While Ralph Heimdahl ’30 attended St. Cloud State University when it was a teachers college, his career turned out to be more animated. Heimdahl’s daughter, Martha Slavin, is ensuring her late father’s creative legacy carries on and benefits students at his alma mater.
Heimdahl finished his two-year degree in 1930, going on to teach art for several years before he was invited to attend Walt Disney’s animation school. Eventually he would teach animation there while working on such classics as “Fantasia,” “Dumbo” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Heimdahl was offered the Bugs Bunny newspaper comic strip in 1948. He would illustrate it for over 30 years. He also drew comic book covers and drew some of the children’s books that featured Bugs Bunny.
He would later do some work for Hanna-Barbera on the Yogi Bear comic strips that published in England.
In 2019, Heimdahl’s daughter, Martha Slavin, started working with St. Cloud State Vice President of University Advancement Matt Andrew and University Archivist Tom Steman to bring some of her father’s work on the Bugs Bunny comic strips to the University Archives. By the end of 2019, the materials were housed at St. Cloud State.
“SCSU seemed the best place for my dad’s drawings. I wanted them to be saved and available to other people to look at,” Slavin said. “I hope that the collection will be a means of studying how an artist develops ideas — whether for comic art or other media.”
Slavin said it typically took her father about one day to design and draw one daily strip — first as a pencil underdrawing, then the final inked version with a brush. “When you are working on something in the art world, you spend your time in intense concentration. But it is also just a job in the end,” Slavin said. “He enjoyed it or he would have stopped and worked at something else. It was a challenge to him and he especially enjoyed the reaction from people who loved the strip and Bugs Bunny.”
Slavin said her father was a meticulous chronicler of his time as an artist. Heimdahl kept five binders full of information about his activities, including extra work he did for various charities, colleges and libraries, as well as every fan letter he ever received.
Slavin and her husband, Bill, provided financial support for Archives to hire staff to catalog and arrange the materials and records from Heimdahl. Steman said then-graduate student Marissa Hendrickson helped work on the project, which includes over a thousand illustrations.
Slavin said she hopes the materials give people insight into her father — who she said has been an inspiration to many, including those in his own family.
“My dad was a humble, quiet, serious person, but he never lost his child-like wonder. He was always seeing things in a different way,” Slavin said. “He had a good sense of humor, which would show up in his drawings. His drawings were not laugh-out-loud kinds of drawings. They would just make you smile.”