Brer Rabbit, by Tom McKimson
From: 'Uncle Remus and His Tales of Brer Rabbit' (December 1946, © Disney).

Tom McKimson was an American animator and comic artist. His brother was the famed Looney Tunes director Bob McKimson. Together with his other brother, Charles (aka "Chuck") McKimson, he worked in Bob McKimson's unit at Warner Brothers' animation studio throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Tom and Chuck also drew the 'Roy Rogers' comic strip between 1949 and 1954 and were active drawing funny animal comics for Dell Publishing.

Early life and career
Thomas J. McKimson was born in 1907 in Denver, Colorado. He was the eldest of the three McKimson brothers, Bob and Chuck, who'd later all have careers in the animation industry, often working for the same companies. McKimson's father was a newspaper publisher who owned a weekly syndicated paper in Wray, Colorado, while his mother was an artist. The brothers learned everything about drawing and publishing from their parents. The family moved around between Colorado, L.A. and Texas until finally moving back to L.A. in 1926. That same year, Tom enrolled at the University of California in L.A. to attend a commercial arts program, but left this course in favour of drawing and painting at the Otis Art Institute. In 1928 Tom and Bob McKimson illustrated a children's book, 'Mouse Tales' (1928), written by their mother.

Illustration for 'Mouse Tales'.

Animation career
In 1929 Tom McKimson became an assistant-animator at the Walt Disney Studios, thanks to an aunt who met Walt at a party and recommended Tom and Bob to him. Tom was assistant-animator to Norm Ferguson, while Bob joined up two weeks later and became assistant to Dick Lundy. The brothers only stayed there for a year, as their father went out of a job, which forced them to support their entire family. Tom and Bob saw more financial benefit at the Romer Grey Studio, which was founded by the son of famous novelist Zane Grey (whose novel series 'King of the Royal Mounted' was adapted into a comic strip by Stephen Slesinger with Allen Dean and later Charles Flanders and Jim Gary). While the salary was good, Romer lost interest in his studio and spent most of the income on personal pleasures. Soon the company closed down without ever releasing anything.

Warner Brothers animation
After leaving this scam, Tom and Bob McKimson joined Warner Brothers' brand new animation studio in 1931. Bob would stay there until the studio closed down 30 years later, making him effectively the longest-remaining employee there. Between 1937 and 1941 and again from 1946 until 1954 Chuck McKimson also joined the studio. In the late 1930s and early 1940s the McKimson brothers worked in Tex Avery and Bob Clampett's unit, mostly in charge of animation, lay-outs and model sheets. They had a reputation for being able to handle even the most complicated animation. Tom McKimson claimed to have done the character designs for Sylvester the Cat in 1945, a character created by Friz Freleng.

'Bugs Bunny's Dangerous Venture' (Four Color #123, 1946).

Looney Tunes comics
After leaving Warners, Tom McKimson became a funny animal comic artist at Western Publishing and the Dell Comics line. Between 1944 and 1949 he drew many comic stories starring Looney Tunes characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the Road Runner. He notably worked on 'Bugs Bunny' stories for the 'Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics' title, but also on longer adventure stories for the one-shots in the 'Four Color Comics' series, including 'Porky Pig's Adventure in Gopher Gulch' (#112, 1946), 'Bugs Bunny's Dangerous Venture' (#123, 1946), 'Bugs Bunny and the Haunted Mountains' (#142, 1947) and 'Bugs Bunny Finds the Frozen Kingdom' (#164, 1947). He was one of several artists who worked anonymously on the 'Bugs Bunny' newspaper comic strip (1942-1993), a task also given to Roger Armstrong, Carl Buettner, Ralph Heimdahl, Win Smith and George Storm. McKimson worked on the Sunday pages between September 1947 and 1949.

Disney comics
He also drew some of the earliest stories with Disney's 'Br'er Rabbit' for Dell's one-shot 'Uncle Remus and His Tales of Brer Rabbit' (1946), alternating with Carl Buettner. McKimson furthermore drew Disney comics for the Cheerios Premium Giveaways, such as 'Bucky Bug and the Cannibal King' (1947), 'Pluto Joins the FBI' (1947), 'Goofy - Lost in the Desert' (1947) and 'Mickey Mouse's Secret Room', all written by Chase Craig. Among McKimson's limited Disney story work for the Dell books are single stories with 'Donald Duck' and the 'Big Bad Wolf' and a handful of 'Mickey Mouse' gag pages.

'Bucky Bug and the Cannibal King' (1947).

Roy Rogers
On the side Chuck and Tom McKimson worked on the daily 'Roy Rogers' newspaper comic (1949-1953), based on the popular cowboy movie star of the same name. The comic was published between 2 December 1949 and May 1953 under the collective pseudonym "Al McKimson". This was an anagram of their names and main writer Al Stoffel (although others sources like Mark Evanier claim it referred to the McKimson brothers and artist Pete Alvarado.). There is some debate about the exact involvement of the McKimsons, and it seems to have ended in May 1953. Many of the strips signed with "Al McKimson" have however been identified as being drawn by Pete Alvarado, Hi Mankin or John Ushler. 'Roy Rogers' was distributed by King Features and often followed the same plots as the 'Roy Rogers' movie serials running in theaters. From 1954 on Phil Evans and then Carl Fallberg became the new writers, while Mike Arens drew the series under his own name until 1961.

Bugs Bunny - 'The Leaping Leemas' (Bugs Bunny #156, 1974).

Western Publishing
Between 1947 and 1972 Tom McKimson succeeded Carl Buettner as art director of Western Publishing. Sometimes McKimson drew Golden Book children's books starring the familiar Looney Tunes characters, but most of the time he left the assignments to other artists. Part of his art crew were Carl Barks, Bill Edwards, Jesse Marsh, Richard "Sparky" Moore and Dan Spiegle. In a 1992 interview conducted by Michael Mallory, Tom McKimson reflected that he always preferred drawing comics and illustrating books over animation, because he enjoyed all aspects, from drawing, over inking to lettering. He also felt that in animation each beautiful drawing only lasts on the screen for 1/24th of a second, which barely gives you time to look at it unless you freeze frame the stills.

Later comic book career
In 1972 McKimson retired as art editor, but a year later he came back as a comic artist for Western Publishing's Gold Key line, drawing Looney Tunes comics for another decade, often from scripts by Mark Evanier. In 1974 he also illustrated Walt Disney's all-star seasonal newspaper comic 'Santa's Crucial Christmas' (1974), which was written by Frank Reilly.

Final years and death
Even when he retired in 1984 Tom McKimson only gave up drawing comics. He still designed various merchandising items for Warner Brothers' animation department, including lithograph cells and clothing. The veteran passed away in 1998.

Books about Tom McKimson
For those interested in McKimson's life and career, his son Bob McKimson Jr. published a biography about his famous father and his two brothers Bob McKimson and Charles McKimson, titled: 'I Say, I Say... Son!' (2012).

'Santa's Crucial Christmas' (23 December 1974).

Series and books by Tom McKimson you can order today:


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