Tom Sito revisits the Civil War of Animation and tells how the Great Walt Disney Cartoonists Strike of 1941 changed the course of animation and comics.

As Walt Disney turned his fashionable Packard roadster onto Buena Vista Blvd. he found the entrance to his studio ringed with a mob of 300 picketers and reporters. The protesters were his own cartoonists. Every couple of feet one stood on a soapbox and made angry speeches to passing picketers. Under the clear blue skies colorfully handpainted signs bobbed: DISNEY UNFAIR!, ONE GENIUS vs. 600 GUINEA PIGS, WE HAD NO SCABS AT SCHLESINGER’S, LEONARDO, MICHELANGELO and TITIAN WERE UNION MEN, and a picture of Pluto with the title, I’D RATHER BE A DOG THAN A SCAB!
No single incident had a greater impact upon the history of Hollywood animation than the Great Walt Disney Cartoonists Strike of 1941. The Disney Strike spawned new studios, new creative styles, new characters and changed animation forever. To the people who were there, it was a defining moment in their careers. New friendships were cemented and old ones broken. Many carried their anger for the rest of their lives.

It was the Civil War of Animation.

Consider this, if the strike had never happened, the UPA studio and its influence upon world animation would not have occurred, since the company was formed primarily by ex-Disney unionists. Chuck Jones’ Roadrunner, Coyote and What’s Opera Doc shorts would not have had their unique design style, because their art director, Maurice Noble, was a Disney art director who quit because of the strike. John Hubley never would have gone to New York, met Faith Elliot and did his award-winning independent films. Bill Melendez, the director of A Charlie Brown Christmas, was then a Disney assistant. Frank Tashlin, the Looney Tunes director and future creator of the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis live-action comedies was in the Disney story department. A union vp, he joined the Mouse House to help unionize the cartoonists there.

But the Disney Strike also had an impact upon the world of comic strips as well. The events of the summer of 1941 gave birth to as many as four major comic strips. Artists who later became important figures in the comic art field: Walt Kelly, Hank Ketcham, George Baker, Sam Cobein, Don Tobin, Phil Eastman and Claude Smith, were all artists caught up in this epic confrontation.