When Donald Duck was a show biz fledgling, artist Al Taliaferro saw his potential to become a really big star—in the comic strips. As Disney Legend Floyd Gottfredson once recalled about his colleague, “Al was dying for his own comic strip. He was a pretty ambitious guy, hard working, and a fast worker, too. Donald Duck had been introduced in the animated pictures, and Al thought he would be a great character for him to develop for the comics.”
Charles Alfred Taliaferro was born on August 29, 1905, in Montrose, Colorado, and from a young age felt the cartoonist’s tug. He moved with his family to Southern California and graduated from Glendale High School in 1924, where he immersed himself in art history.
Al went on to take art correspondence courses, while honing his drawing skills at the California Art Institute. In 1931, he joined the Disney flock as an assistant to artist Floyd Gottfredson, inking the “Mickey Mouse” daily and Sunday comic strips.
Donald Duck made his grand debut in the 1934 animated short, The Wise Little Hen and, a year later, migrated to newspapers, appearing in the Silly Symphony Sunday comic strip series drawn and inked by Al. After Donald’s introduction to the comic strip world, Al began lobbying Company co-founder Roy O. Disney for a “Donald Duck” daily. The only other Disney character to have a daily comic strip at the time was Mickey Mouse.
Initially, Al’s idea didn’t fly with Roy. Donald, after all, was different from Mickey. He didn’t fix trouble, he made trouble. He wasn’t a hero, but more often was his own worst enemy. He was ornery and feisty, cantankerous, and audacious.
Al persisted, however, and on February 7, 1938, Donald Duck debuted in his very own daily comic strip, drawn and inked by Al, written by his comic colleague Bob Karp, and syndicated by King Features. True to Al’s prediction, Donald’s daily comic strip proved a “quacking” success.
The artist, however, had yet another fine feathered idea—actually, three of them—tucked up his sleeve, Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Soon after the trio debuted in the comic pages, they broke onto the big screen in their first animated short, Donald’s Nephews, released April 15, 1938.
A memo to Al from the animation story department, dated February 5, 1937, reads, “Inasmuch as we have decided to actually put a story crew to work on ‘Donald’s Nephews,’ we would like to recognize the source from which the original idea of these new characters sprang… Thanks.”
Not only was Al inspired, but he found inspiration for his characters everywhere. As Lucy Taliaferro Yarick, Al’s wife and a former Disney inker and painter recalled, once when Al disliked a new hat she had bought, it appeared in the comic strip to her surprise… worn by a “very large woman.”
Alfred Taliaferro passed away on February 3, 1969, in Los Angeles.