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Alfred Taliaferro

 (1905 - 1969)
Alfred Charles Taliaferro was active/lived in California, Colorado.  Alfred Taliaferro is known for cartoonist.

Alfred Taliaferro

Biography from the Archives of askART

It was cartoonist Al Taliaferro who created the Donald Duck pantheon and established the elements upon which Carl Barks and other Disney artists would draw. Until Carl Barks began creating original stories for comic books, Taliaferro's work offered the definitive portrait of Donald Duck. Later the two versions would coexist, each supreme in its own medium.

Taliaferro was the one who drew the comics version of The Wise Little Hen, the first movie in which Donald appeared. Then he was given the task of adapting the screen duck for comics, and drew the strip from its inception on August 30th 1936, until his death in 1969. Except for Mickey Mouse cartoonist, Floyd Gottfredson, no other Disney comic strip artist had so long tenure, or defined a character so completely.

By the mid-1930s Donald had become Walt Disneys most popular character, and was branching out in other media, including newspaper strips. Both dailies and Sundays were drawn form the start by Al Taliaferro and written by Bob Karp. Among comic book aficionados, Carl Barks work on Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books has made him a legend. But if Barks is the definite Duck artist in comic books, Al Taliaferro must be considered the master of the Donald Duck comic strip. On the strength of his drawings, Taliaferro is regarded by most as the supreme duck artist, certainly on a par with Barks.

That his name is less known than his comic-book counterpart may be partly due to the fact that the newspaper Donald was never a continuity strip, and partly because Taliaferro died in 1969, before the time comic fandom had become fully established. One reason there was never any continuity to the strip was because writer Bob Karp, and apparently the syndicate, favored a joke-a-day format.

Taliaferro was born in Montrose, Colorado, on August 29th 1905 and moved to California in 1918, settling in Glendale. There he studied art history at Glendale high school and learned to draw, through a mail order course. On January 15th 1931 he was hired as an assistant cartoonist in the Disney studios. As of the 17th January 1932 he worked on Godtfredson's Sunday page doing the final retouch and also helped on his daily strips.

Al seemed to put a lot of his family into his Donald strips. Daisy is said to have acted a lot like Al's wife Lucy; Grandma Duck was modeled after Lucy's mother, Donnie M. Wheaton; (Mrs. Wheaton lived on a farm and had the same hair-do as Grandma, among other things.) She stayed with the Taliaferros during the birth of their first child, and it was at that time that Grandma Duck first appeared in the strip. Many of the adventures with Bolivar were based on true incidents with the family dog, George McTavis (a Scottish terrier); and Donald's car was based on a car of one of Al's friends; etc.

The simplest domestic events would often spark a gag. When Lucy came home with a new hat, Al would get revenge by drawing a caricature of her chapeau on Daisy or a comically fat woman. "Once I put my own telephone number in a strip about Donald, Taliaferro recalled. "I received so many calls the day it was printed that I finally had to take the phone off the hook." As a perverse testimony to the strip's popularity, people quacked into the receiver. Note that this doesn't mix well with the fact that Taliaferro is only credited with the art of those stories in the indexes. Al claimed, and his widow still does, that he wrote most of the gags himself though. Grandma Duck is one of Al's own creations. As mentioned, she was based on Al's mother-in-law, and first appeared as a portrait painting in the Donald Duck strip on August 11, 1940, but she didn't appear in person until 1943. Usually she is just called Grandma, but in one story her first name is given as Elviry.

At first Taliaferro cast Donald as a mischievous prankster, more child than adult. Soon, however, he decided to break new ground. He suggested that the Studio should create three nephews for Donald and feature them in a short. The idea was accepted and in February 1937 the story department sent Taliaferro a memo, congratulating him on inventing Huey Dewey and Louie. The ducklings debuted in Taliaferro's Sunday page on October 17 of that year. This strip, which contains the first mention, of the boys mother, also provided a reason why they are living with their uncle. A letter explains that cousin Della has left them with Donald while their father recuperates in the hospital, a victim of their prank with a firecracker. For their film appearance in Donald's Nephews, the letter was shortened to a postcard and Della's name changed to Dumbella, but the basic explanation remained. Inspiration for the nephews may have been sown as early as 1932, when Taliaferro inked the first appearance of Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse in the Mickey Sunday page (September 18, 1932).

Like Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Mickeys twin nephews were mischief-makers, and from their first meeting with Donald on March 31, 1936, they enjoyed tormenting him. Mrs. Lucy Yarrick, Taliaferro's widow, has confirmed that her husband gave Donald three nephews in hopes of creating even more gags than the mouse twins provided. Further inspiration for the duck triplets came in 1936, when Taliaferro adapted two cartoons for the Sunday pages: "The Further Adventures of the Three Little Pigs" and "The Practical Pig." In both stories, three small but ravenous sons abet the Big Bad Wolf. Taliaferro felt that making the Ducks a family would add domestic complications to the already rich gag possibilities.

It was an inspired idea. By giving Donald boys of his own, Taliaferro transformed the duck from a childish, prankster to a parent who was still so immature that his victimization by his foster children became doubly funny. Making them nephews allowed Donald to remain a bachelor. It also toned down the boys disobedience: behavior that could be excused in distant relations would never be tolerated in sons. In the five Sundays following their initial appearance, the nephews drove Donald into a fury.

Taliaferro may have felt that they were too antagonistic and on November 22, 1937, he jettisoned them from the strip. They are recalled home to their mother, but go only after a ferocious battle with Donald, no doubt wanting to stay to infect further abuse. They would not return until February 25, 1940, after a new, regular Donald Sunday strip had been launched and Taliaferro had mellowed their characters considerably.

Al Taliaferro died February 3, 1969 in Glendale, California. Following his death, Taliaferro was succeeded by Frank Grundeen, and in 1974 Bob Karp turned over the writing to Greg Crosby. From that time on Donald Duck has been drawn by a variety of artists, including Frank Smith and Peter Alvarado.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Colorado on Aug. 29, 1905. Taliaferro grew up in Glendale. During the 1930s he worked for Disney Studios. After 1938 he drew Donald Duck comic strip. He died in Los Angeles on Feb. 3, 1969.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Death record.

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About  Alfred Taliaferro

Born:  1905 - Montrose, Colorado
Died:   1969 - Glendale, California
Known for:  cartoonist

Essays referring to
Alfred Taliaferro

Cartoon Drawing