This comic book biography reflects upon the career and major achievements of Walt Disney with an emphasis on the partnership between him and his brother Roy. While the subject and format will appeal to children, this particular treatment explores the complexities of the Disney empire as a business and cultural entity along with coverage of milestones in Disney’s career. Beginning with Walt Disney’s frustration at losing control of his character Oswald the Rabbit to Universal studios, the book follows Disney’s creation of his own studio with Ub Iwerks and brother Roy, the success of Mickey Mouse, the first full-length animated feature, Snow White, ventures into TV, and the eventual construction of Disneyland. A flashback portrays Disney’s childhood in Missouri and the abuse he endured from his father. Topics such as labor disputes in the Disney studio and Disney’s testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities give this book a complexity that will go over the heads of most young readers. However, adults and teens will find these aspects eye-opening as they shed light on lesser-known aspects of Disney as a businessman.
The full-color illustrations are done in a classic comic-strip style with rectangular frames of varying sizes and traditional speech bubbles. People are drawn in a caricature style with exaggerated features. The characters are expressive, with clearly shown emotions that depict Disney and his colleagues as three-dimensional characters. However, some of the individuals are difficult to tell apart, particularly Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. This can create a bit of confusion near the beginning of the story. Otherwise, the book is well-illustrated, allowing the reader to be immersed in the studio environment, and the surroundings of old Hollywood.
In his foreword, Nikolavitch expresses the challenge biographers face adapting their subject to the graphic novel genre. Much of the subject’s life can be cut out, giving these biographies a choppy feel. However, Nikolavitch avoids that problem by focusing specifically on Disney and his brother Roy as businessmen. While this biography takes an episodic approach, it moves smoothly from event to event. Nikolavitch manages to fit a lot of nuance about Disney’s persona, business relationships, and cultural impact into a relatively short book. The reader is challenged not merely to learn facts about Walt and Roy, but to reflect upon the way they conducted their business and why it matters. Of particular impact is the post-script essay by Jarrett Kobek on the sociological impact of the phenomenon that is Disney.
Disney fans and non-fans alike will be intrigued by this realistic look at a cultural icon. The temptation in a biography of a person like Walt Disney is to take a nostalgic approach, elevating the subject to a god-like status. This book does none of that, yet it does not demonize him either. It is certainly limited in scope, focusing only on his career, yet it does that in a candid and balanced way. Readers are left to consider how Walt Disney succeeded despite obstacles, where others did not. They are also clearly shown how his success was not achieved without the help of many key individuals working at his side, especially his brother. This book will be a great addition to nonfiction graphic novel collections for upper middle grade readers, teens, and adults.
The Disney Bros.: The Fabulous Story of Walt and Roy
By Alex Nikolavitch
Art by Felix Ruiz
NBM ComicsLit, 2020
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: French,