The Miniature Calendar Art of John Dunn

John Dunn Calendar

The legacy of animation designer/writer John Dunn (1920-1983) is secure–if unheralded–as the writer of hundreds of animated shorts for Ward Kimball, Chuck Jones, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, and others. In the waning days of animation’s Golden Age, he created some of the era’s last theatrical cartoon stars–Ant and the Aardvark, Roland and Rattfink, Tijuana Toads, Blue Racer, and Hoot Kloot, to name a few. When I started researching his life, I borrowed a variety of artwork from his children: storyboards, paintings, comic strips, character designs. But the most unusual possession I received was a Ziploc bag full of Security Pacific Bank calendars that Dunn maintained for the last 18 years of his life. The first ten years’ worth of calendars were not of particular note–just places for him to jot down notes about his career (weekly deadlines at the animation studio, vacation dates, meetings, and the like). With each passing year, though, the notes on his calendar grew increasingly detailed.

After Dunn semi-retired from animation in 1976, he created in the calendars an utterly unique form of self-expression. Every square inch of the 5.75″ x 6″ calendar pages, both front and back, became a miniature canvas for Dunn’s writings and drawings. He began to keep detailed accounts of what he ate, which television shows he watched, which books he read, as well as notes on his daily encounters with family members and animation colleagues. John’s son Bill doesn’t recall which sort of writing instrument his father used to write so small, but he does remember that his father retired to his study every evening to work on the calendars, using a magnifying lens to help him fit as much as he could into the daily one-inch-square space allotted him by his bank.

John Dunn
John Dunn with his family at Disneyland

Dunn’s devotion to the calendars manifested itself in peculiar ways: he recorded monthly rainfall tables, dates of death of actors and animation industry coworkers, and charts logging the number of times he’d eaten at various restaurants. A most unlikely item was noted on the back of one calendar: “From Oct. 3, 1977 to Jan. 22, 1980 the number of times I have walked back and forth on Hayvenhurst between Sherman Way and D.F.E. [DePatie-Freleng Enterprises] has been 845!!!” In the final year of his life, Dunn upgraded to a 7″ x 10″ engagement calendar; Security Pacific’s complimentary annuals could no longer contain his copious notes on daily life.

John Dunn Calendar

Dunn was both an artist and a writer, so it’s little surprise that his calendars are filed with nearly as many drawings as words. He drew mostly on the reverse sides of calendar pages, right over the text-heavy almanac data–the layer of words underneath adding a textural quality to his drawings on top. Dunn had been a fan of newspaper comics since childhood and his drawings reflect an intimate knowledge of Bigfoot cartooning conventions, recalling artists like E.C. Segar (Popeye), Sidney Smith (The Gumps), Billy DeBeck (Barney Google), and particularly Milt Gross (Count Screwloose). Disney animation director Ward Kimball once told me, “You would ask [Dunn] to do a page full of crazy-looking dogs and it was very hard to pick the craziest.” His inventiveness was unhindered even when reduced to postage-stamp proportions.

John Dunn Calendar

The raw, unfiltered details of Dunn’s recorded life shed a fascinating light on the man himself–his foibles and insecurities, his likes and dislikes–what made him tick. But beyond the personal aspects revealed here is the purely visceral effect of these calendars: their keeper’s craftsmanship elevate them to unlikely, enchanting, beautiful works of art.

Note: This piece I wrote was originally published as “Day to Day with John Dunn” in the fourth issue of “The Ganzfeld” (2005). I’ve been meaning to post it online for years so that more than five people could actually read it.

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A GALLERY OF DUNN’S CALENDAR ARTWORK

Click on the images to enlarge.
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John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar
Even though he was Scottish, Dunn loved using Milt Gross’s Yiddish-accented dialogue.

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar
Iran hostage crisis humor

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar
A page from his final–and most detailed–calendar from 1982.

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar

John Dunn Calendar


  • Steven M.

    These are incredible finds, Amid. I believe I’ve just found a new favorite artist.

  • Chris Webb

    The drawings have a kind of a 60′s underground Comix feel to them… and a bit of Milt Gross too. The cartoon of the pink guys in the bowler hats balanced on each other could have been drawn by Crumb during his greeting card days.

    Someone should publish these.

  • Chris Merritt

    These are amazing!

  • Jay Sabicer

    The man’s style was all over the map: Milt Gross, definitely, but also shades of Arnold Roth, Gerald Scarfe, and Patrick McDonnell (who may or may not have been professionally drawing during John’s lifetime). I could see a folio book in this, Amid.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will

    Glorious.Thanks a million for publishing these. Dunn’s a genuine Cartoon Hero.

    You’re another one Amid, for making people aware of his wonderful work, published and otherwise.

  • Jeffers

    These are wonderfully zany! Like a long-lost Mad Magazine cartoonist. Definitely an artist I want to see a lot more of. His work deserves to be archived and published. I know I’d buy a book of art like this.

  • Katella Gate

    Enjoyed this tremendously. This man drew mirth. Floozy girls, political cartoons, and all the vaudevillian ethnic humor you could want. It sure puts the “Ant and the Aardvark” into perspective.

    Thanks also for posting this as far from your regular “Sunday Funnies” as possible. Really puts the modern cartoonists to shame.

  • The Gee

    wow.

    once you mentioned the writing became more verbose as time wore on, I knew that was a bad sign. However, from what I am seeing after the jump there is a mixed blessing aspect to this. On one hand, it might have been a bad sign that he felt the need to be so compulsive….
    Then there is the good side–which is selfish on my part–that is a great sketchbook. And, I’m bookmarking this for future reference.

    I may not want to read his musings or notations but the cartoons….he’s a cartoonist…a good one and it shows. Heck, I’ll look it over later but he might even be said to a cartoonist’s cartoonist. So, thanks for sharing.

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    Made me think of Robert Shields, writer of the world’s longest diary, who I’ve always thought deserved to have a film made about him.

  • http://www.webcomicsnation.com/dholvrsn/index.php Doug Holverson

    Pushing Ward Kimball even farther into the wackier is quite an achievement!

    The first jpeg on top of this page made me think of that old MAD logo that had the little Kurtzman cartoons of fat girls chasing down centaurs inside the letters.

  • Em

    Impressive!

  • http://MrFunsBlog Floyd Norman

    John shared an office with Charlie Downs in Kimball’s second floor wing. Boy, what a fun unit that was. Dunn was one of the few cartoonist that could make you laugh out loud every time. The man was truly one of the funniest guys I ever knew.

  • http://www.crisafullidoodles.blogspot.com/ Marc Crisafulli

    Never seen any of this work before, and didn’t know him by name until your issue of Animation Blast. Remarkable!

    • amid

      Wonderful! Thanks for the great drawing, Marc!

  • Matt Jones

    Excellent & fascinating post. Reminds me of the precision with which Searle has catalogued his own life & work. He has always been a consummate journal keeper too.

  • http://theITCHblog.com craig yoe

    well, totally milt gross–but totally cool. quite amazing and i’d be the first in line to buy a book. amid, one of the coolest finds and posts i’ve since since forever. (and i love marc’s drawing!)

  • http://www.warrenleonhardt.com w

    Amazing stuff! Thanks for showing it. The guy’s one of my heroes with a capital ‘H’! Pleazes H. do a book and I’ll buy a whack of ‘em and leave them on schoolbuses.

  • Andrew Tisher

    These are believably beautiful and hilarious’ and a bound collection would be a treasure. Amid, thank you many times over for sharing these gorgeous images. The ideas! The colors! Life! Deeply inspiring.

  • http://aalong64.blogspot.com Aaron Long

    These are such great drawings. Thank you so much for sharing these with us.

  • chris lindridge

    I have just found this website of John Dunn…He is my first cousin and I have not known anything about him for years, as our family lost contact years ago! My own name is Brough (Christine)and we lived at 59 Lloyd St. Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland.My father was his Uncle Charlie and He had three sisters..Sarah, Agnes and Chrissie….If any of the Dunn family read this,I would love to hear from them My e-mail is

    [email protected]

  • Jean Hacker

    Went checking on the internet about John Dunn cartoonist. His mother was my aunt Agnes, my fathers sister. I was surprised to see a photograph, among the collections of his callendar.The photograph has my aunt Sarah , aunt chris, aunt agnes . as well as John’s family, who i am not familiar with. I did corrispond with aunt Agnes way back in the 1960′s . I have a photograph of the Brough family, and John was a baby in it .taken just before Agnes, Chris.and my uncle Jack all set sail for Canada & the United States. My own father was only about 16 or 17 at the time . he did not marry until 29 years of age . I was born after the war. So if any one of the Dunn family would like to get in touch . I now live in Virginia…

  • Jean Hacker

    My email address did not post with my story above . but if any of the Dunn family would like to get in touch . my email is [email protected] By the way . The posting above of Christine Lindridge , is my sister who is two years older. We still have family ,in Coatbridge Two sisters & Two brothers. By the way i was wondering. if Alvin Dunn was still alive, and did he have any family.. thanks Jean Hacker………….