In the first installment (of this series), I covered a little of the history behind the Eternity Comics publication THE UNCENSORED MOUSE which reprinted the earliest episodes of the MICKEY MOUSE comic strip which apparently was no longer copyrighted.
For Malibu Graphics, I wrote over a hundred historical introductions to their various collections of reprints of comic strips and old comic books in their Eternity Comics line. While I enjoyed researching and writing all of the introductions from TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET to I LOVE LUCY, I was especially excited to write the introductions for UNCENSORED MOUSE because not only was I a big Disney fan but had a great affection for Walt's original mouse.
Bill Blackbeard wrote the introduction for the first issue and I was going to write all the introductions for the following issues beginning with the second issue. Unfortunately, only two issues of THE UNCENSORED MOUSE were published but Malibu had accepted my introduction for the third issue which was ready to go to press. Since the material in the introductions are still valid, I thought readers might enjoy seeing them and understanding why it is important that the early MICKEY MOUSE comic strip should be reprinted.
THE UNCENSORED MOUSE ISSUE TWO: "THE REAL MICKEY"It has been estimated that on an average day in the United States alone, over five million items in the shape of Mickey Mouse or with Mickey's smiling face on them are sold to eager mouseketeers.
However, over a decade ago, the Mouse had fallen on hard times. His name was used as a term of derision to indicate poorly made merchandise or sappy ideas. Mickey had become an establishment figure who was an all-too easy target for underground cartoonists, who parodied Mickey's bland conformity and used it as a prime example of everything that was wrong with America.
It was thanks to the efforts of writers like John Fawcett and Malcolm Willits in the early 1970s that people were reminded that once upon a time there had been a more a vital, more mischievous mouse who earned not only the affection of the world but accolades from the harshest critics of the time.
Cole Porter was sincere when he wrote a popular song that proudly proclaimed: "You're the Top! You're Mickey Mouse!" The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was very serious when it presented a special Oscar to Walt Disney in November 1932 to honor him specifically for the creation of Mickey Mouse.
Walt Disney was a hardworking country boy with a love for rural humor. The early Mickey, being a reflection of his creator, was just as much a good-natured hayseed as Walt and had the same inclination toward barnyard jokes. More importantly, Mickey also shared the same drive and curiosity that had made Walt so successful. (Later, as Walt tried to fit in with the sophisticated Hollywood crowd, he brought Mickey along with him, eventually transforming the scrappy rodent into a well-dressed four-foot human with tail neatly hidden in adult trousers.)
The early Mickey Mouse animated cartoons were similar to the other cartoons of the period where characters had rubber hoses for arms and legs and ethnic humor and physical violence were considered the epitome of amusement. Mickey solved his problems with a mixture of common sense, luck and physical effort.
By the start of 1930, Mickey had already appeared in fifteen animated adventures (with nine more scheduled for that year). Inspired by that popularity, January 13, 1930 saw the introduction of the Mickey Mouse comic strip from King Features. Those early strips were written by Walt himself up until May 17, 1930.
Most papers headed the strip as "Mickey Mouse by Iwerks" with Walt Disney's famous signature not appearing until March 11, 1930. Ub Iwerks had quite literally drawn the first few Mickey Mouse animated cartoons by himself and was the natural choice to transfer Mickey's antics to the newspaper page. After the eighteenth strip, Iwerks left and his inker, Win Smith, continued drawing the gag-a-day format until he was replaced on May 5, 1930 by Floyd Gottfredson who would end up drawing the strips for several decades and was responsible for a series of continuity stories that have rarely been surpassed.
During those first two months of the strip, Mickey's airplane activity echoed his similar experiences in PLANE CRAZY (1928). Mickey becoming a castaway fighting off wild animals and cannibals in the strip helped inspire the 1931 animated cartoon, THE CASTAWAY. (In 1935, Mickey again faced cannibal problems in MICKEY'S MAN FRIDAY which would later inspire a comic strip version, MICKEY MOUSE ROBINSON CRUSOE.)
Just as in the animated cartoons, the strips featured the slapstick violence popular during that time period. Mickey got into actual fistfights as he faced bandits, pirates, crooks, mad scientists and a host of other menaces. Unfortunately, such pluckiness was not in keeping with his official corporate image which demanded an inoffensiveness of character in order to help sell those five million lunch pails, pencils, toys, blankets and other assorted merchandise each day.
Yet, in the February 16,1931 issue of TIME magazine, the editors were encouraged to state that "Great lover, scholar, soldier, sailor, singer, toreador, tycoon, jockey, prizefighter, automobile racer, aviator, farmer. Mickey Mouse lives in a world in which space, time, and the law of physics are nil. He can reach inside of a bull's mouth, pull out his teeth and use them as castanets. He can lead a band or play violin solos; his ingenuity is limitless; he never fails."
Sadly, that early raucous Mickey could only be found in the yellowing pages of disintegrating old newspapers. Today, thanks to the efforts of Eternity, people can once again sample some of those outrageous, previously censored moments that made a world fall in love with Mickey Mouse, the real Mickey Mouse.
THE UNCENSORED MOUSE ISSUE THREE: "UNCENSORED GOTTFREDSON"This issue of UNCENSORED MOUSE features the first artwork and the first writing of Floyd Gottfredson, who was to become one of the most influential artists to ever be associated with Mickey Mouse.
Gottfredson was about twenty-four when he left his home in Utah and brought his wife and two children to Los Angeles in the hopes that he could become a cartoonist for one of the seven major newspapers then in the Hollywood-Los Angeles area. Gottfredson had been trained in cartooning through a correspondence course from The Federal Schools of Illustrating and Cartooning (now more commonly known as Art Instruction Schools, Inc.)
Arriving in Los Angeles and finding no cartooning work, he overheard that Walt Disney was looking for artists so he took his samples to the studio and was immediately hired as an animation inbetweener and possible backup artist for the MICKEY MOUSE daily strip. At that time, Disney had already put in about six months of preparatory work on the strip which was to be officially launched about twenty-three days after Gottfredson had been hired.
The strip began on January 13, 1930 and was a gag-a-day type until April 1, 1930. On that date, it went into story continuities at the request of King Features. The trend at that time was for all strips, comic and illustrative, to do continuities, following the example of Sidney Smith's big hit with THE GUMPS.
By this time, Ub Iwerks had quit drawing the strip and his inker, Win Smith, was reluctantly both penciling and inking the strip. In an interview in 1978 for an Italian magazine, Gottfredson remembered that time: "Walt had continued to write the strip, including the first seven weeks of the first continuity. He had been trying to get Win Smith to do the writing as well as the drawing but for some reason he didn't want to. This was one of the reasons for Smith's leaving the studio. I took over the drawing with the May 5, 1930 episode and I took over the writing with the May 19, 1930 release. I wrote the daily until late 1932. After that time, the continuities were written by five different writers: Webb Smith, Ted Osborne, Merrill de Maris, *** Shaw and Bill Walsh."
Interestingly, Gottfredson did not want the job. Working as an inbetweener, he had become very interested in animation and wished to stay with it. Disney promised Gottfredson that he would only have to work on the strip for two weeks while Disney found another artist. Gottfredson ended up working on the strip for over forty-five years.
"Walt checked my work the first couple of months after I took over the strip but after that and all through the years, except to pass on an occasional suggestion, he very seldom concerned himself with the strip or the department. He seemed to be relieved not to have to be concerned with them-he had bigger things to worry about," stated Gottfredson.
Gottfredson plotted all the MICKEY MOUSE daily continuities from May 19,1930 to June 1943, and while other writers were involved starting in 1932, Gottfredson edited all the writing until 1946. He would have "lively bull sessions on the up-coming week's work" with the writers. Besides penciling, Gottfredson also inked the MICKEY MOUSE strip from May 5, 1930 until late 1932. Adding to his workload was the addition of a MICKEY MOUSE Sunday strip which he also penciled from January 10, 1932 until mid-1938.
Despite his artistic skill and dedication, Gottfredson never held his early work in high esteem. In a 1967 interview, Gottfredson remarked "In the 1930s, Mickey's figure construction-wise was crude, anatomically bad, bumpy, stody. There was no flow in composition; the design wasn't there. For me, I shudder to look at the work I did during that period. I just don't like to look back on any of my work done more than six months ago. In fact, I wouldn't ever want to see it reprinted. I think it's aged too much."
Gottfredson was not to get his wish. By the time of his death in 1986, some of his early work had been extensively reprinted in books and magazines and had captured the affection and imagination of a whole new generation of Disney fans unfamiliar with an adventuresome Mickey Mouse.
Yet with all the recent attention that Gottfredson's work has attracted, this issue of UNCENSORED MOUSE will be the first time that the majority of Gottfredson's fans will be able to see those first, few tentative attempts at presenting Mickey Mouse that would serve as a foundation for a legendary achievement in the world of comic art.