They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art Of Disney’s Golden Age: Volume 1: The 1930’s, by Didier Ghez
There is something uncomfortable about this book. It is by no means a bad book, nor a bad way to appreciate a quartet of artists whose skill in drawing and creativity helped make Disney a successful studio during a period where work for skilled animators was very scarce. But the book is both a testament as well as an example of the difficult struggle that exists between creativity and corporate identity that Disney and a great many other companies struggle with. The author does as good job trying to finesse this tension, wondering why it is that talented illustrators would have a hard time staying at one of the few well-paying jobs in the 1930’s while also managing to describe the incessant demands of Walt Disney for new ideas, some of which would be scrapped, as well as his abusive negativity towards the creativity that his illustrators had, making his head illustrator positions ones that were simultaneously treasured as well as toxic for those who held them. The author portrays working at Disney in positions that forced one to be close to Walt Disney as a poisoned chalice, and no amount of soft-pedaling can make this sound pleasant to a reader who is sensitive to such matters.
This book is about 200 pages long or so and it is focused on four main animators who worked for Disney in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. The book begins with a foreword by Pete Docter as well as a preface and a look at inspiration and the author’s own use of previous works, which the title itself is an homage to. After that the author discusses the art of Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horvath, Gustaf Tenggren, and Bianca Majolie and provides some stunning examples of that concept and film art that they worked on while they were at Disney studios. The author explores their European origins and tells stories about Walt Disney’s reluctance to hire women because of his concerns that they would marry and get pregnant and quit as well as the frustration that resulted when animators would draw for shorts and even films (most of them taken from literature in the Disney library) that would be shelved when they proved difficult or expensive to do. The author also demonstrates the quirks of these people, who were of different personalities and a shared struggle to handle the stress of working for the demanding and perfectionistic Walt Disney.
Despite the fact that the author does not present Disney as a particularly good place to work for for all of the creativity that came out of the studio during the 1930’s, the book succeeds largely on the basis of its gorgeous art and the fact that the author has evidently done his homework on presenting the art as well as the lives of the people he chronicles here. Yet it is a bit puzzling as to why Disney commissioned a work that is so painfully unpleasant in its discussion of Walt Disney as a man. Whatever can be said about him as the creator of a successful business, he does not come off well in these pages to those who read this book and avoid looking only at the pictures. It is mystifying as to whether the contemporary leadership at Disney is hostile to Walt Disney (especially his political conservatism) in wanting to portray him in such a negative light here. Whether the negative portrayal is intentional or not the book is certainly an example of the tension that exists between creative people and the business world.