I recently caught myself going through old papers of mine, when I came across some old pieces of tracing paper (I’ve never claimed to be much of an artist) that I had used around the 2nd or 3rd grade. Featured prominently on one of the pages was a tracing of a ferocious dogfight from a beloved childhood comic involving an intrepid pilot trying to take down a villainous pirate airship. This bold hero that I had so lovingly (albeit crudely) rendered was none other than who is arguably the most classic cartoon character of all time, Mickey Mouse, circa 1933.
Mickey Mouse is an interesting character to analyze. His fame and popularity have grown immensely over the years since his creation, but despite his ubiquity, relatively few know very much about what makes him tick which is in large part a result of Mickey’s massive success. Walt Disney made the conscious decision at a certain point to make the mouse a fairly one-dimensional character because he was quickly becoming less of a character and more a symbol for the ever growing Disney corporation. Between this tragic business decision and Mickey’s creation and introduction in 1928, however, lie some of the greatest comics ever written.
To begin with a bit of history, Mickey Mouse was created at Walt Disney Studios in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. After being featured in several animated shorts, Disney decided to create a newspaper comic strip featuring Mickey Mouse, this period of time of course being the golden age of newspaper comics. While early strips were written by Disney, drawn by Iwerks, and inked by Win Smith, all three jobs were given to a young cartoonist named Floyd Gottfredson following the departure of Iwerks and Smith in 1930. Gottfredson continued working on the strip all the way until 1975.
While many of the comic strip’s plot lines were often related to the animated shorts, the comic quickly established itself as its own entity, owing this in large part to both the format and the brilliance of the writers and artists working on it. While many of the early animated cartoons are undeniably entertaining and beautiful, they were all extremely limited in a technical sense. An animated Mickey Mouse short was just that — short. By contrast, the comic narratives often took several months to unfold over the course of the daily strips. As an example, the first major Gottfredson storyline, entitled Race to Death Valley, ran from April 1, 1930 to September 20, 1930! This serial format granted considerably more opportunity for characterization and plot development.
In the strips, Mickey was allowed to breathe, having flaws and virtues like any great literary character. And while the Mickey featured in Disney’s animation was mostly a vessel for gags, Gottfredson’s Mickey was primarily an adventurer. He pummeled villains, solved mysteries, rescued innocents, flew planes, and enjoyed a good beer with his cheese.
This Mickey was also not without his flaws, however; he was prone to violence, often childishly rushed into danger, and like all of us, had his moments of despair.
It was really these flaws that made the comic strip Mickey such a phenomenal character, and alongside incredible artwork, memorable side-characters (including some of my personal favorite villains in all of comics), and plots that seamlessly integrated adventure, suspense, science-fiction, and humor, made the Mickey Mouse comic strip one of the all-time greatest works in the medium.
Unfortunately, this post only scratches the surface of what Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse strip has to offer. I myself have only read the strip from 1930 to 1946, and there is enough material in just that interval to devote an entire blog to. My purpose in writing this, then, was simply to try and convince some people to give this strip a chance.
It may be rough around the edges in many ways, and it can be understandably very difficult to get through the racist material found in some of the stories (a fascinating topic for a later post, perhaps), but ultimately I believe that there is something for everybody to be found within these panels. Often in this high-speed modern world filled with flashy web comics, wise-cracking superheroes, and high-brow graphic novels, we forget about priceless treasures from bygone days, and I can’t help but thank my childhood self for unwittingly reminding me about one such classic.
— Quinn Stratton, Comic Blogger