Martha Heimdahl Slavin Oral History
Ralph Heimdahl of Willmar, Minnesota, was born on March 22, 1909. After two years of study, Heimdahl graduated from the St. Cloud State Teacher’s College in 1930 where he studied art, played multiple sports including football and basketball, and participated in a wide variety of campus activities. After graduation, he was the principal at Miltona during the 1930/1931 school year, and he also taught at the State School for the Deaf at Faribault. He also took classes at the Minneapolis School of Art.
Heimdahl is best known as the artist for the Bugs Bunny newspaper daily and Sunday comic strips. While employed by the Western Publishing Company, Heimdahl began drawing the Bugs Bunny Sunday comic strip for Warner Bros. and the Newspaper Enterprises Association (NEA) in October 1947. He drew the new Bugs Bunny daily strip from its inception in November 1948. Heimdahl drew both the daily and Sunday strips until the fall of 1978. At one point, the Bugs Bunny comic strip appeared in over 450 newspapers worldwide.
Heimdahl died on November 12, 1981 at the age of 72. He was a longtime resident of Arcadia, California in suburban Los Angeles where he and his wife, Esther, had three daughters - LaVerne, Linda, and Martha.
In an interview conducted on March 23, 2002, Martha Heimdahl Slavin, daughter of Ralph Heimdahl, discussed her father, his work, and the material she donated to the St. Cloud State University Archives. Slavin described her father’s life at St. Cloud State and his passion for art. She recalled his time at the State School for the Deaf in Faribault, Minnesota and how later he was hired as an animator for Walt Disney in 1937. Ralph’s job as an animator was the “in-betweener,” drawing action in between major actions of the characters on-screen. In addition, using his background in art and his two year degree from St. Cloud State, trained other animators at Disney.
Ralph left in 1941 Disney and moved to New England. He and his growing family soon moved back to southern California where he was hired by the Western Publishing Company. Martha explained that he was tapped likely to draw the Bugs Bunny comic strip due to his art portfolio. She discussed how Ralph and his writing partner Al Stoffel created the strips, the process and sometime the long hours he had to put in, and how much he loved to draw. He may not have particularly liked to draw the main Looney Tunes characters but enjoyed drawing the background characters and environments. This allowed him to continue to be creative.
Martha touched on what it was like to realize that her father was well-known and that they were often around other creative people. Her father was humble and enjoyed talking to children and others about his work. To end the interview Martha discussed the importance of the drawings that she and her family donated and expressed her hope that these materials will be used.
Interview by Tom Steman
St. Cloud State University, "Martha Heimdahl Slavin Oral History" (2022). St. Cloud State University. 1.