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BooksClassicDisneyWard Kimball

Ward Kimball: A Biography

Ward Kimball

I’m sure that after all my incessant musings and ramblings about this guy, some readers have already figured out that something’s up. So I’m excited to officially announce today that I’m working on a biography about the legendary Disney animator and director Ward Kimball.

It’s not always easy to pinpoint where an idea originates, but this one is fairly clear-cut. It happened in the fall of 2000, when I visited Ward at his home for an interview. After we had spoken, he took some time to show me around his place, and when we went to his storage shed, he began pulling out boxes of his artwork. But these weren’t familiar animation drawings of Jiminy, Lucifer or the Mad Hatter as one might expect. He wanted to show me his personal paintings and drawings. Then he pointed to a few of his moving assemblage pieces, which he called “kinetics,” sitting in the corner. They were dusty and had seen better days, but after seeing these pieces, it began to dawn on me that Ward wasn’t just one of the greatest animators of his generation, he was a modern-day Renaissance man.

Ward Kimball

To make a long story short, nothing happened at the time and Ward passed away a year-and-a-half later. My interest in his work was rekindled when I started writing books a few years later. While researching Cartoon Modern, I encountered Ward’s work again, this time in his role as the rebellious director who was dragging the Disney studio into the thick of the mid-century animation design movement. When Cartoon Modern was done, I determined that my next book would be about him. My friends at Chronicle Books who had placed their trust in me for Cartoon Modern took the plunge again and commissioned the biography.

It’s been almost four years since the book was greenlit. During this period, I’ve been incredibly lucky to collaborate on book projects with the fine folks at Pixar (twice!), as well as with uber-talents Peter de Sève and John Kricfalusi. Throughout these projects, I’ve chipped away at the Kimball bio. It’s been more challenging than I ever imagined to explore all the passions in Ward’s life and how they fit together–his music, his trains, his animation, his directorial work, his personal art. . .they all played a role in defining who he was as a person.

Ward Kimball

My hope is that the book will offer a nuanced portrait of Ward, both as an artist and a person. Besides offering a thorough account of his achievements in the form of a 60,000-word manuscript, the book will be a true visual celebration with hundreds of never-before-seen photos, documents and drawings from his personal collection. The Kimball family has been supportive throughout and has provided access to all of Ward’s personal files, photos and diaries, which I’ve combined with new research and interviews. I also had the privilege of speaking with Ward’s delightful wife Betty on multiple occasions before her death last year. The book, a 240-page hardcover, should be out in the second half of 2012.

Since the book isn’t completely finished yet, I should mention that if any readers have unique Kimball artwork or ephemera in their collections, please get in touch with me. To keep abreast of the project or to just talk Ward, subscribe to the Ward Kimball Facebook fan page or Ward’s Twitter account.

Ward Kimball
  • Wow great news! Can’t wait!

  • Yay! It’s about time someone did this!

  • I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  • Great news, this guy is one of my favourites for sure. I will be sure and steal a copy of the book and no mistake

  • No one deserves a biography more than Ward Kimball! This will be a must-have for sure!

  • My favourite of the nine. Can’t wait!

  • Wow! Great news! Ward was one of those really unique artists that could thrive and pioneer new techniques in the Disney Studio system. Can’t wait to read his story!

  • I can’t wait to see the book, amid.

  • I’ve been dying to see this book published, Amid – can’t wait to see the gems you’ve uncovered!

  • As someone who’s had a tiny peek of what goodies lie in store, I want to publicly express my excitement for your Kimball book project. In fact I haven’t been this excited about a upcoming book since CARTOON MODERN. Your book will really fill a void, with much original research and new facts that focus on Kimball-the-artist and Kimball-the-man, as opposed to “Kimball-the-Disney-animator” as most animation histories shoehorn him.

    Get ready folks, this will be one of the most important animation books of the year.

  • After several years of Animation Blast issues, each one better than the one before, I have a feeling Amid’s going to really wow everyone with this effort. I’m looking forward to learning more about Ward, whose life and work repeatedly defied categorization.

    • Jason H

      Ward was way ahead of his time.

  • Of the few animation artists deserving of a well-illustrated, detailed biography, Ward Kimball is certainly at the top of the list. I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever actually looked forward to a book on animation so earnestly. Do you have a title set for it?

    • amid

      Title is “Full Steam Ahead: The Life and Art of Ward Kimball.”

  • i hereby predict that this will be the best book on a cartoonist ever!

  • Can’t wait Amid! Ward deserves it…

  • Congratulations. That is really a book that deserves to exist.
    My only disappointment it is that when I read the post’s title I thought the book was already in the shelves. No problem. I waited decades for it. What is one year more?

  • Thank you, Son Of Criswell.

    Amid, this book sounds wonderful. Even among cartoonists, Ward Kimball stands out as an eccentric-among-eccentrics…and in a good way! Just about everything I’ve ever dug in classic Disney animation was due to Ward’s contributions. But I also love the fact that he was one of the Nine Old Men but refused to become a shill for the company. Seeing his personal work and non-Disney output is a very exciting prospect indeed. Good luck, pal!

  • Good Luck Amid, I hope the family gives you access to his diary. Ward kept a day-by-day diary in 1940-41. I’ve seen passages from it in Cartoonist Profiles articles when researching my book on the Disney Strike.

    I also talked to Art Babbitt about Ward in 1991. Art always felt Ward was hard on himself about crossing the picket lines during the Disney Strike, because he considered himself fairly progressive politically. You can see that streak of melancholy come out in him, whenever he discussed that period.

    I look forward to reading it.


  • Cool! I’ll be sure to put this on my “To Get” list!

    Maybe after this, could you work on a book centered on an even wackier person than Kimball: Bob Clampett! He desperately needs to get a book published about him! I’m sure guys like Craig Yoe would be up to the task on a book about him!

  • Sally Mullaney

    Mr. Kimball, unbeknown-st to me lived right in our neighborhood in San Gabriel. All us kids wondered who had the “train” in their yard. Who else? It wasn’t until a few years ago, I visited Walt’s Barn in Griffith Park and was reading the article and saw the picture and knew in an instant who that family was. Too bad I never went and knocked on their door. I’m sure I’d have gotten to ride his train! What a character!

  • Are you going to cover Ward’s huge interest in UFOs, as well as the much debated story (told by Ward himself at a MUFON convention) that Disney was approached by the Air Force in order to develop a movie that would help the American people get used to the idea of aliens visiting Earth, and even promised the release of footage showing an actual UFO landing on Holloman Air Force base —footage they later refused to release?

  • mark

    Have always been a big fan — LOVE all of the non-animation work of his I have seen and have been trying to track down some of his ceramic tiles for years. Can’t wait for the book.

  • This is a book long overdue. As a old guy lucky enough to spend Saturday evenings chatting with Ward and Betty, I heard a lot of funny stories firsthand. I hope some of them will be in this book.

    Only Ward would have an airplane crash in his front yard.

  • Ward Kimball’s animation for Disney has always been my favorite. I look forward to seeing the book being published.

  • Brian Kidd

    This is a wonderful announcement. Thank you for your efforts, which I’m sure will bear interesting fruits!

  • bob kurtz

    amid,like everyone else,i can’t wait.

  • Looking forward to it, as always!

    By the way, love the title. Fits perfectly.

  • Bill

    I have not had the chance to ask John Kimball, much less Ward, about his personal balance between his art career and his music career. Was one for love, the other for money, or was music just a hobby? I have hundreds of recordings of Dixieland Jazz, and few of them have the instrumental balance or swing the way the FH5+2 do. There’s a whole book right there.

  • Paul N

    Like everyone else, I’m eagerly anticipating this book. I was fortunate enough to meet and dine with Ward on two occasions, and got to ride along when he took one of the WDW steam trains on a trip around the park. His work has always resonated the strongest with me of all the nine, and I can’t wait to learn more about his life and art.

    Amid, you might want to contact Jim Korkis. I know he did a few interviews with Ward and has done lots of research into his career.

  • I cannot wait for this book! Did you get the Kimball/Searle material I sent you? Is the Kricfalusi book finished?

  • santosh

    That is awesome! Can’t weight to get a copy of this one. I remember years ago..when my friend Richard Olsen whose distantly related to Ward Kimball visited his house..I think it was temple city or San Gabriel..he mentioned that he had a chance to sit down with Ward and his wife and got to see some old work that he had out that just blew his mind. Wish I was there. I tried to contact him in 1998 for a interview and I got a message on my phone, left by Ward Kimball that he wasn’t doing any interviews..because he was putting out a book.. Wonder who was doing that book?

  • I hope Amid you didn’t shy away from telling about the more prickly aspects of Ward’s life and relationships, especially with his co-worker and their families. During my very few encounters with Mr. Kimball I was left with the clear impression he was never an easy person to go along with, and not because he was too frank… He was a tiny man, with the ego of a gorilla , the sensitivity of a rhinoceros and the humanity of a full sized locomotive.

  • john musker

    Excellent news! Kimball is hugely deserving of an in depth look. His work has been an inspiration to me and a whole lot of other people. Having met him, he was a sardonic outspoken artist ( Ken O’Connor told me Ward said about Woolie Reitherman, for example, “His name is Woolie and so is his thinking…”) all of which I’m sure Amid will document. Not sure what terms the outspoken Amid is on with the talented Will Finn, but he has a great personal letter from Ward to him containing his advice to an aspiring animator.

  • Sounds like a fun read, great job on the biography, Amid. Now someone needs to do the other Nine Old Men.

  • I’m glad to hear you’re doing a book on Ward, Amid. I look forward to getting a copy. I think I’ve got a cel from’ It’s tough to be a Dog” which was never finished,( if you’d like to use it)