Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Mickey Outwits the Phantom Blot (Children's Book Version)

It is one thing to adapt lesser stories or write new adventures for the Mouse, but distilling the most famous and arguably greatest Mickey story into a children’s book requires some stones. Yet, Lee Nordling’s edition of “Blot” perfectly represents Gottfredson’s finest moment.

A little history lesson first. Back in the early 1990s, the Disney company realized that Mickey was turning into an icon that didn't do anything and plotted a series of campaigns designed to return the Mouse to his action-packed roots. Thus, "The Perils of Mickey" branding was born. Drawing upon several of Gottfredson's serials, a vast array of merchandise was heaped upon the public. A surplus of goods can be found on eBay. 

(Jim Korkis' great article:

                                                         (1930s Mickey was the best, Mousekeeters!)

The success of the campaign is debatable. It, unfortunately, didn't launch a Mickey TV series, but it raised some awareness of a Mickey with more than a cheerful smile and an easy-going attitude. Beyond the "Perils" scene, a series of children's books were launched around the same timeframe. The writers and artists weren't fly-by-the-night journeymen. The series landed one Disney Legend in Floyd Norman and noted comic figure, Lee Nordling. The investment in quality paid off as we will see here. 

The artwork screams atmosphere. The Blot retains the foreboding menace that characterized his debut story. His mannerisms in stalking haven’t been equaled by any other family media except the ghosts in Scooby-Doo Where Are You. And those monsters had the blessing of animation and music to enhance their horror. The Blot had no soundtrack, just Floyd’s artwork. Nordling keeps the atmosphere of a grim affair intact.

To expand the Scooby Doo parallel, the story's opening scene has the Blot’s shadow creeping along the wall like the Phantom Shadow. Now this adaptation was written decades after the Scooby episode came out. Perhaps, Nordling was influenced. The Blot certainly moves like a Scooby villain, a lurking specter seeking to corral our hero.

                                                                (A touch of similarity, no?)

In the original version, Mickey doesn’t have a personal stake in the outcome. He is hired to track down the camera-smashing culprit by the police commission. In this rendition, Mickey’s shattered camera launches his quest for justice. I do love how overdramatic the narration is about the crime. Mickey hadn’t even taken a single photo yet but the loss of the camera fills him with rage! 

So the Mouse heads to the police station and Chief O’Hara (who, as of the book’s creation, was still waiting for his animated debut with Mickey) explains about the crazy crimes of cracked cameras.

Since Idol was on hiatus, Mickey decides to take the case. O’Hara hands him a pristine camera to study. While on the way home, the Blot appears to follow Mickey. He swipes the camera, breaks it, leaves the item behind, and disappears. The artwork is impressive. The Blot’s cloak blends perfectly with the puddles.

The next day Mickey reads the paper (not the Daily Wardrum*, just the Daily). It turns out that more cameras were broken and there was a jewel theft in Japan. To Mickey, the description of the mysterious thief sounds like the Blot. (That is profiling, Mickey.).

* OGs will understand this reference. 

Mickey hits the docks and stores trying to track down information on the cameras. While at Sam’s Camera Shop, he runs into the Blot (you think the police would have been stationed there!) and is captured. The story is full of choice descriptions, but this one takes the cake, “but he was soon tied up tighter than one of Minnie’s birthday presents.”

The Phantom Blot takes Mickey to an abandoned warehouse. Now anyone who has read the original story knows it is deathtrap time. And this method of death was to be by hanging. This story slightly bowdlerizes it. The setup with the heights and framework is kept the same but this time if Mickey falls asleep he won’t be left with a broken neck but buried in wet cement. Fer gosh sakes, that is brutal. Sleep well, Mousekeeters!

His escape is kept virtually the same. Mickey uses the nail to break free and swing to safety. He heads back to the police station and compares notes with O’Hara. They realize that only one camera remains from the original shipment. O’Hara reveals he purchased the final camera to replace his grandson’s broken one. The Blot appears and steals the camera while leaving behind a three-dimensional photo of one. The photograph clicks the final piece for Mickey.

The next day, he and O’Hara head to the museum to see the Faith Diamond (an obvious parody of the Hope Diamond, Mousekeeters). O’Hara is confused about what the Blot plans to do, but Mickey has it figured out. 

He sees a bearded man moving towards the diamond and immediately tackles the man. Mickey demands the diamond which confuses everyone. The diamond is still on the stand, after all. Performing a legally dubious search and seizure, Mickey reaches into the unmasked Blot’s pocket and pulls out the goods.

It turns out that the Blot planned to use the 3-D photograph to trick everyone into thinking the diamond was still there while he made his getaway. He needed the special 3D camera to pull off his heist, but he lost the camera in the shipment. Thus, he had to check every available camera. In a great twist of the original tale, the Blot is locked up in his costume fully masked. While in the original ending, his unmasking is the conclusion. By the way, his mustache in the original version resembles Walt’s and mine!

                                (Gotta love how the Blot isn't unmasked in jail but Mickey is holding his supposed real face.)

“Outwits the Phantom Blot” has stood the time for a reason. The atmosphere was terrific, the villain lurked, and the mystery was amazing. Despite being a version for grade school children, the original chills and sense of adventure still shine through. Mickey remains the determined hero and the Phantom Blot stands resolute as the master thief. You can tell that Lee Nordling knew his craft and respected what Gottfredson and Maris created. 

Two Ears Up!

Friday, August 5, 2022

The World To Come


                                                        (I want this page as a poster. Epic)

I will be completely honest (well, I always strive for honesty), it will be extremely difficult to remain objective about this story. “The World to Come” holds a special place in my Mickey Mouse comic fandom. It was the first non-Gottfredson story that I ever read. It informed me that there was life beyond Gottfredson. That my Mouse comic experience wasn’t going to cease when the Floyd Gottfredson Library concluded.

A little background about the story and its English publication. It ranks #79 (as of August 2022) on INDUCKS. Casty wrote the tale in 2008 with Mazzon aiding on inking. Boom Comics first printed the tale back in 2010. The translation and dialogue for this edition was handled by a trio: Jonathan Gary, David Gerstein, and Francesco Spreafico.

It was recently reprinted in the latest Disney Masters book: Trapped in the Shadow Dimension. (I heartily recommend the purchase). The same trio is listed on INDUCKS as performing the dialogue but there is a twist.

David Gerstein’s comments as published on the Facebook page The Disney Comics Fan Group:

“The book's main backup story, "The World to Come," was originally Casty's first publication here, serialized in several 2010 issues of WDCS. But the translation—by Francesco Spreafico, Jonathan H. Gray, and myself, approved by Casty—was heavily altered by Boom upper management at the last minute, sometimes in ways that distorted it.

This new edition uses our original translation as written, restoring our intent.

(It also adds a few revisions from Casty, so that Dr. Gunther Gutenabend is no longer Americanized as the more traditional inventor character Doc Static; we all thought that was a good idea in 2010, but Casty today prefers that he be a separate character.)”

Now comes the question: which translation proves superior? Both have their strong points. Yes, Disney comics are not The Divine Comedy, but shouldn’t the wishes of the original author be respected? Casty approved the original script in 2010, the one ready for printing before the Boom upper management altered it. His satisfaction regarding that original script works for me. Often the debate over translation becomes too heated regarding Disney comics. But I think it is important to remember that the comics are 1. In a fragile state in America. 2. The translation team cares deeply about the stories. They are not looking to change everything but to ensure a faithful translation that speaks to the local market.

Another key difference in the stories resides in the Illusitania royal family. (By the way, observant eyes will notice Medioka borders the country to the east.). In the BOOM edition, Crown Prince Nikolai is the son and the brother of King Kontinento and Princess Silvy. For the Fantagraphics printing, Nikolai is rendered the nephew of the king and consequently he and Silvy are cousins. I assume that the latter familial relationships were present in the original Italian edition. If true, I prefer the original intent being translated, but I do believe that the betrayal does come across stronger when it is father/son and brother/sister.

Also, I asked the question on the Feathery Society which received little discussion, but the robots and the general plot seem inspired by the 2004 movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

With all background information neatly handled, time for the tale itself.

The story starts in the frigid Antarctica where two scientists patiently await the word for launch. They are visited by three suspicious hired guns and a striking fellow in noble grab. A little persuading yields the desired password and the name of Dr. Gunther Gutenabend. The two scientists then beat a hasty retreat into the winter wilderness. The code is handed to the leader, and in response he rhymes! (Spoiler alert: It is the Rhyming Man!)

This was the Rhyming Man’s first major appearance since his debut in “The Atombrella and the Rhyming Man.” And in his case, his portrayal is stronger here than the first showing. Unlike “Atombrella” his presence arrives from the start and lingers over the whole tale. In that story, the Rhyming Man suddenly appears halfway through and lampshades his appearance with his rhyme of “And now there comes upon the scene/a master spy, well bred but mean.” I have the theory that  eccentric writer Bill Walsh during the serial’s run abruptly conjured up the character from the vasty deep of his mind and injected him into the story. It works but it did chop the story into two distinct halves while “World to Come” stays consistent from start to finish.

Additionally, his status in “World to Come” differs from his kingpin position in “Atombrella.” There, he served as the main villain with two memorable henchmen. Here, he appears first as the main guy, is later revealed to be working with Crown Prince Nikolai, but is really plotting his own agenda. No room for henchmen when you are supposedly playing the role of the henchman. Of course, the robotic guards are the main henchmen for both Nikolai and the Rhyming Man, but they are no Machine Gun Myrtle!

After that exciting introduction, the story goes to Minnie helping the good doctor write his memoirs. The writing process is broken up by the modern day Ezra Pound’s appearance. Doctor G tears out a page from a book, hands it to Minnie, tells her to run, and then takes a sleeping powder to prevent a G-rated interrogation. Poe playing the role of C. Auguste Dupin (usually handled by Mickey) puts together that a fugitive has the information he seeks. (The Quackintosh gag in the BOOM version is replaced with Facebeak. A superior pun.)

Seeking help, Minnie heads to Goofy’s house. Just kidding. She, of course, rushes to Mickey’s abode and explains how she heard the villain speaking in rhyme. (Another BOOM/Fantagraphics difference regarding the in-text citation: BOOM mentions the Atombrella story. FG uses a rhyme to hint at the foe’s identity. Once again, a superior decision.) They find the address on the paper and head into the desert.

At the abandoned warehouse, the only present information is a giant number 4 painted everywhere. Rather than assume it was the abandoned hideout of the Fantastic Four, Minnie types in the code into a numerical pad inadvertently awakening a giant robot. The metal monstrosity grabs Minnie and announces its destination of Central America. Mickey gives chase but the robot flies away. To compound his trouble, agents show up and arrest him.

He is taken to a hideaway in the mountainside and is subjected to an ineffective interrogation. Which is interrupted by Mr. Eega Beeva himself! Yes, everyone’s favorite pspeaking man of the future is here. He saves Mickey from the screwball agents and explains they are at A.B.R.O.A.D. Which stands for American Bureau of Really Outlandish and Astonishing Developments.

Eega Beeva gives Mickey the rundown on how things work at A.B.R.O.A.D while throwing in a Scooby Doo reference and shows off the Chekhov's Gun of the Hypnoswirl. After this explanation, it is time for the Exposition Briefing. If Casty has one pattern, it is often dropping lengthy paragraphs of pseudo history/science into the story. Sometimes this works (This story for example. The backstory takes two pages), other times like in “Fire Eye of Atlantis” it derails the energy. One note: the satellite is mentioned as going up in 1983. We missed out on a 1984 reference. Which is interesting since we will receive one later.

As Eega and Mickey browses the archives, Minnie, and the robot land in the rainforest. She attempts to make a run for it but is captured by T.S. Eliot and his forces. Mickey receives a text message in rhyme telling him to come to the roof. He and Eega race to the roof to encounter a callback!

In an awesome line which made me geek out like a four-year-old seeing her favorite Disney princess (No judgment. I did the same when meeting Elsa. She is just so cool.), E.E. Cummings reintroduces himself to Mickey and Eega.

The line: the same one he used to make his introduction in the “Atombrella”: “And now there comes upon the scene/a master spy, well bred but mean.”

Turns out, it is a hologram of Mr. John Milton. Mickey tells him to forget about obtaining the passcode. But Edmund Spencer reveals via wide shot that he has Minnie and if Mickey wants to see her again, he needs to handle over the passcode. During this dispute, Eega studies the background of the hologram and says he knows where the villain is.

They ask the head honchos of A.B.R.O.A.D. for mission permission. The leaders explain that they can’t intervene because Illusitania like Switzerland, Andorra, and Sealand are beloved by everyone and King Kontinento II has more Nobel Prizes than Gandhi. Mickey and Eega, knowing how evil male Sylvia Plath can be, decide to embrace the Dirty Harry mindset and go rogue. The A.B.O.R.A.D. leaders eavesdropping provide a delightful bit of political commentary. If Mickey and Eega depart on their own, they can deny any involvement and the problem will be solved! If it works for the CIA....

So, our duo suits up with Mickey rocking some stud pilot googles. He wears the same googles on my Mickey Mouse shower curtains. (The only piece of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse merchandise I will ever own. I pretend the curtains are based off “Island in the Sky”). And it is time for another script change. The guard in charge of plane security (receiving word to let them pass) tacks on weirdo in his response to Eega Beeva’s Hypnoswirl. He doesn’t use the insult in the BOOM version. Either way, Mickey and Eega thinks the hokey tactic works. Just like defensive coaches think the prevent defense is genius! Amidst some wonderful sight gags, they find the Disposable Duoseater and take off to save the world.

Meanwhile in North Macedonia Illusitania, protestors are calling for a new government. This being the Disney version of the Balkans, they are peacefully calling for new government and not threatening violent revolution. Prince Nikolai, displaying true villainy, drugs his uncle, King Kontinento’s chamomile tea. (Chamomile tea is sacred.). Nikolai keeps his uncle in bed and out of the loop and pulling a SPECTRE holds a meeting with his advisors. They explain how the building of buildings (that is a Mickey Mouse short reference for you mousewise folks) is progressing but the citizens are not pleased by the destruction of the tourist attracting natural habitats.

As the meeting concludes, Philip Sidney arrives with Minnie Mouse. Nikolai is happy with a hostage but is not pleased that his hired gun reports no robots founded. Which, of course, is a falsehood. Minnie is not pleased either. Chaucer lied! Hostage taking and thievery are sins enough but lying is too far!

Mickey and Eega land in Illusitania to discover construction unions! Yes, there is more building than downtown Orlando! Fortunately, some folky civilians explain how the crown prince is responsible for the modernization. But any disagreement is censored as the newspapers and the billboards showcase the cult of Big Brother Nikolai.

(One quibble. In the newspaper, the Rhyming Man appears in the background of a photo. Why would he allow himself to be photographed? I can see Nikolai in his ruling arrogance not caring but the Rhyming Man is a spy at heart. It is not as if the story needed a reason to reveal him as the villain. Mickey and Eega already know his involvement.)

Mickey and Eega decide to break into the castle. Eega pulls a chainsaw out of his pants (what an example for the children. He and Stitch are role models!) only to be immediately seen by Princess Silvy. Mickey tries the Hypnoswirl. It doesn’t work but Eega Beeva provides a pair of glasses to the nearly blind princess. She explains how she is supposed to be the heir to the throne (Salic Law disagrees) but Nikolai convinced King Daddy that she should be the captain of the royal guard instead. Mickey tells her to look outside the walls and forgot about guarding the royal gardens. She discovers that Nikolai has been reconstructing downtown Manhattan.

Sufficiently alarmed, Silvy takes the heroes to meet with the king. Mickey mentions the World to Come protocol and the king believes him because he was the one who planned the mission! Which means it is time for a flashback! The King relates how Gunther Gutenabend and a team of scientists created a formula to create an utopia on Earth. But the data needed for the project took too long to process and most of the scientists gave up on the dream. (Hey, I waited 20 years for a Pittsburgh Pirates winning season. They could have waited for a world-changing utopia.)

As Mickey tells the King that one of the denumerization robots has been activated, Silvy trips over a cord and the heroes follow it up the stairs to a model city. Which leads to the one change in dialogue that I lament being changed.

Boom Edition:

Mickey: “Huh. But where are we?”

Silvy: “Nikolai’s playroom! From when he was a boy!”

Mickey: “Who’s playing in it now?”

Nikolai: “Still me!”

Fantagraphics Edition:

Mickey: “Huh. But where are we?”

Silvy: “Nikolai’s playroom! From when he was a boy!”

Mickey: “Is this a model of Europe?”

Nikolai: “Indeed, it is!”

I just loved the hammy response in the BOOM version. It sounded like something a 1960s comic villain would say. It fit Nikolai’s floppy, melodramatic character.

Dialogue changes aside, Nikolai reveals his Bond villain plan to take over the world and build roads and factories across every bit of nature. (NPS employees will be out of work!). Mickey and company are not taken by this plan to eliminate Fort Wilderness nor am I. Fedora wearing Robert Frost reveals himself with a captive Minnie and brokers a trade with Mickey: Minnie for the code. After the transaction, Minnie, quite awesomely, immediately rats out that John Donne already found all four giants.

Nonplussed, the real Big Bad of the tale rants how he will use the World to Come formula to cause floods and quakes to become the new world leader. Nikolai calls for his robotic guards only to discover that Dante has reprogrammed them for his benefit and chortles about it using a Mickey Mouse Club reference! He flies away retaking Minnie as hostage. Minnie hilariously says, “Again?!”

Mickey calls for the Duoplane and they give chase. But the ground opens to reveal a massive airship. (“The Mail Pilot,” anyone?) as the triumphant rhymer takes to the skies and showing some 1950s traits puts Minnie to work in the kitchen! Not to fear, Mickey and Eega are still chasing in the Duoplane.

The setup: a rhyming villain in a sleek airship is fighting a mouse and a man of the future in a Duoplane to prevent manmade natural disasters.

Oh boy, do I love Mickey Mouse comics!

Petrarch is well-prepared and has plenty of anti-aircraft guns to repel the Duoplane. A couple of hits are scored, and it appeared that the most profitable character in Disney history is cosigned to the watery depths. (Sell your stock now!) The villain takes pleasure in Minnie’s grief, and I am disappointed that he didn’t take time to utter a mocking ode about Mickey’s demise!

Of course, the duo didn’t die. They camouflaged their movements with the plane crash and are now on the roof. It is decided that Eega goes to stop the bad guy while Mickey saves Minnie. Mickey asks if there is a weapon in Eega’s magic pocket, but the only useful item is a bumbershoot (what happened to the chainsaw?). Ralph Emerson prepares to activate the robots only to discover that Eega is jamming the communications! (Should have placed guards by the antenna!)

Meanwhile, Mickey races down the corridor and utters a reference that excites every 95-year-old and diehard Disney shorts fan by saying, “Oh, to hear my little Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo.” At the same time, Thoreau appears to growl and howl like the cannibals just as Minnie sideswipes him with the kitchen door. Of course, this angers Bertran de Born (now wearing Napoleon style headwear) who decides to engage Mickey in a sword versus bumbershoot duel. Minnie has a fine moment where she finishes a rhyme while simultaneously spraying lime juice into the villain’s eye.

The mice head to the roof because custom dictates all airship climaxes must end on top. Mickey and Minnie tumble into a precarious situation clinging to a rope only one sword swipe away from a Disney Villain death. But help arrives as Yeats (English majors will understand the connection) has his sword shot to pieces (should have aimed lower) by the King and Silvy who arrive in a green plane followed by the royal guard. Wordsworth responds by sending out his robotic air force.

It just hit me that Casty borrows the same format for the ending of “Darkenblot”: a human force versus robotic enemies.

As the X-Wings and droid fighters duke it out in the air, Mickey and Minnie are rescued by Eega Beeva who stole borrowed Kipling’s aircraft. Eega revealed that he tampered with the airship’s engines, so a big-time explosion is incoming. But Wilfred Owen is seen heading over the top to fix the signal antenna. The flying fortress plunges into the water and the heroes assume that their foe has gone to Davy Jones’ locker (body checking isn’t allowed in fiction otherwise sequels would be hard to come by) but a grasping hand suggests otherwise.

Thus, the day has been saved, the heroic trio receive keys to the city (clever financial maneuver there to avoid paying out reward money), Doctor Gutenabend and friends arrive, Silvy is restored to the line of succession, and Nikolai receives a similar punishment as Prince John and friends in the 1973 Robin Hood movie.

Minnie and Silvy propose finishing the World to Come program, but the King and the professors wisely decide no. They are not gods or masters of the world. Mickey ends the Fantagraphics printing by saying toots (isn’t that more of a Donald to Daisy term of endearment?) after Minnie says something about pretty smart for a small human. The BOOM edition concludes with Minnie talking about how the world is already what it is supposed to be, and Mickey agrees.

Is the story worthy of the high ranking on INDUCKS? Absolutely. It touches upon complex themes and respect that complexity. The relationship between Mickey and Minnie, often taken for granted or ignored in other stories, drives much of the narrative and the climax. Mickey’s main motivation through the much of the comic is about retrieving Minnie. He doesn’t hesitate at all to exchange the code for her.

Especially sincere and unique is the environment message.

Now I am an Eagle Scout and, in the Boy Scouts, one of the biggest messages is environmental stewardship. We are taught Leave No Trace and to always clear up a campsite. I have picked up more litter than a garbage truck. But I can’t stomach most environmental narratives in media. They are generally poorly written, contain one-note villains, and anvilicious. Captain Planet was the worst offender. “The World to Come” skips those flaws. The scientists aren’t portrayed as always correct but tragically misguided in their assumptions. But they are also not mad chemists seeking to dominate the world. They are just people who got caught up in their dreams. We should live in harmony with the Earth and not seek to remake it in our image.

Regardless of what printing you pick up, (I recommend the Shadow Dimension volume. You will receive three great Casty stories while the BOOM book gives you “Peg Leg Pete and the Alien Band” (forgettable) and previews of other Disney comics (insignificant).), you are reading one of the finest Mickey Mouse stories around.

When I think of Mickey Mouse comics, the terms: action, epic, heart, drama, emotion, and inspiration readily come to mind. This story has all those ingredients blended in a tight narrative. Whenever the future holds in our world to come, this story will remain a testament to stewardship, hope, and how great Mickey Mouse comics can be!

Two Ears Up!

(Editor's Note: Entry was revised to clarify comments on script.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Zombie Coffee


This year has been a rich blend of Disney comics for the folks residing in the United States. The Disney Masters remains steady in output and another Glénat publication reached our shores in Zombie Coffee. So, the question must be answered: is Zombie Coffee a smooth mixture of a $5 latte or 99 cent sludge at the local mini mart?

It is a tasty brew. Zombie Coffee by Régis Loisel is a must buy. It has everything that a good Mickey Mouse comic needs. Mickey is active and resourceful. Horace makes for an excellent sidekick. Minnie and Clarabelle provide steady support. Pete and Sylvester, as always, are a great villainous pairing. The comic brims with energy. The artwork does a good job of referencing Gottfredson’s 1930s heyday while retaining its own style. The Glénat line is all about bringing in non-Disney artists to create Disney comics in their image. There is no point in hampering a unique style.  

Blankly speaking, it is my favorite thus far of the Glénat comics translated into English. Mickey’s Craziest Adventures left me cold. It ran on too much of a gimmick. A Mysterious Melody was an excellent character piece, but I am more of a two-fisted reader. The story delivers the pulse pounding action.

Firstly, the few drawbacks:

  1. The main villain: Rock Fueler. For the plot to work (without Mickey and Horace being suspicious), Pete and Sylvester couldn’t be the main bad guys. Thus, they are rendered as henchmen. Which is fine. Pete is flexible enough to be the main heavy or an auxiliary adversary. Sylvester is certainly greedy enough to work for financial benefit. Plus, it is the Great Depression! Jobs were scarce. But the villain himself, while entertaining, is pretty one-note. He comes off as more of a capitalist caricature in Soviet propaganda than a fully fleshed out character. He is no Trigger Hawkes. But his name is great, and he entertains.
  2. Donald’s appearance. It is superfluous, doesn’t fit the period, and feels like another sign that Mouse comics can’t thrive unless a Duck makes a splashy cameo.
  3. For all the praise of following in 1930s Gottfredson’s footsteps, you couldn’t squeeze this story in a FGL volume and have it fit. It is just a touch modern in writing and sensibility.
  4. Like Mystery at Hidden River, Sylvester’s lawyering tricks weren’t used. It would have been interesting to see him try to repossess the houses via dubious legal avenues instead of engaging in hands-on sabotage.

Of course, that begs the question about Mickey Mouse comics and the evolution of said comics. By the end of Gottfredson’s run, his Mickey had “evolved” into a sleepy suburban dweller more interested in living a normal life than seeking adventure. With few exceptions, he spent the last years of the daily serials having adventures pop up, quickly trying to deal with them, and then returning to the same dull routine. Scarpa started his stories from that trend (though his Mickey was more vibrant) and some of Casty’s tales follow in that vein. And we all know what most folks think of Murry’s Mickey and his activeness as a character!

Is it healthy to continue to hark back to Gottfredson? I am torn. Evolution is a tricky subject. As a country music fan, I have seen Nashville country music (the stuff you hear on the radio and in the mainstream) parrot non-country elements as “evolution.” Saving Country Music (one of the best music blogs around) correctly demonstrates that Texas Country not Nashville Country is true evolution. Nashville Country has broken away from the roots while Texas Country has extended outwards from the trunk. Mickey’s comics need to find that balance between laboriously following in Gottfredson’s style (the mid-1930s edition of the character remains the best portrayal) while reincorporating elements present in modern day. After all, the 1930s Mickey utilized contemporary components.

Now for the major successes:

  1.   Loisel really does nail the meandering, gag-a-day feel of the strip. Even Gottfredson’s best work contained instances where the plot took time to develop. Free from the restraints of a 32-page format, the daily strip could afford to spend time indulging in gags. “Sky Island” (one of Gottfredson’s finest serials) spent weeks having Mickey enjoy his flying before kickstarting the plot.
  2. David Gerstein, as always, hits on the translation and dialogue.
  3. The camping trip subplot while appearing like padding sets up the plot and provides some laughs.
  4. Horace as Mickey’s sidekick. When Goofy finally developed personality other than the Dippy Dawg laugh, he generally assumed the role as Mickey’s #1 partner-in-crime supplanting Horace or Minnie. Murry’s serials confirmed the usage. Here Horace is up for any sort of action. It is a nice tribute to an era where partnerships and formulas weren’t codified.
  5. This line: “Ol’ Goof’s always been kinda dippy, hasn’t he?”
  6. The fight scenes are dynamic. Loads of energy and action. The pages almost feel animated.
  7.  Mickey tanking a wrecking ball to the chest. As Horace said, “Whoa! That’s moxie!” And that is our Mickey!
  8. I wish we lived in a timeline where 25 cents were considered outrageous for a burger!
  9. Minnie and Clarabelle’s assistance felt organic to their character and not forced.
  10. Not entirely sure why the mad scientists avoid prison. They were just as guilty but their comments about fast food are a great closer. Hey, several fast-food chains started during the Depression.

The Glénat series has certainly given Mickey Mouse fans plenty to discuss over the years. Zombie Coffee should be a landmark story for decades to come. It is a tale told firmly and with much spirit.

Two Ears Up!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Ode to Floyd


“Floyd Gottfredson was to Mickey Mouse what Carl Barks was to Donald Duck.”


For Civil War buffs (like myself), today is the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Wilderness. For Disney comics fans, today is just as pivotal (and less tragic); it is the 117th birthday of Mickey Mouse comics maestro Floyd Gottfredson. If Walt is Mickey’s father, then Floyd is Mickey’s fun uncle or as D23 puts it, “a guardian artist.” In many aspects, Floyd shaped Mickey’s personality more than Walt. It sounds like Disney heresy to the novice, but an overview of Floyd’s career reveals a Mickey Mouse that is more dynamic and rounded than the figure displayed on movie screens.

Floyd’s Mickey battled wannabe world conquerors, dueled air pirates, enlisted in the Foreign Legion, visited an island in the sky, and even saved a country from financial disaster. (Mickey Mouse 2024, anyone?) But it wasn’t just the adventures that placed the comics Mouse apart from his theatrical counterpart. It was how Mickey reasoned and dealt with those problems. He had self-confidence in spades but often bet too much on his heart. He faced overwhelming odds, sometimes panicked but always remained steadfast. He was a symbol of justice without becoming cloying in his dispensation.

A brief biographical sketch of Floyd. Gottfredson was born May 5, 1905, in Utah. A hunting accident injured his arm which like many a tragic accident turned into an unexpected blessing. His injury led to a creative style of drawing, and he had time to read plenty of pulp material that later inspired many Mickey stories. He went out to California and landed a job with the Disney Studios as an in-betweener. Four months later, he was asked by Walt to temporarily take over the Mickey Mouse comic strip. The temporary assignment started on May 5, 1930 and lasted nearly 45 years until his retirement. Gottfredson passed away on July 22, 1986.

Fortunately, Gottfredson was “discovered” in the 1960s by earnest fans and he was properly credited for his accomplishments. Unfortunately, he wasn’t named a Disney Legend until 2003 long after his death. Interestingly enough, as recounted in Malcolm Willis’ interview with Floyd, he considered his earliest Mickey artwork to be archaic compared to his most recent work at the time! However, as recollection of his work grew, he reconnected with his prime material. The series of paintings done reflect this philosophical shift. Every painting was from the pre-1945 serials. Sadly, this meant we missed out on paintings of the Rhyming Man and Milos. Despite that loss, the paintings remain today a beautiful encapsulation of Mickey’s daring perils.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in the late 1990s and the early 2000s when Disney was producing Mickey material unlike previous decades where often the only proof of Mickey’s existence resided at the parks and store shelves. I was delighted by the Mickey Mouse Works cartoons, and I still think Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is one of the funniest films ever. Mickey’s segment in Once Upon a Christmas never fails to evoke genuine emotion. Yet for all those renditions of Mickey and the marketing blitz, I was not aware of Mickey Mouse comics. The comic Mickey for young me was as unknown as the New World to a 1345 Bavarian peasant!

I have recounted my discovery of Gottfredson here. It was a pivotal moment in my Mickey fandom. I found some of Mickey’s greatest adventures. Sure, he, Donald, and Goofy tangled with the Phantom Blot in a fun Mouse Works episode but Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot brought chills down my spine with its intensity and tone. It startled me to think that all that material was unrealized and unused by Disney. Fer gosh sakes! Mickey could have a dozen hit movies and shows based off the black ink content. As of 2022, little of Gottfredson’s creation has been showcased via animation.

After uncovering Gottfredson, I noticed pieces of Floyd in the modern animated Mickey, scarps that survived the decades of neglect. In the European comics Mickey, he has never really left. Yes, there have been periods where Mickey has become more sedated and sterner. But thanks to Scarpa, Faraci, Casty, and other artists/writers, he has remained the vibrant heroic figure. And that figure has returned to American shores with the excellent translations/dialogue done by David Gerstein and his Core Four team.

When I write my Mickey Mouse comic scripts, I try to channel Floyd’s Mickey. His bravery in the face of peril. His humanity towards people. His resourcefulness against overwhelming odds. His self-confidence that can border on recklessness but not a distasteful cockiness. His zest for adventure.

The box set of Floyd’s Sunday colors have just been reprinted just in time for the celebration. While the Sundays might not rank up there with his finest work (those tales are mostly located in Volumes 3/4/5 of the Floyd Gottfredson Library), they are absolutely worth the purchase! The link is located here.

I will give Floyd the closing words: “Mickey will always be alive because he is a symbol, the very trademark of the studio, and because of the late Walt Disney’s affection for him. One of the main functions of the comic strip is to keep him alive.”

Thanks to Floyd’s work, both he and Mickey will be forever alive.

Happy Birthday Floyd and thank you!

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Secret of the Black Whale

So I recently purchased the volume: The Forgetful Hero in the Disney Masters collection. There is a prime Mickey Mouse story in it: "The Case of the Cut-off Calls." The story is done by Giorgio Cavazzano and it is a masterpiece. (BTW, the whole volume is worth owning. Excellent work and translation.) I don't currently have access to a scanner so I decided to review a Cavazzano story (well, art only) that is available online. Enter "The Secret of the Black Whale" written by Casty, art by Cavazzano, and translated by ? as neither Inducks or comiXology lists a name. 

The set up is pretty typical: Mickey and Goofy are on vacation in Tierra Del Fuego (a name I recognize due to colonizing it in Europa Universalis 3!). Ever notice how Mickey takes more vacations with Goofy than Minnie? Maybe Goofy pays his own way?

The Italian art varies greatly from the Gottfredson/Murry tradition but I dig the vibrant set-up. The energy pops off the page. Just look at this spread:

Mickey and Goofy decide after being cheated during a short taxi ride to check out the marine museum. Mickey mocks the suggestion thinking there won't be anything interesting in it. You would think that Mickey would learn that adventure happens everywhere to him! Ah, the joys of limited continuity. They enter the museum and met Estrella Marina, the curator of the museum, a jovial character, and making her first of four appearances in Mickey comics.  

Marina is all about whales. Which as hobbies go is a solid one. After Mickey overcomes his bout of embarrassment, a little bit of science exposition is given out. If Casty's stories have a lull point, it is usually during the information dumps. They are not bad per say but no one has ever done it as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

Her goal is to decipher what whales and dolphins have to say. As such, it is time for some topical humor: we know what the Miami Dolphins have to say about things! Her goal is gently mocked by the local seaweed farmers. It is a nice touch that the relationship isn't stormily contentious or rooted in gender roles, but basically lighthearted teasing between blue collar workers and their eccentric friend.

Captain Jonah (I got that reference!) explains that he quit whale hunting because Nero the Black Whale arrived and conquered (i.e. destroyed) all the whaling ships while fiddling. OK, the fiddling didn't happen. 

Then the villain of the piece (his appearance gives it away), De Bolt, arrives on the scene. If you ranked Casty's villains, this barnacle is near the bottom. He comes off as more of a rejected Captain Planet villain. Then again, most villains of environmental parables aren't three dimensional characters, but just the living personifications of greed. It is the nature of the genre. Displaying the villains as something more than just lusting moneybags can undercut the green moral. It is simpler to show monetary lust than having a villain with the motivation to offer jobs, has a sympathetic background, trying to balance two worlds, etc. Casty's "The World to Come" handled its environmental story with greater care. 

The next morning discloses that a massive wave (conveyed by some epic art) has raided the town. The seaweed farmers talk about how Nero arrived and left destruction in his wake. Some of the troupe disagree. The farmers in response decide to head for the open seas to find out. They don't allow Marina to come along but she, Mickey, and Goofy sneak aboard. As following in the grand tradition of unsuccessful stowaways, Goofy's sneeze immediately gives them away. 

Captain Jonah threatens to throw them off the ship but Marina calls his bluff. She pulls out her laptop and discovers that the whale songs are irregular. Nero arrives one night and everyone remarks in alarm that Nero could have sunk them but for some reason he didn't. Marina also inquires and Jonah cheekily wonders why she doesn't ask her laptop. 

The crew wakes up the next morning to discover a giant cruise ship with a Nero-sized indent in the side of the hull. 

Marina obtains a photo of Nero to discover that only the whale is huge but it has shark teeth! It is either a new species or the scientists from the Jurassic Park movies have been hired by Sea World. Either way, it is troubling news. Of immediate worry is the rapids that toss the tiny ships around massive icebergs. Fortunately, the story doesn't reenact Titanic (there is a parody idea for the Italian comics!) and the ships emerges to some amazing art. 

Similar to "Mighty Whale Hunter," (of which this story is a spiritual sibling), there is a secret hidden in the icebergs. Cavazzano's work jumps off the pages. 

Jonah decides to reveal the massive secret: Nero is fake news! Once upon a time during an expedition, the seaweed farmers were saved by dolphins and meeting with the whales was enough to make them forsake the business forever. Like many recent converts, they decide to start a jihad on whaling by building a complex fake whale. (Bug's Life homage?) Having sunk all the whaling ships (without any apparent deaths. Impressive luck), they retire to hide Nero. 

Admittedly, this is a bit convenient. I mean, I respect the idea being presented: near death experience leads to conversion. A watery Road of Damascus. And I am certainly no fan of whaling. But I have a hard time believing that hardened seamen would just drop their line of income with nary a complaint and quite frankly their wanton destruction of other whaling ships shouldn't be seen as a positive. Eco-terror is still terror. Destroying other boats was dangerous and illegal. They didn't even give the other whalers a chance to see the light. PETA, eat your hearts out. 

Well, it turns out De Bolt followed the "heroes" to the secret cove. He, of course, immediately goes into Captain Planet villain territory to distract that the "heroes" sunk more boats than Doctor Vulture. (Fortunately for him, Bill Walsh didn't write this tale or he would be marked for a watery grave!) Despite his crew abandoning ship at the sight of Nero, De Bolt pulls a Cutler Beckett/Captain Ahab and chases the mechanical whale. Nero traps him in an ice gully and breaks the ice raining icy death upon the whale hunter. He is fished out of the water by the seaweed farmers.

One final secret is revealed. Nero, for this adventure, was not being controlled by humans but the whales and dolphins. Somehow, they are smart enough (and possess the necessary legs and thumbs) to operate the complicated machinery previously shown. Marina's program reveals that it can translate the words of the whales. Estrella's celebration leads to her knocking the laptop into the icy depths. But it is all good: she found a new way to listen to whales. Mickey and Goofy head out satisfied with another vacation.

Generally, Casty's stories immediately rank in my favorites list and in my reread slots. This story just doesn't. The environmental plot is hackneyed. The villain is a caricature. Mickey and Goofy take a backseat during the action. The whales operating Nero is impossible to swallow. 

It is hard to believe, but "Mighty Whale Hunter" despite being written in the last 1930s does a better job of balancing the ethical issues of whaling and economical reality. Mickey in that story wrestles with trying to ensure the whale is saved while helping his boss. The dynamic heightens the action and reveals the depth of his character. I am supposed to buy that the converted seaweed farmers are good guys as they sink the other whalers' ships just because they saw the light. C.S. Lewis was right again about moral busybodies. Casty's "The World to Come" integrates its environmental theme much better. 

There are some redeeming factors. Marina is a great supporting character. She is vibrant and engaging. Cavazzano's art is fascinating. Casty includes some fun jokes. It is not be the best catch but it isn't a shipwreck. 

One ear up. One ear down.


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The River of Time

In honor of Mickey's 93rd birthday, I decided to review the Italian classic The River of Time. A direct sequel to "Steamboat Willie," the story has received plenty of kudos for its portrayal of the Mickey/Pete relationship. Written by Francesco Artibani and Tito Faraci with art done by Corrado Mastantuono. Does it live up to the hype of a #154 ranking on Inducks? Follow along as the whistle blows and find out! 

Firstly, the setting itself is of particular interest. While many Mickey comics have been influenced by animation, this is one of the few stories (that I know of) that are directly connected with a short. Now for anyone who has watched "Steamboat Willie," you will realize that this story mostly borrows from the concept and does not continue the plot. Well, not that the short had much plot. In other words, it is creating from whole cloth. Is the tale spun any good? 

From the very beginning, the reader is engaged in the story. It opens with a worker finding the Steamboat Willie's plaque. The scene shifts to Pete invading Mickey's adobe and just chilling out on the couch as Mickey groggily mumbles about home defense. 

Which is immediately followed up by this amusing little comedic bit with Mickey insisting to Minnie (on the phone) that he isn't being held hostage by Pete. 

Now I am not an expert on new school Mickey/Pete relationship in some Italian stories but from what I gleamed from various stories and posts is that they are generally portrayed as a friend/enemy type relationship. Which is certainly an interesting take. Since my apprenticeship in Mickey Mouse comics started with Gottfredson and Scarpa where Pete has no moral issues with death threats against the Mouse and his friends, this idea of them having a weird "it is not personal, just business" kinship doesn't cotton well. 

Granted, continuity doesn't really exist in Disney comics outside of specific story arcs but it is hard to knit together 1930s Peg-Leg Pete becoming the modern, friendlier Pete. The same character who gleefully threatened to rain down acid rain in The Delta Dimension and laughed hardily at sending Mickey to his plunging doom in The Mail Pilot seems miles away from the merry joking version seen here. Not to mention, Mickey being nonchalant about Pete breaking into his house. 

The story here makes it work but I would say it works because the relationship was present in "Steamboat Willie" itself. Pete (though not identified as such in the short) is a bully but not a hardened criminal. Coming from the short's world, the reader can understand why Mickey doesn't feel threatened. 

Quick note: the story is peppered with great little details from the animated short. Check out the whistles. 
Mickey agrees to team up with Pete to recover the wreck of the famed steamboat. He heads to the dock to enlist the services of a ship and conveniently reveals the backstory of the wreck. Once again, the event of the short are intermixed with the narrative. Mickey was kicked off the deck so Pete could conspire with his thieving partner Jud Fishbone. The stop at the dock was so Pete could rat out his partner to the local sheriff. 

One thing to note about this story is how sarcastic Mickey can be. It is a dramatic recounting of the climatic crash of the ship and while his captain friend waxed poetic about the event, Mickey refuses to view it in a romantic light. 

This attitude of Mickey continues as he and Pete prepare for their departure. Pete arrives dressed in a cutesy sailor suit saluting the spirit of the sea. Mickey calls out his captainship and mocks the rubber parrot on his shoulder. (Viewers of "Steamboat Willie" will remember the parrot that constantly mocked Mickey.)
Yet once the two reluctant partners set off the journey, Mickey transitions into the happy-go-lucky spirit while Pete reverts into a grump. The strength of each character is on full display. Their actions are within the established parameters. Mickey whistling happily at the wheel is one of the iconic scenes of Disney animation (Disney animated movies use it as their logo) so to see Pete whack him across the head during it is a gentle satire on how different the comics are from animation. 

As Mickey and Pete start a scuffle over the boat, someone watches from shore. This character and his friend will serve as a bit of a pseudo-audience for Mickey and Pete's antics. They offer some commentary as they think it is all an act and not a tense partnership between two enemies seeking resolution for past wrongs. It is the little touches like this that elevates this story beyond the typical Disney comic. Plus the plus as Uncle Walt said. 

Part One ends with the contentious duo reaching Devil's Elbow, the site of the sinking. With the audience sitting on the rocks and the boat in anchor all the players are set for round two. 

Part Two opens with a glorious shot of the sunken Steamboat Willie. The art in this mixes crazy lines and gorgeous scenes to expert effect. It almost feels animated. The kinetic struggle between Mickey and Pete as they jostle like children to see the sunken ship displays character. It is amusing but has gravitas. 

Having established that the ship is below and able to salvage, they decide to delay until the next day. Which means it is time for pathos! With their unknown audience watching, Pete asks Mickey if they ever could have been friends. Now while the silent panels definitely provide a sense of who knows, I must quibble with the idea. 

I don't see how the lawful and upstanding Mickey could be friends with Pete without continuously trying to break him to the side of right. Mickey certainly has patience (see his friendship with Butch in the 1930s and dealing with Goofy on a daily basis) but I cannot see Mickey being OK with thieving. Pete has a rap list a mile long and while he does have a (mostly) stable relationship with Trudy, it is a relationship that shares a mutual interest in crime. If Pete wasn't a thief? Sure, he might be crude and rough but Mickey isn't a surface guy. However, actual crime changes the game. 

Anyway, the touching scene is interrupted by the reality that the deck is on fire. 

Jud Fishbone, Pete's sold out partner, arrives and tricks the motley duo by claiming to be a talent agent and that his prison number is a telephone number. It is interesting how superfluous he feels to the story.

The next day, Pete attempts to raise the Steamboat Willie using the crane attached to the ship. It fails in spectacular fashion much to the amusement of the threesome on the shore especially to the two bumpkins who are still convinced they are watching a play. The red-haired hick plays the role of the Shakespearean Fool by providing wisdom on how a clown is sad between the smile. Pete is dismayed but Mickey showing off his trademarked optimism has an idea. 

Mickey takes a giant tent canvas and places it in the ship. He has Pete pump it up while the entire time he delivers a spiel on the science behind it. You can tell why Mickey and Pete have been dueling for 90+ years. They just have a connection. 

Mickey's idea works to perfection and the duo celebrates their success only for Jud Fishbone to arrive bearing a gun and a determined expression. 

But one page later and he is easily taken down by Mickey (with some assistance from the bumpkins' dog). So on one level, this feels disappointing and anti-climatic. Clearly, any random thief could provide the same action. But Fishbone's appearance is ultimately second to the emotional Mickey-Pete plot. His existence is important to the past actions that led to the sinking of the Steamboat Willie. A lengthy duel would only overshadow that point. 

So everything seems all wrapped up but Mickey suddenly remembers what would have caused the explosion that led to the sinking. Realizing it wasn't his doing, he rushes back to the ship to find Pete fetching a wooden container. 

Having been confronted by the hero, Pete follows proper villain protocol and details his reasoning. It is a bit convoluted and frankly I don't see how sinking the ship was really the best way to hide his theft. But it is Pete and planning has rarely been one of the character's strengths. 

Mickey pieces the rest of it together and realizes Pete needed him to obtain the proper license for salvaging. Pete feeling the conversation complete attempts to leave but Mickey halts him by asking to see what the treasure is. 

They open the container to discover that the hole in the bottom ensured that valuable ruby has probably ended up in the belly of a perch. It is a twist in the grand tradition of Disney comics where the treasure often goes unclaimed by all parties. And the bumpkins are discovered by a butler and they return to a feast at a mansion. 

With the engine down, Mickey and Pete are stuck on the river until the next day. The final page has Pete offering his bag of snacks (a callback to an earlier discussion about Pete's gluttony) and Mickey after slight hesitation takes a handful to end the story on a reflective note. 

Classic stories are classic stories just not for their laughs or plot or art but for the feelings they evoke inside their readers. Disney comics are famous for providing two-dimensional animated characters with three-dimensional personalities. This story among others showcases why the love for the medium has been earned. Mickey isn't just a happy fellow dancing along to a syncopated beat. He feels anger when Pete attempts to pull tricks, guilt when he thinks he was responsible for the Steamboat Willie sinking, he has a sarcastic sense of humor, and drive for justice. Pete is also allowed to experience a full range of emotions. He is lighthearted in his sailor's suit, he is despondent when the level fails to work, and upset when Mickey gives him the cold shoulder. In this story, we are watching two old companions coming to terms with their past. We all have been there even if our experiences didn't involve an iconic steamboat. 

Two ears up! 

Mickey Outwits the Phantom Blot (Children's Book Version)

It is one thing to adapt lesser stories or write new adventures for the Mouse, but distilling the most famous and arguably greatest Mickey s...