-genre went through, and ultimately reaching the year 2000, coherently with the title of my book, which reads American Funny Animals in the 20th Century—although you will also find many references to the late 19th and early 21st century in it.
I know that some readers will look at the index even before starting to read the book, seeking specific titles and characters, and will be disappointed not to find some of them. As much as I hate to leave out things, I had to. And I decided that I would adopt three main criteria for choosing the features that would eventually end up in the book. First, the animal character or feature had to have originated in the U.S., or in Canada (if being published in the U.S. as well); second, the name of the animal character would have to be part of the title of a newspaper strip or comic-book series; and third, whether the animal character was anthropomorphic or not, it would have to be funny. I am saying this because there have recently been several animal-based series which, although they are cleverly written and beautifully drawn, simply do not look funny at all to me. So—sorry, but you will not find any such characters as Steven Gallacci’s Erma Felna or Art Spiegelman’s Maus, as captivating and important they may be in their own right.
On the other hand, I think I have included all of the historically important characters and features, independent of their quality. You will read about some that I will have no problems defining as mediocre, to say the least. And yet, they deserve being here because they are nevertheless a testimony of the age in which they were created. Another choice I made was not to discuss non-animal animation-based comic features, or non-animated funny animals (i.e., which originated in live-action movies or puppet shows). So—sorry, but you will not find any paragraphs about The Flintstones, or The Muppets, or The Banana Splits—although I have sometimes made reference to them, in connection with orthodox funny animal features. And, to tell the truth, I have also made a couple of exceptions to this rule—I just could not resist.
This said, I think you will agree with me when I affirm that the scope and extension of this book, and its forthcoming second volume, are impressive enough—as you will see for yourselves, I guess. In fact, I suppose that these books probably will be remembered as “Alberto’s folly.” I certainly know what writing them cost me. So, please, read it a bit at a time, metabolize what you have read, and then tackle another paragraph or two of its chock-full-of-information chapters. Whereas I do hope you will find all of them equally interesting, I myself am aware that some chapters may read better than others, simply because I was more inspired when I wrote them, or because my heart was more in them than it was in others. Whatever the case, let these books serve as a guide, and possibly as an incitement to reading at least part of those wonderful stories. Enjoy!
Born in Florence, Italy, Alberto Becattini is a high-school teacher of English who has been writing about comics, illustration, and animation for over forty years. He has been a contributor to Italian Disney publications since 1992, and has also written for Alter Ego, Comic Book Artist, Comic Book Marketplace, and Walt’s People, among others. An indexer for the Grand Comics Database and the I.N.D.U.C.K.S. project, he has written books about Dan Barry, Milton Caniff, Giovan Battista Carpi, Floyd Gottfredson, Bob Lubbers, Alex Raymond, Romano Scarpa, Alex Toth, Matt Baker, and Dan Barry.