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NO. 789
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RF CHAPTER EIGHT of TEN
Rat Fink Revealed

"It all started with a mouse."

That's what Walt Disney used to remind everyone who worked in his huge empire. Back in 1922, Walt Disney got his start running the ill-fated Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri, with his pal, genius animator Ub Iwerks.

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Iwerks created a cartoon character named Oswald the Rabbit, but Disney lost legal rights to the character, so he asked Iwerks to create a new character -- not another rabbit, but a mouse. Disney had a pet mouse named Mortimer, so he suggested calling the new character MORTIMER MOUSE.

But the name "Mortimer" was off-putting, completely out of date, and a bit odd, so Walt's wife suggested that he change the character's name to Mickey -- and MICKEY MOUSE was born, in 1928. Here is one of Iwerks' original sketches, with two versions of the finished character circled in blue.
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The MICKEY MOUSE character famously evolved as the years passed...
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The term RAT FINK has a long and storied past! In Yiddish, "fink," is synonamous with "finch," meaning "one who sings." So originally, FINK was a derogatory term for a tattletale, a stool pigeon or a spy. It was understood by some to be a substitute for the word "fuck," as in "rat fuck," a label for a spy.

The term gained popularity thanks to a man named Albert Fink, who worked for the Louisville and Nashville Railroads from around 1860 to the late 1880's. Fink worked his way up from engineer to president of the company. His spies -- the original "finks"-- infiltrated the labor unions to report on their meetings and plans for strikes.
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In the late 1960s, Steve Allen, the original host of the first-ever television talk show, The Tonight Show, adopted the term "Rat Fink," and began using it on the air constantly. Pictured above is a car with the term spray-painted on its side -- below is the gold "Rat Fink" pin the Tonight Show occasionally awarded to certain deserving parties. Allen was one of those who understood that "fink" was a euphemism.
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MEANWHILE...
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Like Ed Roth, Stanley "Mouse" first acheived fame by drawing crazy characters on clothing, a craze dubbed "Weirdo Shirts" or "Monster Shirts." Pictured above is a 1960 auto show poster advertising a live appearance of "Mouse," with art by Mouse (enlarged on right) showing a fat rat in sunglasses with human hands and feet.

Seen below is a Mouse ad from Hot Rod And Custom Car magazine, September 1961. This ad, drawn by Mouse, features a giant rat holding a "Weirdo Shirt," surrounded by other Mouse hot-rod characters such as "Wild One." Note that the rat has a "ROTH" heart tattoo on his right arm.
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The ad below, from the 1961 Mouse catalog, features Mouse's signature character, Fred Flypogger. Fred's name can be seen on the "Weirdo Shirt" he's holding.
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HOW I CREATED THE RAT FINK
by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth
In Confessions of a Rat Fink, Ed Roth said, "It all started back in the Fifties, I think, as we were sittin' at the Apollo, a fast food restaurant on the eastern edge of Maywood (pictured below). This friend of mine who'd come with me was used to these types of goings-on. We all called him 'Fast Eddie.' "
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Apparently a conversation started with Ed expressing anger that a certain Kansas City mechanic had screwed him, aka "fucked him over," and so the guy was a real "rat fuck."

Roth continues, "Me and Eddie started yakking about engines and the latest movies. Eddie popped up and started this thing about how this movie 'Fantasia' was staking a big claim on the local pocketbooks. Well I had gone to see it, and I'd been getting pretty fed up with all the publicity this little mouse was getting. I told Fast E that it was all a big publicity stunt from Disney. I told him how Disney had developed Mickey Mouse from a sickly stick figure in 'Piccolo Pete' in the late 20s to a full-fledged mouse in the fantastic 'Fantasia.'


So I started steaming a bit and I took one of the napkins in my t-shirt and spread it on the table. I took my pencil and started drawing this rockin 'n' rollin' Rat Fink character. It was a put-on, natch. But it gave me alot of pleasure putting Fast Eddie through one of these head trips. And since I had my feathers ruffled and I was getting hotter and hotter, that pencil flowed like a finely-oiled tool.

I told Eddie if we hopped in the old time machine and danced back in history far enough, that Mickey's ancestors would've looked something like 'This!' "


BELOW: Robby's Photoshop recreations (THEY AIN'T REAL, PEOPLE!) of what the napkin in Roth's story would have looked like!
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"Up to then I had not the foggiest idea of what I was gonna draw so I quick put two eyeballs down first and then the jagged teeth. After that, the drawing of Rat Fink just oozed from the pencil. I put the initials RF on the pot belly chest to symbolize his nutty name."
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Ed Roth continues, "Kinda like Superman! And I put a cape on him just to make him a little more 'special,' but I erased it cause I figured that the owners of Superman might get a little upset with my brand of humor. The food came and the napkin went into my pocket to escape the ketchup mess and fry-juice that usually accompany such delicacies.

I forgot about Rat Fink until the next day, when Fast Eddie came into the shop and asked me to do that twisted drawing on a shirt. His freaky friends wanted it on their shirts too, so I scoped out the idea of getting some iron-ons or a silkscreen made. A silkscreen lets you make copies in seconds with each stroke of the squeegee.

So far, I'd been doing shirts with a small airbrush and it took about an hour to whip out a half-decent one. I took that future museum-piece of a napkin and enlarged it onto the fridge in my shop with one of those overhead projectors that were always being hawked in old comic books, and in my usual race car style, I outlined that rat in black to make him more 'outstanding.' Back then, it was like the dark ages of silkscreening.

Most experienced silkscreeners were still using touche and asphaltum, so I went to this hotshot engraver who had the latest tech on screens. I walked into the place and the head honcho told me that I had to provide a piece of black-and-white artwork to make the transparency for the screen.

Argh! Oh man! I explained to him 'bout the blown-up drawing that I had perfectly (and permanently) painted on my fridge. This dude's face curved into a sly-kinda grin and he said, 'That'll do!'

Immediately I jammed back to the shop, dissected the fridge, got the door, and flew back to the engraver to make the screen."

BELOW: Robby's Photoshop recreation (CALM DOWN, THIS IS FAKE TOO!) of what this moment would have looked like.
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BELOW: No fakery here. This is a REAL photo of Roth working on a car. As you can see, the wall behind him is covered with doodles of all kinds.
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And here's Ed standing next to the bathroom in his studio, "The Crack Inn," with a door also covered by doodles.
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These pictures don't really prove anything, except that Roth and his staff definately had a tendency to draw on the walls and doors that surrounded them.
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When art dealer Charley Hafen traveled to Manti, Utah to buy some Roth’s momentos, “I had very specific things I was looking for,” he said. According to Hafen, he did walk away from the sale with the refrigerator door the original Rat Fink had been painted on.

I tried to contect Mr. Hafen for nearly a year, but he did not respond to my repeated messages and phone calls. So, let's take his claim at face value. He bought a refridgerator door with Rat Fink painted on it. That doesn't really prove anything, because the drawing could have been done at any time.

And besides, how would a refridgerator door qualify as "black and white artwork"? What was required was art on a flat surface. A drawing on a refridgerator door would still need to have been transfered to paper. So the fridge door story doesn't seem to make sense.

Maybe we can shed some light on the subject by tracking down Finkie's first appearance in print. Pictured below is a Roth ad from CAR MODEL, March-April 1963. As you can see, Rat Fink is not mentioned anywhere, and is not seen in Roth's personal logo!
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Boom goes the dynamite! World, meet RAT FINK, in his first-ever published appearance, on a decal listed as a "New Product" in the July 1963 issue of CAR CRAFT magazine.
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BELOW: This enlargement of the RF image in the ad above shows the first-ever drawing of Rat Fink, wearing black overalls, with vaguely-defined flies buzzing around his head.
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This image was also used for T-shirts. Pictured below is a cool rare shot of a photostat of the image being inserted into a Roth catalog page.
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At some point after the drawing above was made, the "R.F." on Finkie's overalls changed from inner pin-stripes to a more 3-D look...
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The new "RF" initials on Finkie's overalls quickly became so popular, the design was soon sold as a stand-alone decal!
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What YEAR did all this happen? Another early RF decal seems to indicate that the original Fink drawing was done in 1962, then later changed when Roth realized Finkie wouldn't see print until 1963. The evidence is below!
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A rare full-color ad selling a RAT FINK T-shirt, with a new drawing of Finkie's head poking its way into Ed Roth's personal logo. Note that in his early days, Finkie is NEVER identified by name. This may have been because the character's real original (secret) name was Rat Fuck, and the F-word could not be printed in a catalog in this era.
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By the time this ad ran in CAR CRAFT's September 1965 issue, Finkie's profile had been standardized, and prominently incorporated into Roth's logo.
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BELOW: When the RAT FINK was sold as part of this nine-decal sheet in 1963, he was just one of many crazy hot-rod characters, including Suicide Scrambler, Mother's Worry, and Big Bad Chevy. Of course, Finkie would soon become the breakout star of the bunch!
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ROTH vs. MOUSE
Stanly Mouse has another version of Rat Fink's creation, with no napkin, and no fridge. According to Mouse: "[Roth] took a bunch of my catalogs back to L.A. and had his artists copy all my stuff and they created Rat Fink out of my characters. He took my character Freddy Flypogger and turned him into a rodent. You take the tail, ears and nose off, and you have Freddy Flypogger."
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WOW! Mouse has a point. Pot belly, huge feet, wild hair, huge toothy grin -- Side by side, it really does look like Rat Fink is a copy of Fred Flypogger. Roth copied Mouse! Ed Roth is a plagerist!

BUT WAIT...

Look at the comparison below! Side by side, it really does look like Fred Flypogger is a copy of
Characters drawn by MAD magazine's Don Martin! Mouse copied Don Martin! Mouse is a plagerist!
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BUT WAIT! Pot belly, huge feet, wild hair, huge toothy grin. Don Martin's characters are a copy of cartoonist Virgil Partch! Don Martin copied Virgil Partch! Don Martin is a plagerist!
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BUT WAIT! Virgil Partch's work resembles six thousand year old drawings made by cave men. Virgil Partch copied cave men! Virgil Partch is a plagerist!
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The point is, we should be very careful before accusing anyone of plagerism, because nothing is totally original. Every character every created, since day one, has had precedents -- with the possible exception of Adam and Eve!

Now let's look at something interesting. Pictured below is a 1959 ad for Roth Studios. One of the products advertised is a "Weirdo Shirt' with a monster named "Irrestible Beast." As you can see, the character, who has bug eyes, fanged teeth, and huge, oversized feet, bears a strong resemblence to Rat Fink. And Beast was created by Roth long before Flypogger made his debut in 1961.
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Remember, Roth had been creating characters such as this for years, and since he often airbrushed them right in front of the customer, there can be no doubt that these shirts were definately done by Ed Roth, and by Ed Roth alone.
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Above, Roth painting shirts in the Sixties. Below, a Roth design from 1980.
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What does it look like when Big Daddy draws? To see for yourself, click the play button below to see Ed Roth drawing on his own hand in 1995.

See! He CAN draw! And remember, at this time everyone was copying everyone. The comparison below shows that an original decal by Monte was unquestionably the basis for a Weirdo Shirt design signed by Mouse.
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Roth had a staff of 25 artists, including Ed Newton and art director Robert Williams, but he was always looking for new talent.

According to Larry Monteverde, son of decal designer Don "Monte" Monteverde (who we covered in DIAL B #785), Roth hired his father to do the first drawing of the Rat Fink. No napkin, no fridge.

Quite a claim! What evidence is there to back it up? Let's take a look at some of Monte's work, and compare it with the premiere Rat Fink drawing....
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Monte's characters sometimes had hands or feet with weird, crooked digits on them -- RF has a weird, crooked toe.
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The character on this decal by Monte has a pot belly, motion lines around the feet, and a weird, crooked toe -- traits that are all shared by RF.
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Larry Monteverde also says Ed Roth hired his father to create other hot-rod characters -- BAD NEWS, SPEED ADDICT, BORN MEAN and CHICKEN SHIFT. The similiarities in the style of drawing used for Rat Fink image are obvious!
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But guess what? Even if what Mouse and Monte's son say is true, it doesn't necessarily contradict Roth's version of RAT FINK'S origin. It's entirely possibly that Roth had Mouse's Fred Flypogger in mind when he first drew Rat Fink in pencil, on a napkin.

It's also possible that Roth later hired Monte to ink and refine his original drawing. In my view, that doesn't mean Mouse or Monte are entitled to be credited as Rat Fink co-creators. It was ROTH who put it all together, and created an immortal icon for a generation.

And anyway reader, let's get one thing stright right here and now: Ed Roth never considered himself to be a top cartoon artist. He was once asked which he preferred, drawing monsters or working on cars, and he replied, "It's a real toss-up. I suppose working on cars is where I make good, but I've gotta make the money with the monsters."

No one thinks Ed Roth was a top illustrator. But EVERYONE agrees Ed was one of the most innovative custom car creators in the history of the world. Drawing be damned! Could Michelangelo build a car?

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In the end, it all boils down to THIS... here, in the opinion of Robby Reed, creator of this site and author of this article, is the secret origin of Rat Fink:

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth came up with the basic concept and the name RAT FINK in 1962, imagining the character as an ancestor and foil to Mickey Mouse, modeling him after Stanley Mouse's Fred Flypogger (who, in turn, was inspired by the work of Don Martin and Basil Wolverton). Ed drew the first Fink on a napkin in a diner, then later he put that napkin on the door of his shop rerfridgerator.

Roth Studio artist Don Newton inked that drawing, possibly to prevent it from fading away. After deciding he wanted to merchandise of the character in 1963, Roth took the napkin off the fridge door and hired Don Monteverde to re-ink it. Monte added defination and blackened in RF's overalls, highlighting the pin-striped RF initials on Finkie's pot belly.

The RF initials were later changed to a sort of 3-D look. This version was colorized usingvarious random color schemes. Finkie's black overalls gained their definitve red coloring when the Fink was painted by Revell's Ricardo Diaz. The end result was an iconic character that defined a generation... RAT FINK!

Visually, it went like this...
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“Some people thought that Rat Fink was ghastly,” Roth told the LA Times in 1997. "Moms used to drag their kids away from my booth."

“Whenever I looked at that drawing," Roth once said, "I felt I was looking, for the first time, at reality. My Xreality. The world that my parents, teachers, and responsible-type people all around me belonged to. Wasn’t my world. Why did I have to be like them, live like them? I didn’t. And Rat Fink helped me realize that.”

So there you have it, reader. Now you know why this landmark DIAL B series is called Secret Origins of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Rat Fink... because RF was not created by Mouse, or Don Newton, or Robert Williams, or Monte, or anyone else.

Rat Fink, icon for a generation, was created by, and belongs to only one man... Ed "Big Daddy" Roth!

Remember, it all started with a RAT!

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This series has drawn thousands of NEW readers to DIAL B for BLOG, both Ed Roth fans and hot rod enthusiasts! Welcome, new readers! And prepare yourself. In the world of comics we have something called an 80 pg. GIANT. The Rat Fink has never had an 80 pg. GIANT -- until NOW! New readers, trust me -- you have NEVER seen anything like our next issue! Miss it not!
RF CHAPTER NINE: AN 80 pg. GIANT!
BOOM!
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