By Floyd Gottfredson and various (Gladstone)
Carl Barks was one of the greatest exponents of comic art the world has ever seen, and he did almost all his work with Disney characters. His work reached and affected untold millions of readers and he all too belatedly won far-reaching recognition.
One of his most talented associates, potentially even more influential and certainly much less lauded, was Floyd Gottfredson, another strip genius who started out in the company animation factory. During the Depression of the 1930s, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the fledgling and ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, occasionally script, but mostly draw the strip for the next forty-five-and-a-half years.
He took a wild and anarchic rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history as detective, explorer, aviator and even cowboy, through to the gently suburbanised sitcom gags of a newly middle-class America that syndicate policy eventually forced upon him. Along the way he produced some of the most amazing thrilling comic continuities the industry has ever seen.
Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. As a child he gravely injured his arm hunting and whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses. By the 1920s he had turned pro, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and the Salt Lake City Telegram newspaper.
In 1928 he and his wife moved to California, and after a shaky start wherein he had to resort to his old job as a movie projectionist, he found work as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios in April 1929.
Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the Mickey Mouse daily newspaper strip at the end of that year, but was swiftly replaced by Win Smith. The strip was plagued with problems and was an uncomfortable fit, and Disney asked Gottfredson to step in until a regular creator could be found. He worked on it for the next five decades, beginning on his 25th birthday: May 5th 1930. On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he contiguously handled until 1938.
At first he did everything, but in 1934 he relinquished the final scripting role, preferring plotting and drawing the adventures of one of the planet’s most popular characters. Subsequent collaborating scripters included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. He briefly used inkers such as the great Al Taliaferro, but re-assumed full art chores in 1943.
His influence on not just the Mouse but graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews (prototypes for Donald Duck’s own brood of pint-sized troublemakers), pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first and most memorable “super-villains” in the business. In 1955 Disney killed the continuities by official decree; dictating that strips would only contain one-off gag strips once more. Gottfredson worked on until retirement in October 1975. His last daily appeared on 15th November and the final Sunday strip on September 19th 1976.
Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but thanks primarily to the efforts of fan Malcolm Willets in the 1960s his identity was revealed and devotees’ voluble appreciation led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, with effect that subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died in July 1986.
This collection from the wonderful folks at Gladstone presents a classic whodunit (scripted by Ted Osborne, inked by Ted Thwaites and coloured by the wonderfully all-purpose Marie Severin and Mike McCormick) wherein the bold trouble-shooter sets up a detective agency to solve the mystery of ‘The Seven Ghosts’ who have set up home in the vast mansion of Southern Gentleman Colonel Bassett. A canny blend of slapstick and drama, the story first appeared from 7th August to September 12th 1936, a true highpoint of light adventure fiction, made even more delicious because it guest-stars Goofy and Donald Duck.
Supplementing the main feature is a shorter, earlier detective thriller starring Disney’s Big Three entitled ‘The Mystery of the Vanishing Coats’ (17th February – 24th March 1935; words by Osborne, inks by Thwaites, colours by Sue Daigle) and a 1953 Goofy one-pager by Dick Moores from the Mickey Mouse comic-book (issue #32).
Artistic consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson that has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Mercifully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available, but surely such landmark material should be rewarded with a comprehensive deluxe collection and kept permanently in print?
© 1990 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.