Earl Hurd was a pioneer in animation, and the patented inventor of cel animation. He worked for various cartoon studios, namely those of J.R. Bray, Paul Terry, Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney, but was also active as a newspaper comics artist. He was born as Earl Oscar Hurd in 1880 in Kansas City, Missouri as son of a grocer. He published his first comics in the Kansas City Post, before moving to New York City. In 1904 he could also be read in the Chicago Journal. In 1911 he drew two strips: 'Trials of Elder Mouse' (1911-1915) for the Evening Telegram and 'Brick Bodkin's Pa' (1912) for The New York Herald.
Between 1915 and 1918 Hurd worked for J.R. Bray's cartoon studio, where he created the animated series 'Bobby Bumps' (1915-1925). The series dealt with a little boy, Bobby, and his dog, Fido, who frequently got involved in all kinds of mayhem. The style of the cartoons was inspired by Richard F. Outcault's newspaper comic 'Buster Brown', which featured similar protagonists. 'Bobby Bumps' is completely forgotten today, but still holds historical significance for pioneering cel animation. Up to that point animators had been forced to redraw every character and background over and over again for each film frame. Hurd got the idea of drawing the characters on a clear sheet of celluloid. He placed them over still backgrounds, which were then photographed. Since it wasn't really necessary to redraw backgrounds all the time - after all they remained the same during each individual scene - all energy could now be spent on the characters. Cel animation saved a lot of time and revolutionized the still young medium. Until the rise of CGI in the 1990s nearly all cartoons made use of it. Yet at the time Bray failed to realize the potential of this invention. By the time he tried to patent it Hurd had already beat him to it.
In 1917 Hurd was drafted into the U.S. army and served during the First World War. Back in civilian life he worked for Paul Terry's studio for a year, then rejoined Bray for another year. In 1923 he got the bold idea to start his own animation studio. The Earl Hurd Productions unfortunately weren't a success and in 1925 he had to close his studio down. He returned to Bray once more, but in 1927 he left the animation industry for a few years. During this period he created a comic about a not too bright flapper girl, 'Susie Sunshine' (1927-1929). The series was published in The New York Evening Graphic and distributed by King Features at first, before the Graphic Syndicate took it over. In 1929 Hurd left the comic to Al Zere, who continued it until 1931, after which Dick Richards took over. Richards renamed it 'The Boomers' a year later. In 1934 he passed the torch to Ben Batsford who'd continue the series until 1938. It did change its name twice again, though, namely in 'The Doodle Family' and later 'Frankie Doodle'.
Between September and October 1929 Hurd also drew a series of comic strips which poked fun at current events. They had different titles each day and lacked recurring characters. One of them starred then U.S. President Herbert Hoover. This lack of a proper way to identify the comic might explain why it failed to catch on with readers. During the early 1930s Hurd went back into animation and worked for Ub Iwerks. Iwerks was originally Walt Disney's top animator, but left and started his own studio in 1930. At first Hurd believed that the success of Disney relied on Iwerks, but it turned out to be the other way around. He left Iwerks for Disney in 1934, where he worked as an animator on the 'Mickey Mouse' short 'Two-Gun Mickey' (1934) and wrote storylines for the Silly Symphony 'Elmer Elephant' (1936) and four Pluto cartoons : 'Mother Pluto' (1936), 'Pluto's Quin-puplets' (1937), 'Pantry Pirate' (1940) and 'Pluto's Playmate' (1941). He furthermore collaborated on animated features like 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' (1937) and 'Fantasia' (1940). Earl Hurd passed away in 1940.