First Howdy Doody strip by Chad (Grothkopf) and (Milt) Neil

Milt Neil was an American animator, toy designer, advertising artist and comics artist. He worked for Disney during the 1930s and 1940s, mostly on Donald Duck cartoons. In 1950 he and Chad Grothkopf were co-artists on 'Howdy Doody' (1950-1953), a newspaper comic based on the eponymous children's TV show. 

Early life and career
Milt Neil was born on 30 May 1914 in New Jersey. He got his artistic education at the Pratt Institute. In 1935 he joined the Walt Disney Company, where he gained the nickname "The Duck Man", since he mostly animated on Donald Duck cartoons (incidentally: Carl Barks also received this nickname because he created the best 'Donald' comic strips). Among the Donald shorts Neil worked on, were the World War II propaganda cartoons 'Der Fuehrer's Face' (1943, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short) and 'Fall Out-Fall In' (1943) and more straightforward cartoons like 'Contrary Condor' (1944), all directed by Jack King. He also directed Donald's segments in the animated feature films 'Saludos Amigos' (1942) and 'The Three Caballeros' (1944), which were both made to appeal to the Latin-American market after World War II had cut Hollywood's foreign market in Nazi-occupied Europe. The pictures also introduced Jose Carioca and Panchito, two characters who would also star in their own comic strips. Neil furthermore animated the Silly Symphony 'The Ugly Duckling', one Goofy short, 'How to Play Baseball' (1942), the Jack King short 'Defense Against Invasion' (1946), and collaborated on the animated features 'Pinocchio' (1940), 'Fantasia' (1940), 'The Reluctant Dragon' (1941), 'Dumbo' (1941) and 'Make Mine Music' (1946).

Donald Duck sketch by Milt Neil

In 1946 Neil left Disney and briefly became an animator at Walter Lantz' studio, where he worked on such shorts as 'Dig That Dog' (1954) and 'Broadway Bow Wow' (1954). Most of his post-war career during the late 1940s and 1950s was spent as a designer of children's toys for the Unique Art Manufacturing Company in Newark, New Jersey. He also redrew the two cartoon chefs Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee used by Pea Soup Andersen.

Howdy Doody
In the early 1950s he became involved with one of the earliest children's TV shows: 'Howdy Doody' (1947-1960), created by E. Roger Muir. 'Howdy Doody' was a talking marionette while the rest of the episode revolved around the interactions between a cowboy and a clown. Howdy's puppet originally had a very rough design, but Neil carved it into a more appealing form. He also designed the characters Flub-a-dub, Mr. Bluster and Dilly Dally. He furthermore convinced The Unique Art Manufacturing Company to advertise their products on the show, making him the official designer of 'Howdy Doody' products, including toys, games, clothing, cereals and... a comic strip.


Postcard for Andersen's pea soup, starring the characters Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee

The newspaper comic adaptation, 'Howdy Doody', debuted on 15 October 1950. He and Chad Grothkopf initially drew the comic together, although it is not quite sure what Neil's involvement was? Grothkopf took over on his own from 3 December on. The scripts were written by Edward Kean in cooperation with a still unknown Stan Lee. Grothkopf continued 'Howdy Doody' until 21 June 1953. Mel Crawford was one of the artists working on the 'Howdy Doody' comic book by Dell Publishing. 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).


Howdy Doody cast print

Final years and death
Neil also animated the opening and closing credits of the popular sitcom 'I Love Lucy' (1951-1960) with Lucille Ball. Later in his career he became an art teacher at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where one of his pupils was Bill White. Milt Neil expressed admiration for British comics artist Paul Trevillion whom he named "the master of movement (...) It would take a Disney artist 20 pages to produce the movement that Paul captures in one drawing."

Milt Neil passed away in 1997 at the age of 83 in Passaic, New Jersey.

Milt Neil

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