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.