Mickey Mouse, by Earl Duvall
First Mickey Mouse Sunday comic, pencilled by Earl Duvall (10 January 1932) - © Disney

Earl Duvall was an American animator who worked for the Walt Disney Studios and Warner Brothers' animation department during the early 1930s. At Warners he also directed a five animated shorts. As a comics artist Duvall worked on various Disney newspaper strips, including Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse' and, together with Al Taliaferro, the 'Silly Symphonies' comic strip, which made a star out of Bucky Bug.


'A Christmas Adventure' by Earl Duvall and Bob Pilgrim in the Akron Beacon Journal (20 December 1929)

Earl Duvall was born in 1898 in Washington D.C. At the age of 14 he became a page for Senator Joseph Weldon Baily of Texas. During World War I he served in the US Army at Hazelhurst Field, Minealo, New York. He started his career as a newspaper cartoonist for The New York World, The Washington Times and The Washington Post, as well as the Bell Syndicate. In December 1929 he worked with Bob Pilgrim on Paramount Syndicate's seasonal 'A Christmas Adventure' strip, which ran in several local newspapers like the Akron Beacon Journal from Akron, Ohio.


Mickey Mouse vs. Kat Nipp (13 February 1931), pencils by Duvall. © Disney

By 1930 he joined the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California, where he worked as a gag writer and a lay-out artist in their animation department. He was put to work on Disney's comics production too, where he was one of Floyd Gottfredson's inkers on the 'Mickey Mouse' comic strip for King Features Syndicate in 1930 and 1931. In this activity, he was preceded by Hardie Gramatky (1930) and Roy Nelson (1930), and succeeded by Al Taliaferro (1931-1932, 1936-1937), Ted Thwaites (1932-1940), Bill Wright (1938-1943, 1946-1947) and Dick Moores (1943-1946), after which Gottfredson started inking the strips himself in 1947. Although Duvall was mainly an inker, he regulary filled in as penciller on the strip, most notably on the 'Mickey Mouse Vs. Kat Nipp' storyline (19 January 1931 until 25 February 1931) and the very first 'Mickey Mouse' Sunday strip on 10 January 1932. He also did pencils for 'Mickey Mouse' coloring books and games. Duvall became a full-time staff artist in July 1931. Together with Al Taliaferro he was responsible for drawing the first episodes of 'Silly Symphonies', a newspaper comic strip based on all animated shorts that didn't star Mickey in those days. It debuted on 10 January 1932 as a weekly colour page published on Sundays.

Bucky Bug and Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro
A readers' contest was organized to come up with a name for the young bug, on 24 January 1932. © Disney

Oddly enough, the first 'Silly Symphony' comic to debut on that day wasn't an adaptation of a pre-existing animated short at all. 'Bucky Bug' was a completely original creation by Duvall and Taliaferro. The little bug was not only the first Disney character to debut in the comics, before being adapted into an animated cartoon: he was also one of the first besides Mickey to receive his own long-running series. In fact, Bucky Bug only appeared on the big screen once(!): in Burt Gillet's 'Silly Symphonies' short, 'Bugs in Love' (1932), which premiered nearly 10 months later on 10 October 1932. 'Bugs in Love' was also the final 'Silly Symphony' to be shot in black-and-white. 'Bucky Bug' is a funny animal series set in nature. All action is presented from the point-of-view of insects and other invertebrates. The series started as a "coming of age" feature. Young Bucky was born as the only son in a family with sixteen daughters, got his name throught a readers' contest and then heads out into the world. He eventually settles in a town composed of human garbage: old shoes, rubble, flower pots... fittingly titled "Junktown". Bucky marries June, the daughter of the Mayor. His best friend is Bo Bug, a hobo in a high hat who functions as his sidekick. Other recurring characters are Junior Bug, June's sister, and the old and wise Bootle Beetle.

Bucky Bug by Earl Duvall
Bucky Bug, 10 April 1932. © Disney

The concept of anthropomorphic bugs living in their own miniature town was not new. Several cartoonists had played with the idea earlier on, most notably Gus Dirks with his 'Bugville Life' (1898) and 'Latest News from Bugville' (1900-1902). Dirks was followed by Morton Thayer ('Bugville' for the NEA Syndicate, 1905), Paul Bransom ('Bugtown Budget' for the Boston Traveler, 1909), Percy Crosby ('Bugville' for the New York World, 1912-1914) and Leon Searl ('Bugs Will Be Bugs', 'Bugville Closeups' and 'The Bugville Newsreel' for the New York American, 1917). From 1943 onwards, Disney's 'Bucky Bug' became a character in Western Publishing's Disney comic books, with Carl Buettner, Vivie Risto and Ralph Heimdahl as prominent artists. The character has since been featured in many newspapers and Disney magazines worldwide, and especially in the Netherlands new stories are produced to this day. Only in the American version did the characters speak in rhyme though. Duvall introduced this gimmick as a link to the musical nature of the animated 'Silly Symphonies' shorts. Translators found it too difficult to keep this up and therefore just translated the sentences normally. 'Bucky Bug' starred in the 'Silly Symphonies' feature until 4 March 1934. Although Duvall had by then already left the studios.

Bucky Bug by Al Taliaferro and Earl Duvall
Introduction of Junkville (19 June 1932). © Disney

Duvall was the writer and main artist on 'Silly Symphonies', while Taliaferro provided the inking. He handed over the art duties to Taliaferro in mid 1932, but continued to do the scriptwork. Yet in early 1933 he left to join the still brand new animation studio of Warner Brothers, taking his colleague Tom Palmer with him. The 'Silly Symphonies' series was continued by Taliaferro, with Ted Osborne as head writer. Meanwhile Duvall and Palmer became animation directors at Warners. Their cartoon department was still in its infancy at the time and lacked actual stars who could rival Mickey Mouse. They had one before, Bosko, but when the animators who created him, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, left Warners they took the rights to the character with them. Earl Duvall and Palmer were asked to design a new cartoon character and in 1933 they came up with Buddy, which was basically Bosko again but with a white face rather than a black one. The character was later redesigned again by Friz Freleng. Palmer directed two Buddy shorts, after which he left the studio again. This made Duvall the new main director.

Duvall directed five cartoons for Warners, most of them starring Buddy. One of these, 'Honeymoon Hotel' (1934), was the studio's first animated film in colour. Unfortunately he once got drunk and started arguing with the head of the studio, Leon Schlesinger. He was instantly fired and replaced by Friz Freleng. Around the same time another former Disney animator, Jack King, briefly joined the studio making it unnecessary to keep Duvall around any longer. He then spent some time in Ub Iwerks' independent studio, then returned to Disney for a short while, after which he retired. Earl Duvall passed away in 1969 at the age of 70.

Earl Duvall's run on the 'Bucky Bug' feature is collected in the first volume of IDW's 'Silly Symphonies' collection, which appeared in 2016.

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