'Penguin Pete', from Popular Comics #50.

Win Smith was a Canadian-American animator and comic artist, best remembered for being the second artist to draw the 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper comic, which he did between February and May 1930. At Dell Comics, he was the creator of 'Penguin Pete' and 'Looney Luke', and also one of the first artists to draw comic book stories based on 'Bugs Bunny'.

Early life and career
Winfield Frank Smith was born in 1887 in Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada. His father was a watchmaker who later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. As an adult Smith settled in Santa Ana, California, and had himself naturalized as a U.S. citizen. During the First World War he was drafted. Back in civilian life he worked as a self-employed jeweler, advertising illustrator and newspaper cartoonist and moved to Santa Monica, California. There he found a job as an animator at the Walt Disney Company. Diane Disney Miller once claimed that Win Smith was the inventor of the storyboard, but she confused him with another Disney employee: Webb Smith.

Mickey Mouse by Win Smith
'Mickey Mouse' (25 April 1930).

Mickey Mouse newspaper comic
Mickey Mouse was already a global sensation since 1928, when Walt Disney and his top animator Ub Iwerks launched a 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper comic on 13 January 1930. The first story, 'Lost on a Desert Island', was scripted by Disney himself, while Iwerks drew the episodes and Win Smith providing inking. As everyone expected, the comic was instantly popular and, thanks to the King Features Syndicate, easily found distribution all over the planet. But Iwerks had a fall-out with Disney and left the company that same year, leaving the 'Mickey' comic in the hands of Smith from 8-10 February 1930 on. Smith completed the first story, while Floyd Gottfredson and Jack King assisted and inked. They started a second story on 1 April, 'Mickey Mouse in Death Valley'. Interviewed by Don Peri, Gottfredson recalled that Win Smith drew with his right hand, but wrote with his left.

Mickey Mouse by Win Smith
'Mickey Mouse' (3 May 1930).

Around this time Walt Disney became too preoccupied with his animation studio to keep an eye on the comic strip. He wanted a reliable cartoonist who could write all new episodes too, so he could leave it all in safe hands. Smith was asked to be that person, but refused. History has not recorded his motivation. Either he felt he lacked the inspiration or energy or he just didn't want to do it? What is certain is that Smith was already 42 at that point, while Disney was 27 and strongly pressuring him to obey his orders. Gottfredson recalled that Disney once called Smith to his office where they had a showdown: "In about a half hour, Win came storming out to my desk and said, 'It looks like you got a new job.' I said, 'Why is this?' He said, 'No young whippersnapper is going to tell me what to do,' and he walked out of the studio into oblivion."

Indeed, from 17 May on, Gottfredson succeeded Smith as the new 'Mickey' lead cartoonist, though they assured him that it would only be a "temporary fill-in job". Other artists filled in on episodes as well, such as Jack King, Hardie Gramatky and Roy Nelson. But as it turned out, Gottfredson was actually the perfect candidate, because he was equally talented in both writing, drawing and inking. So, in an ironic fashion, he would continue the series for the next four decades!

Bosko, by Win Smith

Meanwhile Iwerks had established his own animation studio. Smith worked for him and in 1931 made a newspaper comic around his character 'Flip the Frog'. Yet Iwerks' cartoons were never a huge success, so the comic strip didn't catch on either.

Warner Bros.
Smith now joined the brand new animation studio at Warner Brothers, founded by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising. In the early 1930s, Warners launched several animated series, such as 'Bosko' (1929-1933), which was adapted into a newspaper comic version in 1934. The comic strip was credited to Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, but was actually drawn by Robert Allen and later Win Smith. The top of the page was typically a story starring Bosko, while at the bottom one smaller comic strip could be read, usually a drawing lesson under the title 'How to Draw Animated Cartoon Characters'. Interestingly enough the comic followed the text comics format, with narration written underneath the images. The first 66 episodes were stand alone gags, which then evolved into a serialized story under the title 'Bosko on Cannibal Isle'.

Comic books
By the end of the decade Warners finally had real cartoon stars with Daffy Duck (1937) and Bugs Bunny (1940), both created by Tex Avery. In 1941, when Avery left Warners, producer Leon Schlesinger licensed Western Publishing to launch comics based on the Looney Tunes characters. Smith had been a comic book artist for Western's Dell Comics line since 1939, drawing and creating the funny animal feature 'Penguin Pete' (1939-1940, a.k.a. 'Penguin Pete and his Pal Pudgie' or 'Pete and Pudgie') for Popular Comics and The Funnies. He also drew stories with 'The O'Malley Kids' in Super Comics and 'Times Marches Back with Looney Luke' in Crackajack Funnies. In the first issue of 'Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics' (Dell, 1941), Smith wrote and drew an eight-page 'Bugs Bunny' story and another story, 'Cannibalism and a Roonga', lacking the familiar Looney Tunes characters. Instead the heroes were 'Pat, Patsy and Pete', two kids who travelled the world with a talking penguin, in fact the same Pete from Smith's earlier stories. The feature was later continued by Walt Kelly. As 'Pat, Patsy and Pete' were his own creation, Smith's feature was the only one properly signed in the 'Looney Tunes' comic books.

Walter Lantz
For Walter Lantz' animation studio Smith was furthermore a storyman for 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit' cartoons. The character was originally created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks in 1928, but then snatched away from them by producer Charles Mintz, who later sold the rights to Lantz.

Win Smith passed away in 1941 in Los Angeles, California. At the time of his death he was a drawing teacher at Phoenix High School.

'Looney Luke' from Crackajack Comics #23.

Series and books by Win Smith in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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