Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What a Character! - Li'l Davy

While the television show Muppet Babies is largely credited for inspiring the reverse-aging of popular cartoon brands that seemed to dominate children’s programming for much of the 1980s and early 1990s, it was not the first franchise to have its characters drink from the fountain of youth. As far back as 1956, Archie Comics spawned Little Archie, featuring pint-sized versions of its teenage cast. But Disney trumped even Archie in this matter when it debuted a character in 1955, who was a youthful version of the Disneyland television program’s then most popular star.

Li’l Davy, however, did not survive long beyond the craze that inspired him.

Davy Crockett-mania swept the nation back in the mid-1950s. Disney premiered the adventures of the frontier hero on its ABC television program in December of 1954, and soon after, just about every child in America was sporting a coonskin cap and carrying a toy replica of Crockett’s famous “old Betsy” rifle.

Comic strip creators Bill Walsh and Floyd Gottfredson jumped on the Crockett bandwagon on June 27, 1955 when they introduced the character of Li’l Davy in that day’s Mickey Mouse newspaper comic. Davy went on to make just over twenty more appearances in Mickey’s daily strip through February of the following year. Joining Davy throughout the run was a buckskinned Jiminy Cricket, who had been appropriately renamed Jiminy Crockett.

Li’l Davy jumped over into regular comic books in spring of 1956 when he appeared in the Dell Giant Mickey Mouse in Frontierland. He costarred with Little Hiawatha, the popular character from the 1937 Silly Symphony, who had been a staple of Disney comics since the late 1930s. In the story, Davy helps Hiawatha and his sister Sunflower rid their village of a troublesome moose, thanks to Davy’s bravado-inspired pratfalls and strangely enough, some ragweed pollen. The story features some terrific art by Disney Studio vet and longtime comic book talent Al Hubbard.

Li’l Davy was featured in seven more Dell Disney comics before disappearing completely from Amercian comics following his appearance in the Dell Giant Daisy Duck and Uncle Scrooge Showboat in 1961. He costarred in those issues with the likes of Mickey, Goofy, Pete and the aforementioned Hiawatha cast. According to the online Disney comics index INDUCKS, he later appeared overseas in an Italian Mickey Mouse comic in 1964, then oddly, much later in a Brazilian comic in 1981, and then again in an Italian publication in 1990.

Purposely cute and full of bluster, Li’l Davy was an entertaining, albeit short-lived member of Disney’s character canon. Though unknown to most folks today, he is still a fun reminder of 1950s era fads and the subsequent popular culture they created.