'Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: Volume 1' looks behind the scenes

The Library of American Comics mines some early Disney comic strip gems.

Silly Symphonies, Volume 1: The Complete Disney Classics By Earl Duvall, Al Taliaferro, Ted Osborne, Merrill DeMaris Idea & Design Works, LLC 192 pp.

The 1930s were boom years for Walt Disney. With the help of a certain mouse, Disney's animation empire grew to new heights and achievements. While there were other animated film studios, Disney was undisputed champ as moviegoers lined up to see his latest cartoon short. (Disney's first animated feature, "Snow White," didn't debut until 1937). Besides movies, the comic strip was a huge source of entertainment for the public so it was only natural that Disney's cartoon characters would expand their adventures to the printed page. Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: Volume 1 traces that development from up until 1935.

Mickey Mouse's comic strip debuted in 1930 under the masterful pen of Floyd Gottfredson to great success, leading Disney to launch another comic strip, this time based on his award-winning Silly Symphonies cartoon shorts.

The Silly Symphonies cartoons were breathtaking visual treats. They treated topics ranging from nursery rhymes to fairy tales to flights of fancy accompanied to catchy music and songs. It was a testing ground for many animation breakthroughs such as expansion to full-color Technicolor and also helped hone the Disney studio to prepare for its feature films. 

So when King Features wanted a full page of Disney Sunday comics, half being Mickey Mouse, it was decided to give Silly Symphonies the top half of the page. Translating these musical cartoons – which did not feature any consistent characters – to comic strips presented some hurdles. Many of the strips would be based, loosely to closely, on one of the cartoon shorts. And it was decided that the scripts would be written in rhyme and geared to provide morals and lessons for children. The strip also included art activities aimed at young readers.

"Silly Symphonies: Volume 1" (the first of a four-volume series) shows Disney Studio's attempts at giving the strip a recurring character, Bucky Bug, whose adventures appeared in the first two years of the comic. This continuity of strips was loosely based on the 1932 cartoon "Bugs in Love." The strip began by allowing readers to send names in for the then nameless little bug. Finally, "Bucky" was chosen.  Bucky went on to have many adventures in his bug-sized world as he courted June Bug until they at last were married and lived happily ever after. The comic became a visual treat, as the Disney artists came up with all sorts of fun man-made objects used by the bugs. Top-hat hotels, compact vanities, a hand razor plow, and sewing pin swords are just a few of the clever contraptions.

After Bucky, the strip featured some shorter-lived characters, based on some of the films. Readers were treated to a wide variety of characters and stories including mischievous young Benny Bird, love sick Peter Penguin, Detectives Tortoise and the Hare, the Gingerbread Man's adventures in Cookieland, and even a story with a very early version of Donald Duck.

The art in "Volume 1" is mostly handled by the great Al Taliaferro, who went on to create the wonderful Donald Duck comic strip which debuted in 1938. Each panel has fun expressive characters and lush colorful backgrounds. It truly showcases Taliaferro's ability to illustrate a wide variety of subjects from bugs to birds to gingerbread men.

With the IDW-The Library of American Comics label readers can be sure of a high quality presentation that carefully restores, compiles, and designs to give all these seldom seen Disney treasures a permanent collection. There's just enough text in the introduction (along with some rare poster and book art) to show readers the behind-the-scenes beginnings of the strip. Each new storyline is given a brief "bio" explaining which cartoon film it was based on and what changes were made for the comic strip version. And so thorough is this collection that even the kid activity portion of the strips from "Lucky Mickey Bucks" play money to a "Mickey Movies" optical device is included next to the comic that they originally appeared with.

Editor Dean Mullaney and his team clearly love what they do, respectfully collecting and pulling together these comic strip treasures. Their care and deep knowledge shows on every beautiful page.

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