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Disney Dons Dogtags: The
Best of Disney Military Insignia from World War II
New York: The Abbeville Publishing Group, 1992
||This book is a pretty radical departure
from our normal reading list, I have to say. It's much more an
art-book, where the substance is less the author's words than the
images chosen. I have lots to say about the specifics, but as a
general statement I think I'll restrict myself to "I like
it." I found it a delightful read, easy to digest and great eye
|I agree. The positives
far outweigh the negatives on this one. I've run into this book a
couple of times, both times it was being used as a "coffee
table book." This is a wonderful book for that purpose. It is
pretty, and somewhat informative, and you need only spend a minute
here and there looking at it.
||Let's talk about "pretty"
first of all. There is a uniform pale yellow background, which I
find pleasant on its own and necessary to "set off" the
colorful images. The splashes of color somehow seem even more vivid,
given the background. And I'm a big fan of the presentation of the
images. Clean and crisp!
|The background color
didn't particularly appeal to me, but it did provide for a much
softer look that if a standard white background was used. By the
way, being male I have a color vocabulary of about 8 words so I
sought expert female assistance and was given the technical name for
the color - "ivory-cream-yellowish." So much for gender
||Hahaha! That’s great!
|The pictures are very
well presented for the most part, but one thing I was wondering was
whether the images shown were originals from the time, or new
drawings for the book. If that was mentioned I missed it.
||Oh, I think it's pretty plain that we’re
seeing the original images here. How could they be otherwise? One
thing about the presentation I didn't enjoy so much was the
occasional mention of one particular insignia in the text entire
pages away from the image itself. For that matter, the images -
while beautiful, colorful, and so on, are never presented in any
comprehensive manner. The chapters break down the 1200 insignia into
groupings (birds, Pluto, Donald, etc.) but it's all rather done for
color and style, rather than completeness. Could a compilation or
table not have been made to list everything? Maybe with thumbnailed
|Yes, that was my only
big gripe as well. It is pretty, but it will be difficult to find a
certain piece of information (for example, my uncle was in the X
battalion). And, for some reason, when an insignia was mentioned in
the text, the image was not captioned.
||Before we move on to discussing the
text of the book, one last thing about the images. We're told that
many of these insignia used in WWII were minor Disney characters or
invented ones. I would like to have known who all these minor
characters were! It seemed to me that most were invented, in fact.
And on the subject of characters, didn't it strike you as odd that
Disney characters - of all things in the world - should be chosen to
represent units or squads in the U.S. Armed Forces?
|As the text
mentions - thanks for the segue - Disney was somewhat co-opted into
providing lots of services for the military. I'm sure that once word
got out that Disney was doing this, it was just the easiest route
for many units.
Obviously, the text isn't really the point
of this book, but it does provide a brief, upbeat accounting of
Disney's roles in WWII.
||I'll come back to the history question
in a second, but on the Disney characters I still wanted to comment
that it just doesn't work for me at some level. I mean, these are
*DISNEY* characters. Pinocchio doesn't scare me! The fatal flaw here
is that either the character looks harmless and innocent, or else it
looks jarring to see Disney characters acting ferocious (it's
usually Pluto or Donald doing so). Of course, I say this as a person
of the 21st century, with today's cultural filters and views of
these characters. Still, perhaps the very oddness of it all is what
I find so fascinating about the book.
|Some characters work as
they have definite dark/aggressive elements: Donald Duck; Pete;
Pluto. But I don't imagine that Jiminy Cricket sent the Germans into
retreat. I do think that the "no-name" character insignia
seem to be of higher quality. I particularly like the one for the
"Mosquito Fleet" (pg. 14).
||To return to the text, I do think this
fresh angle of looking at the company's history does reveal some
hidden nuggets of information. We're told on p.22 that the Disney
artist designing many of these - Harry Porter - complained
"that although there were dozens of fanciful bugs, birds, and
beasts int he Disney Technicolor meagerie, there were very few fish
to choose from." This is the sort of factoid about Disney
(there are few fish!) that might otherwise never have risen to light
if not for the author's rather unique of viewing history through the
insignias, at least in this book.
|I would have enjoyed a
bit at the end about what happened to these insignia after the
war...how long did they survive...are any still in use, etc.
||Yeah, that would have been nice,
actually. One gets the impression that Rawls is not out for
completeness by any means. We didn't mention this yet, but only a
fraction of the 1200 insignia are even shown in this book.
|On the issue of
completeness, the subtitle is "the best of..." Since some
of those included struck me as pretty bad (pg. 91 left-most) it may
be good we don't get to see them all.
||Switching tracks somewhat, I did notice
something interesting. Rawls talks of the wartime shorts - made for
the military or for the war effort - but he doesn't really point out
that the war brings Walt to do something he resisted commercially:
sequels. The pigs and the dwarves are put to work again, though he
refused to do so for profit only years earlier. Rawls doesn't
actually say this, but it's indicative of this book that he caused
me to notice it. The book is mostly just informative enough to get
me wondering and thinking.
|The book can cause some
thinking (though it isn't the type of book that requires it). My
mental wanderings involved the role of American iconography in
morale. The importance of iconography in maintaining links to the
distant home may explain why soldiers wanted to use images as
non-threatening as Thumper. Despite all the reasons not to use them,
they are unequivocally American (but this wouldn't explain their
extensive use by the RAF).
||Interesting idea. I had wondered about
the title itself. The alliteration is clearly intentional, but the
juxtaposition of these words in particular forced me to reflect upon
their meanings. If Disney "dons" (that is, wears) dogtags,
then the title is tantamount to: "Disney joins the war
effort." However, we of course don't hear about dogtags, so
it's a bit of a misnomer. Moreover, dogtags allude to death; that's
the only time they really come into play and fulfill their function.
Am I reading too much into this?
|I don't know where
death would come in. Dogtags could also be meant simply as
inclusion. Everyone in the military wore dogtags. (Though you could
claim that the Army did its best to kill the studio during the war
with its intensive financial demands.) But it is pretty clear that
Rawls feels that Disney played more than just a cheerleader role.
||Perhaps you're right. After all, I do
want to augment my criticisms with a dump truck of salt; I recognize
that I'm being nitpicky. I really do like this book, and I feel it
was easily worth the purchase price. How often does a book come out
that showcases totally different styles of Disney art that you've
never seen before? Sadly, it is now out of print. But if you can
find one, (via Amazon's search service, which we've linked) grab it.
I loved it.
|This book should appeal
to just about any kind of Disney enthusiast (except perhaps the true
pacifist); it highlights a unique element of Disney's artistic past,
frequently showing character's in completely new ways (Pinocchio
fixing airplanes!); it provides some narrow insight into both WWII
history and Disney history, and best of all it is a good coffee
table book that doesn't weigh 15 pounds and cost $100.
Swamped in World War II
with requests from the military to use the world-famous Disney characters
in creating distinctive unit insignia, the Disney Studio had to set up a
special five-man crew of artists to meet the demand for designs.
"They meant a lot to the men who were fighting," said Walt
Disney. "How could you turn them down?"
and well-executed, these insignia occupy a unique place in Disney history.
Over a five-year period, as a contribution to the war effort, the Studio
created some 1,200 insignia, the best of which have been selected for this
volume - the first comprehensive survey of this relatively unknown body of
For the most part, these
delightful designs exist today only as fifty- year- old color
transparencies or black- and- white photos in the Disney Archives, the
originals having been sent directly to their respective units during the
war. Nevertheless, period reproductions of the originals can still be
found in wartime Disney comic books, on matchbook covers, poster stamps,
and, indeed, the leather and woven patches that were inspired by the art -
all of which are now very collectible.
It is a tribute to the
success of the Disney animators in giving believable personalities to
"drawings that move" that some well-known cartoon figures were
suitable for military service while others were not. For instance, Donald
Duck appeared in more than two hundred designs - his famous temper fit him
for militant postures - while the lovable, bashful Mickey Mouse was rarely
called upon except for home front causes.
Where no Disney
character quite fit the bill, the studio happily created new ones, as in
the case of the well- known symbols for the Flying Tigers, the Mosquito
Fleet, and the Seabees. In addition to being of interest to Disney
enthusiasts and collectors - imagine, after all these years, opening a
treasure trove of forgotten Disney artwork - this book definitely will
appeal to military buffs and veterans.