Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Ralph Wolfe


Ralph Allison Wolfe was born on August 19, 1894, in Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. His full name and birth date were on his World War I and II draft cards, and his birthplace was based on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. His father, James, was Caucasian and a farmer, and his mother, Kate, half-Cherokee. Wolfe was the fourth of six children and described as “three-quarter white”. 


The Vinita Chieftain, July 31, 1907, reported the following, “Ralph Wolfe, son of Rev. J.E. Wolfe, is at home of Mrs. William Tigar where he is receiving medical treatment for a chronic case of sprained ankle. He has been afflicted for about two years.”

In the 1910 census, Wolfe, his parents, two younger siblings, uncle, maternal grandmother and aunt resided in Vinita, Oklahoma at 101 Miller Street.

Wolfe’s talents was noted in the Chieftain, July 2, 1912, “A great deal of amusement has been created among the crowds awaiting returns from Baltimore by cartoons drawn by Ralph Wolfe, a Vinita boy who possesses a remarkable talent along this line.”

On November 15, 1912, the Chieftain described Wolfe’s artistic contributions.

One night last week during the course of Dr. Bulgin’s sermon he said he was sorry he was not an artist when he thought of the church members of Vinita, for he would like to make a cartoon of each of the ministers to show how the church was supporting them. He then pictured each one in attitudes representative of their individual struggles. A few evenings later a roll was handed the doctor and opening it he found two cartoons, perfectly drawn, giving his exact ideas of two of the ministers expressed before. The artist is Ralph Wolfe of this city a young man eighteen years old, and one who has remarkable talent for work of this kind. One of the cartoons pictured Rev. Roper with bent back, the perspiration dripping from his brow and evidence of care and fatigue written on his face. He was carrying the church building on his back. It was easy to see it was Rev. Roper and the church was faithfully drawn. The other represented Rev. Burger shouldering a heavy load of ardent worshippers who sang “There is a fountain filled with mud;” for the minister was represented as standing in a pool of water very muddy, with stepping stones marked “ungodliness,” and “non-support” and “unbelief.” Above the heads of the people who stood in an ornamented vase to form the top, were notes in the air to represent the melody. This young man has done some work which is better that a great deal we see in city newspapers and he certainly has a future before him and will make a splendid success when he accepts a position in this line of work.

Wolfe was in California by 1915 if not earlier. He lived in the westside of Los Angeles according to an entry in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 4, Works of Art, Etc. 1915, New Series, Volume 10, No. 1.

Wolfe (Ralph) Sawtelle, Cal. [653
Chollychap. [Grotesque drawing of statuette of man wearing derby hat,
tight-fitting coat and large trousers, standing with heels together and
toes turned outward.] © 1 c. Mar. 16, 1915; G 49221.

Wolfe signed his World War I draft card on June 5, 1917. His occupation was caddie at the Los Angeles Country Club. His description was medium height and build with green eyes and light hair.

Wolfe’s widow mother was the head of the household in the 1920 census. The household included Wolfe, his mother, three siblings and his mother’s sister. They were Los Angeles residents at 1260 West 51st Street. Wolfe’s occupation was cartoonist in the moving pictures industry. Wolfe had the same address in the 1921 Los Angeles city directory.

Wolfe was involved with producing stop-motion animation shorts under the name, Plastic Art Productions Presents Ralph Wolfe’s Mud-Stuff; here are links to three shorts, Green Pastures, Long Live the Bull, and The Penwiper.

In the first half of the 1920s, American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Wolfe produced Robin’s Son Krusoe for the C-V [Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr.] Newspaper Service, and Around the Studios for the Los Angeles Daily News. In the second half, Wolfe drew Flying Circus from June 11 to July 2, 1927 for the San Francisco Daily News. He was followed by Sweigert. For United Feature Syndicate, Wolfe started The Outline of Polar Exploration in October 1928. Wolfe continued The Pioneers which began with Lovrien Gregory on February 12, 1928. Wolfe’s stint started July 22, 1928 and ended January 13, 1929. He also wrote it from September 23, 1928 to July 22, 1928. The Bell Syndicate was the distributor. Wolfe’s Animal Wise Cracks, for the Graphic Syndicate, appeared from 1929 to 1930.

Wolfe’s bi-coastal travels were reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 11, 1927.

Ads and Art to Be Lecture Topic
Ralph Wolfe to discuss Interesting Subject
Of interest to artists and art students is the lecture on “The Opportunities for Commercial Artists in San Francisco,” which will be given by Ralph A. Wolfe tomorrow evening at 8:30 in the studios of the Advertising Art School, 450 Geary street. Wolfe is familiar with the field of art and advertising through his connection with one of the daily papers and with one of the largest art studios in San Francisco in the capacity of solicitor.

Although he will treat his subject from the point of view of a business man, he is also an artist. In New York, with the Century Publishing Company, and in Hollywood, where he made animated cartoons, he gained the experience which enables him to speak with authority. The meeting is open to the public.

In the 1930 census Wolfe was a lodger at 14 West 68th Street in Manhattan where his occupation was newspaper cartoonist. At some point Wolfe moved back to Los Angeles.

Who’s Who of American Comic Books, 1928–1999 lists Wolfe’s animation employment at Disney, Warner Bros., and Fleisher studios in the 1930s. During Wolfe’s time at Warner Bros., his name was “hidden” in the cartoons, Have You Got Any Castles?, and Speaking of the Weather.

Wolfe wrote “and now — The Painted Voice” for Art Instruction, June 1939, “an article describing the new ‘shorthand’ of hand-drawn sound invented and patented by Dave Fleischer of Fleischer Studios, Inc., Miami, Florida…”

Undoubtedly one of the strangest inventions on record in the United States Patent Office is Patent Number 1888914. It has been issued to Dave Fleischer, directorial cartoon genius who is producing “Gulliver’s Travels” for Paramount — a full length feature cartoon in Technicolor. While Mr. Fleischer’s invention is awaiting commercial development, it awakens many conjectures as to its ultimate and fascinating possibilities.

One day while studying a sound track which went with one of his animated cartoons, it occurred to Dave Fleischer that it might be amusing to copy some of the queer little forms by hand! So he picked out certain forms and had his art director, Erich Schenk, paint them on a vertical strip which were later reduced and photographed on a sound track. The first hieroglyphics or forms in halftone produced the words, “Where am I?” With this as a starter, Dave Fleischer went ahead and drew up several simple bars of music which, when run through the projector, produced tones the same as, or comparable to those, made by a musical instrument. After many such attempts Fleischer was positive that an alphabet of sound could be developed if he went far enough into the subject. Today his research has convinced him that he has only scratched the surface in a fascinating new field of science which may add much to the world of amusement. Who knows? He may develop his method to a point where the amateur maker of movies can do his own sound writing and have it developed in a commercial laboratory.

Think of the possibilities of hand-drawn sound in the service of the Army Intelligence Corps, such as sending code sound tracks to be translated into lights and darks which would produce sound messages.

Dave Fleischer tells me that his hand-drawn sound is as clear as that produced by the voice or musical instruments. A hard lead pencil produces clear sound and a soft lead pencil brings out sound that is “fuzzy.” The best sound drawings can be created by opaque water color and the shapes they take are similar to those made by children when they write their names on slips of paper, fold the paper, then open it up again to see the inky butterflies which have been formed. These butterflies always come in pairs slightly joined, like Siamese twins.

As I talked with Dave Fleischer, many questions came to mind. I asked him if sounds could be caricatured as one caricatures the features of a subject in a photograph. He assured me that it was quite an easy thing to accomplish; in fact one has to be careful to avoid caricaturing sound, or drawing a sound out or stretching or twisting it produces all sorts of weird effects. The drawing of a screech or a scream, or a brogue is something on the order of a caricature and experimenting in such offers an endless variety of sound effects. I asked him if sound drawing is tedious or difficult. He answered, “Difficult, but hardly tedious if one is really interested.”

He believes that sooner or later a sound shorthand will be developed to the point where musicians will be drawing their compositions instead of playing them on instruments! The use of rubber stamps for sound writing is also within the range of possibility. Perhaps even foreign language lessons may be given a certain acceleration which may be an aid to oral teaching.

Certainly, Dave Fleischer is leading us into strange by-ways which may take us into undreamed-of worlds of interest, as did Edison with his invention of the phonograph disc, or Marconi with his wireless.

In Artists in California, 1786–1940 Edan Hughes wrote “…He worked for 40 years as a cartoonist for Disney Studios.”

On April 27, 1942, Wolfe signed his World War II draft card. His address was 7084 Hawthorne in Los Angeles, California and he was a freelance cartoonist at the Whitman Publishing Company. Wolfe’s description was five feet ten and three-quarters inches tall, 200 pounds with hazel eyes and brown hair. Wolfe said he was a disabled war veteran.

According to Who’s Who, Wolfe free-lanced in the comic book industry during the 1940s into the early 1950s; some of the titles include Barnyard Comics, Dizzy Duck, O.K. Comics and Supermouse.

The California, County Marriage Records, at Ancestry.com, said Wolfe married Enola Agnes Richardson (1905–1987) on June 12, 1947.

Wolfe passed away on June 20, 1985 in Los Angeles, according to the California Death Index at Ancestry.com. He was laid to rest at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

—Alex Jay

One comment on “Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Ralph Wolfe

  1. Ralph Wolfe was in the in-betweening bullpen at Warners by the summer of 1934, according to animator Phil Monroe. The studio's in-house newsletter THE EXPOSURE SHEET announced that Wolfe left the studio to move to Florida around January/February 1939. Later on, Chuck Jones named his Ralph Wolf character after the man himself in his series with Ralph and Sam the Sheepdog.

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