Saturday, January 9, 2016

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JEEZ. It just goes to show: I don't imagine that Bill Walsh was actually a domestic violence enthusiast, but the fact that he could come up with a hilarious joke like this on the subject really does show how far we've come. We sorta get caught up on racial depictions in old Disney comics, and in comparison they don't seem as bad on issues of gender (though, granted, that's in part because there are so few female characters to be bad with, which is its own issue), but they could still be pretty darned bad.

There's another point to be made, too. I like plenty of Walsh's Gottfredson stories—and isn't it impressive that with “Pirate Ghostship, “World of Tomorrow,” and “House of Mystery,” he managed three stories in a row where characters are killed (sure, in two out of three you can argue that those deaths don't “count,” but really now)?—but you often find a kind of artifice in them—a distance, maybe. Like, they don't feel as close to the character as previous stories, and his behavior doesn't feel as “authentic.” The above is just an extreme example of that—can you really imagine Mickey Mouse, as previously depicted, getting it into his head to beat up his girlfriend? Of course not; it's total nonsense (you can see something similar, if less obviously unacceptable, in the disproportionate number of Walsh strips where Mickey is lusting after random human women). This shit is completely alien to the character. Most of Walsh's work isn't this bad, of course, but there's a prevailing air of unreality about it, for, at various times, both better and worse.

16 Comments:

Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

To be fair, Mickey certainly did PAY for his actions – and his booing the Humphrey Bogart surrogate in the final panel shows that he learned his lesson.

I think Walsh was wonderfully weird, and maybe that’s what the ‘40s and ‘50s Mickey needed.

Paul Murry must have been involved with this strip, as the movie poster lettering certainly looks like his!

January 9, 2016 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Well...he learns that if he tries it he'll get his ass kicked, which is fine, but also a bit orthogonal to the main point.

January 9, 2016 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger scarecrow33 said...

I likewise was startled by this cartoon. Taken out of context of its time, it is very jarring. It's the kind of thing Mickey would "never" do.

But if we look on the 40's Mickey as a kind of "everymouse" character, it fits a little better. The cartoon itself is well-structured and conveys its story concisely and effectively. It's ultimately got a pro-social message in not letting the movies dictate your domestic life.

Still, it's awkward for Mickey and Minnie and places each of them in positions that are not comfortable to contemplate--out of character for both, as we tend to think of them. (Of course, which of us does not step out of character once in a while? Even Mickey can have his "bad days.")

It's also a very "adult" situation and a reminder that the Mickey Mouse comic strip was aimed at adults, not kids, in its early decades.

What I notice with the gag-a-day strips from this period, both for Mickey and Donald, is that many of them contain enough story material in a few panels to cover several days' worth. And there is so much visual information to absorb that I have to look over each panel carefully to make sure I "get" the gag. My biggest quibble is that much is taken for granted that should have required more explanation. Mickey and Goofy go to the circus and end up washing an elephant. A lobster at a fish counter picks another customer's pocket, and Mickey gets blamed. Mickey and Morty's horseplay while leaving a movie theatre results in the capture of a masked bandit. My instinct is to say, "Slow this down! One thing at a time, please!" But I guess reading them one day at a time would have been different from having them all collected in a book, and reading them one after another.

I enjoy these Mickey books greatly, but I do notice that the single gag strips tend to cram more in, while the longer stories allow for a more leisurely flow of ideas.

Another Mouse moment that bugs me is from a previous volume, when Mickey snatches a camera from a little girl. Granted, he was in a desperate situation, but there had to be a more diplomatic way to solve the problem. The writer probably got stuck at that point and just had to come up with something--but it was a very un-Mickey-like solution.

January 9, 2016 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

I have to be honest: I actually kinda love that bit in "Phantom Blot." It feels like it's a reflection of the audience's probable exasperation at the situation, and I think in that instance desperate times really DID call for desperate measures.

January 9, 2016 at 6:21 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

My friend Scarecrow writes: “It's ultimately got a pro-social message in not letting the movies dictate your domestic life.”. That’s a great point, and kinda overlooked as we just focus on the gag!

He also writes: “But I guess reading them one day at a time would have been different from having them all collected in a book, and reading them one after another.”.

While that, too, is quite true, consider that the Mickey, Donald, etc. strips were merely part of a great tapestry of other classic strips. So, rather than reflect on any Mickey gag in isolation, a reader would just as quickly have moved on to Dick Tracy, Bringing Up Father, Terry and the Pirates, Blondie, Thimble Theatre, Little Orphan Annie, Mutt and Jeff, Mandrake, and a whole page (or more) of other such comic strip legends.

So, if you’re moving on to more Mickey strips in a wonderful Fantagraphics volume, or moving on to a treasure trove of other giants of the comics page, you’re still not contemplating any single strip – unless you’re the “student-of-the-medium” type of reader as we are!

January 9, 2016 at 7:09 PM  
Blogger Clapton said...

Joe:
Man your previous comment has bummed me out. Thinking about the goldend age of the comic strip makes me realize how few good strips there are worth reading today. Pearls Before Swines is excellent and there are a few others but it's not what it once was ya know.

Oh and sorry about the deleted comment on "Mummy Fearest" I accidently posted the above comment on the wrong post. Hehe 😬

January 9, 2016 at 11:27 PM  
Blogger Domenico Ruoppolo said...

Come on, seriously?!
This strip is good! It stages a standard comic pattern, and it stages it well. It laughs at (at least) two negative aspects of Western society of that age: machismo and influence of movies' clichés on the common man.
One will hardly find a string doing its job more than this one.
There is not even any problem of aging: from a political perspective this strip was "progressive" in the 40's and it still looks "progressive" to me right now in 2016.

I think it would have worked better with Donald. I giggle like an idiot just replacing with my mind the mouse with Taliaferro's duck in this strip.
But well, I am kind of happy seeing Mickey doing this too.

January 10, 2016 at 4:00 AM  
Anonymous D. J. Neyer said...

Everybody here seems to be missing Geo's point; it's not that the selected gag isn't funny (I think it is), but that it's totally out of character for Mickey. Like way too many of the strips from the Walsh era, it could work (and work better) with any other comic-strip character--like, as Domenico says, Donald.

There's another sequence of strips in this same volume that, to my mind, provides an even better example of Walsh's distance from the classic-era Gottfredson characterizations of the Mice--"The New Girlfriend" sequence of gags, in which the climactic strip has Mickey and Minnie casually agreeing to break up because they've fallen in love with other characters, then only reuniting after they comically find out that their new flames aren't interested in them.

Stuff like this is why I can't regard Walsh's years on the strip as anything but a noticeable falling-off from Gottfredson's Golden Age, despite many interesting continuities from the period; at his best, Walsh is a highly imaginative storyteller, but he only seems interested in his stories, not in his characters--who he'll happily alter as it suits the story or the gag he wants to tell.

The whole "Billy the Mouse" continuity is another example of this; it's an amusing spoof of B-westerns, but it just feels wrong for Mickey to be presented as a bumbling, comic fraud throughout the entire story, surviving danger by means of cartoonishly improbable luck instead of by his wits. No one who's read Gottfredson's own continuities can think that "Big-Chief-Who-Gums-Up-Works-But-Wins-Anyway" (the title the Indians bestow on Mickey at the end of the Billy the Mouse saga) is a just or appropriate title for the "real" Mouse.

January 10, 2016 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Danny, agreed: I don't care if Mickey learns a lesson not to be a jerk in two ways at once, or whether it's a good thing to teach that message—I too think it's bizarre that Mickey should act like that to begin with, so yeah.

That said, I'd say a more consistent characterization of Mickey returned by the Eega Beeva years. While noticeably more adult and less boyishly exuberant than in the pre-Walsh period, Mickey seemed at least freed from truly off characterization—like we admittedly see fairly often around 1945-46.

Tellingly, 1945-46 was the period when Gottfredson stepped down as Comic Strip Dept manager and Frank Reilly took over. While this didn't mean Walsh and Gottfredson stopped communicating or working as a unit, it did mean Reilly now had the last word on the type of material they were asked to produce—and Gottfredson, famously, didn't always agree.

It's easy to imagine Reilly, who loved him some domestic squabbling gags, demanding a certain one for Mickey and the two having to grin and bear it. "I don't think Mickey would do that." "Who cares? It's a cartoon, it's a talking mouse. Anything can happen. What are you, five? Grow the hell up."

(Not a conversation I'm quoting, BTW—just a variant of the kind of thing funny animal writers often have to hear.)

January 10, 2016 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

I agree with the both of you, and thanks foe the info, David. I think I didn't express myself as well as I could have, probably because, let's face it, I wasn't THINKING as clearly as I could have. It's not that the joke is inappropriate per se, it's just that it's wildly inappropriate for Mickey; doesn't he look, in that first panel, as though he's being mind-controlled or something?

I find myself reminded of "Emperor of Calidornia," in which Scarpa ruins a perfectly good story by having Mickey behave wildly and unappealingly out-of-character at the end. But stick Donald in the role, and suddenly it makes sense (though the ending STILL depends on a tired, sexist joke). I think the current strip under consideration might be pushing it even with Donald--better, but still pushing it. But if we can anachronistically imagine a version with Pete and Trudy--bam, that would hit the mark.

January 10, 2016 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Clapton said...

Rampaith:
Could you please elaborate a little more on Gottfredson and Riley's "famous" disagreements.

January 10, 2016 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Richie said...

Pete and Trudy would indeed be much more fitting. Donald is known for his volatile temper, sure, but has he -ever- shown violent tendencies toward Daisy? I don't recall any such instance in all of Barks, if anything it's the other way around both in comics and the cartoons. The closest thing would be that deranged Jippes' story reviewed by GeoX already, the one with the easter eggs...Which is an excellent reminder of why these characters shouldn't ever adopt these attitudes in the first place.

As far as I'm concerned, the actual joke in this strip is Mickey actually paying for the same movie twice, knowing full well he'll hate it this time around; he couldn't despise it elsewhere, no, he had to give extra money to the company that brought it to him.

January 12, 2016 at 8:00 PM  
Anonymous Deb said...

I like Mickey's hat. Minnie's reaction is very well drawn, too. I like how the bow flies off her head. Why did Mickey of this time pull his pants up to his armpits? Paul Murry's "Polo shirt Mickey" at least had a more natural looking shirt length. But enough nitpicking about Mickey's weirdly tall slacks...
This gag really is out of character for Mickey. His expressions, how he walks, it all just feels like an imposter has replaced the Mickey Mouse we all know and love. And is doing a bad job of trying to convince Minnie that he is Mickey. Maybe someone at Disney's comic strip department wanted to try to give the strip more older reader appeal by doing gags like this, but it just feels off.

January 21, 2016 at 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Thad Komorowski said...

I wrote the editorial for this mid-'40s bulk of gags and half-assed "stories" for FGL Vol. 9. It is certainly the lowest point for the Mickey strip, at least pre-1951 (when I lose almost all interest with Gottfredson's work). I won't repeat myself here (or try to—I don't have my copy of the book yet), but you've got to hand it to Gottfredson, Gonzales, Murry, and Wright... Even if the gags and characterizations stink, at least these strips READ. I can't say the same for Al Taliaferro's Donald of the '40s. While I won't deny the earlier Silly Symphony Sundays and DD dailies have their irascible charm, reading IDW's collection of strips from '40-'42 was a truly tedious experience. Every couple of pages there was a strip I had to read twice. Not because of some bygone reference, but because I didn't know what the joke was. Also, if any of you hate the misogyny here in this Mickey strip, stay the hell away from Donald. Unpleasant.

February 6, 2016 at 1:24 AM  
Blogger asc said...

Yeah, Mickey is out of character here, I agree, but analyzing the social message or meanings of the comedy is pathetic from any point of view. Comedy makes fun of things, it doesn't vehicle a message, never; it is just the usual critics snob assumption that there is a message under every single scene(and that could be extended to every art in general).

June 21, 2016 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

And yet...comedy DOES mean things. It doesn't matter if they're intended. Really, now.

June 21, 2016 at 1:42 PM  

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