Monday, 6 July 2009

Mickey Mouse Weekly, Frank Bellamy and Basil Reynolds

John Wigmans from the Netherlands, together with our very own Phil Rushton have been corresponding with me regarding the "True Life Adventures" series in the 1954 copies of Mickey Mouse Weekly, and particularly the "Living Desert" episodes. This comic series was based on Disney's pioneering wildlife documentaries - we take it for granted these days, but in the 1940s-1950s these were unique - witness the award won on the Living Desert. I remember in the days before home video watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Saturdays in the early 1970s and Disney Time on Bank Holidays in the UK -the only chance, back then, to see some of these Disney films, or at least snippets of them.

Junior Express - Basil Reynolds
Basil Reynolds illustration in Junior Express 4th June 1955

Anyway, as John said:
I am doing some research on Basil Reynolds (1916-2001), and the true life or nature features he drew for a number of magazines: Mickey Mouse Weekly (1952-1954), Junior Express/Express Weekly etc. (1955-1961) and Playhour Annual (1957-1958).


He came across my site where I had referenced the phenomenal Inducks database - all things Disney in comics! After much discussion and debate we concluded I needed to make an amendment to the site. But the thrill is in the nit-picking detail.

Firstly, Bellamy's comment from the Skinn/Gibbons interview:

WHEN YOU WERE DRAWING "MONTY CARSTAIRS" FOR MICKEY MOUSE WEEKLY, DID THIS TAKE UP MOST OF YOUR TIME, OR WERE YOU ALSO TAKING ON OTHER FREELANCE JOBS?

FB: I was still doing some advertising work and illustrations for Boy's Own Paper at the same time. It did help that Boy's Own Paper was a monthly, though. But not only did I draw "Monty Carstairs" in Mickey Mouse, I also got my first colour strip work, Walt Disney's "Living Desert" in the centrespread. But unlike on "Monty Carstairs", I couldn't sign "Living Desert" with my own name. I had to sign it 'Walt Disney'. Which, by the way, you have to write upside down because if you don't, you get your own handwriting instead of his.

DIDN'T YOU FEEL SOMEWHAT CHEATED,HAVING TO SIGN HIS NAME AFTER ALL THE WORK YOU PUT INTO THE SET EACH WEEK?

FB: Well, yes really, because it was hard work drawing such a thing as "Living Desert", which was my first experience of what I'd call a NON-continuity strip. There was no flow from picture to picture.

Unfortunately the dates are not very specific, but at least we do know that at the same sort of time he did Carstairs, he also did some "Living Desert".

John takes up the tale:
Mickey Mouse Weekly 736 [using the Inducks method of numbering] is the issue with a cover date June 19, 1954, this issue contains Basil Reynolds’ last True Life Adventures in the series The Living Desert. After years of drawing series after series of True Life Adventures Reynolds suddenly quit drawing them, and handed The Living Desert over to Bellamy to finish this series. MMW-737, cover date June 26, 1954, not only contains Bellamy’s first TLA in the series, The Living Desert, but it also features his last episode of Monty Carstairs.


At this point I remembered how Paul Holder and I came about listing what we thought was Bellamy in this comic - laying comics on the table and arguing that 'this rock looks like his but this shading doesn't' etc. etc. It was obvious that the latter Carstairs strips were rushed compared to earlier ones, and now we know why.

John:
Dear old Basil did most of the TLA's, from the early 50's up to number 736. His work can be recognized by looking at the dots at the end of almost every caption or balloon. The three (or more) dots are open... There are more clues that will point to Reynolds (like his lettering), but the open dots are easiest to spot. Even in Schoolfriend he showed this peculiar habit, and in the artwork he did for Express Weekly and the Express Annuals they can be spotted as well.

If we look at scans (provided by the guys mentioned above) we see some differences. The first taken from MMW 693 August 22 1953.

MMW-693 August 22 1953

...and then a blown up panel showing the 'dots'


The 'Reynold's dots' are clearly there. Now skip forward to MMW-736 of June 19 1954, his last strip in the Living Desert story before Bellamy takes over.

MMW-736_June_19_1954
and then one panel of text expanded:



It's obvious that these are one and the same letterer, but because John assures us that this is Reynold's trademark art/lettering we now know what to look for.

Now take a look at the very next episode, what I now consider to be Bellamy's first colour comic strip work (remember the interview above?) from MMW 737 June 26 1954:



Now if you are still with me I want to move this up a couple of notches.

Let's look at the blown up panel below:




The dots are definitely more 'on the line' rather than floating in mid line and are not so hollow looking. So then who lettered this?

Well, we agree when Bellamy did his last "Monty Carstairs" - 26 June 1954 - the same published date as the "Living Desert" above. If we look at this particular Carstairs we find something rather interesting.



...and here's the blown-up panel - the very last Bellamy Carstairs.




Now look at the following letters in the "Living Desert" and the "Monty Carstairs" above and decide if it's the same letterer. The letters 'S', 'G', 'R' and 'H' are particularly interesting! The 'G' has a weighting at the top, and almost appears like a '6'; the 'S' almost looks like a number '5'. The 'R' always starts its 'foot' from the circular bit and lastly the 'H' has a 'stump' at the left.

There are other letters to look at ('Y', 'P', 'A' and so on), but the 'F' certainly draws my attention as it's Frank's first initial and we have seen his (post-1950) signature many times in his work!

I believe this proves which episodes of the "Living Desert" are by Reynolds and which by Bellamy, I have amended the website entry under Mickey Mouse Weekly accordingly. For bigger scans of the materials above, please visit the 'NOTE' entry against the MMW entry

Something still puzzles me: what did Bellamy mean about the Walt Disney signature? As far as I can see he never signed any of the "Living Desert" strips either with Walt's or his own signature! I wonder if he was merely repeating a story that he'd heard

Lastly a BIG thank you to Phil and especially John for the scans and the opportunity to close down one more mystery... that is until other evidence arises!

NEXT TIME: Alan Davis adds to the question of lettering with a unique photograph!

1 comment:

Kaya Ă–zkaracalar said...

Hi.
Re the "Walt Disney signature" at the True Life Adventures: I think he might be referring to the phrase "Walt Disney's" at the title panel.
Cheers