We called her “Big Liz” because she was an attractive, statuesque blonde. Animation artist Rolly Crump even featured her in a series of black & white “Beat Posters” that he designed back in the 1950s. One wonderful stylized poster featured a cool Elizabeth Case Zwicker giving poetry readings at a local Beatnik hangout. That’s right, back in the 1950s we were known as the “Beat Generation.” Think Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Liz Case was part of that whole counter culture scene, but we’ll get to that later.

Elizabeth Case was the daughter of famed radio announcer Nelson Case, and she always wanted to be an artist. Back in 1956, Liz had just been divorced and was looking for work. Oddly enough, she answered a newspaper ad in the Los Angeles Times. The Walt Disney Studio was looking for animation artists. Liz quickly put a portfolio together and headed for Burbank and the Walt Disney Studio. In a remarkable moment of honesty, the Disney people asked Liz if she had another source of income because - as they put it - “We don’t pay very much.” Liz assured Disney she had child support so they quickly hired her. I had begun my apprenticeship with Disney a few months earlier, so all of us young kids became fast friends. The Disney old timers often scolded us for being loud and unruly in the animation hallways and disturbing the old veterans who were trying to work. Liz and madcap artist Rolly Crump were often the instigators of the studio mischief that took place daily. Yes, we were unruly kids at Disney back in the day. Nice to know some things never change. While women were not allowed to become animators back in the 1950s, don’t get the idea they kept a low profile. These were strong women who could easily hold their own with their often privileged male counterparts. As you can imagine, Liz Case didn’t take guff from any man on the Disney staff. Elizabeth Case found that her fine art training served her well on “Sleeping Beauty.” She knew that Disney wanted skilled draftsmen on the feature, not just people who could draw cartoons. You have to know the human figure and how to interpret human movement. Liz found herself doing a lot of the birds in “Sleeping Beauty.” She studied birds in the Disney research library, and quickly developed a bird consciousness. Once Sequence 8 was completed she moved on to other characters in the film. Liz seems to enjoy the challenge each character presented and had truly found a home at Disney animation.

All that came to an end when “Sleeping Beauty” was finally completed. The Disney animation staff which had ramped up to produce the animated motion picture, was severely downsized, and hundreds of talented artists were shown the door. Elizabeth was offered work in other studio departments, but she refused. She couldn’t imagine life without animation, and didn’t want any other work. Not even for more money. Sadly, after polishing her skills on a classic Disney feature motion picture, Elizabeth Case walked away from Disney and never returned to the cartoon business. It's often said, there is life after Disney. Elizabeth Case went on to lead a fascinating life post-Disney. She became a poet, painter, and children’s book illustrator. Liz even painted a mural in the New Jersey public library. Because of her passion for politics and women’s rights it was not surprising that Elizabeth would eventually make her way to San Francisco. Knowing how feisty Liz could be, I was not surprised to hear that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had her thrown out of his City Lights bookstore because he didn’t care for her “women’s poetry.” Undaunted, Elizabeth Case continued with the San Francisco beat movement. And in 1958, Liz was the only one doing poetry readings as coffee houses replaced night clubs. Soon, Liz became known as the “Mother of the Beat Generation.”

Elizabeth Case Zwicker passed away in the year 2006 at the age of seventy-six. Though many years have passed and the fifties counter culture movement is a thing of the past, I can still see her in her cool cape, sandals and dark eye makeup. No doubt Liz would be imploring us to embrace a sense of social responsibility. The women in animation are all too often forgotten when it comes to writing Disney history. Elizabeth Case Zwicker is a woman you should know - and remember.

This wonderful drawing of Bea Tomargo and Elizabeth Case was created by animator, John Sparey. John often sketched the Disney artists back in the fifties. His drawings are remarkable and spot on.

This wonderful drawing of Bea Tomargo and Elizabeth Case was created by animator, John Sparey. John often sketched the Disney artists back in the fifties. His drawings are remarkable and spot on.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman

It’s strangely quiet in this pleasant San Diego patio. The sound of a fountain gurgles nearby and the area is surprisingly vacant with the exception of a few birds pecking away at the stone tiles. A few of the business nearby have opened their doors and two attractive young women wearing shorts greet each other as their business day is about to begin. It’s almost difficult to imagine what is going on outside this peaceful space. Just outside, the San Diego Comic Book Convention is already ramping up for day number two. Traffic begins to thicken on the city streets and the sidewalks are already filled with kids on their way to the show. However, this peaceful space remains undisturbed by the chaos outside and one would hardly know the craziness going on a few feet away.

As much as I love the San Diego ComicCon I find it important to get away on occasion. After fighting the crowds early this morning, I’ve already headed away from the convention center and the hotel. There’s a need to stop and decompress after dealing with the general chaos. Although I love the energy and general madness of this annual convention, it’s wise to occasionally take a step back and take a moment to relax in a quiet space. As one who’s attended this crazy event since the early days of the El Cortez Hotel, you learn you’ve got to take the San Diego Con in small doses. If not, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed, and I think that’s what turned off so many people over the past few years. The San Diego ComicCon has clearly grown to a massive size and if you’re going to survive this annual media fest it’s wise to have a strategy. Don’t think of the con as a large meal because you’ll only get indigestion. There’s simply way too much to consume. I view the San Diego ComicCon as my snack bar - and I only take what’s needed.

It’s another beautiful day in San Diego and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Sometimes we get so caught up in the comic media madness we forget there’s a good deal more to enjoy in this wonderful city. It might be wise to put down that comic book for a moment and look around the city and the beautiful marina. There’s an ocean and a beautiful blue sky just a few feet away and it’s not even a special effect. I’ll be heading back to the convention center sometime today. However, for now - I’m taking my time.

I'm in San Diego and I've found a quiet space early this morning.

I'm in San Diego and I've found a quiet space early this morning.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman

Did you know I once considered a job in Disney’s layout department? Yes, it’s true. Veteran layout artist, Joe Hale tried to talk me into joining Walt Disney Studios layout department back in the sixties. While I truly admire and respect the incredible work done by Disney’s premiere layout artists, I don’t think it would have been a good fit for this particular artist.

I remember seeing these beautiful layouts from Walt Disney’s classic films when I was a kid eager to become an animation professional. I would spend hours in the Santa Barbara library pouring over all the books I could find on Disney animated films. One of the things I especially admired was the animation layouts, especially the work done in the Disney films, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and so many others. Because of todays technology, we can now enlarge these images for greater study. These beautiful backgrounds were created from inspired layout sketches created by the Disney layout artists and you’ve got to admit the work is incredible. Of course, it’s not just feature films that impress me. The layouts created for the Disney short films are no less impressive. I honestly don’t regret not getting into the layout department. While I admire the Disney veterans and continue to study the work of veterans such as Ernie Nordi, Don Griffith, Joe Hale, Mac Stewart, Jack Huber and Homer Jonas it’s a job best left for the artists with those special skills.

Back in 1966, I toyed with the idea of becoming a Disney layout artist but it simply didn’t work out. It appears there was a reason for this turn of events and it was a good one. I eventually found a home in the story department of Walt Disney Productions and it was a job I never even considered. However, this decision to move from animation to story was decided by a man who was a good deal wiser than myself, and for that I’m forever grateful.

Inspired sketches created by the Disney layout artists. It was a job I once considered.

Inspired sketches created by the Disney layout artists. It was a job I once considered.

Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman