Ub Iwerks

By: Joe Alterio
March 24, 2015


In the nineteen-teens, before “Disney” became a vertically integrated media monolith, and before Walt Disney himself became a figure of scorn among fellow cartoonists, Disney was just another small-time player trying to make a business of the new art form, animation. The ace up his sleeve was the artistry of UB IWERKS (1901–71). You know that constant manic bouncing of all characters in old-time cartoons, and the spongey quality of many cartoons generally? Iwerks invented all that. What animators before Iwerks had missed (including Winsor McCay!) was the insight that — when it came to that new medium — nothing was forbidden. Make the flowers dance, make the clouds sing, hell, make the goddamn pavement smile — it’s a cartoon! Disney’s studio became very successful, but when Iwerks — who resented Walt’s taking credit for his work, including the Mickey Mouse character — ventured out on his own, he didn’t find the same success. It’s a depressingly familiar coda: Too many talents have been all but forgotten in lieu of a flashier, less artistically talented business partner. Perhaps a viewing of Iwerks’s 1929 “Skeleton Dance” short, a grim cha-cha of hauntingly charming bones, can provide a sort of salve.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Harry Houdini, Nick Lowe, Dwight Macdonald, Billy Stewart, Wilhelm Reich, William Morris.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


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