“Today’s America knows Mickey Mouse as a gentle do-gooder. But in the 1930 heyday, Mickey rose to fame as an epic hero: a bold adventurous scrapper battling mobsters, kidnappers and spies! And Mickey’s greatest feats of derring-do took place in his daily comic strip, crafted by one of history’s greatest cartoonists — Floyd Gottfredson.” [Quoted from the back cover copy.]

If you know Mickey Mouse only from the animated short cartoons and animated features, the comic strips in this volume may surprise you. Comics historian Bill Blackbeard describes the comic strip Mickey as “a death-defying, tough, steel-gutted mouse… who kept the kids of 1933 rapt with his adventures on pirate dirigibles, cannibal islands, and bullet-tattered fighter planes.” In volume one alone (which covers April 1, 1930 through January 9, 1932), Mickey races Pegleg Pete to find a gold mine in Death Valley, is framed for bank robbery and has a fight with a huge heavyweight champ.

These comic strips are from a different world. They are rife with topical references to politics, recent history and popular songs. About a month into the first story, Mickey finds himself locked in a room filled with a variety of cheeses and says, “MY GOSH! What cheese — if only I had a bottle of beer!!!” A bit later, a forlorn Mickey (rejected by Minnie) spends about a week trying (unsuccessfully) to commit suicide. In the end he decides life is worth living, but still, that just not something you’d ever see today! Perhaps surprisingly, that sequence was suggested to Gottfredson (who didn’t think humor could be mined from such a serious topic) by Walt Disney himself.

I’ve discovered that Mickey Mouse has a lot in common with Popeye the Sailor. By the early 1930s, both characters were cartoon as well as comic strip staples, but whereas Popeye started in the comics and made the transition to animated shorts, Mickey started on screen and transitioned to the printed page. Furthermore, both characters were radically different on the printed page than they were on the big screen. “Whereas the screen Mickey was famed for his romantic idylls with Minnie,” says Thomas Andrae in his foreword, “the comic strip mouse had little time for romance: he was involved in life-and-death struggles which could not be won through tricks of animation magic.”

Mickey Mouse in the newspaper was an adventure strip, plain and simple, not so much like Terry and the Pirates, but more like Li’l Abner in the early days or Little Orphan Annie or Popeye (as I’ve already mentioned). Mickey even shares certain similarities with contemporary Dick Tracy or Gasoline Alley. Don’t let what I said about beer drinking and attempted suicide put you off, though; this is vintage Mickey Mouse, a mirror of the era.

I think I might break out some of the old black and white cartoons.

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Now it looks like Mickey is shocked by whatever I write.
Well, why should he be any different from the rest of us?
I'll probably order a copy of the first MM book this weekend. At some point I would like to read more of the classic newspaper strips. The only collection I currently own is a Popeye book by Bill Blackbeard that contains several runs of dailies and Sundays by Segar.


Jeff of Earth-J said:
The Mickey Mouse comic strip started in January 1930, so it ran for three months as a gag-a-day strip until the change of direction to an adventure stip.
...I'm less sure that it was g-a-d - especially in the modern definition of that word -  from the beginning , from my memories of THE UNCENSORED MOUSE .
Because I have not read The Uncensored Mouse, I'll have to take your word for it. (I was just going by what the editorial material of the collection under discussion said.) Now that I've read a little more of that collection, however, I might also dispute the term "adventure strip" (at least this early in its run). I would consider the lead "Death Valley" story to be in the adventure genre, and whereas the strip might transmute into straight adventure in the weeks and years to come, at the point I'm at I'd call it simply a continuity strip.
Been looking forward to this once since it was announced last year. Thanks for the head-up about it about it being on sale.
That's a good, informative review, both positive and well-written. As it points out, Gottfredson hit his stride by the end of the volume, making me look forward to successive volumes.
My copy arrived yesterday. I told my wife it was a Fathers Day gift from our dog, Hurley. I only had a chance to flip through it last night but it looks pretty impressive. I prefer this early simplified version of Mickey to the more dimensional version that he morphed into later.
I was blown away to see two copies of this book on the new release table at Barnes & Noble! I've seen hardcover collections of Prince Valiant, Popeye and, of course, Peanuts, but never anything "historical" (such as Gasoline Alley) and never on the new release table. I guess that's just "the power of the mouse."
Yeah...some people may have heard of him.

I went looking for the FCBD Gottfredson comic in my comics basement the other night, but had no luck.  When I picked it up on FCBD, I'd never heard of this Scandinavian-sounding guy and I was wondering why they specialised their FCBD book on him.  And I never got around to reading it.

 

Now I know diffurnt.

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