It is with justifiable pride that the citizens of Osborne County can look back on a long history of notable contributions to the arts. Yet all too often an individual’s years of effort in this field has gone largely unnoticed or unappreciated by most people. Until recently few outside of his hometown of Portis had heard of animator Melvin Miller or his role in drawing Porky Pig and other cartoon characters. For sixty many decades now his work has captivated and delighted audiences worldwide, and thanks to the diligent labor of close friends the man behind the gift of so much joy and laughter has became known and honored.
Melvin was born May 6, 1900, to Dan and Nora (Bell) Miller. He received the nickname of “Tubby” due to his being round as a tub as a boy. In school his talent for sketching became evident as he filled his textbooks with drawings of the lesson he was learning at the time. Melvin graduated from Portis High School in 1918 and attended the Kansas City Art School in Missouri. He was then hired by Leon Schlessinger Productions in California.
Upon arriving in Hollywood he changed his name for professional reasons, and Mel Millar was seen on theaters screens across the country. Under Schlessinger Mel worked on numerous “Looney Tunes” and “Merry Melodies” cartoons. For many of these he sketched the famous Porky Pig. Some cartoons also featured the character Portis Pig, named after his hometown. And whenever a Porky Pig feature was being shown near Portis the people there would call and tell each other so that few would miss seeing Mel’s creations. Later Mel moved on, working a while for Walt Disney Productions and then teaching at the Hollywood Art School. He married Helen Hefner in 1957 and continued to live in Burbank, California.
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‘Little Slocum’, Other Cartoons By Mel Millar Slated for ‘News’
(Van Nuys News, May 5, 1949)
There’s a new little youngster coming to Van Nuys—a perky, happy little fellow in a big sombrero, and you’re going to see a lot of this happy chappy in the weeks to come, because he is going to be here and there and ‘round-about in the Valley to greet all present residents and newcomers. His name? “Little Slocum”!
He is a pen-child created by Mel Millar, nationally known cartoonist and illustrator, and has been devised by Millar to tell the thousands of Valley residents about Slocum Furniture Co. at 6187 Van Nuys Blvd., and of the wide selection of home furnishings to be found there at attractive prices.
Pictures Each Issue
Little Slocum’s pen-master is a Valley man himself, and everyone has seen his clever, laugh-provoking cartoons in such leading newspapers and magazines as The New York Times, Collier’s, and many others.
Now readers of The News will see Millar’s famous drawings in each issue of this newspaper, and will enjoy them thoroughly, as they will enjoy Little Slocum’s periodic appearances in these pages to act as an alter ego to the cartoons, and to carry the Slocum Furniture message to the public.
As for Mel Millar, he has led an interesting and varied life. Born in the Sunflower State at the turn of the century, he began his artistic attempts on the side of a barn with a piece of rock.
Finishing high school, he served a short hitch in the Navy, then came out determined to pursue art as a career and specialized in cartooning at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
Draws For The Best
From here Millar went into an agency, was with a film advertising firm, then came to Hollywood in 1931 and worked in animated cartoons at Warner Brothers.
In 1944 he returned to free lancing and since that time has drawn illustrations for Talking Komics, and has sold to Collier’s, This Week, Argosy, New York Times, King Features, Fortnight and others. Also had his own cartoon business in Pasadena for a couple of years, and taught at the Hollywood Art Center School.
“I have a theory that cartoons are the best attention getters, and I sincerely hope everyone will enjoy meeting up with Little Slocum as he greets you in these columns, and also will enjoy the creations I shall draw for publication in The News,” was Millar’s statement today in discussing this new series.
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From time to time Melvin came back to Portis to visit and to attend alumni reunions, where he always entertained his friends with stories and made presents of his drawings. He published several cartoon books and did drawing until his retirement.
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Mel Millar’s Cartoons Span 3 Decades of Good Humor
By BETTY RADSTONE (Valley News, December 28,1967)
Clever cartoonists make most of us feel merry the year around. One of the best-liked American cartoonists has lived and worked in Burbank for the past 32 years. He is Mel Millar who resides at 120 S. Beachwood Drive with his wife Helen and their two cats.
In some ways Mel looks and acts like some of the cartoon characters he draws. Five-foot-six in height and almost that dimension in girth, he lives his humor. When Mel explains a gag, he laughs and shakes — much as Santa Claus — like a bowlful of jelly. His favorite hobby is eating.
The 67-year-old cartoonist, who has created some 10,000 cartoons during his career, wanted to be a cartoonist since he was a boy. In particular, he wanted to be a political cartoonist.
Millar has worked at one of the largest animation studios in Hollywood, has written books on cartooning, and has had many of his cartoons published not only nationally but reproduced in publications throughout the world.
One popular book he has written is a pocketbook, “How to Draw Cartoons.”
Millar is known not only as a magazine, trade journal, and advertising cartoonist, but as the cartoonist’s cartoonist. He receives mail regularly from aspiring young artists as well as from world-famous cartoonists.
Often, Millar receives letters asking, “would you please send me all you know about cartooning in the enclosed stamped envelope?” he said.
In 1920 Millar graduated from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. This was just a few years after Walt Disney’s graduation from the school. In fact, for about a decade Millar seemed to follow Disney’s footsteps from school, to work in Kansas City, to California.
Millar worked for the United Film Ad Service in Kansas City, Mo., from 1927 until he came to California in 1931.
His first job in California was at Warner Bros., where he stayed until 1945. His duties at the studio included being a cartoonist, a gagwriter, and storyman.
During his employment at Warner Bros., he drew well-known cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig.
Since 1945, Millar has set up shop in a studio in his Burbank home and has become a free lance cartoonist.
His work has appeared consistently in leading publications across the United States. You can find his work in the Saturday Evening Post and his drawings also have been used by King Features and other syndications.
During the past several years his works have been published nationally in a quarterly advertising booklet called “Happy Days.”
Several years ago, Parade, a national Sunday supplement magazine, asked opinions of America’s leading comedians as to what cartoonist they thought the funniest.
The late Ed Wynn, dean of all comedians, picked Mel Millar. As a result, a page of Millar’s cartoons, selected by Wynn, was featured in Parade.
“No art school can make a cartoonist. They only teach one to draw,” Millar stated. He said cartoonists interpret differently than other artists and views cartooning as an art within an art.
“A cartoonist is an artist, but an artist is not necessarily a cartoonist,” Millar said
“Artists reflect themselves, whereas cartoonists reflect the situation in a gentle satire,” he added.
As far as “what” makes the cartoonist, Millar said: “It is the humor or satire of the idea that makes the cartoonist. And the originating of the ideas comes from observation and accumulated experiences of the various things one has seen or done.”
He said that cartoonists have an art of visualizing the humor in situations which many people miss until they actually see it in the cartoon.
The professional cartoonist must be versatile, refreshing understanding, and have a wide range of interests, according to Millar.
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Melvin died December 30, 1980, and was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank. Through the efforts of old friends Hud and Nina Turner a limestone memorial was erected in the Portis city park in 1992 to Melvin “Tubby” Miller, so that the accomplishments of a jovial native son will be long remembered.