Kansas City: the birthplace of Hollywood animation

Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks met as teenagers in Kansas City, where they learned animation while working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company.

Did you know that Walt Disney learned the craft of animation in Kansas City? Or that his close friend (and Kansas City native) Ub Iwerks later followed Disney to Hollywood, where Iwerks created Mickey Mouse?

The pair met while working as commercial artists and learned the craft of animation while working at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. They also worked with a number of other Kansas City cartoonists who went on to become legends in the animation business.

Find out more in our newly updated the biographies of Disney and Iwerks in the “Creators” section of the site.

Burne, baby, Burne!

I just noticed the label to the right that says “Burne Hogarth” and couldn’t remember what I’d written about him. It turns out that it was a listing of a review in my index of Comics Career Newsletter #1.

Well, I need to do another Burne Hogarth item just for good measure. Since I spent the past weekend playing chauffeur to convention guests, it’s a natural segue to my single Hogarth experience.
Burne Hogarth, for those of you unaware, was a legendary illustrator, teacher, and author who is best known for (1) a classic run on the Tarzan comic strip in the 30s and 40s, and (2) creating influential art instruction books including Dynamic Anatomy, Drawing the Human Head, and Dynamic Figure Drawing. 

He was a guest at Kansas City’s Mo-Kan Comics Convention circa 1990 – back in the days when Comics Career Newsletter was in full swing. At the time, Mr. Hogarth was about 80-years-old, hard-of-hearing, soft-spoken, but stern. I actually don’t recall interacting with him very much during the show, because I’d spent the full day Saturday selling CCN subscriptions, reviewing the portfolios of aspiring pros, and socializing with the usual gang.

One of the nice traditions of the Mo-Kan show was the Saturday evening banquet they threw for the guests, dealers, and selected special friends. I don’t remember the specifics of that year. I just remember that at some point the club members needed someone to help transport guests from one place to another. Somehow I was drafted to drive Burne Hogarth and Jon (Adventures of Superman) Bogdonave back to their hotel.

That’s fine. No problem.

Did I mention that Kelly, my wonderful wife, was also along? And old buddy Mark Runyan?

Oh, wait, did I mention that our car was a Dodge Omni? Remember the Dodge Omni? If you don’t, let me give you an idea of how tiny it was. A Dodge Omni is approximately the size of the little battery powered cars that 4-year-olds drive around the back yard.

We were at least respectful enough to let the 80-year-old legend ride in the front passenger seat instead of squeezing into a backseat not suitable for a single adult human with two other adult humans. That fate was reserved for Kelly, Mark, and the big time Superman artist.


The wrap up? Burne Hogarth was very kind and polite, was interested in Comics Career, and took a copy to his hotel room. On day two of the convention, he sought me out, assured me that he had read it carefully, and liked it very much.

Wow. I was pleased at the time, and I was largely unaware of how important Burne Hogarth was. Now I have Wikipedia, and I’m blown away to understand that:

“over the years, he was an instructor of drawing to a variety of students at a number of institutions and by 1944 Hogarth had in mind a school for returning World War II veterans. The Manhattan Academy of Newspaper Art was Hogarth’s first formal effort, and by 1947 he had transformed it into the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. This academy continued to grow, and in 1956 was again renamed, as the School of Visual Arts (SVA). It is now the world’s largest private institution of art. Hogarth designed the curriculum, served as an administrator, and taught a full schedule that included drawing, writing, and art history. It was in Hogarth’s classes that many of the Silver Age of comic books’ artists learned the advanced drawing techniques that formed a style still defining the superhero genre today.” 

And he was in my Dodge Omni…


My first night in fandom

The fine folks at the Mid-Missouri Comics Collective asked me for information about the comics history of Columbia, Missouri. Since Eclipse Comics’ offices were located in Columbia for a while, I dashed off an e-mail to cat yronwode, the no-capital-letters-in-her-name former editor-in-chief of Eclipse Comics, to pose a few questions.

That email took me on a trip down memory lane to my first meeting with cat. I was just 15-years-old. My buddies Mark Runyan, Robb Cox, and I just had become aware of a local group of grown-up comics fans who had a club named “Ozark Fandom” near my hometown of Willow Springs, Missouri. Through the mail, the group’s leader – a really nice guy named Chris Rock (but not that Chris Rock) – invited us to a club meeting.

It ended up being one of the most memorable evenings of my life. The meeting was held in a log cabin at the end of a dirt trail in rural Howell County. At that meeting we met Chris, cat, and a number of other local fans, including Ronn Foss who was a pioneer of small press comics fanzines. I have to say that cat was the most dynamic personality of the evening, educating, entertaining, and challenging a trio of pimple-faced adolescents.

At the time, cat was writing a comics news and reviews column in the weekly adzine The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom (now known as the magazine Comics Buyer’s Guide). As a result, she had a boatload of review copies that she gave away at the meetings – including a bunch of small press comics fanzines. Those were the first real amateur comics zines I’d ever seen. The significance of that gift on my life is not measurable. Because of those free zines I discovered a whole new perspective on comics and publishing. My eyes were opened by terrific zines including Bill-Dale Marcinko’s AFTA, David Heath, Jr’s No Sex, and Gene Kehoe’s It’s a Fanzine.

I’m sure it’s impossible for kids in today’s Internet-driven and comics-saturated pop culture to understand, but my friends and I had had almost no direct exposure to other comics fans, let alone involvement in any sort of organized fandom. While Robb, Mark, and I had already been creating our own amateur comic books, cat’s fanzines introduced us to a wonderful, fascinating new world.

Those freebies led to more zines produced by Kirk… and extensive contact with other zine publishers… and comics and articles published by others… and my first professional writing… and my first professional comics work… and to the creation of Comics Career Newsletter itself. By then, cat was editing the Eclipse Comics line and agreed to be interviewed for the CCN‘s first issue.

I haven’t scratched the surface of my wonderful memories of that magical night in 1979 when cat yronwode, Ronn Foss, Chris Rock and the rest of the Ozark Fandom gang through open to doors to comics fandom. Thanks to them all for the first night of the rest of my life.