by KC Carlson
Beating Superman to comic books by at least five years, Mickey Mouse may not be superpowered (usually), but he is one of the scrappiest characters around. First appearing in the 1928 animated cartoon Steamboat Willie, Mickey (created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks) would eventually become one of the most popular cartoon characters in the world, as well as one of the characters who best represents America worldwide. I don’t think I have to remind anybody in this Presidential Election year that Mickey Mouse is the #1 write-in candidate for U.S. elections (and I personally think he’d make a swell President, if only given a chance).
Mickey was the first Disney character to appear in comic books, after debuting in a newspaper strip currently being reprinted by Fantagraphics Books. The strip first appeared in print in 1930 and was quickly reprinted (most likely unauthorized) in several different formats. 1935 saw the debut of Mickey Mouse Magazine in a format closer to traditional comics, but the size and dimensions fluctuated from issue to issue. A total of 60 issues were published, with Western Publishing taking over production on the tail end of the series. Western (under the name Dell Comics) would soon launch the historic Four Color series, which is where the more traditional Mickey Mouse comic book was born. Four Color began in 1939, but Mickey didn’t appear there until 1940, the same year that Mickey newspaper strips began to be reprinted in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, beginning with the first issue.
Why am I talking about Mickey Mouse, when this column is obviously titled after another Disney character? Because I just returned from a week at one of the worldwide House of Mouse locations (specifically Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida), where I was stalking elusive prey.
DE-DUCK, YOU SAY!
For my airplane and downtime reading for the week, I took the recently published Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man book (which I’m way behind in reviewing, due to our recent move). This new Fantagraphics volume reprints some of the earliest Carl Barks solo Scrooge stories (one of which is an “origin” of sorts) and is highly recommended.
While unpacking the book, at the rustically beautiful Wilderness Lodge, and after seeing the “real-life” Disney characters cavorting on one of the 20 or so TV channels set aside for Disney programming at WDW, I came up with a mad plan for the week: I was going to track down Uncle Scrooge McDuck and have him autograph my book!
I quickly found out it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Most of the Cast Members — all Disney employees in the parks are called Cast Members, whether they wear a costume or not — did not initially know who Uncle Scrooge was, especially the younger ones. Trying hard to hide my disappointment, I pressed on.
Although huge in comic book circles, mostly due to the phenomenal work of artists/writers Carl Barks and Don Rosa, in the real world Scrooge is known only from his starring role in Mickey’s Christmas Carol or (if you were the right age) his regular appearances on DuckTales. He also starred in an educational short, Uncle Scrooge and Money, occasionally pops up in Raw Toonage and House of Mouse, and appears in the direct-to-video Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas and Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas. Plus, Scrooge McDuck is frequently on Forbes magazine’s annual “Fictional 15” of the richest characters. Since 2007, he’s frequently ranked #1 or #2.
Finally, one of the concierges at the Wilderness Hotel displayed a glimmer of recognition when I mentioned Uncle Scrooge. “You mean Scrooge McDuck?” he asked. I nodded. “Hmm. He’s a pretty obscure character. I don’t think he appears very often. Only at Christmas, I think.”
Disappointed, I started to turn away, but the concierge told me to hold on for a minute. He conferred with a female cast member, and she went into the back room. “There’s something else we can try. It’s a long shot, and it’s not perfect, but it might work.” I looked hopeful.
As it turned out, “not perfect” meant that I wouldn’t actually be able to meet Uncle Scrooge (or a person in an Uncle Scrooge suit). He went on to tell me that there are artists on staff at WDW (actually, calligraphers) who have been trained in providing consistently stylized autographs for most of the popular Disney characters, and perhaps one of them knew Scrooge’s signature.
I’m guessing that over the years, Disney has gotten thousands of requests from kids for autographed photos or drawings of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, or potentially hundreds of other characters. Leave it to Disney to be so organized as to have “authorized” autographs for all the characters. Which makes me wonder if the costumed characters are trained to sign autographs in the “official” style. That would be tough, as many of them can barely see out of their costumes! And their costumes’ hands aren’t really designed to hold a pen or marker.
As the concierge was telling me this, the door to the back room was constantly opening and closing, and I could see that the female he was talking to earlier was on the phone to somebody. After a few minutes, she came back looking sad. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “It doesn’t look like we have anyone here who can do Uncle Scrooge’s autograph.”
“That’s okay,” I replied. “I know it was kind of an unusual request. Thank you so much for trying.” And off I went to the parks.
DISAPPOINTED DUCK HUNTER
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. As I thought more about it, I started to come up with a plan. I realized that the one signature that probably everybody had to learn was the stylized Walt Disney signature. (Not his real one, the specific one used for logos and official public documents. I’m sure that you all know it.)
So, I thought I could ask for a signature of Uncle Scrooge in a similar style to Walt Disney’s official signature. Not the best plan, but it came about while my brain was being rattled around on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and the refurbished Country Bear Jamboree. (The latter hurt my head the most.)
Turns out, I didn’t have to. When we got back to our room, there was a small envelope labeled Walt Disney World sitting on the bed. (Next to one of the amazing washcloth animals the housekeeping staff left frequently!) It had a mysterious note, written in a female hand, on the back: “I know it’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing! Have a magical stay!”
Inside was a small slip of paper — with Scrooge McDuck’s signature! And, of course, the “S” is a dollar sign! I intend to mount this keepsake inside my Uncle Scrooge book. I’ll never doubt “Disney Magic” again! And many thanks to everyone who made this happen!
AROUND THE WORLDS
We had a great trip! We saw dozens and dozens of animals on the Animal Kingdom Safari, including a giraffe that was so close to our vehicle, I could reach out to touch it. (Of course, I didn’t. That would be against the rules.) I got selected to portray Sulley on the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor. (Which was a lot better than being “That Guy”. Johanna says the casting was appropriate, since “like Sulley, I’m big, grumbly, and fuzzy with a heart of gold.”) Johanna and my cousins went on a Segway tour of Epcot and ate and drank their way around the world at the International Food and Wine Festival. We all (especially Johanna) were accosted by the grumpy waitresses at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. (J. got caught reading the Internet on her cellphone at the table and almost had it taken away from her. PS Them being annoying is all part of the themed shtick.) BTW, if you go to the cafe, whatever you do, do not ask for ketchup!
WDW is the only place on the planet where a parade breaks out every 20 minutes, so we saw plenty of those (as well as fireworks every night!). During the Pixar parade, I got called out by Carl (the grumpy old man from Up) for having gray hair like him. Thanks a lot, Carl! We bought a stuffed Stitch, which in a cute movie tie-in, came with adoption papers. Plus, we got to see a lot of the new Fantasyland expansion including the new Little Mermaid “Under the Sea” ride. Twice! And we did a lot of walking. My feet are still angry.
WHAT, NO COMICS?!?
There’s only one thing that still bugs me a little. There are no current Disney comic books. There’s something that’s just not right with a world that doesn’t have one of the greatest comic books ever, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, in it. Or an ongoing Uncle Scrooge or Mickey Mouse series. While it’s great that the very best stuff (Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse) is currently being collected in lavish editions — and I was very happy to see the Fantagraphics Duck collections in various shopping areas throughout WDW — where are the comic books? Or at least inexpensive collections of some of the other Disney comics, either with brand-new stories or reprints from other countries where comics are still produced.
You’d think that now that Disney owns a major comic book company (Marvel Comics), a new line of Disney comics would be a no-brainer. Granted, I don’t think that Marvel Comics should do them. That’s not their thing. But why not gather together some of the folks who have produced Disney comics in the past, and take advantage of Marvel’s production, distribution, and facilities to start a new Disney comic line? And don’t forget archival releases. At its peak, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories sold over 3 million copies per issue. Wouldn’t an archival release (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories Masterworks?) be a no-brainer in this era of archival comic projects?
And wouldn’t digital be the perfect format for new generations of younger Disney fans? Of course Disney may be hinky about a format that is so easily abused, considering the hoops one must go through to get a digital copy of their Blu-Ray theatrical reissues.
Most Disney comics relaunches over the past couple of decades ended for different reasons (funding problems, Disney pulling the license — or trying to publish themselves), but probably the biggest reason many of them failed was that they were seldom marketed to anybody beyond the obvious Direct Market channels. Today it would be different, as well-placed ads for Disney comics in both D23 (the Disney Fan Magazine) and Disney magazines aimed at younger kids would almost certainly draw in new readers. Then again, with kids’ magazines featuring Tinkerbell and the fairies (for girls) and the Cars gang (for boys), as well as Disney Junior and Phineas & Ferb magazines, maybe the kids are getting stories and information about the characters without the expense of paying people to create comic pages and stories. The characters we know from the old comics aren’t the ones that attract the young these days — they’re looking for Handy Manny or Jake the pirate or one of the many princesses or faries, not Mickey and Donald.
On a similar note, while there are books about Carl Barks and other Disney icons, there is no book on the publishing side of Disney (or at least I’m not aware of one). Certainly, a complete comic book publishing history of Disney Comics for the mass market is also long overdue. There is much scholarship on Disney comic books (and the people who created them), but most of it is either independently published or scattered around the internet and hard to find if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for.
Or maybe I’m crazy and the world doesn’t care about Disney comic books any more. After all, most of the characters originally came from Hollywood, so all average people know about them is that they are big movie and TV stars, and they flock to the theme parks just to meet them.
And get their autograph. And a photo.
KC CARLSON: Had a subscription to Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories for well over a decade, into my college years. It was the annual birthday present from my grandmother, who loved the fact that I read constantly. Eventually, I traded them all in to complete my collection of the Legion of Super-Heroes (in Adventure Comics). As much as I love the LSH, that decision still disturbs me from time to time. Especially now that I have all those LSH issues in hardcover Archives, and I’ll probably never see those issues of WDC&S again.
Which is why children should never be trusted with comic books.
(Wait!!! THAT’S not the moral to this story!!! Stupid roller coasters…)
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.