Monday, June 6, 2011

Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES ARCHIVES, VOLUME 1 (April (sic) 2011, Boom! Studios)

I don't know how many of these we're going to get, but I'm sure going to try to enjoy them! Though this first volume only reprints WDC&S #1-2 (October and November 1940), the reprints are facsimiles, complete with original advertisements and promotional offers (which an introductory note helpfully informs us are no longer valid), plus such quirky text features as a dance lesson in the "Donald Duck Doodle," which was (1) actually referenced in a "TNT" story six decades later and (2) evidently NOT the only such feature in the early WDC&S, according to David Gerstein's informative introduction. Given the choice between more issues per collection and thoroughness of the reprints offered, I'd have to opt for the latter.

David describes the early issues of WDC&S (as it transitioned away from the text-heavier MICKEY MOUSE MAGAZINE) as "endearing, tentative, imaginative, clumsy, and full of genius all at once." For sure, #1 appears to have been a "shakedown cruise" of sorts as formatting bugs were worked out. The first feature in #1, ironically enough, is a text story based on the Disney short The Robber Kitten (1935). It's almost as if Western Publishing were attempting to reassure parents that stories would, too, be a key part of the revamped magazine, but starting with a story when "Comics" are the prominently featured item (in a bigger font on the cover, yet!) still seems strange to me. The reprints of Al Taliaferro's DONALD DUCK daily strips are printed three to a page without any clear dividers indicating that one strip was ending and another beginning. The first part of the reprint of Floyd Gottfredson's classic "Island in the Sky" simply begins with no particular fanfare, apart from a subtitle that wouldn't have been out of place in a Sunday gag page of the era. The final chapter of "Mickey Meets Robinson Crusoe", a serial carried over from MICKEY MOUSE MAGAZINE, gets somewhat better treatment with a "title bar" that would come to be standard formatting for many of the vintage Gottfredson reprints to come. Of course, that wouldn't have helped those who'd never purchased MMM but had decided to give WDC&S a try, so there's yet another self-inflicted formatting problem.

Issue #2 solves some of the aforementioned problems but unearths others. The new "secondary" MICKEY feature, "Oscar the Ostrich," has its title on the first page, but doesn't formally introduce the story otherwise. Part two of "Island in the Sky," meanwhile, which readers of #1 would presumably have anticipated more than any other feature in #2, is shunted to the back of the issue, behind "Oscar"! You might, if you were so inclined, regard this as a precursor of sorts of the MICKEY serials that would wind up issues of WDC&S for many years, but the placement here seems pretty arbitrary. Progress is seen, however, in the use of geometric dividers to split up DONALD strips (though the transitions are still sometimes difficult to recognize) and a "last month, as you recall..." text box in the first panel of "Island" part two.

Nattering over formatting issues aside, these first two "numbers" of WDC&S gave readers of 1940 considerably more than their money's worth. The generous samplings from Gottfredson's prime period are the obvious highlight at this point, but the Taliaferro strips are spotted effectively without wearing out their welcome (sideways glare at "Gladstone II"'s DONALD DUCK), and the text pieces are primarily adaptations of Silly Symphony cartoons, a prose accompaniment of sorts to the verse-versions run in GOOD HOUSEKEEPING. It's intriguing to note that Western saw nothing wrong with depicting button-eyed and pupil-eyed versions of Mickey in the same issue, when the transition was apparently regarded with much more trepidation at the animation studio. (One story I've heard is that an animator sarcastically suggested that the studio "pupil" Mickey's eyes one at a time to help the audience accept the idea.) It probably helped that Mickey and company were still very much a presence in movie theaters at this time and that the redesigns of the major characters had occurred fairly recently, so that many readers -- even some of the younger ones -- might have been familiar with both versions.

It's a shame that this fine collection is being released at a time of such uncertainty regarding Boom!'s "degree of stewardship" of Disney comics. Here is where soliciting support from the "general" comics community might help the company's cause. Anyone seriously interested in the history of American "Golden Age" comics is a potential customer for WDC&S ARCHIVES and should be approached as such. If Boom! gets enough broad-based support, Disney might even think twice about taking "classics reprint projects" away from the company. Given the high quality of most of Boom!'s efforts along those lines, that would be a very good thing.

3 comments:

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I eventually found an online seller to order this from, but it's impossible to overstate how much Boom appears to have botched the distribution on this one: their website still lists it as "not yet released," as do just about all the big online bookstores, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's almost as if they don't WANT it to sell; with a non-push like this, it's very difficult to imagine future volumes being released (I mean, even if the license wasn't so gravely in doubt anyway).

Word Verification: "lamess," which seems like a fair assessment of the situation.

Chris Barat said...

Geo,

That could be EITHER "Iammess" or "lamess" and still be valid. What a sad state of affairs!

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I’m glad you have your copy. Amazon has not yet shipped mine! Or my Don Rosa volume! I wonder why!

I also wonder why I don’t have my Gottfresdon Library Volume One yet!

I remember a similar long delay with the DD CLASSICS “Quack-Up” book. That took forever to arrive!

Joe.