Thursday, December 19, 2013

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley (Fantagraphics, 2011).

What a nice surprise! I had no idea this comic strip was so good.

Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks launched a Mickey Mouse newspaper comic in January, 1930. Five months later, Floyd Gottfredson came on board to draw and then script the adventures of our hero, ostensibly as a temporary position, and stayed in charge of the feature until he retired from Disney forty-five years later.

Sure, I'd read many accounts of these being really entertaining adventure-comedies, but my antipathy toward both funny animal stories and Walt Disney left me unwilling to sample them. Two years ago, however, Fantagraphics began releasing a really nice line of hardcover archival reprints. The first volume contains all of the strips from January 13, 1930 to January 9, 1932, along with a whole pile of essays and bonus material, including images from other reprint collections around the world.

The stories are rollicking, odd, and completely unpredictable. Gottfredson's first storyline, "Race to Death Valley," is five wild months in which Mickey and Minnie chase after a crooked lawyer and his giant henchman, after the baddies get the drop on them and steal a treasure map. I didn't laugh out loud all that often, the way that I certainly do reading Fantagraphics' collections of the similar-period Popeye strips, but I was completely captivated and charmed, and left wondering what would happen next.

It's dated stuff, to be sure, and sometimes uncomfortably so. There are occasional blackface gags and "booga-booga" natives, as you see in a lot of juvenile entertainment from the 1930s. At one point, Mickey decides life's not worth living and spends an entire week trying to kill himself! Alongside those, however, there are insults and slang phrases that have fallen so completely out of style that they were quite pleasantly new to me. ("You're as much help to me as the seven-year itch!!") The artwork is really vibrant and exciting, in many senses of the word. Comics of the time were still developing their own visual language, and you can see how Gottfredson was developing what we now call speed-lines and other tricks to indicate movement. He joins a very elite crew - Osamu Tezuka is another - who tricked my eyes into seeing actual motion on the page rather than static images. My hat's off to the man. Recommended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love reading your reviews Grant and cry that there aren't more comments to show a wider audience.

The Fantagraphics Mickey Mouse titles have been fabulous. I'm really enjoying the Carl Barks books they're releasing too and looking forward to the similar Don Rosa collections (more Donald Duck & Uncle Scrooge) coming soon.