Roger’s Comic Ramblings: Fantagraphics’ Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse – An Appreciation

Roger Ash

Roger Ash

by Roger Ash

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: Race To Death Valley

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: Race To Death Valley

Fantagraphics recently completed collecting Floyd Gottfredson’s serial Mickey Mouse comic strips in their original format for the first time as the 14 volume Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, which covers the years 1930-1955. This was an incredible undertaking and filled in a gap far too long neglected in Disney and comic strip history. Let’s take a look back at these volumes, twelve of which collected the daily strips and two of which collected the Sunday strips. Disney fans are familiar with some of these stories as they were reformatted and printed in comic books and graphic novels over the years, though there are many that have not been printed in the US since they appeared in newspapers.

A couple notes before we begin. First, these volumes collect the adventure strips drawn by Gottfredson and stop when the Mickey Mouse strip went to the gag-a-day format so there are roughly 20 years of Gottfredson strips that remain uncollected. Secondly, these strips are products of their time and occasionally contain stereotypes of African Americans, Hispanic people, Asian people (especially during the WWII years), women, and others. This is unfortunate as it’s jarring and can mar otherwise enjoyable stories, but it was an acceptable practice in that era.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 3: High Noon At Inferno Gulch

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 3: High Noon At Inferno Gulch

I enjoyed seeing the evolution of Mickey throughout these volumes. Being an animation fan, I was already aware of the changes in Mickey from his debut in Steamboat Willie (1928) to his final short in the classic era, The Simple Things (1953). He went from being a mischievous scamp to a suburban homeowner, which made a certain amount of sense as he became the symbol of Walt Disney and thus had to become more respectable. You couldn’t have a corporate symbol engage in an activity the general public would find unsavory. This same change is reflected in the comic strip, but in a way, even more so.

In the early strips, Mickey is every bit the scrapper he was in the early cartoons, often getting into fights with unsavory characters. However it’s even more pronounced in the comic strip as the stories allowed for more character development than a seven-minute cartoon. Gottfredson’s strips expanded Mickey and his world very similarly to how Carl Barks expanded the character and world of Donald Duck. To me, that’s why the change from scamp to suburbanite is more pronounced in the strip; he’s a more well-rounded character in the strip than he is in the cartoons.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 12: The Mysterious Dr. X

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 12: The Mysterious Dr. X

Mickey is not the only character who changes throughout the run of the series. Goofy, who is Mickey’s companion on many of his adventures, begins as the pre-Goofy Dippy Dawg as he did in the cartoons. Dippy was basically a hick character who would eventually morph into Goofy, keeping much of his look and signature laugh. Goofy does become smarter over the years, but always retains his genial personality and is never the sharpest pencil in the box. Though that’s not entirely true. The final Mickey/Goofy adventure, Dr. X (1953), features an extremely surprising side of Goofy.

Alongside the character’s development, it’s interesting to watch Floyd Gottfredson’s development as an artist and storyteller. Sure, there is the change in Mickey’s design over the years that reflected his change in appearance in the cartoons, but it’s much more than that. Over time, Gottfredson becomes quite expert at storytelling in comics. I don’t mean the stories themselves, but how he tells the story. The flow between panels and between strips becomes seamless and the later stories read more smoothly and less episodically than earlier strips.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 6: Lost In Lands Of Long Ago features classic Mickey villain Peg-Leg Pete on the cover

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 6: Lost In Lands Of Long Ago features classic Mickey villain Peg-Leg Pete on the cover

While the series collects Gottfredson’s work, he was not the only person involved with the comic strip. For years, the stories were his, but the script was often provided by others, most notably Merrill De Maris and Ted Osborne. It wasn’t until Gottfredson collaborated with writer Bill Walsh that stories were routinely provided by someone else. An aside for Disney fans: Walsh would go on to make a big impact at Disney. He co-wrote Mary Poppins and became producer of the Mickey Mouse Club and the Disneyland TV series where he brought Davy Crockett to the small screen.

Gottfredson also had assists on the art. Other artists such as Earl Duvall would occasionally pencil the strip and the strip was often inked by artists including Duvall, Al Taliaferro (who would eventually draw the Donald Duck comic strip), and Ted Thwaites. The first volume of the series even includes the pre-Gottfredson Mickey strips produced by Walt Disney and original Mickey animator, Ub Iwerks.

The individual volumes are really nice. The reproduction of the strips is outstanding. Every volume also contains extra features giving you a fuller understanding of Gottfredson, his collaborators, his influence on other creators, the characters, and more. They also do a fine job of placing the strips in historical context so you can understand how influenced they were by the world around them.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 10: Planet Of Faceless Foes featuring Eega Beeva on the cover

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 10: Planet Of Faceless Foes featuring Eega Beeva on the cover

The strips themselves are the highlight of each volume, as they should be. These are fun stories that take place all over the world, and easily switch between a science fiction odyssey to something as simple as Pluto’s newest crush. There are hauntings, western adventures, evil robots, a man from the future (Eega Beeva, who became Mickey’s sidekick on a number of adventures), spies, excitement on the high seas, and more. The stories shift in tone as you move to the later volumes. The push by King Features Syndicate to move to gag-a-day strips was strong and some stories feel more like a collection of gags around a subject rather than an actual plot. But that doesn’t preclude some fantastic stories like the aforementioned Dr. X and The Magic Shoe (1953).

You also get all sorts of Disney characters appearing in the strips. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto remain fairly constant throughout the series with Donald Duck, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Mickey’s nephew Morty, and the villainous Peg-Leg Pete appearing in many stories. Surprisingly, the mice Gus and Jaq from Cinderella appear in later strips and the final story even features Jiminy Cricket.

Gottfredson didn’t do the Mickey Sunday strip for long, hence only two volumes of Sunday pages. These are presented in full color. The stories are simpler than the daily strips as there’s a week between installments. It’s in the daily strips that Gottfredson’s genius really comes through.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 4: House of the Seven Haunts

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 4: House of the Seven Haunts

If you’ve never read any Gottfredson Mickey comics before, I recommend starting with Volume 4: House of the Seven Haunts, which collects strips from January 1936-February 1938. For starters, this volume includes my favorite Gottfredson story, Island in the Sky (Nov. 1936-Apr. 1937). This rip-roaring adventure features a flying car, an actual island in the sky, a genius scientist, and the villainy of Peg-Leg Pete. I’ve read this story more often than any other Mickey adventure and it still holds up.

This volume also includes the epic length Monarch of Medioka (Aug. 1937-Feb. 1938) which was censored at the time in Yugoslavia as the government felt the story bore an uncanny resemblance to the division being caused in the country between supporters of the Regent Prince Paul and the under-age Prince Peter. Reporter Hubert D. Harrison was actually expelled from the country for reporting on the story. Mickey gets deeply involved in a power struggle in a foreign country when he stands in for the rightful prince. Palace intrigue is the order of the day.

You also get The Seven Ghosts (1936), which is a take of sorts on the Mickey, Donald, and Goofy cartoon Lonesome Ghosts (1937) in which the trio are ghost exterminators, though the end result is vastly different. It may seem odd that the comic strip story came first, but making an animated cartoon is a long process so Gottfredson would have been aware of the cartoon before it hit theaters. I think this volume features some of the best stories of the entire run. Unfortunately, it also features some of the racial stereotypes I mentioned earlier in In Search of Jungle Treasure (1937).

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 11: Mickey vs. Mickey

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 11: Mickey vs. Mickey

I’m sorry to see this series come to an end as I really enjoyed it. I hope somebody will decide to collect Gottfredson’s gag-a-day strips as well. Fantagraphics and editors David Gerstein and Gary Groth get a lot of credit for bringing these strips back into print. Gottfredson has long deserved the sort of critical and popular attention afforded to Carl Barks and his Duck stories, and this series has gone a long way to rectifying that. If you’re a Disney fan, a fan of classic comic strips, or a fan a fun stories, the Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse series should be on your bookshelf.


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