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 with his family at Disneyland