25 March 2019

They ARE Bowling Balls

This fun little one-panel comic strip feels reminiscent of The Far Side, but was around decades before that strip. In this clipping posted on the bulletin board of the Jungle Navigation Company Skipper Canteen, shows a monkey having climbed a tree after a coconut. He yells down to his friend, “By golly, you’re right, Sam! They ARE bowling balls!” It’s witty, good for a momentary chuckle, before moving on through the rest of the funny pages. The cartoon is signed by Walt Disney, but most of us have likely never heard of Merry Menagerie, which means that there is a story here worth uncovering.

Let’s start off with that signature. Walt Disney may have his name on the bottom of each Merry Menagerie cartoon, but this isn’t his artwork. In fact, by the time this specific cartoon ran in 1954, Walt hadn’t been drawing characters himself for decades.

The credit for Merry Menagerie artwork actually to Bob Grant, whose other comic strip creations of Pluto, Little Hiawatha, and Scamp are more readily recognized. On the script side of the strip was Bob Karp, better known for his work on between 1938 and 1974. Remarkably, Grant and Karp were the complete Merry Menagerie team for the strip’s entire fifteen year run.

Merry Menagerie was a single panel comic strip that ran from 1947 through 1962 and was distributed through King Features Syndicate. While the style of the comic is distinctly Disney, there were no recognizable characters in the strip. Furthermore, none of the animals that appeared in a given strip were recurring characters, meaning each day’s comic strip was self-contained and needed no other knowledge to be enjoyed.

While Merry Menagerie isn’t readily recognized today, it definitely has a Disney feel to it and it plays well with the story and comedy of the Skipper Canteen. In fact, I can absolutely see a Jungle Cruise skipper reading this and remarking about how one of their fellow skippers would totally mistake a coconut for a bowling ball as they pinned the cartoon to the bulletin board.

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