These pages are part of O.B.'s Of
Mice and Ducks,
a NON-PROFIT fan site devoted to Disney comics.
All the characters and art are (c) The Walt Disney Company.
These pages are meant to share with fellow fans and scholars some Mickey Mouse strips.
The images will not be stored permanently on this site, and will be pulled regularly.
Many of the early strips have been considered unfit for publication in recent years
on account of some racial stereotypes and allusions to World War II they contain.
Some Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts have long been banned or edited
for similar reasons, but have now been released on DVD, unedited.
Cartoons have always relied on exaggeration for comic effect, and that includes social, racial and
ethnic stereotypes. Many of those stereotypes are obviously unacceptable today. But they were
commonplace in the 1920's and '30s. So we have to watch them with that in mind. [...] Should we
lock these cartoons away because of these gags, even if we don't find them appropriate today? I
think that would be a shame. It's smarter to show them and try to understand what was going on in
the world when they were made. That's the only way we can learn from the past.
(Leonard Maltin, in one of his introductions to the shorts)
I hope the same policy will eventually be applied to the Disney comic strips as well.
Introduction-- Historical Background
2003 marks the 75th Anniversary of Mickey Mouse-- "the
mouse that started it all".
It actually all started in late 1919, when two young artists freshly hired by the Peslan-Rubin Commercial Art Studio quickly became friends: Ubbe Eert Iwwerks (who eventually changed his name to the simplified "Ub Iwerks") and Walter Elias Disney. It is at the Kansas City Film Ad Company (after a layoff and the short-lived Iwwerks-Disney Commercial Artists) that Ub and Walt first ventured into the developing art of animation, creating Laugh-O-grams. Walt eventually founded Laugh-O-grams Films in 1922 and was joined by Ub a few months later, but bankruptcy struck again in 1923 and Walt left for Hollywood to found the Disney Brothers' Cartoon Studios; Ub followed in 1924 to work on Disney's Alice series, a combination of live characters and cartoons. In 1927, after more than fifty cartoons, producer Charles Mintz asked for a new cartoon character, a rabbit. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was a success, but Walt was not to enjoy it long: Oswald was the property of producer/distributor Universal, and producer Henry Winkler hired out most of Disney's artists to found an in-house animation company; Ub was among the very few who remained with Disney: bankruptcy threatened again the Disney's studio-- and Ub and Mickey saved it.
Ub created and developed Mickey, and single-handedly animated his first cartoon in the secrecy of his office, while the hired-out staff were busy finishing work on the last Oswald shorts the studio was contracted to produce. Plane Crazy depicts Mickey's adventures as he builds an airplane and takes Minnie for a ride. Next was The Gallopin' Gaucho. Despite positive screening tests, producers were not interested, however, as the animated cartoon fad was mostly over: they wanted something new.
It was Walt's luck that a new technique had just been developed,
and he was daring enough to try and be the first to adapt it to animated
cartoons: sound synchronization. Ever since the release on October 6, 1927
of the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, and the race was on
between animation studios. Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie debuted
on November 18, 1928. The rest is history.
As regards Mickey's creation, even though the cartoons and the first strips credited Ub, Walt was widely considered as Mickey's creator-- and indeed, it was he who defined Mickey's personality.
"In all of his work, my dad was one to put yesterday behind him. He was never focused on yesterday or his accomplishments or any of that. It made no difference to him. He once said of Mickey, and he said it to me on numerous occasions, because people asked hi, 'Well, how do you feel that you created Mickey and you didn't get any credit?' He said, 'It isn't creating it, it's what you do with it'. And he gave Walt full credit for making something of Mickey that he dud in the 1930s. He said, 'We could sit around, draw characters all day long, but unless you do something with it, it doesn't amount to anything. and Walt did something with it'." (Ub's son, Don; The Hand Behind the Mouse, p 224)
William Randolph Hearst's powerful King Features syndicate
soon made a deal with the Disney Studio regarding the production and distribution
of Mickey Mouse strips; Mickey started appearing in newspapers on January
Walt wrote the first strips, Ub pencilled and Win Smith inked them; these strips were inspired from Mickey's cartoons, starting with Plane Crazy. After Ub's departure, Smith took up the art chores, but left the Studio when Walt (whose prime interest was the animated features) asked him to write. It then befell on young in-betweener Floyd Gottfredson to take over the strip, which he drew until his retirement.
Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse in Color-- 1930s Disney Comic Strip Classics; Another Rainbow, 1988; articles by Geoffrey Blum & Thomas Andrae, and interview with Floyd Gottfredson by Disney Studio archivist David R. Smith
The Hand Behind the Mouse-- An intimate biography of Ub Iwerks, the man Walt Disney called "the greatest animator in the world"; Leslie Iwerks & John Kenworthy; Disney Editions, 2001
Notes on the Strips
January 13, 1930
The chicken in panel one is actually staring at a speck on
the ground, which was apparently mistakenly erased when the strip was published,
as explained by Bruce Hamilton ("The Gag With No Point"; WDC&S
603, June 1996; Gladstone).
"The editors never told me why all the sentences had
to end in exclamation points, and I never asked, but I can think of three
good reasons. One: not enough writers knew how to punctuate correctly, so
the exclamation points simplified the chore to a foolproof system. Two:
the exclamation point gave any sentence a seeming importance. Three: engravers
making plates from the artwork were less likely to etch out an exclamation
point. They could see it was something the artist had put there. A period
they could mistake for something a fly had put there."
(Carl Barks; The Carl Barks Library of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories in Color, Album 38)
Here is what the panel should actually look like, as published in WDC&S 603:
The cover-on-the wrong-side (ie, with the book or magazine's
title on the back cover) is a frequent "mistake" by artists and
animators, possibly due to absent-mindedness or a last-minute change in
In the first Mickey Mouse strip (as in Plane Crazy, from which it is inspired, and which was the very first animated Mickey short actually produced), Mickey wants to "learn to fly like Lindy", namely Charles Lindbergh, who made the first transatlantic flight on May 20-21, 1927 (33h29 in the air).
"Mickey was based on the character of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. He was the superhero of his day, always winning, gallant, and swashbuckling. Mickey's action was in that vein. He was never intended to be a sissy, he was always an adventurous character. I thought of him in that respect and I had him do naturally the sort of thing Doug Fairbanks would do. Some people got the idea that in Plane Crazy, Mickey was patterned after Lindbergh. Well, Lindy flew the Atlantic, but he was no Douglas Fairbanks. He was a hero to boys because of airplanes and what he had accomplished flying the Atlantic. But Mickey wasn't Lindy-- he was Douglas Fairbanks."
(Ub Iwerks; The Hand Behind the Mouse", pp 54-5)
March 17, 1930
Today marks the 74th anniversary of Plane
Crazy, which the very first Mickey Mouse strips were based on!
Plane Crazy was actually the very first Mickey Mouse short ever produced (in other words, it was the first time Mickey Mouse was drawn and animated), but was actually released only a year later (as the third Mickey short), after sound was added to it.
You can compare the strip with the short animated feature by following the link to the Plane Crazy page, which features captures from the DVD (Mickey Mouse in Black and White-- The Classic Collection; Walt Disney Treasures series).
March 25, 1930
After losing Minnie (January 21), Mickey seems unable to steer
his plane ("The plane's out of control!"-- January 20) and gets
lost; a storm severely damages his plane, and he "lands" on a
deser island (January 11); this part of Mickey's (mis)adventures is inspired
from The Castaway, a short animated feature which had been produced
but was not released until a year later. (I have never seen it, unfortunately,
and therefore cannot comment on the strip adaptation).
It is clear, from the first "Desert island" strip on, that the authors (Disney, Iwerks, Smith) are still not too sure what to do with a strip, are feeling their way around, stringing gags one after another just as they did in the early shorts. The first thing Mickey finds on the island is a cave, where a chest was hidden by pirates; the chest contains a skeleton, which makes for a little "scary gag"; whether it is lifted from the Castaway or not, the gag seems more fitted to animation, where the surprise could be more prepared and the scare more effective. Nothing more is made of the chest, the skeleton, or the pirate angle: the sequence's point seems only to provide Mickey with a rifle for a few strips-- the origin of the that appears on January 30 is not told however.
Gags follow one another, some forming little continuities (hunting, fishing). There is no exploration of the island, no investigation into the pirate story. Hunting and fishing are indeed matters of survival, but some of these sequences are not really "desert island-specific": the palm trees and tortoise are the only reminders that Mickey is stranded on an island. Mickey is not shown building a hut and organizing himself or trying to get off the island.
Enter the cannibals (February 11). These are obviously the reason the strip is not considered appropriate for reprinting nowadays: the natives are depicted in a stereotypic way both graphically and character-wise-- they are dumb savages easily fooled by Mickey's cartoon tricks.
(As a little bonus, here are two more cannibal feasts..)
After a couple of weeks of chase antics, the continuity of
the strip is interrupted by two odd strips (March 1 and March 3) where Mickey
tries to talk a bird into giving him an egg, then tries to pull one of his
teeth. The chase resumes on March 4.
Another such oddity occurs on March 11, where Mickey is seen in the first panel fleeing a group of angry monkeys; this seems actually to follow the strip of March 6, where Mickey shakes coconuts and monkeys off a tree, and the monkeys pursue him.
Mickey hides in a tree and finds shelter in a nest. A series of cute gags depicts his stay with the birds. Once again, a few palm trees in the background are the only references to the exotic setting. The authors seem to have been somewhat at a loss what to do, to feel they have exhausted the desert island angle, or to have grown tired of it. The palm trees eventually disappear and are replaced with "plain" trees-- and even a barn and fences (March 19)!
Mickey eventually walks back home on March 25-- "Back to the old farm at last!" No explanation is offered-- not even a freak tornado.
Mickey and Minnie are eventually reunited and a few cute romantic gags end the month and the continuity known as "Lost on a Desert Island".
If you feel somewhat frustrated by this gaping plot hole, therehere is a surprise!
Fellow Disney comics lover Matteo very kindly sent me some strips made for Italian publication to bridge the March 24-March 25 gap, plus one that was inserted between the January 28 and 29 strips.
Here is the story of these strips, quoted directly from his e-mail...
In Italy this very first story of MM was published randomly, uncompletely and without the correct order as strips in the weekly supplement "L'Illustrazione del Popolo" of newspaper "La Gazzetta del Popolo" directed by Lorenzo Gigli. The publication ran from 30/3/1930 to 21/12/1930, for a total of 37 strips (if I don't make a mistake...). Only from the 20/7/1930 the editor understood there was a continuity in the story, and so kept the original order. The last published strip was that of 27/3/1930.
This first attempt to publish Disney stopped here. Lorenzo
Gigli didn't publish any other story.
[By the way, in the 8/6/1930 issue of "L'Illustrazione del Popolo" there is an article, clearly inspired by the King Feauture Syndicate, where Ub Iwerks (not Disney!) is claimed as the author of the strip - and there is also a photograph of Iwerks! In those first days probably there was some uncertainity about the paternity of the Mouse... especially as Walt didn't consider so much comics]
After some minor episodes, in Italy Disney publications
restarted on december 1932 with the leading italian comic "Topolino"
of Nerbini editor. But at that time there was plenty of other stories to
publish, so the "Island" wasn't reissued.
The story was finally presented in a complete form in another comic, the gigantic "Supplemento di Topolino", between January and March 1934. Published as a continuity story, the editor couldn't admit so a great flaw in the script as the misterious return home of MM from the island, and gave order to prepare some strips to justify the fact. So Giorgio Scudellari drew those three strips. Scudellari, as far as I know, is an artist born in Chile (southAmerica) who worked a lot in Italy for Nerbini editions (but mostly on non-Disney comics; those three strips are his only Disney work) and later joined some animation studios; probably he died in the '60s.
In Italy this "Island" version was published, reprint after reprint, until the '70s, complete with those three "apocriphal" strips. Only recently the paternity of the strips has been credited to Scudellari. But also in recent years the story is always presented without the cannibals, which aren't "politically correct"! I don't think in Italy there is a complete and "faithful" edition of this story!
Credits: for most part of the info, "Il Grande Floyd Gottfredson", Gori-Stajano, Comic Art 1998
Strips scan from "Eureka" magazine #4 - Feb 1968
And here are the strips, framed by the original ones...
You will find several versions of these strips, actually. The original Italian strips are available below, with Matteo's translation underneath (very slightly edited).
On the strips presented first (between the original strips), however, I used an American dialogue whicb David Gerstein kindly sent me, explaining: years ago, I wrote "faux English" dialogue for the three strips in a Walt Disney style imitation, to make them fit into the English version of the continuity a little better.
The lettering is computer-made so that it's readable-- though I had to choose a small font.
Then, on David's suggestion, I also lettered the strips by hand, trying to emulate Win Smith's handwriting. Unfortunately, I lacked the time (and appropriate pens) to necessary to make a really good lettering job (copying by hand each word from an occurence in Smith's text), so that the result is not as good as I wished: I did (at least, try to do) the letters the way Win Smith did, but it's not a perfect copy and my handwriting somewhat shows through. If Ihave time to do it over and better, I will let you know.
(JANUARY 28-29, 1930)
(January 28, 1930)
(As Matteo pointed out: I don't know the "motivation"
behind [this] first strip (probably only pagination needs), it is only a
gag like others in the story.)
(January 29, 1930)
(MARCH 24-25, 1930)
(March 24, 1930)
(March 25, 1930)
(THE ORIGINAL ITALIAN STRIPS, WITH MATTEO'S TRANSLATION)
- Oh! Look! What a beautiful rabbit!
- Oh my! This time at last my lunch is done!!
- Oh sorry... Mr. Snake... I hadn't seen... and... and... enjoy yor meal!!
- It's better to get away!! No way to eat something here!
- Let's go home, nightfall comes soon!
- How uncomfortable blessed nest is!!!
- Where is that silly bird taking me? Over the sea?
- Land ho! If I lose my strength, I am done! I'll break my neck!
- I'm so tired!! It's all over!
- Am I dead or alive? Where have I fallen? I haven't the heart to open my eyes!
- What... Mickey Mouse?... But, well, then I've fallen down right in front of my house! How lucky!!! Ah! Ahhhh!
(AS-CLOSE-AS-POSSIBLE-BUT-IT'S-TOUGH-TO-DO-WIN SMITH-LIKE HAND-LETTERED VERSION)
(I had to blow up the strips when I printed them in order to fit the text into the dialogue balloons without altering them; since I did not have adequate pens to do bold lettering-- and I knew it might loook smudgy if I tried, since had to reduce the scanned dialogue-- I underlined the emphasized phrases).
April 1, 1930
First, one more item from Italy, kindly sent by Matteo...
The Creator of "Mickey Mouse"
Everyone knows Mickey Mouse, the comic character who appears every week in our pages who who makes us laugh so much, but nobody in Italy knows of Ub Iwerks, the creator of the famouse Mickey Mouse animated features. We introduce him this week to our readers. Ub Iwerks recently turned 28, and has devoted 14 years to the mastering of cartooning and its cinematographic applications. He started his career as an apprentice, and got a job in a major adveristising agency as an artist; he then produced his first animated features for a Kansas City movie society, where he worked as art director. It is there that he met Walt Disney, with whom he joined forces to produce "cartoons" exclusively for movie theaters. Disney and Iwerks thus conquered the world with their character, Mickey Mouse,, who has been such a success in Italy's major movie theaters and in the pages of "L'allegretto dell'illustrazione del popolo" [the comics section of the paper].
(L'Illustrazione del Popolo, June 8, 1930; reproduced in Il Grande Floyd Gottfredson, by Leonardo Gori & Frank Stajano, 1998)
Back to the strips...
After Mickey's return home and his reunion with Minnie, Disney
rounded off the month with a couple of "cute" gags of the two
mice kissing. The strip of March 29 is particular in that Mickey wishes
for "a ton of good cheese"; another such "mousey" reference
recurs in The Mickey Mouse Book (first printing: November 1930; reproduced
in WDC&S # 604, August 1996): "Mr Disney adopted him, and now he
never eats any kind of cheese but that which is imported from Switzerland,
and laughs when he thinks of that green cheese he once ate" ("Story
[...] originated by bobette Bibo, age 11 years") and on April 30 &
May 9, 1930.
April 1 marks the begining of the continuity known as "Mickey
Mouse in Death Valley". Disney & Win Smith respectively wrote &
drew the strip until early May; Disney was too busy making movies, and Smith
quit. Floyd Gottfredson took over the strip on May 5:
When Ub left the studio, Win then penciled and inked the strip. After about three and a half months, King Features requested that Walt expand the continuities and get away from the daily gag business. The Gumps had really pioneered the coninuities, and that strip became so popular, all the syndicates pushed their artists to try continuities. The old "gag-a-day" situations slowly disappeared. Walt, in the meantime, had been trying to get Win to take over the writing as well as the drawing. I don't know why Win was stalling-- perhaps he felt that he couldn't do it, or he didn't want the extra work. [...] He described himself as "a boy from the toolies", which was a little odd because I was 24 at the time, Walt was 28, and Win was about 43. We thought of him as an old man. [...]
Finally, Walt called Win in for a showdown on this writing thing, and I guess they had a big blowup in his office because Win came stormingout to my desk and he said, "I guess you got a new job". I asked him why, and he said, "Well, I've quit." And I said, "Why, for hell's sake?" He said, "No goddamn young whippersnapper's gonna tell me what to do". So he walked out of the Studio into oblivion, and, of course, the young whippersnapper became world-renowned. [...]
Walt called me after Win quit and asked me to take the strip over. I reminded him of what he had told me when I came in (*) , and Iadded, "You were right. I've become interested in animation now, and I'd rather stay with it". He said, "Well, Floyd, take it over for a couple of weeks, while Ifind someone". And this two weeks, of course, draged into a month, and I began to wonder if he was looking for anyone. And then, after a couple of months, I began to worry for fear that he was, that he might find someone-- because i now had regained my old interest in comic strips. And the subject was never brought up again. Forty-six years later I was still doing the strip-- until I retired.
(*) Walt said, "Well, you don't want to get involved in that. Comic strip work is a rat race, and there's no future in it. Animation is where the future's going to be". (p 98)
"The Man Who Drew the Mouse-- An Interview with Floyd Gottfredson by David R. Smith" (1975); Mickey Mouse in Color
"Mickey Mouse in Death Valley" sets Mickey Mouse and Minnie against Sylvester Shyster (a crooked lawyer) and Pegleg Pete (his henchman) in a race for a gold mine Minnie has inherited from her uncle Mortimer. Twists, traps, and chases abound in this first adventure. Mickey is already no longer the mischievous mouse who plays tricks on cannibals, but a heroic and resourceful character.
All good things...
"Mickey Mouse in Death Valley", however, will not
be available on these pages, for several reasons.
The aim was twofold: first, to present the strips daily, on the exact same day they were first published, 73 years ago, and thus experience their daily (re)discovery; secondly, as explained in the introduction, such strips as the Desert Island continuity are banned, therefore unavailable, and this was the occasion to present these strips, for the sake of their historical value and preservation. In addition, these pages may have helped some readers to (re)discover (these) Mickey Mouse strips, and fostered discussion of Mickey Mouse.
However, it is now impossible for me to continue to publish the daily strips on these pages. first, simply and saddly because the updating takes time, which I am lacking (the strips are not printed straight on the pages, which means I have to try over and over till they're straight); besides (and more importantly, from a moral / legal / ethical point of view), this story is not among the banned strips.
Thank you very much for your interest throughout this enriching experience.
Thanks in particular to Matteo and David for their help & documents!
I'm sorry for the disappointment you must have felt when you found there was no strip today.
BUT-- I will probably renew the experience at some point in the future-- maybe even this year. If I do, there will be an announcement, both in The Daily War-Drum and on these pages.
Since I don't want to end this nice experience on an April's Fool kind of trick ("Look! No strip!"), here's a little treat...
October 31, 1937
Ted Osborne, Floyd Gottfredson, Al Taliaferro, Virginia Gibbons (color)
Mickey Mouse # 245, March 1989