The Furry History Project, Part-4: The 1940's


The 1940's

In 1940, Disney's Pinocchio was the first full length animated movie to feature a number of fully anthropomorphic characters (that walk upright and wear clothes) in the supporting cast.

In 1940, Bugs Bunny was born, delivered by Tex Avery and Bugs Hardaway.

Comments contributed by jarrellwoods on the birth of Bugs Bunny.

"Ben Hardaway's nickname was "Bug". It became a possessive "Bug's" when others in the studio asked what 'bunny' character he was working on, and so they referred to it as Bug's Bunny.

While Tex's Wild Hare's theatrical release was in 1940, Chuck Jones' Elmer's Candid Camera was actually completed before Tex's in I think early (I want to say March) 1939. It was the studio which decided to switch the release of the two. Hardaway's Hareum Scareum was before the other two where the bunny character had a similar voice to that of the Bugs in Jones' production, but I think they were still searching for a name in Hardaway's. So in my mind, there were three equal fathers: Hardaway, Jones, and Avery."



Also in 1940, Bugs Hardaway and Walter Lantz gave us Woody Woodpecker.



In 1940, Dr. Suess published "Horton Hatches The Egg," kicking off a long series of classic children's books, many of which put his own unique spin on the earlier Funny Animal formula of Palmer Cox. These are among the most successful children's books in history.



In 1940, Felix Salten gave us Renni The Rescuer, A Dog Of The Battlefield.



In 1940, Hanna & Barbera created Tom & Jerry for MGM.

In 1940, Disney released Fantasia, which features Mickey Mouse as well as many other anthropomorphic animal and mythical beast creations in ballet style animation set to classical music.

In 1941, Felix Salten gave us A Forest World, another story about deer.

In 1941, Disney released Dumbo, the first Disney feature with Anthropomorphic Animals as the main cast, rather than the supporting cast. The role of human characters being kept to a minimum.

In 1941, Disney released The Reluctant Dragon.

In 1941, Animal Comics began, opening with the first appearance of Pogo, as well as the comic book debut of Uncle Wiggily.



In 1942, Disney released its scaled down interpretation of Felix Salten's Bambi. Even though the movie presents only a few scenes from the novel and greatly tones down the more mature themes, the movie would cause quite a stir down through the ages, indoctrinating many a Furry fan and Furry creator to the expressive potential of talking animals.



In 1942, Felix Salten gave us Good Comrades.



In 1942, Paul Terry's Mighty Mouse made his first appearance.

In 1942, the Timely Comics line entered the Funny Animals market with Stan Lee and Paul Terry as significant participants.

Also in 1942, Fawcett's Funny Animals began publication.

In 1942, Disney released Saludos Amigos.

In 1942, The Gothic Horror genre once again turned to Furry for inspiration and came up with Cat People. Carrying on from the morphing concept of The Wolfman, Cat People adds elements of Film Noir and directly ties the transformation of the main character to sexuality, suggesting that there is an erotic mystique to the concept of animal people.

At this point in history, America was into World War 2, right at the point where Funny Animals were becoming more than a popular phenomenon. They became an allegory of the American spirit. And it was not at all unusual to see Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck painted on the side of planes or bombs, along side naked pin-up girls and other types of popular cartoon characters. Nor was it uncommon for Funny Animals to be the reading matter of choice for certain members of the armed forces. See here an entire squadron flying under the banner of Felix The Cat.

Looking at collections of Nose Art, we see that the flyers of the day had two things they mainly liked to draw, sexy cartoon girls and Funny Animals. Below is the most astounding piece I've seen yet, as far as the topic of this essay goes, Bambi At War.



In the cartoons of that era, Funny Animals had freedom to be much more politically aggressive than would be considered acceptable today. There was an awareness that children might watch the cartoons, but there was no thought of them being exclusively for children. They were meant to appeal to everyone. And in their fervor to support the war effort and maintain morale, Funny Animals elevated themselves to the highest peak of appreciation they would ever enjoy.



Another interesting, if not so well known, creator of Funny Animals during this period was Paul Terry. Terry, like Tex Avery, is notable in that he had a tendency towards sexual humor gags that went far beyond the daring of Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons. This demonstrates that the idea of carrying anthropomorphics into the realms of sexual humor is hardly anything new. And, given the popularity of Mighty Mouse, one would have to conclude that the audiences of that time appreciated such humor and were not offended by it.

The comics of that era document a spirit of extreme competition in the creation of Funny Animal characters, such as the modern day Furry fan can only dream about.  Yet much of it has fallen to obscurity, buried beneath an oppressive fascination comic collectors have with super heroes that tends to obscure everything else.  The only upside to this being that it keeps the price of golden age Funny Animal comics somewhat reasonable.  You can almost always find some on Ebay by searching for Funny Animal Comics.  Or search for titles like Fawcett's Funny Animals, Frisky Fables, Terry-Toons, and Walter Lantz New Funnies, which are my personal favorites to collect.

          


In 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry penned The Little Prince, a novel that combines talking animals, science fiction and idealistic philosophy. Often overlooked for its relevance to the Furry interest, "The Little Prince" is significant in that it represents an evolution from the veiled allegorical criticisms of human society found in "Bambi." It willfully uses talking animals to express the idea that humans have got the values of life all wrong.

In 1943, Disney introduced Chip N Dale.

In 1943, Ha Ha Comics began.

In 1944, Funny Stuff Comics began.

In 1944, Barnyard Comics began.

In 1944, Olaf Stapledon wrote Sirius, a science fiction fable about a dog granted intelligence through scientific experimentation.

In 1944, Disney released The Three Caballeros.

In 1945, Screen Gems introduced Flippity And Flop.

In 1945, Pepe Le Pew made his first appearance.

In 1945, All Top Comics began.

In 1945, E. B. White penned Stuart Little, an interesting concept about a family of humans adopting a mouse.

In 1945, George Orwell penned Animal Farm, one of the first allegorical animal novels to be recognized as a work specifically for adult readers. Like "Bambi," "Animal Farm" is often sighted as a political reference. And it has resulted in an increased tendency to refer to the victims of oppressed governments allegorically as animals.

In 1945, Felix Salten delivered his last Furry offering, Djibi, The Kitten. He would die in October of that same year.



In 1946, Paul Terry Introduced Heckle and Jeckle. (YouTube Links)

In 1946, DC Comics began Animal Antics.

In 1946, Fawcett's Animal Fair began.

In 1946, Disney released Make Mine Music, which includes the Disney interpretation of Peter And The Wolf, as well as The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At The Met.

In 1946, Disney released Song Of The South.

In 1947, Avon Periodicals dropped Thornton Burgess' Peter Rabbit and created yet a third name sake of Beatrix Potter's original in The New Adventures Of Peter Rabbit. (Cover slideshow showing the new Peter Rabbit taking over from the old at issue #7)



In 1947, Disney released Fun And Fancy Free, including Bongo and Mickey & The Beanstalk.

In 1947, Circus Of Fun Comics began.

Throughout the 1940's and 50's, Furries appeared in a number of unusual tales created for the then new children's record market.  The Furry-Tales on these rare 78 RPM records usually involve some kind of practical moral, continuing the tradition of Aesop's Fables.

Furry-Tales proved to be a medium in which more enlightened authors could instill in children moral lessons that were not acceptable in general society at the time.  One such example is Herman Ermine In Rabbit Town.  Here the author is obviously delivering a message to encourage racial tolerance, sneaking through the back door of 1940's taboos by creating a story involving white rabbits and black rabbits.



In 1948, Disney released Melody Time.

In 1949, Baby Huey made his first appearance.

In 1949, Funny Films Comics began.

In 1949, Disney released The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, featuring a Disney interpretation of Wind In The Willows.

In 1949, Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner made their first appearance in The Fast And The Furry-ous.



In 1949, Furries returned to radio in the series Wormwood Forest, this time carrying pretty much the whole show, as apposed to earlier fantasy shows where Furries had mainly provided the supporting cast, and usually had left some room in the imagination to be seen as upright animals or 4 legged animals, according to the listener's preference.

Wormwood Forest goes out of its way to depict its animals as walking upright, having hands, living in hotels and houses. They are generally human in every respect, except that they occasionally pepper their dialogue with animal sounds to remind you that it's a cat or a horse talking.

Just about every character in Wormwood Forest is a parody of a well known radio characterization from that era, most of whom only an Old Time Radio fan would be familiar with today. But the show is also interesting from a Furry Fandom perspective, as it is very much a product of a general fandom for anthropomorphic animal characters that obviously was going at great speed at the time.

No one needed to explain the concept of anthropomorphic animals to the radio audience. The show is meant to click with something that was already firmly familiarized in the minds of the general public. So much so that it does not seem incongruous when Walt Disney himself shows up with Mickey and Donald in tow, and the entire cast seems bent on becoming Walt's latest Furry discovery.

Another interesting thing about Wormwood Forest is its concentration on romantic involvements between characters—never characters of the same species. It's always a cat in love with a frog, or a skunk in love with a woodchuck.

Incongruous and funny concepts to the people of that era. But to the over analytical scholars of our time, something to be wondered about. How, in an era of such prejudice and segregation were interspecies relationships on the radio not seen as shocking? What was their rationale at that time?

Theory No. 1: Anthropomorphic Animals are not real. Nothing they do effects the real world. So they can be as weird as they want to be. And I can feel free to laugh at their weirdness.

Theory No. 2: Anthropomorphic Animals are neither animals nor humans. They're a unique species onto themselves. Therefore the cat and frog are actually of the same species, and the relationship is perfectly legitimate.

Theory No. 3: Anthropomorphic Animals are not animals, but caricatures of human stereotypes. And we loved stereotypes in the radio days.

Theory No. 4: The purpose of Anthropomorphic Animals is to provide a form of cute surreal non-sense entertainment. It never occurred to us to think about it seriously or see anything in it but the most extreme innocence.

The intro song of Wormwood Forest suggests that the term for what would eventually become known as "Furry" in 1949 was called "Animal." This matches up with the terms used by the Disney animators, as well as the titles of many "Animal" comics of the era.

Save for "Fawcett's Funny Animals," which quite possibly is alluding to the earlier genre of children's books, there's not a lot of material remaining to substantiate "Funny Animals" as the term the fandom for this type of character identified with. "Animal" seems to be the word most often used to catch the attention of anyone specifically interested in anthropomorphic animal characters during this era.



In 1949, C. S. Lewis, a friend and contemporary of J. R. R. Tolkien, published the first book of The Chronicles Of Narnia.

Part of what might be considered the vanguard of the modern fantasy novel industry, both Tolkien and Lewis were part of a group that met regularly to discuss their latest writings and the subject of fantasy in general. Tolkien and the other authors were frequently dismayed by Lewis' preoccupation with Anthropomorphic Animals, which they did not take so seriously as their own wizards, orks and other more human looking fantasy creations.

This illustrates that the plight of the Furry author as someone who exists in the sci-fi/fantasy establishment, but is not taken as seriously as others, has been a pretty standard situation for quite a long time.

According to his biography, Lewis had picked up his fascination with Anthropomorphic Animals from Beatrix Potter, and had been creating worlds populated with such characters since his youth.

This is a story quite similar to that which many a modern day Furry fan will tell about their own indoctrination into the interest—developing the interest from stories they experienced in youth and growing up to want to use such characters in stories geared towards older audiences, in spite of derision from their contemporaries.


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