Noble Boy

By Scott Morse
32 pages, color
Published by Red Window; distributed by AdHouse Books

I have a horrible confession to make; despite having seen a lot of and appreciating classic animation, I know very little about the people behind the scenes that created the works in the first place. That’s why Scott Morse’s Noble Boy seemed like such a dream made true, with his biography of animation great Maurice Noble hopefully illuminating people like myself into his life.

Maurice Noble went through college forced to dig for half-used tubes of paint thrown away by rich students, and may have been consigned to a life of department store window dressing if Disney hadn’t brought him into the animation fold. What Noble brought into the world of animation was not only his skills, though, but someone that people would look up to as not just a talent but as a person.

It’s interesting to read Morse’s recollections of Noble; knowing that Morse worked with the animation great made me excited because I figured if anyone could bring Noble to life it would be him. And the first time I read through Noble Boy… I was actually a little disappointed. It wasn’t until I sat down and read it again that I began to figure out that the problem wasn’t what Morse created, but rather what I’d wanted Morse to create. I found myself expecting a lavish biography of Noble, and it was an unfair expectation to put on a 32-page book printed on thick boards where half the pages are paintings facing pieces of rhyming text. In many ways it’s a children’s book for adults, giving us just small glimpses into Noble and it was like to be around him.

Once I figured that out, Noble Boy took on a very different shape. What I had now wasn’t a biography but rather a collection of snapshots from Morse, with verses to make me smile as I looked at them again. At the same time, each piece is a springboard to make you want to know more. By the time I’d finished my re-reading of Noble Boy I found myself online performing research on the 1941 artist strike at Disney, or to learn more about his collaborations with Chuck Jones. Noble Boy is a primer for finding out about Noble’s life, and in that I appreciate it. More importantly, Morse peppers the book with his personal recollections of Noble, from what his house was like, to the teasing rebukes Noble would give Morse for wearing his baseball cap backwards. We start to get the glimmers of what Noble was like, and while I’d have loved to see even more, it’s a nice first look for people like me who never knew anything about Noble before now.

I’m sure Noble would’ve been honored to see the 17 paintings that Morse created in honor of him for Noble Boy. Each of these 9.5×5.5″ illustrations are full of eye-popping colors, a montage of events in Noble’s life. Some of them are specific scenes, like Noble running down the steps beckoning his “flock” of students (represented as birds throughout the book) to come along, while others are more symbolic, like the pink elephants that he illustrated from Dumbo amidst other hallmarks from the Disney era of his life. The one thing they all have in common is how Morse almost makes the reader’s eye slide across the page, pulling in all the detail piece by piece. There’s a sense of motion to these illustrations despite them all being a single image; for someone who studied animation under Noble, it’s very apt that Morse has found a way to bring single illustrations to life just as easily.

While Noble Boy may not have been what I expected at first, it’s an attractive, beautifully produced book. I love the care that was put into its physical production as well, with the thick cardboard pages that you normally find in children’s books, the careful design of the spine to keep it from cracking when you turn the pages, to the carefully rounded edges of the corners. This is the sort of book you can keep out for guests to continually wow them with the level of craft and care on display here. For fans of Morse’s art, or who just want to begin to learn about Noble’s life, this is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

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2 comments to Noble Boy

  • Karon

    Excellent. Another book for my Disney fanatic Mom to read to the grandkids.

  • Gabriel Francescoli

    Just write to say I’ve been reading you on icomics for a long while now, that your reviews have been very helpful to my comics addiction, and that I will be reading you on your new site.
    And, as some time ago I’ve sent you some info about an old comic being re-published (Sudden Gravity), I’m waiting to read your comment on this one!