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.
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 SÃ¨ve 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.
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.