The worlds of animation and comics have lost a mutual talent, the artist Roman Arambula, who has died aged 83. He succumbed to a heart attack on March 19.
Born in Guadalajara on September 18, 1936, Arambula studied drawing and fine art at the National Autonomous University of Mexico before starting out as an assistant cartoonist and illustrator for Mexican publications. His drawings impressed a local animation studio — Richard K. Tompkins’s Dibujos Animados — which hired him to work on commercials despite his complete inexperience in the medium.
Arambula ended up at Gamma Productions, which animated shows created by American animation studios Jay Ward Productions and Total Television, among them Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, King Leonardo, Fractured Fairy Tales, and Underdog. Arambula’s talents ranged widely: he worked on storyboarding, layout, and backgrounds, as well as animation. He claimed in an interview that his personal record for animation was 700 feet in one week (around 7-minute-45-seconds).
After Gamma shut in the late 1960s, Arambula continued his animation work in the U.S.: first in Dallas at Keitz & Herndon where he worked on the tv series Jot, and then in 1970 at Hanna-Barbera Los Angeles. At H-B, he worked in layout and animation on shows like Josie and the Pussycats, Help!…It’s the Hair Bear Bunch!, Charlotte’s Web and Scooby-Doo.
Starting in the mid-1970s, Arambula started drawing Donald Duck comic books for Western Publishing. This led to one of the prime gigs of his career. In 1975, when Floyd Gottfredson, the longtime artist behind the syndicated Mickey Mouse comic strip, retired, Arambula won the job as the principal artist. He continued to draw it until 1990. According to his friend and colleague Mark Evanier, Arambula regarded his work on the comic as his proudest achievement. (Read Evanier’s tribute here.)
Arambula was a remarkably prolific artist. He claimed to have illustrated ten children’s books in one three-month period. Even during his time on Mickey Mouse, he remained active on other projects, including Marvel comics based on Hanna-Barbera properties like Laff-a-Lympics. According to Evanier, who wrote many of these comics, “[Arambula] would draw two weeks worth of the strip every other week and in the weeks he wasn’t working on that, he drew comics for me.”
After his stint on Mickey Mouse, he storyboarded for Disney (Talespin), Warner Bros. (Pinky and the Brain), and Hanna-Barbera (The Addams Family), among others. He also served as assistant director on Hyperion Animation’s The Oz Kids. Even retirement didn’t spell the end of his productivity: he continued to draw and create graphic novels into his later years.
In 2011, Arambula sat down for an interview with The Animation Guild, in which he talked about his life and career in detail. The discussion doubles up as a fascinating potted history of a very different time in the industry. The first part can be listened to here, the second part here.