Col. Heeza Liar, face to face with his director, the young Walter Lantz.


Best known medium: Theatrical animation
Released by: J.R. Bray & Co.
First appeared: 1913 (or possibly a little earlier)
Creator: John Randolph Bray
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Before Mickey Mouse, before Felix the Cat, even before Koko the Clown, the first …

continued below

… ongoing animated character to achieve national fame was a blustering braggart whose name was the equal of his reputation — Col. Heeza Liar.

The colonel was created by John R. Bray, one of the pioneers of animation, who learned how to make drawings appear to move directly from Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur, Little Nemo) himself. (Actually, Bray sort of stole the techniques, posing as a reporter to induce the not-especially-secretive McCay into showing him how it was done, then patenting the process for himself.) The character first appeared in magazine cartoons, but it isn't clear exactly when those began. A good start date for him is November 29, 1913, when Bray released Col. Heeza Liar in Africa, the first of the colonel's 59 cartoons.

Col. Heeza Liar was probably intended as a caricature of Teddy Roosevelt, but he also represented a type seen throughout literature, from Baron Munchausen to Commander McBragg. The type is commonly seen as the boring old former adventurer in London clubs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The colonel was in late middle age, short, and not slim. He told wildly improbable stories that were entertaining to viewers, but annoying to listeners. He'd no doubt have had the kind of voice that commanded attention, if not for the fact that his films were all silent.

Aside from being the first bankable property of the first commercial animated studio, Colonel Heeza Liar was also the first Bray series directed by Walter Lantz, who just a few years earlier had gotten his start in animation at King Features, where he did various jobs on Happy Hooligan, The Katzenjammer Kids and other well known newspaper characters. Starting about 1920, Lantz wrote, animated and directed the colonel's cartoons mostly by himself. He even appeared on-screen with the colonel, as with other silent-era characters such as Dinky Doodle & Weakheart, as Lantz so frequently mixed live action with animation, he was sometimes recognized on the street.

Tho Col. Heeza Liar was a pioneer in animation, he wasn't a pioneer in the merchandising of animated properties. The cartoons were the only thing keeping him in the public eye, and they ended with Col. Heeza Liar's Romance, released November 1, 1924. Lantz went on to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Woody Woodpecker and points beyond, while Col. Heeza Liar went to the land of defunct cartoon characters.


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Text ©2003-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Col. Heeza Liar is in the public domain. This image has been modified. Modified version © Donald D. Markstein.