The First Mickey Mouse Strips--
"Lost on a Desert Island": Plane Crazy

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Following the success of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts, Randolph Hearst's King Features Syndicate (the major syndicate) soon approached Disney and a deal was struck. The First Mickey Mouse daily strip appeared in Hearst's newspapers throughout the country on January 13, 1930.

Walt Disney wrote the first few months (till May 17-- Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse in Color, p 185; Another Rainbow, 1988), and Mickey creator Ub Iwerks quite naturally drew the first strips, which were inked by Win Smith ("who Ub described as 'quite good with a pen'"-- The Hand Behind the Mouse, p 81).
According to Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse in Color, Ub drew the strip until Saturday, February 8 (included; Win Smith took over); yet according to The Hand Behind the Mouse: "Because of these demands on his time, Ub merely roughed out the art for the first eighteen strips", which would make it Saturday, February 1; moreover, the first strips were not dated but numbered, till number 19 (included-- Monday, February 3), which might imply Ub only did the first three weeks (and not four). Either way, the point is that Ub only drew the first few weeks of the strip, and Walt only scripted the first few months; both soon relinquished the work to others, being more interested in animation, which already kept them quite busy.
Floyd Gottfredson recalled that "Walt wrote the first eighteen gags-- these were adaptations of gags that were lifted from the films-- and Ub pencilled them and Win Smith inked them. After that, Walt continued writing the strip, first with little continuities that ran about a week, but they were all based on gags that were lifted from the pictures" (Mickey Mouse in Color, p 99).

Ub Iwerks left the Disney Studio at the end of January; incidentally, one of the animators he offered to join him was young in-betweener Floyd Gottfredson, who was to take up the Mouse strip; fellow animators persuaded Gottfredson to stay. Ub eventually returned to the Disney Studio in September 1940, and Disney and he remained good friends.

Actually, even after his departure, Ub was credited for the strip:
"Even though he passed the strip on to Win Smith, who later relinquished it to Floyd Gottfredson, Ub Iwerks would receive credits in a byline that would continue to run for almost a year. The byline read 'By Walt Disney and Ub IWerks'" (The Hand Behind the Mouse).
Ub in fact was credited from the very start on the cartoons: "A Walt Disney Comic by Ub IWerks", and he was the only artist ever credited on the strips.

The byline credits really kept randomly alternating between Walt & Ub on the strips-- for some time even "Walter" (the full name appears to have been used until June 23) even though Disney had been signing "Walt" for several years, and the "Disney Brothers
Studio" had already been rebaptized "Walt Disney Studio" by the time the strips started.
The strip eventually bore Walt's "signature" (actually written by the inker), just every other Disney product: "Throughout his career, Walt Disney understood that he was and should be the single focal point for his enterprise"; The Hand Behind the Mouse goes on to quote Disney: "there's just one thing we're selling here, and that's the name 'Walt Disney'" (p 80).
However, what the banner above the first Mickey strips sold was Mickey, "The famous talkie character".

The first strips were adapted from Mickey Mouse shorts; the first continuity, known as "Lost on a Desert Island", was based on Plane Crazy and The Castaway. The Castaway was in fact released on April 6, 1931, only. As for Plane Crazy, it was actually the very first Mickey cartoon ever produced (May 15, 1928), but it was released on March 17, 1929, only (after Gallopin' Gaucho, the second short, finished in August 1928, but released after Steamboat Willie, on December 30, 1928). The reason is that, while the animators were busy producing Gaucho, Disney tried to sell Plane in New York but was told nobody was interested in cartoons any longer; the cartoon crazed was subsiding, replaced with a new one: sound. Disney decided to produce an animated short with sound; for his foray into sound, conceiving the cartoon & the sound effects at the same time (ie, making the short with sound in mind, timing every scene) was somewhat easier than dubbing a finished cartoon (which was eventually done for Gaucho, then Plane); it also allowed to include special sound gags, from the very first scene on-- Mickey whistling, tapping his foot & turning the wheel in time, blowing the whistles.
It is Steamboat Willie, which, after all, might have seemed more logical since it was the one that had really started it all (and, from a story point of view, it included a "villain"), but Plane Crazy may have been chosen over it because it was the very first Mickey short produced and because of Ub's fondness for mechanics (hence the subject of the animated cartoon); continuity-wise, it easily segued into another story, in this case the deserted island "adventure".

"The first few [ones] were gag-a-day strips that even without Ub's full attention retained his unique brand of humor and artistic nuance. A typical scene would involve castaway Mickey Mouse following mysterious footprints along a deserted beach only to discover that they were created by a pelican nonsensically wearing human boots [Monday, January, 27]. the gags, like the cartoons, featured Ub's trademark punctuation marks and sweat bubbles accentuating the action within." (The Hand Behind the Mouse, p 81).


Mickey's inspiration is presented first in the strip as he reads How to Fly and dreams of becoming "such a great aviator" as "Lindy".

The construction of the plane is concentrated into a single panel, with a couple of barn animals lending a hand. The dachsund-rubber-band-motor gag is reprised.

In both cases, the first flight is short-lived; in the short, Mickey crashes into a tree; a bit of practicality seems to have been infused into the fantasy world, as it appears that the dachsund-spring, once unwound, can no longer propel the plane. The apprach to the crash is also lighter: it is not pictured, and ends on a "cute" gag, with Mickey waving at the read (a repeat of the previous strip), apparently amused.

The stretching and turkey gags are reprised as well. The banner text keeps quoting or paraphrasing Mickey.

The dachsund propeller gag, not surprisingly, is featured as well.

The string of barnyard misadventures is ommitted and replaced with a cute original gag: like the animal amalgam in the last panel, the strip takes bit and pieces of the cartoon and condenses it, or, like the tractor, stretches it into a new narrative.
In the short
, Mickey falls out of the plane when it bumps against a rock, and chases after it; it flies under a cow, carrying it away; Mickey tries to bring it down by pulling on the cow's adder; the cow eventually slips, Mickey mounts it and tries getting onto the plane, which he achieves through typically cartoony means.



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
Mickey; Pierre Lambert, Démons & Merveilles, 1998


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