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Category Archives: Comics

Slip Me a Mickey, or Two


I love vintage newspaper comic strips, their rich visual language, and what they say about the period they were printed in. When it comes to re-introducing vintage comics to a new audience, Fantagraphics is one of the best – repackaging often overlooked strips in handsome bound volumes with expert commentary and historic tidbits. In 2011, they teamed up with the Disney company to take on the task of republishing their Mickey Mouse daily comic strip from its classic 1930s era onward. It’s a fabulous project, still ongoing (the ninth volume, Rise of the Rhyming Man, publishes this month). I’d even go as far as to pronounce first volume, Race to Death Valley, as the best book of this type I’ve ever seen. Although I’ve been reading and collecting Fantagraphic’s Complete Peanuts books since they first came out in 2005, the quality of the the first two Mickey volumes has prompted me to switch (besides, Charles M. Schulz, bless his soul, got kind of safe and bland by the mid-’70s).

Probably the most significant thing these Mickey Mouse books does is to put the name of its artist and writer, Floyd Gottfredson, front and center. Although Walt Disney himself drew the first Mickey strips from the late ’20s, he eventually came to rely on a team of men to write and draw the strip –despite Disney’s unique signature printed on every installment. Initially hired as an in-betweener in Disney’s animation department, Gottfredson quickly appealed to the boss to take over duties on the daily strip. Disney waved his magic wand and granted Gottfredson his wish in 1930. Smart move on Disney’s part – the then 25 year-old Gottfredson ended up guiding the Mickey Mouse strip for a full 45 years! That’s nearly as long a tenure as what Charles M. Schulz had with Peanuts.

Gottfredson truly put a lot of vivacity and spunk into the Mickey comic, complementing the rodent’s screen image as the scrappy underdog with a heart of gold. The cartoonist transformed what had been a standard gag-a-day format into a thrilling adventure, with broad, character-filled stories which would unfold for months at a time. His first important story was Mickey Mouse in Death Valley, which had Mickey and Minnie Mouse on a frantic search for a desert gold mine belonging to Minnie’s wealthy uncle. In typical Depression-era fashion, they’re pursued by colorful heavies, including crooked lawyer Sylvester Shyster and his dumb henchman Pegleg Pete, along with a mysterious figure known as The Fox. It’s a rollicking tale, with each panel brimming with wonderful details (did Gottfredson slip in a white-haired cousin of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit?). In other stories, Mickey takes on a fearsome cat boxer named Creamo Catnera (a play on real-life champ Primo Carnera), becomes a roustabout at a circus, and tussles with a band of greedy gypsies. In the latter story, Mickey and Minnie’s friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow take on a prominent role. I love how Horace and Clarabelle are the pragmatic older couple pals of impetuous Mickey and Minnie – sadly, their prominence in the Disney cartoons and comics would diminish as the ’30s went on.

Each Fantagraphics Mickey Mouse volume highlights Gottfredson’s best stories from a certain period, in chronological order. While Race to Death Valley covers the years 1930-31 (overlapping into the first week of 1932), the next volume, Trapped on Treasure Island, picks up where the previous one left off, reprinting strips from January 1932 up through the first week in 1934. I purchased both of these volumes at a great discount at Daedalus books. They’re also available via Fantagraphics’s website and (of couse) at









New Two Bunnies and a Duck is up today. Subject: Wikipedia. I can’t get enough of Wikipedia. You go there to look up something, then find that an hour has gone by and you’re looking at something that had nothing to do with what you originally came there for.

There’s also the Two Bunnies and a Duck book at I find that the book has been downloaded exactly zero times since being uploaded six months ago. Not that I’m bitter about it or anything.

Weekly Mishmash: May 31-June 6

Complete Peanuts 1965-66The Complete Peanuts 1965-66 by Charles M. Schulz. Another fun Complete Peanuts volume. The strips collected here coincide with the apex of Peanuts-mania in America, as highlighted with a Snoopy & co. Time magazine cover in April of ’65. The first year has a few interesting storylines involving Charlie Brown at summer camp, Sally being prescribed an eye patch, Linus having his blanket shipped away to his uncaring grandma, and the ever-present losing streaks in baseball. Amusing as always, but I’m getting the first inklings here that Schulz is settling into too familiar ground. This book also contains the earliest Snoopy vs. the Red Baron strips, a theme that I never particularly enjoyed. Luckily, the introduction of Peppermint Patty in late ’66 contributed a needed shot of energy to the Peanuts gang (and her earliest strips are hilarious). For the future, I’m looking forward to the addition of Woodstock and noticing when the girl characters start wearing pants instead of dresses.
Jesus Camp (2006). This documentary is as scary as I’ve heard, and totally riveting. Chronicling a summer camp for evangelical Christian children, this film doesn’t shy away from the fact that the organization really exists for adults to drill their extremist views on adult subjects (abortion, censorship, etc.) into kids who aren’t allowed the simple freedom to grow and figure things out for themselves. Scenes where children are induced into crying and confession their sins (really, what kind of deep dark sin does a child have?) are difficult to watch. Other scenes, such as when a church congregation is urged to pray over a cardboard George W. Bush cutout, are almost too bizarre to believe. This was an extremely well-made documentary that doesn’t hit one over the head with an agenda; it simply shows what it shows with a chilling straightforwardness. The camp uses a lot of warlike imagery and brainwashing techniques that mirror what extremist Muslims do to groom kids to become suicide bombers and such. I take comfort in how, since this film’s 2006 release, the camp in question has been discontinued. Now I’d love to see a sequel, if only to find out how screwed up these kids became as adolescents.
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus PhoenixPhoenix — Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. I went for something brand new with my third iTunes album. This is an invigorating indie rock set, along the same lines as Phoenix’s previous one (It’s Never Been Like That) — only more tuneful and diverse, a signpost of the band’s evolution. It seems inconceivable that this is the same group that I first heard ten years ago doing slick, Daft Punk-inspired disco instrumentals, but here’s to progress. “Lisztomania” and “1901” provide a bang-up opener, and they go into intriguing ambient territory with the two-parter “Love Like A Sunset.” I also loved the unusual stop-start structure of “Countdown.” The vocals and guitars are sharp as ever, even if they get into a few samey sounding tunes toward the end. Perhaps not the defining summer soundtrack that everyone says, but excellent nonetheless.
The Signal (2007). Unusual indie horror story told in three distinct segments by different directors. The first segment, detailing the first few hours after an unexplained radio/TV signal turns half of L.A. into homicidal maniacs, is potent and engrossing. Were it that the rest of the film was that creepy and cool, but it quickly turns into a rote effort in which characters do inexplicable things for no good reason. The second segment takes a whiplash-inducing turn from comedic to ulta-gory, and the third segment was just plain boring. Oh, well.
Stand and Deliver (1988). Part of TCM’s Latino Images in Film fest from last month. A pretty standard “inspirational teacher” tale elevated by Edward James Olmos’ commanding lead and an appealing supporting cast. The students too quickly transform from barrio brats to studious braniacs, but I appreciate how each kid gets sympathetic vignettes into their diverse home lives. Although I never saw this movie before, strangely enough I remember Mr. Mister’s theme song back when it first came out — and there it was, during the closing credits! My brain is incapable of holding anything like calculus equations, but it sure knows its share of cheesy ’80s movie themes.
The White Sister (1923). Beautiful but plodding Lillian Gish vehicle in which she plays an emotional woman who turns to the nunnery when her soldier love (Ronald Colman in his first film role) goes missing in Africa. The fact that this movie clocks in at almost two and a half hours in an era when most features were barely over an hour might tell you something. Gorgeous photography on location in Italy adds a sumptuous look to the proceedings, and Lillian looks absolutely luminous in several close-ups — but the story is so damned old fashioned and it goes on forever. I’m going to have to pick a better silent next time.

Federal Man to the Rescue!

“I’ve Got Wings!” comic

The University of Nebraska has a swell archive of vintage comic books published by the U.S. Government. The files are in easily downloaded pdf format, so you can look at them nice and big. How about I’ve Got Wings! (excerpt above), or Earthquake Preparedness for Children with Yogi Bear? Perhaps those who are feeling really adventuresome could try the unheralded 1978 opus Preventive Maintenance of Lead-Acid Batteries.

Vinyl Toy? Yes, Sir.

Kid Robot Simpsons Smithers

Earlier this week, I went to my fave local indie record store. At the check out register, they had a tempting display of boxed Simpsons figurines made by Kid Robot. Of course, I had to get one; this isn’t the first time I’ve been captivated by collector vinyl toys. Like the Kubrick series, these Simpsons figurines are “blind boxed” and have all the series’ characters pictured on the packaging, alongside your odds of getting them. This particular series has 24 different characters, including three mystery characters (Googling reveals them to be Devil Flanders, Snake and Krusty’s monkey assistant). Most common are the Simpson family not counting Maggie; least common are Funzo and the Channel Ocho Bee. There was a lot of anticipation when I opened my box and found… Smithers! Although these Kid Robot toys aren’t as well-made as the Kubricks or the Todd McFarlane figurines, they are pretty cool with adorable, baby-like proportions. I love how mini Smithers has his own little Malibu Stacy doll. A doll holding a doll … how wonderfully meta.

P.S. A new Two Bunnies & A Duck has been unleashed today.

Got You Covered

A weblog of artists redrawing old comic book covers (via Drawn! of course). Interesting how many of the artists choose not to significantly alter the originals.