Mighty Mouse Heckle & Teckle
Comic books based on Terrytoons characters by St. John Publishing

Paul Terry was one of the most productive animators of all time. His studio even surpassed all other animation companies in this field. From 1915 until 1968 Terrytoons released hundreds of animated shorts. He is especially known for features starring 'Farmer Alfalfa' (1915), 'Mighty Mouse' (1942) and 'Heckle & Jeckle' (1946). While Terry was a pioneer in his field and part of the "Golden Age of Animation" (1930-1960) Terrytoons was the most unapologetic commercial cartoon studio of the era. They put quantity over quality, rushing out the majority of their shorts like a factory product. Their formulaic approach and lack of innovative spirit has made them somewhat forgotten today.

Born in 1887 in San Francisco, Terry began his career as a news photographer and newspaper cartoonist. He contributed to the San Francisco Bulletin and San Francisco Call-Examiner between 1904 and 1914. In June 1909, Terry started drawing the cartoon feature 'Have You Seen Alonzo?', starring the mascot of the San Francisco Call Saturday kids section. He took over from the original artist, Ralph Yardley, and worked on the feature until 7 May 1910. It was then continued by Paul's brother John Terry for a short while, followed by a host of other cartoonists until November 1912. 

Have you seen Alonzo by Paul Terry

Terry was an artist for King Features Syndicate in 1913, and started his career in animation in 1915. He sold his first film, 'Little Herman', to the Tranhouser film company in 1915, and was working for the J.R. Bray Studios in 1916-1917. He formed Paul Terry Productions in 1917, and had a partnership with Amadee J. Van Beuren under the name Fables Studios from 1920 to 1929. By then, Terry was heading his own studio, Terrytoons, in New Rochelle, New York.

His most recognizable and recurring character throughout the 1910s until the 1930s was the grouchy Southern farmer 'Alfalfa' (sometimes spelled as 'Al Falfa' too). Completely forgotten today the character did have some historical significance. On 1 September 1928 one of his cartoons, 'Dinner Time', was the first attempt to make an animated film with synchronized sound. Far from perfect in its execution the short failed to make an impression on audiences. Walt Disney saw the picture too and reviewed it as "terrible". However, two months later, he came out with a sound cartoon of his own, 'Steamboat Willie' (1928). Far superior on a technical and narrative level, 'Steamboat Willie' became an over-nite sensation. It not only launched the Disney Empire but also completely overshadowed 'Dinner Time' in the history books. Another example of a creation by Terrytoons obscured by a far more famous and succesful similar idea was 'Heather Heathcote' (1959). Heathcote was a time traveller who had a dog, Winston. They debuted several months before Jay Ward's Sherman and his dog Mr. Peabody also started travelling back in time in 'Rocky and His Friends' (1959).

Terrytoons made several cartoons with characters who never quite caught on with the public: Fanny Zilch (1933), Puddy the Pup (1935-1942), Kiko the Kangaroo (1936-1937), Oil Can Harry (1937), Gandy Goose (1939), Sourpuss (1939) and Dinky Duck (1939-1957). An attempt to adapt Ernie Bushmiller's 'Nancy and Sluggo' into a series of theatrical animated shorts failed too. It wasn't until 'Super Mouse' (1942, renamed as 'Mighty Mouse' in 1944 to avoid copyright issues with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's 'Superman') that Terrytoons finally had a breakout character. The mouse and his catchy theme song became a hit with many young children, even though he usually only appeared near the end of the short. The second most popular and recognizable characters by Terrytoons were the identical magpies 'Heckle and Jeckle', who enjoyed playing tricks on everybody. Jeckle spoke with a British accent and Heckle in Brooklyn slang. Critics feel that these shorts are the most entertaining and least monotone cartoons Terrytoons ever made. During the television years the studio had one more popular new creation: the bumbling dog sherrif 'Deputy Dawg' (1962-1963). One future cartoon legend who worked on these shorts was Ralph Bakshi

Despite his impressive track record, the Terrytoons are generally somewhat overlooked and ignored in history, because of their pure uniformity. Terry wanted to make cartoons "like a milkman delivering a new bottle every day" and therefore didn't care much about high quality. His cartoons are often considered to be low budget shoddy work, because the team had to come up with a new cartoon every week. He was also opposed to innovation. Terrytoons was one of the last animation studios to switch to sound and color, and even then only under pressure of their producers, who recognized that they had to compete with other studios.

TerryToons ComicsTerryToons Comics
Terry-Toons comic books by Timely (Marvel) and St. John Publishing

Nevertheless, four of his cartoons managed to get nominated for an Oscar: 'All Out For V' (1942), 'My Boy, Johnny' (1944), 'Gypsy Life' (1945) and 'Sidney's Family Tree' (1958). He sold his studio to CBS in 1955, after which he retired. In 1971 Terry passed away. Among the people who once worked for Paul Terry's cartoon studio were Ralph Bakshi, Joseph Barbera, Eli Bauer, Gene Deitch, Vincent Fago, Jules Feiffer, Dan Gordon, Dick Hall, Earl Hurd, Bill Kresse, John Kricfalusi, Bob Kuwahara, Frank Little, Dan Noonan, Vivie Risto, Larry Silverman, Al Stahl, Milt Stein, Martin B. Taras, David TendlarReuben Timmins and Jim Tyer. Bakshi in particular produced an animated TV reboot of Mighty Mouse named 'Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures' (1987-1988), where Kricfalusi's animation was first noticed. Like all other cartoon studios Terrytoons also produced several comic books based on their characters. Among the people who drew Terrytoons comics were Frank Carin, Chad GrothkopfJim Tyer, Bob Kuwahara, Ed Winiarski, Ernest Hart, Vincent Fago and Pauline Loth. Special mention should go to Herb Roth, a friend of Terry, who drew some samples for a 'Mighty Mouse' Sunday comic which never went into syndication. Its naïve art has gained some notoriety on the Internet decades later. 

Osamu Tezuka's comic book character 'Astro Boy' was originally called 'Mighty Atom', named after Mighty Mouse. Another impact the mouse had on popular culture was in a famous sketch by Andy Kaufman, where the comedian plays a vinyl record of the 'Mighty Mouse' theme song, only to lip sync along with just the refrain: "Here I come to save the dàààày!". In 1972 Robert Crumb drew a supposed obituary about "the great film comedians" Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, entitled 'Great Cartoon Characters From The Past: Where Are They Now?'.

Farmer Alfalfa
Farmer Alfalfa give-away booklet for Weeties (1961)

Alonzo on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Paul Terry in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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