Book Review: Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies 1932-1935: Starring Bucky Bug and Donald Duck

Previously available from IDW/The Library of American Comics in 2016, Fantagraphics has now released their edition of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies 1932-1935, Disney’s second newspaper comic strip, which was based on their second cartoon series. The full-color Sunday weekly introduced readers to the adventures of Bucky Bug followed by a series of loose adaptations of Silly Symphonies cartoons Fans and those curious about the strip can obtain the book at a reasonable price rather than get gouged by greedy collectors on the secondary market.

Of the nine Bucky storylines, Earl Duvall wrote four and co-wrote two with Ted Osborne, who wrote two on his own. Merrill De Maris wrote the last Bucky story in the collection. Duvall pencilled the first four stories with Al Taliaferro doing the inks. When Duvall was hired by Leon Schlesinger Productions at Warner Brothers, Al Taliaferro took over both duties on the the strip and drew the remaining strips in the book. The seven other Silly Symphonies stories were written by Ted Osborne. Film historian and author of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series J. B. Kaufman wrote the book’s informative Introduction as well as previews for the individual storylines, drawing connections between the strips and the cartoons.

On January 10, 1932, Bucky is born to delight of his father who was rather frustrated and felt ashamed that he had only sired sixteen daughters up to that point. The following week, the girls all named themselves and allegedly it fell to the readers to name the boy. The winner was revealed on March 20: Bernice Sable of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who was to receive an 18” Mickey Mouse doll. All entrants were told they would be receiving a prize of some sort.

Back on January 24, when he is just three weeks old, Bucky tells his parents he is going “to wander off and see just what this big world holds for me.” As that line indicates, all the dialogue as well as the narration rhymes. While creating a sing-song musical quality that likely appealed to children, the rhyme scheme is better suited for reading in a few panels on a weekly basis as opposed to reading a bunch of strips in a row.

Early on, Bucky just avoids being eaten by different animals. He then befriends Bo Bug, an old, friendly tramp. Bo takes him to Junkville, a wondrous setting filled with creative details as the bugs show imaginative uses of trash in their lives. Bucky rescues a gal named June and romance ensues. However, her father and mayor of Junkville, demands he give up his tramp ways, so Bo leaves town on the next train and is unfortunately not seen from again, at least not in this book.

In a stunning bit of nepotism, the Mayor makes future son-in-law Bucky a general in the army, allowing Duvall to make comments on politicians and the military that surely went over the heads of young readers. The King of Flyburg declares war, but different from most generals, Bucky fights on the front lines. After the war ends and the King having surrendered, Bucky skips the wedding because he wants to see his parents.

As if war wasn’t serious enough for kids to read about, Bucky’s parents can’t make their mortgage payment and are evicted. After setting them up to start a farm on a free plot of land (which makes one question why they bothered to take out a mortgage on a property in the first place), Bucky travels to Mother Goose Land where he meets a lot of familiar faces to nursery-rhyme readers.

For Bucky’s last adventure, he returns to Junkville intending to marry June. But another suitor is on hand because the Mayor wants her to get her grandfather’s inheritance, and they decide a duel to death will decide who marries her, no one asking June her preference. Of course, Bucky wins and as the newlyweds begin their new life, the couple bids readers adieu.

While Bucky is a fun character, he’s not always the best role model for kids. When he happens upon a cocoon for the first time and a butterfly emerges, it seems like Bucky is going to offer sage advice as he warns readers “appearances are quite deceiving,” but after stating, “do not judge people by the way they look,” he continues with “unless you’re sure you’re able,” which contradicts the sentiment.

During the Bugs’ honeymoon, the strip title becomes singular on February 18, 1934. The most notable Silly Symphony storyline is “The Wise Little Hen”. Adapted from the cartoon that first screened four months earlier, it features the debut of Donald Duck, who went onto become Disney’s second biggest star. Rather than recreate the cartoon, the titular characters from the Oscar-winning The Tortoise and the Hare appear in an original story where they team up to solve “The Boarding School Mystery”.

In addition to the letter-writing campaign, the Sunday strip provided other activities for readers. From August 14, 1932 to April 30, 1933, the strip contained Lucky Bucks, play money featuring images of Disney characters. There were also to be stamps forthcoming but that was only the first day. From August 13 to December 24, Funny Films were cutouts that allowed readers to slide paper strips of different faces through a character’s body in an activity such as Mickey Mouse or Pluto’s face could be added to Mickey’s body riding a pig. The face strips could be used with different weeks as the patterns remained the same. From June 24, 1934 to March 24, 1935, readers got Mickey Mouse Movies, an extra so involved an entire strip gave instructions on how to create them.

On the Table of Contents, Fantagraphics makes note that there is “some minor color inconsistency in these pages [and they] have chosen to present an authentic reproduction of the original pages in order to preserve their historic appeal” so hold off on the angry letters and social media posts of outrage. Besides, the art is so well done, I can’t imagine anyone would take the time to complain. Taliaferro shows off masterful skill with consistently drawn characters over the weeks, months, and years and intricately detailed settings that pull the reader into the worlds with the panels.

While the stories in Fantagraphics’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies 1932-1935 skew toward young readers, Al Taliaferro’s artistry can be appreciated and enjoyed by fans of all ages.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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