[4 May 2011]
Over the decades, much has been lost from the world of newspaper comics. With the reduction in size came a reduction in scope, grandeur, and ambition.
In the ‘30s, the comic pages were littered with gag strips, adventures, and a wonderful screwball hybrid of the two. The most popular was Sidney Smith’s The Gumps, now shamefully forgotten. Others were Wash Tubbs (later Captain Easy) and Thimble Theater (later Popeye).
And then there was Mickey. Walt Disney started the daily strip in 1930 and turned it over to one Floyd Gottfredson as a two-week replacement. He stayed with the strip 45 years.
It may seem hard to believe today, but Gottfredson’s strip was a fluid, rubber-limbed, sassy, slangy, breathless, seamless mix of absurdity and adventure. The proof is here. Fantagraphics intends to reprint the whole shooting match, and here in Volume One are the first two years.
The first sequence, scripted by Walt himself and relegated to the appendix, has Mickey cutting up with stereotyped black cannibals sporting ringed noses and boned topknots. Welcome to ‘30s pop culture. Gottfredson began in the six-month epic where Mickey and Minnie are terrorized in a haunted house by Pegleg Pete and Sylvester Shyster and then look for a gold mine in the wild west.
Later he becomes a boxing champ, joins the circus, and meets Pluto the pup. The various inkers and pencillers who worked on the strip are profiled, and intelligent remarks are made on the strip’s economic and cultural issues. We could only wish the reproduction on these dailies were larger; otherwise it’s pretty much an ideal volume.