Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures

By Floyd Gottfredson, with Walt Disney, Bill Walsh, Merrill de Maris, Bill Wright, Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson, Hardie Gramatky, Ted Thwaites, Daan Jippes, David Gerstein & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-122-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68396-225-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: It Ain’t Christmas if it Ain’t Disney… 10/10

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth completed Mickey feature – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound. The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon invaded America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wildly anarchic animated rodent from slapstick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebuster, detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy, the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios. Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the newborn yet ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

Floyd’s first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (his 25th birthday) and he just kept going: an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating adventures to playing about with dialogue. His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system, Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

This tremendous archival hardback compendium (185 x 282 mm but also available in digital editions) gathers and remasters in colour a superb selection of those daily delights, stuffed with thrills, spills and chills, whacky races, bizarre situations, fantastic fights and a glorious superabundance of rapid-fire sight-gags and verbal by-play: an unmissable journey of fabulous cartoon fun.

And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this stuff can be deemed “dated content”: created from times when cartoon violence, smoking, drinking and ethnic stereotyping were everyday occurrences, so please read this with that in mind or not at all…

The manner in which Mickey became a syndicated star is covered by editor, savant, truly dedicated, clearly devoted fan David Gerstein in bookend articles at the front and back of this sturdy tome, opening with Floyd Gottfredson: Walt Disney’s Mouse Man and ending with Mickey Mouse: The Hero before the comic capers commence with legendary yarn Mickey Mouse in Death Valley’ which ran from April 1st – September 22nd 1930.

Initially the strip was treated like an animated feature, with diverse hands working under a “director” and each day seen as a full gag with set-up, delivery and a punchline, usually all in service to an umbrella story or theme. Such was the format Gottfredson inherited from Walt Disney for his first full yarn.

The saga was further complicated by an urgent “request” from controlling syndicate King Features that the strip be immediately made more adventure-oriented to compete with the latest trend in comics: action-packed continuities…

Also roped in to provide additional art and inking to the raucous, rambunctious rambling saga were Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson & Hardie Gramatky. The resulting saga – coloured by Scott Rockwell & Susan Daigle-Leach – involved a picaresque and frequently deadly journey way out west to save Minnie’s inheritance – a lost mine – from conniving lawyer Sylvester Shyster and his vile and violent crony Pegleg Pete, whom Mickey and his aggrieved companion chased across America by every conveyance imaginable, aided by masked mystery man The Fox while facing every possible peril as immortalised by silent movie westerns, melodramas and comedies…

With cameos throughout from Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, goat-horned Mr. Butt and a prototype Goofy who used to answer – if he felt like it – to the moniker Dippy Dog, we pause to share specially commissioned Illustrations by Gottfredson – a promotional pic and photos of tough guy pal Butch – before moving on to ‘The Picnic’ (crafted by Gottfredson, Earl Duvall & Travis Seitler and coloured by Rick Keane; originally running from January 5th to 10th 1931): a hopefully bucolic moment plagued by natural catastrophe, after which bold deeds are required for exploring the ‘Island in the Sky’ (November 30th 1936 to April 3rd 1937 by Gottfredson, Ted Thwaites, Michel Nadorp, Erik Rosengarten, & Disney Italia).

Having secured a cash reward for capturing a band of smugglers, Mickey and Goofy buy an airplane and become aviators: a plot device that affords plenty of daily gags before one flight brings them into aerial contact with the flying automobile of a mystery scientist. After much detecting and pursuit, they find the floating fortress of reclusive super-genius Doctor Einmug

and soon learn that he’s also being approached – if not outright menaced – by villainous Pegleg Pete. The dyed-in-the-wool thug is acting as the agent of a foreign power, seeking the astonishing secret and unlimited power of “aligned atoms” that fuels Einmug’s aerial miracles, trying everything from bribery to coercion to feigned reformation and – when those fail – good old reliable theft and violence…

Naturally, none of that means anything to the indomitable Mouse…

Appended by Gottfredson’s painting Mickey Mouse on Sky Island and a mini-feature on personalised birthday and anniversary commissions, the cloud-busting crime-caper is followed by a baffling mystery as ‘The Gleam’ (January 19th – May 2nd, 1942 by Gottfredson, Merrill de Maris, Bill Wright, Daan Jippes, Seitler, Gerstein & Daigle-Leach) sees Mickey, Minnie and Goofy plagued by a diabolical hypnotist who plunders Mouseton High Society types at will, and even embroils Minnie’s unwelcome visiting parents in his crimes before our heroes finally bring him to justice. It’s followed by the cover of 1949’s Big Little Book #1464: a modified version of the tale behind a cover by an artist unknown.

Gottfredson, Bill Walsh, Wright, Gerstein & Disney Italia then detail a string of interlinked gags comprising a burst of DIY invention resulting in ‘Mickey Mouse and Goofy’s Rocket’ (September 9th – 21st 1946), before Gottfredson, Walsh, Pierre Nicolas, Gerstein & Digikore Studios resort to full on sci fi as ‘The Atombrella and the Rhyming Man’ (April 30thOctober 9th 1948) finds occasional visitor from 2447 AD Eega Beeva, popping back for fun and a spot of inventing. Most of his whacky gadgets are generally harmless, but when he tinkers up a handheld defence against physical attack which repels everything from pie to nuclear weapons, word gets around fast and some very shifty characters start inviting themselves in. When juvenile genius Dr. Koppenhooper, an unlovely femme fatale and a poetic superspy get involved, things go from bad to calamitous…

The friendly future-man appeared in many commercial commissions. After the brace of monochrome samples reprinted here – courtesy of  Gottfredson – the manic menu of Mouse Masterpieces concludes with ‘Mickey’s Dangerous Double’(March 2nd – June 20th 1953 by Gottfredson, Walsh, Jippes, Paul Baresh, Gerstein & Disney Italia) as a devious “evil twin” trashes his reputation and destroys all his friendships before scapegoating him for a string of crimes in a gleeful but paranoia-inducing tale. Of course, in the end the ingenuity of the original and genuine article wins through but only after a truly spectacular battle…

Gottfredson’s influence on not just the Disney canon but sequential graphic narrative itself is inestimable: he was among the first to produce long continuities and “straight” adventures; he pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

Disney killed the continuities in 1955, dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips, and Gottfredson adapted seamlessly, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday strip on September 19th 1976.

Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but in the 1960s his identity was revealed and the voluble appreciation of his previously unsuspected horde of devotees 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. Thankfully we have this wealth of his works to enjoy and inspire us and hopefully a whole new generation of inveterate tale-tellers…
Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. “Floyd Gottfredson: Walt Disney’s Mouse Man” and “Mickey Mouse: The Hero” texts © 2018 David Gerstein. All rights reserved.