Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Win Smith

Winfield Frank Smith was born in Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada, on January 22, 1888, according to his World War I draft card at Information regarding his education and art training has not been found.

The 1910 U.S. Federal Census recorded Smith, his parents, Frank and Belle, and brother, Melville, in St. Paul, Minnesota on Grotto Street. Jewelry engraver Smith, his watchmaker father and brother emigrated in 1906. Smith’s mother was born in New York.

On June 5, 1917, Smith signed his World War I draft card. His address was 1013 Rivereen in Santa Ana, California. Married with two children, Smith was a self-employed jeweler who had declared his intention to naturalize. The description of him was tall and stout with brown eyes, black hair and slightly bald.

According to the 1920 census, Smith was married to Mae and had two daughters, Dorothy, 6, and Dawn, 5. They resided in Santa Ana at 1125 West 2nd Street. Smith was an advertising cartoonist. In the 1921 Santa Ana city directory listing, Smith resided at 1048 West 5th Street and worked at 313 West 4th Street.

Smith’s home, in the 1930 census, was Santa Monica, California at 1309 Arizona Avenue. The census recorded his occupation as “cartoonist” in the “cinema” industry. At the time he was working at the Walt Disney Studio, which opened in 1923 in Los Angeles and moved, in 1925, to a larger space. (Staff photographs are at Mike Barrier’s site. The Smith photograph, top, is a detail from one of them.)

Charles Solomon’s Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation (1989) revealed Smith’s important contribution at Disney.

According to Diane Disney Miller, “Three Little Pigs” was also the first cartoon to have a complete storyboard. Originally devised by Win Smith, Iwerks’s former assistant, the storyboard consisted of a series of small drawings and captions pinned to a corkboard wall that showed the action of the film. Preliminary sketches and comic book-like plans had been used on many earlier films. Pinning the drawings to a wall enabled the artists to add, remove or change sketches and to see easily how various sequences within the film related to each other. 

The storyboard represented Disney’s solution to the problem of bringing order and structure to the animated short….

Smith was involved at the beginning of the Mickey Mouse comic strip. Solomon said:

In January 1930 — only fourteen months after the premiere of “Steamboat Willie” — the Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared, distributed by Hearst’s King Features. Iwerks and his assistant, Win Smith, did the strip for the first few months…

In the book, Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists (2008), Don Peri interviewed Floyd Gottfredson who explained how he got involved with the Mickey Mouse comic strip:

…I did move on to the strip. This fellow, Win Smith, was doing the strip at the time. I was twenty-four and Walt was twenty-seven and Win was forty-three [sic: 42]. We all referred to him as an old man. Interestingly enough, he drew with his right hand and wrote with with left hand. Ub drew the first eighteen strips, and Walt did the gags on those. From that time on, he tried to get Win to write the strip. Win held off for some reason. I never knew why; whether he felt that he either couldn’t do it or didn’t want to take on the extra work. But Walt carried the writing on to a point where King Features asked Walt to go into continuities…on the Mickey daily. He carried that on for maybe a month and a half, still trying to get Win to take over the writing. Finally, Walt called Win in and had a showdown with him. In about a half hour, Win came storming out to my desk and said, “It looks like you got a new job.” 

I said, “Why is this?”

He said, “No young whippersnapper is going to tell me what to do,” and he walked out of the studio into oblivion. So Walt called me in and asked if I’d take it over.

Gottfredson drew the strip for the next forty-five years.

According to American Newspaper Comics (2012), the Mickey Mouse daily strip began January 13, 1930. Smith inked Iwerks’ pencils through February 8. Iwerks returned to animation, and Smith did the pencils and inks from February 10 to May 3, 1930. The original art for one of the strips is here.

After Disney, Smith ghosted the Rudolph Ising and Hugh Harman series Bosko, which appeared in 1934 and distributed by Hugh’s brother’s, Fred Harman Syndicate. Samples can be viewed here.

In the late 1930s, Smith wrote stories for the Walter Lantz studio and drew comic book stories for Dell Publishing.

Some of those Dell comics were published after Smith’s death.

The 1940 census recorded Smith, divorced, and his two daughters, in Los Angeles at 4611 Finley. Smith was a naturalized citizen and self-employed cartoonist in the publishing industry. The highest level of his education was the eighth grade. His youngest daughter, Dawn Ashworth, also divorced, was an animation painter. Some sources said Smith was an art teacher at Phoenix High School in Arizona. If true, then it was a short career.

Smith passed away October 8, 1941, in Los Angeles, California, according to the California Death Index at An obituary has not been found. Smith was buried in Glendale, California.

—Alex Jay

One comment on “Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Win Smith

  1. Hi there.

    As far as I know, it was Webb Smith, not Win, who came up with storyboards at Disney. If Diane Disney Miller ever mentioned Win, I guess she was wrong.

    Alberto Becattini

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.