Jim Crow is one of the goofy guys who sings When I See An Elephant Fly in Dumbo.
The crows were strutting about, guffawing, and making fun of the ludicrous idea that a fat elephant–even one with big ears–could fly. This is indeed a stylized presentation of how black people were perceived to “shine” in 1941, the time that this film was made. By today’s standards, this clip would be considered prejudicial. Yet, I do not reject it for that reason. In my opinion, this is a testament to vintage Hollywood, and regardless of whether we consider it politically correct now, it does represent an era. This remains one of my favorite of the old, animated Disney clips.
If the Jim Crow crow were human, he might look like the above photo.
The 1977 movie Scott Joplin has characters who are costumed and behave in the same way as Dumbo’s crows. I suspect that this dress and behavior is more history than many would like to remember now. I think that the purpose is to demonstrate that Joplin was not the typical piano man; yet, it also shows that the piano men and other shiners did exist at the time. We all have parts of our history that we would love to gloss over, but I don’t believe that the glossing is in anyone’s best interest. I am an advocate of understanding history, and if need be, move on. To understand, we must initially acknowledge.
Likewise, in order for an artist to illustrate fashion throughout history, he must first know a bit about history–the history that actually was.
The Dumbo crows are anthromorphic. Their wings, legs, and other featurers were drawn to seem human. They even wear clothes.
This is not an authentic Disney drawing, but it is a close look-alike. Disney separated the wing tips with purple. We’ll add purple and blue to the black, when drawing our cartoon crow.
An outline of Jim Crow.
We’ll begin by establishing some guide lines
In the above drawing, Jim Crow is standing fairly straight and holding his arms almost straight outward–in a cross-like manner. Note that the center line does not go upward through the middle of the crow’s neck. It is off to one side. His shoulders [wings] are well above the center line horizontally. Put a dot halfway between the middle and the top of his hat. Put another dot halfway between that dot and the top of the hat.
I place a pink dot in the center of Jim’s actual neck. That will help when we actually add his clothes.
Jim’s head is tilted. His eyes follow one diagonal and his hat is cocked at another.
Begin by drawing the circle for the rounded part of the head.
Jim is looking to the left and upward. The guides for his eyes will be arcs and not straight lines.
Leave the pupils as outlines. We’ll color with colored pencil.
Draw the beak and tongue. Note that on the right, the beak is wider than the head.
Draw the neck. Again, note that the neck is to the right of the center line.
Place a dot where I have added the pink dot. Againk the clothes will actually wrap around the center of the neck [the pink dot] and not around the center guide line. The 2 outer vertical lines show where, in relation to Jim’s head and beak, the outside of the vest will be drawn.
The lines at the waist, pulling away from the button, are stress lines, showing how the crow’s body tugs at the clothing, to move around the wider part of the body, Jim’s belly.
Now draw the legs and feet. Again, use the outer vertical lines to help place these. After you draw the toes, you will add the claws. the shoe-like things going around Jim’s ankles are spats. See notes about spats below.
Add the claws and draw the wings.
Note that the wings are hand-like. The left one has 5 fingers.
Jim is wearing a Bowler or a Derby hat. See notes below.
Draw the hat in 3 parts: the base, the top, and the band [or ribbon].
The tail is more feathers [like the wings] and is drawn similarly.
Draw Another Jim Crow:
The above crow is standing relatively straight. We indicate his spine by a straight line. In the following, the crow is bending, and his spine is more diagonal.
The red line is a more accurate representation of what the spine is doing in the above image.
Whereas, the first crow’s head is in a 3/4 turn, this crow’s entire body is turned. Several things will move into play. For instance, you will draw the nearer leg and wing larger. That is because as things move farther away in perspective, they are drawn smaller and smaller.
To be sure that things line up correctly, it is good to understand where upper things lie relative to lower, i.e. how does the beak line up with the feet?
The crow’s tail is far right of the neck and beak.
Where the head will be, draw a circle
Draw arcs to serve as guides for placing the eyes
Draw the beak:
Draw the bottom part of the hat
Add the band [ribbon] and the tear drop shadow to the hat
Before we add the clothes, it is important to realize that the body is not a flat surface. It is 3-dimensional. I have redrawn the spine to show that it is severely curved–causing the crow to puff out his chest. The vest will puff out accordingly, and the very front of the shirt will arch out in front of the spine.
Notice that the shoulders [where the wings connect] and the head meet at the top of the spine.
This Jim Crow is holding his arm up and a bit backward–much like the policeman does in the book Frosty the Snowman
On the left wing, you see the tops of the fingers [the side where the fingernails are], the palm is facing away from the viewer and is not seen.
The left wing is different. The side facing the viewer is the palm side of this anthromorphic crow’s “hand. A line on the bottom shows where the arm turnns to allow the hand to flip upwards.
The crow’s wings are like the arms and hands of the blonde girl on the top left of the above cartoon.
Jim Crow is wearing spats around his ankles. This was a fashion trend during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Spats emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a fashion accessory, evolving from the “spatterdashes” worn to keep mud out of walking boots into a fashion accessory to dress up any pair of shoes.
Disney’s Jiminy Cricket wore spats in the 1940 film Pinocchio. Dumbo was released in 1941
Bowler Hat Variation
The same type of hat was called a Derby in America