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'Silly Symphonies Volume 2' delights with more classic Disney comic strips

This is a handsome book with lots of extras to enhance the marvelous comic strips.

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Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies Volume 2 picks up where the wonderful Volume 1 left off, collecting lost comic strip treasures from 1935-1939. Volume 2 – the second of four planned volumes – focuses on the "Silly Symphonies" Sunday comic strips that ran from 1935 to 1939.

This was a pivotal time for Disney Studios as they created and released their first animated full-length film "Snow White." (It premiered at Hollywood's Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937 and was then released nationwide on February 4, 1938). But as this new chapter began for Disney animated features, the era of the popular "Silly Symphonies" cartoon shorts was drawing to an end. So what did that mean for the "Silly Symphonies" comic strips that had been adapted from the short films?

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The "Silly Symphonies" films did not disappear entirely. This volume starts off with three comic strips adapted from cartoons. "Three Little Kittens" is adapted from the film short "Three Orphan Kittens." The adaptation is very loose, as are most of the strips. For example, the film's setting was a cold snowy night and the comic is a warm sunny day. It's a sweet little story of three kittens, named in the comic, Calico, Inky, and Fluff. They are taken in by a little girl but their mischievous tendencies frustrate her father to no end. "The Life and Adventures of Elmer Elephant" is adapted from the "Elmer Elephant" short and while it too changes story details it retains the basic theme of cowardly Elmer finding his courage. "The Further Adventures of the Three Little Pigs" is a loose adaptation of the "Three Little Pigs" sequel short "Three Little Wolves." This long story (over seven months) tells the antics of the Big Bad Wolf as he continually tries to catch the pigs to feed not only his hungry belly but those of his three wolf cubs. He easily caught the two foolish pigs but the Wolf is constantly foiled by their practical pig brother.

But the next batch of "Silly Symphonies" Sunday comics featured in the book mark a departure for Disney. This comics star Donald Duck in long stretch of stand-alone gag strips. The brilliant Al Taliaferro, the artist of the "Silly Symphonies" comic and creator of Donald Duck, had long petitioned Disney for a Donald Duck comic strip and was allowed this tryout run of over 16 months. So as just as Donald was starting to get top billing in some Disney short films, he debuted as the star of his own strip. While initially a bit violent and mean-spirited, Taliaferro and writer Ted Osborne tempered the Duck's fowl behavior, giving him a conscience as he attempted to do good deeds, which of course usually backfired. But for most Disney fans, the real milestone of this run of strips was the creation and introduction of Donald's nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. These little rascals proved so popular that they quickly debuted on the big screen in 1938's "Donald's Nephews."

The next group of comic strips featured in the book mark another kind of a departure for Disney. In December, 1937, in preparation for the release of full-length feature film "Snow White" the next year, Disney wisely decided to create a comic strip to promote the film and get readers excited about its release. Taliaferro and Osborne bowed out and writer Merrill de Maris and artist Hank Porter assisted by Bob Grant took over for these comic strips. Of course, changes were made for the comic strips, most notably cutting out the songs (except "Heigh Ho" which is converted to "Hi Ho.")  But what's interesting is what is added – scenes that were in the original movie script but discarded. For example, there's a whole sequence where the jealous queen captures and imprisons the Prince. Disney fans will enjoy spotting all the additions and subtractions made for this classic film's adaptation.

The last group of comic strips in this volume see a return to "Silly Symphonies" adaptations with a couple of noteworthy changes. De Maris stayed on as writer joining returning artist Taliaferro and the script is no longer written in rhyme to mimic the musicality of the films. "The Practical Pig" is adapted from the film short of the same name, another "Three Little Pigs" sequel. Like the other stories, there are plenty of differences that make this a unique treat. Then a gear switch as "Mother Pluto" is taken from the short film of the same name. "The Farmyard Symphony," the last "Silly Symphonies" film, is the source of the next strip continuity. As with the others, this strip has much more "plot" than the film as it cannot rely on music to carry the narrative. And last but not least is another tale of Elmer Elephant entitled "Timid Elmer." What's notable to Disney historians about this charming little tale is that it's taken from an unfinished film.

This is a handsome book with lots of extras to enhance the wonderful comic strips. The short but helpful introduction lets us know what was going on at the Disney studios at that time. It's illustrated by some additional rare Disney art, beautiful movie posters of the films adapted by the comic strip, along with some covers of early Disney books. At the beginning of each new story there's a nice title page which gives you the name of the story, the dates on which it appeared, then a short blurb describing the film and elaborating on the changes that were made when it was adapted as a comic strip. The book's dimensions, approximately 12 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall, were well thought out so the art could be reprinted larger.

In his informative introduction, J.B. Kaufman uses the phrase "collected and preserved" when he describes the strips in this book and I can't think of a better way of putting it. This series, along with IDW's entire "Library of American Comics" line, has found lost, forgotten treasures of comic strip art, restored and collected them in beautiful hardcover books, to preserve them for future generations to read and enjoy. We're gonna need a bigger book shelf!


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