Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY MOUSE COLOR SUNDAYS Vol. 1: CALL OF THE WILD by Floyd Gottfredson (Fantagraphics, 2013)

With four superbly-mounted and highly praised volumes of Floyd Gottfredson's MICKEY MOUSE daily strip behind it, Fantagraphics "opens up the magic paintbox" with its first collection of MICKEY Sunday strips, covering the years 1932-1935.  The "many colors you'll find" here, especially in the early strips, may be a bit surprising.  The Sunday version of MICKEY represented the first time that most people had seen Mickey and friends in anything other than the black and white of the contemporary animated shorts, and so it took a while for the characters' chromaticity to develop any consistency.  Poor Pluto gets the most schizophrenic treatment: his tint changes from brown with a pink muzzle (in the first Sunday, which was actually drawn by Earl Duvall), to light brown, to dark brown, to pink, to white as the proverbial sheet!  (That last choice suggests that Pluto may be a distant relation of that notoriously cowardly canine Scooby-Doo.)  Mickey and Minnie endure a short period in which their faces are flesh-colored before settling down to the standard Kabuki mask look, while the early, squat, long-beaked version of Donald Duck is yellow, or, as he probably would have put it, "yella."  The whole process of color restoration here is nothing if not thorough.

During his time on the Sunday page, Gottfredson alternated sequences of "done-in-one" gag strips with short continuities.  The complexity of the latter gradually ramped up until they approached daily continuities "in miniature" -- and with a slightly lower "seriousness" quotient.  "Dr. Oofgay's Secret Serum" (1934) tackles the same basic trope as the earlier daily story "Blaggard Castle," with a scientist's invention altering Horace Horsecollar's personality, but the metamorphosis occurs in the context of a gag-laden camping trip, occurs by accident (Horace sitting on a serum-filled needle), and is caused by a much dottier and more "lovable" miracle-provider than the fearsome trio of Professors Ecks, Doublex, and Triplex.  In "Hoppy the Kangaroo" (1935), Mickey undergoes a test run in the "training an unwanted gift animal to win an athletic contest" sweepstakes several months before having to deal with Oscar the Ostrich in the daily strip, but the stakes are nowhere near as high; Mickey's simply trying to best Pete and Pete's trained gorilla, as opposed to staying out of jail for non-payment of debts.  "Rumplewatt the Giant" (1934) and "Foray to Mount Fishflake" (1934-35) is arguably the most "Sunday-centric" of this collection's continuities, primarily because they're very consciously constructed in a cliffhanger format within the general Sunday format itself, complete with "To Be Continued" boxes and first-panel recaps from Mickey.

Early on, Gottfredson seems to have realized that the Sunday page was a good vehicle for the introduction and/or development of new characters.  Various bands of cute-on-the-surface-but-anarchic-underneath Nephews who come to disrupt Mickey's home life ultimately settle down to the twin urchins who will become Morty and Ferdie, while "The Case of the Vanishing Coats" (1935) gets several weeks' jump on the daily strip's "Editor-in-Grief" in terms of being the strip's first continued story to feature Donald Duck.  "Coats" might be considered the template for all future Donald and Mickey teamups, albeit with a considerably rawer version of Donald (though Don's not really all that intolerable in this brief tale, with his antics mostly limited to one well-meaning false arrest) and a solution that is, in all honesty, pretty lame.  In gag strips, Don "enjoys" (if that's the word) a brief period as the successor to Mickey's role as comical fall guy before literally being shifted "upstairs" to the SILLY SYMPHONIES "topper" page and, later, to his own stand-alone strip.  Goofy (nee Dippy Dog/Dawg) makes appearances in "The Lair of Wolf Barker" (1933), the first of the major Sunday continuities, and "Mount Fishflake"; the sideways logic that will so memorably inform so many of his gag-strip appearances in the late 30s has just barely begun to blossom.

The volume's ancillaries include a fine essay by J. B. Kaufman detailing the development of the Sunday page, David Gerstein and Sergio Lama's description of the earliest attempts to bring MICKEY (or a strange-looking approximation of same) to Italy, and Joe Torcivia's not-to-be-missed explanation of why Mickey's tall tale of "Rumplewatt the Giant" qualifies as the "Longest Short Story Ever Told."  Thankfully, we won't have to wait long for the other volume of Gottfredson's Sunday best to drop on our doorsteps; COLOR SUNDAYS VOL. 2 is scheduled to be released in October.


Pan Miluś said...

I still have only first two "black & white" volumes but I will try to catch on soon :(

I espeicaly wonder where the volume which has "Mickey Mouse outwits the Phantom Blot" will came out

Chris Barat said...


I think it might be included in the next volume of daily strips, but I'm not certain.


Joe Torcivia said...

My understanding is that the Phantom Blot story will be in the next volume of Dailies. Which should follow the next volume of Sundays.

ramapith said...

It will absolutely be in the next volume of daily strips. It's just under a year away... which (gulp!) means I'd better start planning it now!

Pan Miluś said...

Thanks friends :)