Hispanic Heritage Month wrapped up a few days ago, but it’s never too late to acknowledge the immense contributions that Mexican and Mexican-American artists have made to the development of American animation.
When you start diving into American animation history, it’s actually surprising at first to discover the impact that artists of Mexican descent have had on the U.S. industry … Mexican artists entered the business in the 1920s. By the 1930s, they were working at all of the major studios, holding key roles at many of them. The first characters created by a Mexican-American artist were Manuel Mario Moreno’s Meany, Miny, Moe, a trio of monkeys who started appearing in a Universal theatrical series in 1935.
Carlos Manriquez (1908-1981) joined the Disney studio in 1929. He was employee #42, and became the studio’s first full-time background painter.
José Cuauhtémoc Melendez (1916-2008), who went by Bill, is probably the most famous Mexican-American artist who worked during the Golden Age of Hollywood animation.
Gus Arriola (1917-2008) started his career at the Mintz Studio, before moving over to MGM and the Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit, but animation was merely the opening act for what would become his greatest contribution to cartooning: the newspaper comic Gordo.
Rudy Larriva (1916-2010) was a respected animator for decades in Hollywood. He first made his mark at Warner Bros. in the late 1930s where “Chuck Jones considered Rudy to have been his top animator.
While we’ve established that there have been a lot of animators of Mexican descent in the business, there are far fewer who worked in the story department. Ernesto “Ernie” Terrazas (1909-1995) was a notable exception.
And Senior Stripper Phil Roman.
Phil Roman, who turns 91 years old in December, was born in Fresno, California, the son of migrant farm workers from Mexico. He rose to become the owner of one of the largest independent U.S. animation studios of the Eighties and Nineties: Film Roman Inc. If his company’s name isn’t familiar, the iconic shows they produced certainly are: The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, Garfield and Friends, Bobby’s World, and The Critic, to name but a few.
Plus another half dozen with photo tributes.