Lost Disney Gag Drawings of “Snow White” Artist Discovered

Italian-American artist Joe Magro was hired at Disney in 1936 during the studio’s expansion to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Originally from Rochester, New York, Magro was attending Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology) when his teacher Fritz Trautmann suggested that he apply to the Disney studio.

Magro left Disney in 1937 and returned to the East Coast. He apparently stayed long enough at the studio to make friends with the other artists. We know that because when Magro left, his Disney colleagues presented him with a “good luck” book filled with gag drawings. The drawings from that book are currently being auctioned by Heritage Auctions and include pieces by Fred Moore, Ward Kimball, Bill Tytla, Grim Natwick and Marc Davis, among others.

I’ve collected all the pieces in the gallery below. It’s a beautiful set of cartoon drawings by some very talented artists. [UPDATE—11/26/2013: More of Joe Magro's gag drawings were recently auctioned by Heritage. Those drawings have been added to this post.]

(Thanks, Mark Mayerson)


  • http://mattjonezanimation.blogspot.com Matt Jones

    What a find! Great to see the command of anatomy all these artists had at the Snow White period. While the inking style betrays their backgrounds in illustration and newspaper strip cartooning.
    I guess he and his family hung onto that book all these years-shame to split it up. You’ll be pleased to know artists at the feature studios still make ‘gag books’ like these for special persons.
    Any idea what became of Joe when he moved back East?

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      No idea what happened after he moved back East. Would love to find out. According to the family member who inherited these, Magro kept his Disney drawings in a safe deposit box. He obviously valued the time he spent at Disney.

      • Helen Gibson

        see the reply I sent to Matt Jones regarding my Uncle Joe after his time with Disney

    • Helen Gibson

      Yes, when my uncle came back East he was in the Army during the war. He spent time in Italy during the 1950s working with Coca-Cola accounts. He ended up spending the balance of his career as a civilian with the Air Force in Ohio, Ca., and Fl. He did graphic art while working for the Air Force. He and my aunt retired to Fl. where he did silk screening.He was a great man, with great talent and many interesting stories . i felt his art and the Disney history associated with him should be shared and that is why i decided to work with Heritage.

      • AmidAmidi

        Helen, Thank you so much for sharing more information about Joe’s life. Those of us interested in animation history enjoy finding out about artists like your uncle whose names aren’t as well known but who made valuable contributions to the development of this art form.

        • Helen Gibson

          Amid, if you go to Heritage site, the auction coming Feb. 22 -23 has some of my uncle”s Disney works that have been entered .I have enjoyed reading the notes that have been put on this site.

  • http://mudmarox.deviantart.com/gallery/ Mudmarox

    I guess i understand why he left studios only after one year!!
    Probably it wasn’t easy to stay everyday with people who have fun of your big-nose-big-mustache-appearence. Probably he left America and went to Japan to work for Nintendo as Super Mario :D ?

  • http://andrewtclarke.blogspot.com Andrew

    For gag drawings these are incredible.

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Cartoonnetwork

    Fantastic drawings, and some sexy ones too! A great discovery!

  • Nik

    Beautiful stuff! Thanks for collecting the images into one gallery.

  • http://www.trevour.com Trevour

    All beautiful drawings aside, “By Ward K. age 12″ was my favorite gag.

  • http://www.itskindofacutestory.com Jeff Heimbuch

    I love how Ward signed his with “Age 12″ haha

  • Andy Prinsey

    I did not know this Joe Magro, but these drawings by the young “grand old men” are a bit ‘racist. In 1937, Italy did not pass a good time (Mussolini was in power), and could be that Disney’s artists make fun Joe the Italian! Maybe Joe did not take it well so he has gone away! This is just a guess, but the caricatures are sometimes a bit ‘heavy stereotypes etc. It would be nice to know the true story of Joe Magro!

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      I seriously doubt any negativity was intended beyond casual ribbing based on physical characteristics, which is the core principle of caricature. The drawings don’t strike me as being very different from the average studio gag drawing of the period, except they were done with more care because it was a going-away present for Magro. In fact, caricatures of Ward Kimball — like this one — were far more extreme than the ones of Magro, and Ward was as white as they come.

      Also, Clyde Geronimi, whose drawing makes the most explicit reference to Magro’s Italian heritage, was Italian-American himself.

  • http://milesthompsonportfolio.blogspot.com/ Miles Thompson

    HOLY DRAWING ALIVE ! ! ! – Amid, man, I can smell the graphite (and the flavor of that man’s character)! … I really wish cartoonists/animators were still taught patience – could still draw like those cats. Today animators are told over and over that drawing from photos isn’t a good idea, and that a 1 minute pose is a long one (and granted, it CAN be considered so). Well what if pictures were worth MORE than a thousand words, like at least DOUBLE that? would we all spend more time drawing into and over a single image? I bet we would. would it be more likely that those drawings make it into a frame and up on the wall? – or might it become the kernel of an idea for say a whole STORY ? Disney was the best… come to think of it, they still are with Wreck it Ralph ! :)

    THIS POST IS AWESOME ! ! ! GOLD ! ! !

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      Great comment, Miles! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • http://vintageseason.com M. David Blake

    Am I the only one who briefly wondered why so many Disney artists were paying tribute to Frank Zappa?

  • http://twitter.com/jenhurler Jen

    I love that little gems like this are still being discovered today.

  • Hank

    Because they were as brilliant as Zappa!

  • Lightbox

    Wonderful drawing by artists whose styles and talents have all but disappeared from the industry. Sickens me how many CG animators at large animation houses these days proudly proclaim how they ‘can’t draw’. It shows on the screen.

  • http://www.andygonsalves.com Andy Gonsalves

    Wonderful drawings!

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RpYhsbRFRc Darryl

    This is really cool! Thanks for sharing these. Nice way to wake up and enjoy my coffee.

  • Ken Layton

    Wow, these are a fantastic find! i love these drawings! Thanks for posting. :)

  • http://CLXcool.deviantart.com Chris Leonido

    There needs to be an art book with gag drawings from every studio(providing if there are other ones that exist out there) I’d own this book in a heartbeat. This is a great discovery.

    You can tell the artists had a lot of fun doing these. That makes it even better. I was going to say that the first one was done by Chuck Jones except Chuck didn’t work for Disney. Aside from that, these are great gag drawings. :)

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Looks as though he left to become a teacher.

    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      Maybe a teacher in Rochester (Nick Nichols’ drawing).
      Hugh Hennesy has him holding a grade three book; Tytla has him teaching a class.

    • Helen Gibson

      He had already graduated from RIT and was teaching in Rochester when his professor suggested he contact Disney.

  • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

    Magro possibly ended up working in advertising on the East Coast. I found a reference for a Joe Magro who went to Italy in 1953 as the European representative for the d’Arcy Advertising Co. He was managing the Coca-Cola account at the time. I can’t be sure it’s the same person, but it’s a reasonable guess.

    • Helen Gibson

      Yes this was my uncle they were in Italy for approximately eight years

  • Jeff

    That first one definitely looks like it’s by Chuck Jones – even though he didn’t work at Disney is it possible he knew Magro? The signature and even the life drawing style match Jones who would have been about 25 years old at the time.

    • Vince

      It might be possible that it is by Jones. The “CHUCK” looks right. Jones was 25 and the thing that would link him to Disney would be his time at Cal Arts with Don Graham. A few of these guys went to a Graham class at night.

    • Eric

      I though the exact same thing concerned the “Chuck” drawing. Has all the hallmarks of a Jones piece. Jones did actually work at Disney for a short stint, but it was later. But Jones worked as a cell washer for Ub Iwerks in the early 30′s and then Ub moved over to Schlesingers studio right around the time Snow White was being produced at Disney. Clearly we know that Ub and Disney had a relationship so I could see where it would have been very possible for Ub to go visit Disney to see how Snow White was moving along and taking a young Jones along with him. So he could have crossed paths and befriended Magro. All theoretical of course, no hard evidence just yet. 

  • http://drgrobsanimationreview.com/ Gijs Grob

    Wow! This find is no less than fantastic! Great to see Snow White in a bathing suit, for example.

  • Warren

    Love the signature by Ward Kimball age 12. That’s a an absolute riot! I wish I had met the man.

  • Dave

    To see all of this collected in one book is staggering–and these were just jotted-off gag drawings!

  • http://www.warnerart.com Eric

    About the best set of gag drawings that I’ve ever seen. Wow! Amazing how much work went in to some of these.

  • Richard J.NascaM.D.

    Very proud of my very talented cousin Joe Magro.

  • mick

    That’s right, I prefer the drawings which ignore his appearance and lampoon his filing system…. particularly ‘oh boy look at that filing system’ by disney worker 09335

  • khan8282

    I can’t draw :|