Donald Duck, by Taliaferro
'Donald Duck' (Sunday, 13 September 1942) - © Disney.

Al Taliaferro was an American newspaper comic artist, and a pioneer in Disney comics. Taliaferro originally adapted some of the company's animated shorts into newspaper comics, but gained more importance when he created long-running features about individual Disney characters. Taliaferro was the first artist to transform 'Bucky Bug' and 'The Three Little Pigs' into a comic strip. He was also the first artist to create a comic strip around Donald Duck, which remains his most significant contribution. In 1937, Taliaferro launched a newspaper gag comic starring Donald, scripted by Bob Karp. The short-tempered duck rose into a popular comic star, even surpassing Mickey Mouse in terms of international distribution and sales. Classic 'Donald Duck' gags by Taliaferro are still reprinted in Disney magazines worldwide. Taliaferro and his writers also created several characters still used by Disney artists today. Among them Donald's girlfriend Daisy Duck, his relative Grandma Duck, her lazy gluttonous servant Gus Goose, the nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey and Donald's St. Bernhard dog Bolivar. He also created Donald's iconic red car. Contrary to popular thought, some of these side characters even debuted in Taliaferro's comics before they appeared on the big screen. As such, Al Taliaferro remains one of the "Big Three" in 'Donald Duck' comics, along with Carl Barks and Don Rosa. But none of the latter would have gained that status without his important pioneer work.

Later-day Mickey Mouse strip inked and presumably also pencilled by Taliaferro (30 January 1938)
Later-day Mickey Mouse strip inked and presumably also pencilled by Taliaferro (30 January 1938) - © Disney.

Early life and career
Charles Alfred Taliaferro was born in 1905 in Montrose, Colorado, into an Italian-American family. The Taliaferros moved to Glendale in Southern California in 1918. He studied at the Art Institute of Los Angeles and initially worked as a designer for a lighting fixture firm.

Mickey Mouse
In January 1931, Taliaferro was hired by the Walt Disney Studios to work in their comics department, at the time mostly a vehicle for Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper strip. One of his first jobs was inking Gottfredson's drawings. Taliaferro's slick and clean inking line appeared on a model sheet featuring 'Mickey Mouse'. This model sheet showing Mickey in several poses is still used by Disney artists today.

Silly Symphonies
In the early 1930s, Mickey Mouse was Disney's only real star. However, Walt Disney had launched another animated series in 1929, titled 'Silly Symphonies'. These were one-shot animated cartoons based on fables, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, novels and classical musical pieces. Others were stories about anthropomorphic characters created by the Disney studio itself. Since none of them starred Mickey and all were basically mood pieces, the 'Silly Symphonies' were lukewarm received. To help viewers warm up to them, a newspaper comic version was launched on 10 January 1932. The 'Silly Symphonies' comic (1932-1939) debuted as a weekly colour feature published on Sundays. The original writer and artist was Earl Duvall, while Taliaferro inked his drawings. From 1933 on, Taliaferro became a penciller too, since Duvall left Disney to join Warner Brothers. Ted Osborne succeeded Duvall as writer, sometimes alternating with Merrill De Maris.

Bucky Bug by Al Taliaferro
'The War with the Flies' (1932-33) was one of the most memorable 'Bucky Bug' storylines during Taliaferro's run on the feature, featuring some of the most inventive uses of recycling by the Junkville inhabitants. © Disney.

Bucky Bug
Oddly enough, the first 'Silly Symphony' comic wasn't an adaptation of a pre-existing animated short. 'Bucky Bug' debuted as a comic series on 10 January 1932, literally 10 months before the cartoon 'Bugs In Love' premiered on 10 October 1932. Bucky was a completely original creation by Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro. 'Bucky Bug' is a funny animal series set in nature. All action is presented from the point-of-view of insects and other invertebrates. The series started as a "coming of age" feature. Young Bucky is born as the only son in a family with sixteen daughters. Through a readers' contest, he received his name. The insect eventually settles in a town composed of human garbage: old shoes, rubble, flower pots..., fittingly titled "Junktown". Bucky marries June, the daughter of the Mayor. His best friend and sidekick is Bo Bug, a hobo in a high hat. Other recurring characters are Junior Bug, June's sister, and the old and wise Bootle Beetle.

After Mickey Mouse, Bucky Bug was the first Disney cartoon character to star in his own comic series. He was also the first Disney character to originate in a comic strip before being adapted to the screen. The short 'Bucky Bug' (1932), directed by Burt Gillet, was even his only film appearance. Since it was the final black-and-white Silly Symphony short before the Disney company switched to color cartoons, the 'Bucky Bug' comics had the additional novelty of portraying the character in color.  Between 10 January 1932 and 4 March 1934, Bucky was a regular appearance in the 'Silly Symphony' comic feature. 'Bucky Bug' was also a regular feature in Western Publishing's Disney comic books, with Carl Buettner, Vivie Risto and Ralph Heimdahl as prominent artists. In the original English-language version, Bucky and other characters speak in rhyme. In foreign editions, this gimmick was deemed to difficult to keep up and therefore all dialogue was translated without rhyme. 

Three Little Kittens (Silly Symphonies, 28 July 1935)
'Three Little Kittens' (Silly Symphonies, 28 July 1935) - © Disney.

As the technical and narrative skills of the Disney company improved, audiences soon warmed up to the 'Silly Symphonies'. Moviegoers were charmed by the innocent, child-friendly and dreamy atmosphere of these shorts. In 1932 the Silly Symphony 'Flowers and Trees' won the first Academy Award for "Best Animated Short". During the same ceremony, Disney also received a honorary Oscar for the creation of 'Mickey Mouse'. Finally accepted by audiences and the establishment, several other animation studios started their own 'Silly Symphonies'-like series, such as Warner Brothers' 'Merrie Melodies' and 'Looney Tunes' and MGM's 'Happy Harmonies'. Yet none could compete with Disney's talent for storytelling and overall higher professionalism. He also raised his budget by merchandising his cartoons on a global scale. Comics played an important part in this. Every time a new animated short hit the big screen, Taliaferro and Osborne adapted it into a comic strip. Some of these shorts would spawn new characters around which long-running comic series were created.

The Further Adventures of the Three Little Pigs (Silly Symphonies, 5 July 1936)
'The Further Adventures of the Three Little Pigs' (Silly Symphonies, 5 July 1936) - © Disney.

The Three Little Pigs
One 'Silly Symphonies' cartoon, 'The Three Little Pigs' (1933) by Burt Gillett, became a huge success. Disney's adaptation of Joseph Jacobs' world famous fairy tale became the most popular non-Mickey short of the studio. The title song, 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?' by Frank Churchill, was a nation-wide hit and resonated with people destined to overcome fear of unemployment during the Great Depression. The catchy tune was also the first of many musical Disney standards. 'The Three Little Pigs' had a tremendous influence on popular culture. Virtually all adaptations of the classic fairy tale nowadays follow the family friendly Disney version in which the pigs are individualized and none get eaten by the wolf. 'The Three Little Pigs' was so popular that Disney was asked to create sequels. He reluctantly did so, but knew beforehand that they could never top the success of the original. Indeed, the three sequels ('The Big Bad Wolf' [1934], 'Three Little Wolves' [1936] and 'The Practical Pig  [1939]) all flopped. Disney's 'Three Little Pigs' also inspired adaptations by other cartoon studios: Tex Avery's 'The Blitz Wolf' (1942) at MGM, and Friz Freleng's 'Pigs In A Polka' (1943), 'Three Little Bops' (1957) and Bob McKimson's 'The Windblown Hare' (1949) at Warners. 

In 1936, the pigs and the Big Bad Wolf also made their debut as comic characters in the 'Silly Symphonies' feature. Al Taliaferro was the first to draw them. When the characters were featured in comic books, Carl Buettner, Gil Turner and Jack Bradbury became the new artists. The 'Three Little Pigs' comics (sometimes named 'Big Bad Wolf') proved to be far more enduring than the animated sequels. Over the decades, countless episodes have been written and drawn, all revolving around the hungry wolf's non-effective schemes to eat the little pigs. In 1945, scriptwrtier Chase Craig and artist Buettner also added a new cast member, the Big Bad Wolf's son, Li'l Bad Wolf. Contrary to his father, he is far more intelligent, honest and friendly, often protecting and rescueing the pigs when they are captured.

The Barnyard Symphony, by Al Taliaferro
'The Farmyard Symphony' (Silly Symphonies, 23 October 1938) - © Disney.

Donald Duck
Al Taliaferro adapted several other Silly Symphonies into comics, such as 'The Tortoise and the Hare' (1934) and 'Elmer Elephant' (1936). However the most significant adaptation was 'The Wise Little Hen' (9 June 1934). This animated short marked the debut of a duck who would soon rival Mickey's popularity: Donald Duck. Like all Disney characters, Donald was not created by Walt himself. The duck in sailor suit was designed by Dick Huemer, Art Babbitt and Dick Lundy. Originally he had a long beak and his iconic temper problems only became a defining character trait in the Mickey Mouse short 'Orphan's Benefit' (1934), which marked his second screen appearance. From that moment on, Donald became Disney's second biggest star. He was paired with Mickey and Goofy in several other shorts, until he finally received his own series in 1937. Starting with 'Don Donald' (1937) by Ben Sharpsteen, the temperamental duck would star in more individual shorts than any other Disney character. The studio found it easier to write storylines, since he wasn't as limited as Mickey. Children loved the big-eared mouse so much that Mickey couldn't express any troublesome behaviour. Donald has always been more of an anti-hero. His unluckiness and furiosity made him more relatable to audiences. And since the bad consequences of his behaviour were always shown, parents didn't worry about the duck being a bad example to their kids.

The Boarding-School Mystery, starring the Toby Tortoise and Max the Hare (Silly Symphonies, 30 December 1934)
'The Boarding School Mystery', starring the Toby Tortoise and Max the Hare (Silly Symphonies, 30 December 1934) - © Disney.

When Donald received his own animated series, it seemed only natural to give him his own comic strip too. Taliaferro and Osborne published the comic strip adaptation of 'The Wise Little Hen' between 16 September and 16 December 1934. Donald also appeared in Floyd Gottfredson and Ted Osborne's 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper comic, but as a side character. Between 30 August 1936 and 5 December 1937, Donald returned in a series of largely pantomime gag-a-week strips by Taliaferro and Osborne as part of the 'Silly Symphonies' series. The first longer solo stories with the bad-tempered duck were, however, produced overseas. On 15 May 1937, William A. Ward's 'Donald and Donna' was published in the 67th issue of the British Mickey Mouse Weekly. This adaptation of the cartoon 'Don Donald' happened to be his first long adventure story, covering 15 pages. Meanwhile, the Italian publishing house Mondadori created official 'Donald Duck' adventure comics on a regular basis nearly five years before a similar project took off in the U.S. On 30 December 1937, Federico Pedrocchi drew the first 'Paolino Paperino' story, as Donald is named in Italian.

Taliaferro may not have been the first artist to give Donald Duck a regular comic series, but he was the first American. He continued to draw the 'Silly Symphonies' Sunday page until February 1939, when the feature became a gag-a-week series with 'Pluto the Pup' (1940) and 'Little Hiawatha' (1940-1942) by Hubie Karp and Bob Grant. From then on, he devoted all his time to the ill-tempered duck. Taliaferro would also enlarge Donald's cast of friends and opponents...

Early gag with Donald and his nephews (Silly Symphonies Sunday page, 7 November 1937)
Early gag with Donald and his nephews (Silly Symphonies Sunday page, 7 November 1937) - © Disney.

Huey, Louie and Dewey
On 17 October 1937, Donald's triplet nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey were introduced in the Silly Symphonies Sunday comic. Their names were thought up by Disney writer Dana Coty and borrowed from U.S politicians Huey Long and Thomas E. Dewey and Disney animator Louis Schmitt. The ducklings were inspired by Mickey's nephews Mortie and Ferdie in Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse'. Taliaferro and Ted Osborne also established a now classic origin story for Huey, Louie and Dewey. They were sent to Donald by their mother Della "to stay with him for a while." Their father is apparently "in the hospital" after "a firecracker exploded under his chair." It soon becomes clear that she merely wanted to get rid of the mischievous little brats. To Donald, his nephews are quite a handful, but he takes equal delight in playing mean tricks on them too. Since the triplets never returned to their biological parents, Donald effectively became their adoptive father. On 17 April 1938, Huey, Louie and Dewey also made their screen debut in 'Donald's Nephews' (1938), directed by Jack King. In their early cartoons, the boys often finish each other's sentences, but after a while this joke was dropped, since it made the seven-minute cartoons too time-consuming. The gimmick was kept in the comics, where it worked much better and remains a running gag. 

Controversy has risen over who exactly created Huey, Louie and Dewey. The Walt Disney Company and many other sources officially credit Al Taliaferro and Ted Osborne, since they were the first authors to use them in a narrative, in this case a comic strip. Yet, according to Don Rosa, he once talked with Carl Barks, who told him that he was their actual creator, since he was part of the writing staff of the Donald animated cartoons. Barks also claimed that he borrowed the idea of three identical nephews from Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan'. Given that Barks created many other recurring characters in the Donald Duck franchise, the claim is plausible, but at the same time Barks never went public taking credit for Huey, Louie and Dewey's creation. While the mystery remains, Huey, Louie and Dewey remain the most famous characters in the Duck universe, second only to Donald and Uncle Scrooge. 

Huey, Louie and Dewey had a considerable impact on many children's cartoons and comics. The idea of three or more annoying identical nephews has been used by several animators and comic authors. First of all by Carl Barks, who gave Daisy Duck three nieces April, May and June, as a female counterpart to Huey, Louie and Dewey.  In the Paramount cartoons starring Popeye, the spinach-eating sailor has to deal with the quadruplet Pipeye, Peepeye, Poopeye and Pupeye. In André Franquin 's comic strip 'Modeste et Pompon', poor Modeste is confronted with the nephews of door-to-door salesman Felix. Three nephews also emerge in Freddy Milton's 'Familien Gruff'. A more ironic inspiration can be found in Matt Groening's 'Life in Hell', where Akbar and Jeff meet their triplet nephews Gooey, Screwy and Ratatouille. Likewise, the Dutch comic creators Bastiaan Geleijnse, John Reid and Jean-Marc Van Tol created their duck characters Fokke en Sukke as a direct reference. Fokke and Sukke look fairly identical, except for their hats. Fokke wears a sailor hat (like Donald Duck), while Sukke has a cap (like Huey, Louie and Dewey). As a naughty joke, Fokke and Sukke also walk around without pants but - contrary to Disney characters - with their genitals firmly exposed. 

Donald Duck, drawn by Al Taliaferro (21-2-1938)
'Donald Duck' (25 April 1938) - © Disney.

Donald Duck newspaper comic
Strange enough, even though Donald's cartoons were very popular and some foreign comics had already been produced around him, Taliaferro still had difficulty convincing his bosses to give the duck an official spin-off comic. He approached Walt Disney's brother Roy, but he wasn't interested. After drawing three weeks worth of episodes, Taliaferro convinced Roy to show them to King Features, who syndicated all Disney comics. It wasn't until he informed Walt, that the idea started to grow. Still, the first samples were rejected for having "weak gags". Taliaferro brought in Disney writer Merrill De Maris, who'd also written gags for the 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper comic, but this team-up was also rejected. Jokes written by Homer Brightman proved to be acceptable and the project was greenlighted.

On 2 February 1938, 'Donald Duck' became an official daily newspaper comic, followed by a Sunday page on 10 December 1939. However, halfway the year, Brightman went back to write for the animated shorts and was succeeded as a writer by Bob Karp, who would remain Taliaferro's creative partner for the rest of their respective careers. Taliaferro was assisted by inkers Karl Karpe, Dick Moores, George Waiss and Bill Wright. Other Disney artists like Ellis Eringer, Frank Grundeen, Al Hubbard and Kay Wright occasionally helped out too. Contrary to 'Mickey Mouse' or Pedrocchi's 'Donald', Taliaferro's comic strip was not an adventure series, but a daily gag comic. Each episode features Donald dealing with some problem or unexpected humorous situation. The majority are stand-alone gags, though occasionally a loose continuity is followed. Dialogue is sometimes used, but many episodes are basically pantomime comics, allowing for easy global translation.

First appearance of Grandma Duck (27 July 1943)
First appearance of Grandma Duck (27 September 1943) - © Disney.

Bolivar the dog
Taliaferro and scriptwriter Bob Karp were the first artists to expand Donald's universe. Some characters were lifted from animated shorts, like Donald's St. Bernard dog Bolivar, who first appeared in 'Alpine Climbers' (1936), directed by David Hand, and made his debut as a comic character on 17 March 1938. The colossal mutt rarely listens to Donald. Just like Mickey Mouse's dog Pluto, Bolivar always remained a mute character, behaving like a normal animal. Taliaferro took a lot of inspiration from his own pet, even though this was a Scottish terrier. In the 1930s, Bolivar caused unexpected controversy in Bolivia, where the local government accused Disney of ridiculing their founder Simon Bolivar. They went so far to ask for the dog's removal, but this request was never fulfilled. 

Donald's red car
Taliaferro and Bob Karp also gave Donald his own distinctive vehicle. On 1 July 1938, he could first be seen driving around in his iconic red car. All Disney artists since have used this red automobile as Donald's official means of transportation since. 

Daisy Duck
On 7 June 1940, Donald received an official girlfriend, Daisy Duck, in Jack King's animated short 'Mr. Duck Steps Out', scripted by Carl Barks. Donald already had a love interest in the cartoon 'Don Donald' (1937), directed by Ben Sharpsteen, but this Mexican "señorita" was only a prototype. From 'Mr. Duck Steps Out' on, Daisy received a standard design and characterisation. While Barks created Daisy, Taliaferro was responsible for her debut in the comic pages. On 4 November 1940, she was introduced as Donald's neighbor in his comic.

Donald Duck (18 May 1951)
'Donald Duck' (18 May 1951) - © Disney.

Gus Goose and Grandma Duck
Taliaferro and scriptwriter Bob Karp also created characters in the 'Donald Duck' newspaper comic, whose screen debut would only follow much later. In an episode printed on 9 May 1938, Donald first met his lazy and gluttonous cousin Gus Goose. The dim-witted bird eats his entire kitchen empty, while refusing to do any labor. Moviegoers were introduced to Gus almost a year later, in 'Donald's Cousin Gus', a cartoon premiered on 3 May 1939, directed by Jack King

The final recurring character created by Taliaferro and Karp is Grandma Duck, who was first seen on 11 August 1940, in a framed picture hanging on the wall. In a 27 September 1943 newspaper gag, she appeared in person. The character was inspired by Taliaferro's own mother-in-law, who was reportedly very old-fashioned. Taliaferro established Grandma Duck as a farmer who believes in hard work. Yet she is completely unaware of many technological advancements, still plowing her fields with traditional horse-and-carriage and common tools. For years, her name tended to differ, depending on the writer, until Don Rosa officially established it as Elvira. It was later also established that Scrooge McDuck is her brother. In the comic books, Grandma Duck was featured in short stories, where Gus Goose became her servant. His work-shy nature provides a humorous contrast with her workaholic ethics. After the Disney animated feature 'Cinderella' (1950) became a success, the two mice characters Gus and Jaq, also became residents at Grandma's farm. They are her friends and confidents, and often help her when Gus is tricking Grandma by pretending to be sick or absent. 

Other comic strip debuts
Although not created by them, Taliaferro and Karp also brought Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge to the newspapers on 13 February 1951, and, on 25 September 1961, the genius but absent-minded professor Ludwig von Drake.

Wartime Donald Duck strip (5 April 1945)
Wartime Donald Duck strip (5 April 1945) - © Disney.

Taliaferro's 'Donald Duck' comic strip became the most distributed Disney series in the world. The gags were also popular as reprints in Disney weeklies and pockets. The Dutch Disney weekly Donald Duck had a recurring feature called 'Een Weekje...' in which seven thematically connected episodes of Taliaferro's comics were grouped together from Monday to Sunday. Other Disney artists have used Taliaferro's characters in their own comics too. At the time, 'Donald Duck' was so popular that when Taliaferro used his own telephone number for Donald's in the comic, many people instantly plagued him with calls. The artist experienced telephone-related impact of his comic in other fields too. In one gag, he let Donald chop down a telephone pole. Apparently some people started doing the same in real life, causing a telephone company to blame the 'Donald Duck' gag for this copycat behavior. 

Donald Duck by Al Taliaferro
'Donald Duck: Counter Spy' (Cheerios premium giveaway, 1947) - © Disney.

Later career and death
Taliaferro remained associated with Donald's newspaper comic for the rest of his career. The artist had little to do with the actual comic books, which featured longer adventure stories starring Donald. Those were mostly created by Carl Barks. Though Taliaferro did create 'Donald Duck: Counter Spy' (1947), a special mini comic for Cheerios, and a couple of covers for the Dell Comics comic books. Taliaferro's comic book work also included two 'Bucky Bug' stories for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (1943, 1945). He also illustrated two children's books: 'Donald and his Cat Troubles' (1948) and 'Donald Duck and the Hidden Gold' (1951).

One of Taliaferro's final projects was the design of Litternaut (1967) the mascot of the Committee for a Clean & Beautiful Glendale. He kept drawing 'Donald Duck' until 10 October 1968, when he retired from the daily comic but still made the Sunday page for four months extra until his death in 1969.

Donald Duck by Al Taliaferro
'Donald Duck' Sunday comic (3 April 1960) - © Disney.

Legacy and influence
After Taliaferro's retirement, The 'Donald Duck' comic strip was continued by Frank Grundeen, who had already taken over most of his predecessor's work by 1967. In the late 1960s, Bill Weaver was an inker on the series. Bob Karp remained on board as scriptwriter until he retired in 1974. He was succeeded by Greg Crosby (1974-1979) and Bob Foster (1980-1989). Later artists on the strip were Frank Smith (1976-1986), Jim Franzen (1986), Daan Jippes (1986-1987), Ulrich Schröder (1986), Jørgen Klubien (1986), Tony Strobl (1986-1987), Bill Langley (1987) and Pete Alvarado & Larry Mayer (1987-1989). Larry Knighton wrote and drew the final five years of the strip (1990-1995). From July 1995 on, King Features turned to reprints. After nearly 57 years of uninterrupted publication in the papers, 'Donald Duck' came to an end. The world famous duck, however, still sells well in Disney magazines and associated comic books where Taliaferro's timeless gags are still reprinted. Therefore, in 2003, he was posthumously honored as a Disney Legend.

For those interested in Taliaferro's work: the complete 'Silly Symphonies' were compiled into two volumes by IDW in 2016. The publisher also began collecting the complete daily and Sunday comics of 'Donald Duck' in 2015.

Al Taliaferro
Al Taliaferro. 

Inducks entry

Series and books by Al Taliaferro you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.