The other man behind the mouse: Floyd Gottfredson

This post is sponsored by Disney's Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two the video game:

People who know me know enough to run away when I start talking about Carl Barks, the late great Disney comic book artist and writer. Barks is in my top-3 list of cartoonists (along with Jack Kirby and Robert Crumb). My friends are aware that once I get started talking about Carl Barks, I can go on and on about what a fantastic craftsman and yarn spinner he was. (Fantagraphics is republishing all of Barks' duck comics in a handsome hardbound series called the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library.)

I'm a duck snob, so I never paid much attention to Mickey Mouse. That turned out to be a mistake. In the past couple of years I've become acquainted with Disney's most prolific Mickey Mouse cartoonist: Floyd Gottfredson through the release of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: "Race to Death Valley," a compilation of his newspaper comic strips, published by Fantagraphics. Boy, was I missing out!

Born in 1905, Gottfredson got a job at Walt Disney Studios in 1929 as an apprentice animator. A year later he was asked to temporarily fill in on the Mickey Mouse daily newspaper comic strip, which Walt Disney had originally scripted. This short-term assignment ended up lasting 45 years. For the first four years or so good Gottfredson scripted, penciled, and inked every strip by himself. After that he focused on plotting and penciling, leaving the inking and dialogue to other talented artists and writers that he collaborated with.

Gottfredson's Mickey is a plucky, goodhearted imp, bursting with energy and impulsively eager for adventure. Mickey and his pals (Horace Horsecollar!) are very much a product of the Great Depression -- resourceful and always on the lookout for a way to make ends meet, with a fondness for get rich quick schemes. The strips are loaded with action, adventure, romance, exotic locales, perilous cliffhangers, and dastardly villains, such as pirates, mad scientists, and heartless bandits. The artwork is lively and expressive.

The long-running stories in the Mickey Mouse strip came to an end in 1955. In an effort to cater to short attention spans, Disney ordered Gottfredson to stop doing serials, and to make Mickey a daily gag strip instead. The daily panel gag strip ran until 1975. (I don't remember much of the daily panel gag Mickey strips, but what I do remember did not impress me.)

Barks will always have a special place in my heart, but I've added Gottfredson to my short list of great American cartoonists.


  1. I’m getting more receptive to Micky, but I’m still a Duck snob myself.  :-)  Absolutely love any of the older Duck-related comics.  The newer stuff with the more “modern” style of arts just doesn’t cut it though.

  2. Indeed. No disrespect to Barks the master, but I always preferred Gottfredson’s work, which always struck me as equally skilled technically but also more interesting in terms of the seedy, kind of shabby, post-depression world that the characters inhabited compared to the more polished Duckburg. 

  3. Carl Barks was, in my opinion, the best cartoonist in the Disney genre, followed by Don Rosa.  Though I agree with Scott’s ^ beautiful explanation of Gottfredson’s work, I thought the constant re-use of the same protagonists for every adventure became tiresome.

    1. I would *imagine* that Mickey is just a stand-in for default protagonist to allow for reader identification. So that perception-wise basically, it’s *you*.

      I read the Gottfredson’s stories as kid in giant collections at the library, and the adventures were totally completely exciting. Of course, at the time I wouldn’t have known who created them specifically, from what era they were, how they compared to Barks’ world etc.!

  4. All the respect to Barks, Crumb and Kirby, But how can you not have Eisner and Tezuka in the top 3? They are the top 2!

    I will definitely check out these Mickey books right after I finish reading these Complete Barks Library volumes. 

  5. “The other man behind the mouse” implies that Walt Disney was otherwise the man behind the mouse, which would seem to neglect the contribution of Ub Iwerks.  But perhaps that is reading too much into it.

  6. Gottfredson did some pretty creative stuff before settling into creating what I find to be relatively repetitive and boring mystery stories. Also check out The Monarch of Medioka, an interesting take on the Prisoner of Zenda.

  7. When I think of Gottfredson Mickey, I think of the Phantom Blot.  Great character.  Bark’s Donald and Scrooge will always be my favorites, Growing up my friends would say, hey you got any Super-man, Spider Man, or GI Joe comics? Just a handful, because some adult heard I collected comics so they grabbed me some whatever.  DD and US got whenever I could new or back issues, then go for Comics and Stories, where there’d be a Mickey Story. 

    When Gladstone took over the license on Disney my dad subscribed to all four for me.  I eventually got around to the Mickeys and they were good.  This Mickey is a cool Mickey doing detective work and things he never does in the cartoons.  It’s a different kind of adventure from Duck’s that usually revolve around Scrooge’s quest to enlarge his fortune.  The stories are a little hard boiled.  They are very nice reading.

    I’ve gone back some to Disney Comics, but I have been pretty disappointed with Boom’s offerings. Its more finding first printing of stories instead of my 3rd, or 5th printing of a story as I can afford them.

  8. Put me down as another Carl Barks and Don Rosa fan who also enjoys the work of Floyd Gottfredson, I would definitely rank E.C. Segar over Gottfredson though, as far as character creation and pure storytelling. I’m really glad that Gary Groth and Fantagraphics are making so much of this work available again.

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