Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, from Funny Animals #13
Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, from Funny Animals #13

Chad Grothkopf was an American comics artist and animator. He is best remembered as the creator of 'Hoppy the Marvel Bunny' (1941) for Fawcett Comics, but he also drew funny animal and superhero comics for other companies during the late 1930s and 1940s. He was co-creator of the celebrity comic 'Howdy Doody' (1950-1953), based on the popular children's TV show too. Grothkopf was also a veteran in the field of animation. His 'Willie the Worm' (1938) was the first cartoon to be broadcast on television. The artist furthermore spent a large part of his career working on animated shorts and TV series.

Howdy Doody
Howdy Doody

Charles M. Grothkopf was born in 1914 in a small farm village in Ohio. He enjoyed a very idyllic childhood in nature, not unlike something from the novels by Mark Twain. As a child he once got in trouble with the police because he and some other kids had thrown tadpole frogs in the public water through, causing the horses who drank there to become sick afterwards. He enjoyed drawing from an early age and won a scholarship at the Chicago Art Institute where he took a course in fine arts. After graduation he was selected by Paramount Pictures to become one of their junior art directors. His main job there was illustrating and designing film posters, a job he disliked. His real aspiration was to become a cartoonist. His main graphic influence was Chester Gould.

Luckily for Grothkopf he could join the Walt Disney Studios the same year and kept working for Disney until 1938. He wrote history in 1938 by creating 'Willie the Worm' (1938) for Max and Dave Fleischer's studio. This was the first animated cartoon to be created for a television broadcast, still an experimental medium at the time. NBC transmitted it on the air, but at the time few Americans owned a TV set, so few people saw it. Also in 1938, Grothkopf was most likely the artist who drew the seasonal newspaper comic strip 'Toytown Christmas', which was syndicated through the Ledger Syndicate between 28 November and 24 December 1938.

The Three Aces, from Action Comics #40 (September 1941)
The Three Aces, from Action Comics #40 (September 1941)

During the late 1930s and most of the 1940s Grothkopf was active as a comics artist for various comic book companies. He initially worked Lloyd Jacquet's Funnies Inc. packaging company, but later operated from his own cartooning studio, Grothkopf Studios. Artists affiliated with Grothkopf's studios were Bill Brady, Don Gunn, Al Jaffee, Alex Kotzky and Allen Ulmer (Grothkopf's work in cooperation with Kotzky was sometimes signed with "Grotsky"). His earliest work was done for National Periodicals/DC Comics, where he worked on Gardner Fox' 'The Sandman' (1939-1941) feature in Adventure Comics and All-Star Comics. He notably redesigned the yellow and blue costume of the character to make it look more like the uniform of a standard superhero. Grothkopf and his team were also responsible for the features 'Federal Men' (scripts by Jerry Siegel, 1940-1942) in Adventure Comics, 'Cliff Crosby' (own scripts, 1940-1942) in Detective Comics, 'Three Aces' (scripts by Gardner Fox, 1940-1942) in Action Comics and 'Radio Squad' (scripts by Jerry Siegel, 1940-1942) in More Fun Comics. He did more brief contributions to series like 'Johnny Quick' and 'Lando, Man of Magic'.

Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, from Funny Animals #2
Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, from Funny Animals #2

By 1942 Grothkopf switched to Timely (the future Marvel Comics), where he drew 'The Imp' (1942), about a tiny character who lived in a man's ear, from scripts by Stan Lee for Captain America Comics. He furthermore worked on 'Squat Car Squad' for Joker Comics made his first funny animal comics for the first issues of Timely's Krazy Comics (1942). Grothkopf further established his specialism in the genre when he began his assoccation with another company, Fawcett. Editor Ralph Daigh gave Grothkopf full artistic control over their new title, Fawcett's Funny Animals, of which the first issue appeared in December 1942. The title introduced the anthropomorphic inhabitants of Funny Animalville, including Willie the Worm, Benny the Beaver, Sherlock Monk, Gremmy the Gremlin, Fuzzy Bear, Oscar the ostrich and, most notably, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, which became Grothkopf's most well-known creation. Hoppy was a humorous counterpart to Fawcett's superhero character 'Captain Marvel' by C.C. Beck. The tiny rabbit just had to use the magic word "Shazam!" to transform into the heroic Marvel Bunny. Hoppy had a steady girlfriend, Millie, and often had to fight his enduring nemesis Captain Black Bunny (directly based on Captain Marvel's mortal enemy Black Adam).


Willie the Worm, from Funny Animals #38

Grothkopf oversaw complete production of the comic book. He wrote the plots, which were then handed to Fawcett staff writers who turned them into plots. Grothkopf then pencilled, inked and lettered most of the stories himself, although co-workers like Bill Brady and Joe Oriolo did some back-up features while "Uncle" Don Carney provided a text story. Between 1945 and 1947, fifteen issues of Hoppy's own comic book were published. Grothkopf's activities were briefly slowed down when he had to fulfill his military service, but even then he still found time to illustrate covers. By the early 1950s, Fawcett had spent years in a legal battle with DC Comics, who felt that Captain Marvel was a mere copy of their Superman character. The matter was settled in the early 1950s, but by then 'Captain Marvel Adventures' had declined in sales, prompting Fawcett to shut down its comics division in 1953. As a result, the word "Marvel" was dropped from Hoppy's universe, as was the magic word "Shazam!". The 83rd and final issue of Fawcett's Funny Animals appeared in January 1954, after which Charlton Comics continued the title for two more years. Grothkopf always looked back at his time at Fawcett as the most fun he ever had during his career.

In 1951 Grothkopf created 'Willie the Penguin' for Better Publications, but the title lasted for only six issues. In the 1950s he also illustrated juvenile books starring Paul Terry's 'Mighty Mouse'. For Treasure Book #873 Grothkopf created 'Tubby the Tuba' (1954), based on the popular stop-motion cartoon series. In 1955 he also created the winter specials 'Snowy Day Fun' and 'Santa's Helper'.


French-Canadian publication of the 'Famous Fiction' installment 'Under Two Flags' (1942)

Already during the 1940s, Grothkopf had continued to work on newspaper comics. For the Bell Syndicate he worked on 'Famous Fiction' (1942-1946), which was a continuation of J. Carroll Mansfield's feature of the same name. Grothkopf was however presumably merely the writer for many of the installments, because several strips are signed with "Barye" or "Philips". His best-known syndicated work is however 'Howdy Doody' for the United Feature Syndicate (1950-1953), based on the popular children's TV puppet show of the same name, created by E. Roger Muir. The first episode of the 'Howdy Doody' comic strip debuted on 15 October 1950. He made the series in collaboration with Disney animator Milt Neil until 3 December 1950, after which Grothkopf continued it on his own until the final episode was published on 21 June 1953. The scripts for the 'Howdy Doody' comic strip were written by Edward Kean and Stan Lee. Interesting to note is that 'Howdy Doody' was broadcast in front of a live children's audience, named the 'Peanut Gallery'. This motivated editors of Charles M. Schulz' comic strip 'Li'l Folks' to rename his series 'Peanuts', just before the first episode was published on 2 October 1950. Schulz himself was never happy with this renaming, since they never asked him about his opinion. Around the same time 'Howdy Doody' was also satirized by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder as 'Howdy Dooit' in Mad Magazine, issue #18 (December 1954).

Grothkopf was also a pioneer in television animation. In 1947 he created a series of animated advertisements to promote Esso gasoline, followed by 1948 animated commercials for North Cool Clothing and ads for Kool cigarettes between 1949 and 1950. He had more interest in animation later in life and thus he lent his talent to work on various animated TV series, including Hanna-Barbera's 'Alvin and the Chipmunks', Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson's 'Bugs Bunny' (Warner Bros), Jay Ward's 'Underdog', Paul Terry's 'Mighty Mouse' and later Amblin's 'Tiny Toon Adventures'. For many decades Grothkopf had retired from drawing comics, but in the 1980s he helped out on a few stories in DC Comics 'Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew!' (1982) series by Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw. The decision was made when Shaw had too much work on his hands as an animator for Hanna-Barbera. Grothkopf was brought in, presumably thanks to his previous experience with rabbit comics.

Grothkopf owned a small company, Chad Associates, and was also active as an art teacher. In 1994 he received an Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comicon. He passed away in 2005. One of his colleagues, Vince Fago, once said about him: "Chad was amazing. He could ink on a subway while it was going down the line."

cover for Krazy Komiks

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