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‘Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies 1932-1935: Starring Bucky Bug and Donald Duck’ (review)

Written by Ted Osborne,
Merrill De Maris, Earl Duvall

Art by Al Taliaferro, Earl Duvall
Published by Fantagraphics

 

Surprisingly, Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies cartoons are nowhere near as well-known today as Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies, both of which were named as spoofs of the once-successful Disney product.

Part of the reason for that is likely the fact that the Disney animated shorts—handsome as they were—never had continuing characters. Oh, sure, Uncle Walt had Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto but they weren’t Silly Symphonies. They all had their own series and guest-starred back and forth in each other’s. Over at Termite Terrace, though, Porky, Daffy, Bugs, and latecomers such as Foghorn Leghorn all continued under the LT&MM series title.

One thing that made the 1930s newspaper version of Silly Symphonies different from its theatrical inspiration is that it DID develop a continuing character—Bucky Bug! In fact, with the exception of one cartoon, Bucky—much like Scrooge McDuck for decades—only ever appeared in comics!

Bucky’s Silly Symphonies print adventures lasted a couple of years in the newspapers and are the highlight of this new collection. Told in rhyme, Bucky is sort of a Depression-era Horatio Alger character. We follow him from birth as he strives to make his way in the world, traveling with hobos, making friends and enemies, fighting in a war, finding romance, and eventually settling down.

Credited here to writers Earl Duvall, Ted Osborne, and Merrill De Maris with art from Duvall and Al Taliaferro, the Bucky Bug strips are fun, stylish, cleverly written, and uniformly well-drawn. But they aren’t the only strips in this collection. As with its film counterpart, the Sunday Silly Symphonies was an anthology and, in March of 1934, a new continuity began, this one expanding on a pre-existing cartoon.

Birds of a Feather offered another rhyming storyline in which we meet three little birdies, one of whom is a tad offbeat. This lasted only a few months, with a Surprise Sunday appearance by Mickey Mouse filling a gap before the next storyline, Penguin Isle, again inspired by a cartoon.

It’s the next one, though, that gets remembered. Written by Ted Osborne and drawn by Al Taliaferro, The Wise Little Hen introduces the one and only Donald Duck, albeit a very different Donald than either the hapless Carl Barks comics version or the perpetually exasperated and incomprehensible animated version.

A couple more stories follow, reprinting the strip through July of 1935. The book is rounded out with a reprinted 75th anniversary Bucky Bug comic book tale. All in all, a typically impressive collection from Fantagraphics highlighting some impressive little-seen early Disney comics.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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