Friday, June 10, 2011

"Mickey Mouse vs. Kat Nipp"

First, a little programming note: as you'll see if you compare them to the ones in the book, these images are not those images. They're somewhat lower quality. That's because I didn't really want to subject the book to the indignity of being held open and scanned so often, so I just grabbed these off the internet. Also, that way was a lot quicker. Anyway, you ought to own the book anyway, so what are you complaining about?

The thing you notice about this story is that there's no moral component to it. Which is to say: there's no reason to root for Mickey in the story other than the fact that the strip is called "Mickey Mouse." There are no higher principles underlying their conflict.

I mean, the guy's just hanging around in his house--sure, he has a provocative sign (neither antagonist is exactly mature in this story), but Mickey readily rises to the provocation, starting-shit-wise.

The conflict involves the two of them trying to do things to one another's tails. In the intro to the story, David writes that this "reflect[s] prewar notions of masculinity via a crude kind of fashion consciousness." While the first part of that is definitely right, I would tend towards a rather more Freudian interpretation of the tail business (which also has the advantage of making the story way funnier).

I mean, really now--this is one of those cases where subtext is pretty much indistinguishable from regular text.

Indeed, notions of masculinity, and the anxieties surrounding them, are really what the story is about--there may be no "higher principles," but there are definitely principles of a sort. Hence, this infamous exchange:

Since this is a family blog (goddamn motherfucking right it is!), we will not speculate on what "cream puff inhaler" would mean in concrete terms. But the central issue comes through loud and clear here: Mickey kicking the guy in order to assert, as strongly as possible, his own heterosexuality, which of course is a key component of a certain limited conception of masculinity.

For the record, here's what that looks like in bowdlerized form in Boom's Mickey Mouse Classics hardcover:

The message still comes through loud and clear, I think.

The question is: is Kat Nipp gay? Mickey certainly seems to think he is; notice that it isn't the guy he's kicking whom he's calling a cream puff inhaler. And the fact is, he does have a guy like this hanging around. And he cohabits with a sailor who does things to his tail.

Seems like a pretty strong argument to me. And if you take this to be the case, then the conflict takes on new dimensions: it's possible to read Kat Nipp's exaggerated macho posturing as an overcompensating response to the "gay=effeminate" stereotype; Mickey, by contrast, is eager to assert the primacy of the status quo in this regard.

But, you know, let's not get overly highfalutin here--these characters are basically acting like children (which, indeed, we could see as a commentary on the basic immaturity of this whole argument): "Mom! Billy put his hand on MY side of the seat! Make him stop!"

As you can see, Mickey here is trying to assert that there is indeed a different between the two--that he's the smart, more highly developed one, and that therefore he is in fact superior in some way.

...but the strip is having none of it. Still, in the end, it does sorta try to have it both ways: Mickey does win on account of being smarter.

In the end, though, it's hard to exactly root for him: Kat Nipp was actually shown to be somewhat more mature here; trying to make do with the indignities visited upon his tail, whereas for Mickey, nothing less than total capitulation will do. He's ultimately kind of a dick.

...also, he steals Kat Nipp's house. The hell? How's this remotely legal? Or just? On another note, if anyone wants to explain the presence of a catfish in a hot-air balloon, go for it.

And the story ends by validating this same very crude, brute-force version of masculinity. Hmph. Still, if it's not clear, I find the story really fascinating, and it's really great to watch the strip gradually find its voice.

And now, a few brief bonus thoughts on some of the interstitial strips that come before "Kat Nipp." First, Mickey murders a goat:

Actually, I don't really have anything profound to say about this. I just wanted to get that out there: Mickey murders a goat. Though I suppose, really, "murder" is a bit of a strong way to put it. Manslaughter, let's say. Goatslaughter. Anyway, that's the end of that goat.

But it's just a goat, right? It's not like the strip killed off an actual character, right? Well, no and yes.

An interesting thing about these early strips is that there's not that much differentiation between anthropomorphic and non-anthropmorphic animals; hence, this Scottish terrier can just straight-up start talking like it warn't no thang. There's generally a more clearly-drawn line in later stories (duck or mouse), even if you can think of exceptions (like Donald's cat Tabby in Fethry stories, who nonetheless, if I recall correctly, only thinks; he doesn't actually say anything).

Hey look, Mickey's picking up junk how public spirited of him oh no wait he's just dumping it in the bushes; never mind. If there's one thing that's impressive, it's the extent to which we have been indoctrinated against littering--and in what a short time period. There's a Mad Men episode where the Draper family is on a picnic and when they're done they just casually leave their crap lying there. The show is set in the early sixties, and there was some debate about whether this was realistic, with the general consensus being that, yeah, probably so. If this strip is any indication, people were certainly plenty cavalier about littering thirty years prior. But seriously, foax, I know "indoctrination" has pejorative connotations, but in this case it's unambiguously a Good Thing. If you're one of those people who leave bottles and things lying around in the woods for the rest of us to pick up, then I must regretfully inform you that you may well be a douchebag. Cut that crap out.



Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

If I recall correctly, litter began to become a serious public concern just about the time of that “Mad Men” episode would have occurred. "Mad Men" is full of future taboos, like letting children play with huge plastic bags, etc.! Littering is just another of those!

Anti-Litter PSAs abounded in my childhood – but not my VERY EARLY childhood. So, the timeframe sounds right!

There’s even a concrete “Disney signpost” to this… The Donald Duck short “The Litterbug” was released in 1961!

PS: My Gottfredson Library was “Lost in Transit” sez Amazon! They’ re sending me a replacement… someday, soon! (Groan!)

June 10, 2011 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Seriously? "Lost in transit?" Now they're just fucking with you. Dick move, amazon!

June 11, 2011 at 12:20 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Isn't murder intentional? That goat poisoned herself—as Mickey tried to stop her!

In other news, why's everyone totally swearing like sailors tonight? Damn.

June 11, 2011 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, that's why I downgraded the crime to goatslaughter--sure, it wasn't intentional, but he shoulda knowed it wasn't safe to write music that bad in the presence of goats!

June 11, 2011 at 12:45 AM  
Blogger Richie said...

MY copy of the book arrived today, whereas it was presumed to arrive until July the 7th! If they can deliver it quick to Mexican lands, surely they have NO valid excuse not to deliver your copy a.s.a.p, Joe!

I'll comment more on this story once I get to read it, but I must share something with you guys...
My 9-years-old brother, who's just starting to learn English beyond the basic terms, couldn't wait to pick up the book and have a read. There are words he doesn't get the meaning of (obviously) but he's putting the most effort he can on understanding all of the dialogue, just because he is SO EXCITED to read an adventurous Mickey Mouse. He really got a kick out of the 7th strip on the collection (It's the one where Mickey falls down to a barrel filled with water, as he's trying to stop Shyster from buying Minnie's estate) he even acted it out for us. Bedtime for him, but he's coming back for more as soon as he wakes up tomorrow.
David, thanks to your determination, a new Mouse fan has been born. It's really neat to serve as a spectator to such an event. Really.

June 11, 2011 at 2:31 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That's truly awesome. I'm sure at least part of my own interest in literature originated with old Disney comics, as well.

June 11, 2011 at 2:45 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


That’s a wonderful story! Keep it up!

…And perhaps your brother will be Blogging about these comics by the time I receive my copy of the book!

June 11, 2011 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Richie, thanks so much!

When I was 7 years old, "Death Valley" was the first story in the first book I ever bought with my own money (the Abbeville Press _Mickey Mouse: Best Comics_). I still remember acting out the scene of Pete and Shyster interrogating the Indian tribe.
So your brother has some precedent!

I happened to be a kid during a window of time—late 1970s to late 1980s—when a lot of 1930s Mickey comic and book reprints were easily available (initially prompted, it seems, by Mickey's 50th anniversary, though extending onward through Gladstone I). The early, black-and-white Mickey cartoons were amazingly visible, too (see: Disney Channel—Early Days Of). One could absorb this content easily and quickly; finding more took minimal effort after you stumbled on it once.
This gave me the opportunity to grow up on classic Mickey quite casually, much the way kids must have done in the 1930s.
Now, with the BW Mickey DVDs still available and the Floyd Gottfredson Library happening at last, your brother has the same opportunity... how great to hear.

[Reposted: fixed a confusing typo.]

June 11, 2011 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

I love Mac Googan! I wish he'd stuck around.

June 11, 2011 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

*MY (replacement) COPY ARRIVED YESTERDAY!!!* …What a GREAT BOOK!

Unlike David, I was a kid in the sixties, when Mickey had no presence on TV, minimal presence in merchandising – and pretty much the only regularly-seen public image of Mickey in the USA was Paul Murry’s from the Gold Key Comics!

Murry’s Mickey was (and always will be) great to me, but the Abbeville book was a TRUE eye-opener for me as well! Floyd Gottfredson? WOW! What a revelation! More than just the stories therein, I learned The Phantom Blot went back to 1939! And who was this Eega Beeva? Both were pictured in the accompanying text features.

I hope that the Fantagraphics volumes are, for a new generation – like Richie’s brother – what the Abbeville book was for David and me!

June 12, 2011 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Richie said...

Thanks a lot for your kind comments, guys! Much appreciated! =) It's really amazing to hear from your own experiences regarding your first Disney comics, and what you fellows got out of it. It fills me with an odd mixture of happiness and nostalgia...Even if my own childhood was much more about the cartoons and less about the comics. Which is curious, considering my infinite love for the only two Ducks and Mice collection books I owned. (Only Murry Mickey on the Mickey one...I'm getting to meet Mr. Floyd here, too!) Glad the book finally arrived, Joe! My brother ain't blogging about the comics just yet, but give him time ;)

Speaking of my bro, it wasn't until I asked my him what the first storyline on the book is about, that I realized I need to monitor his progress more closely...He thought Shyster locked Minnie, not with intentions of buying her Estate, but to kidnap the girl and take her to another "State"! Ain't that cute...(and puts a whole different perspective on Shyster, too!) As he grows up and begins to master the language, moments like this are bound to cease. Better get the most of it, the way he does with the book itself!

No one says only new generations can get something out of these great volumes. My dad stared in disbelief at the book's cover, unwilling to believe on an official product that paired both "Mickey Mouse" and "DEATH (omgosh!) Valley". Time to break down mental images about the "boring" and "kiddie" image of Mick, I say!

June 16, 2011 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

It's amazing how much Mickey's image has been "babyfied" in the popular mindset over the past—say—fifteen years. When I grew up, Mickey was primarily viewed as a children's character, true; but he was at least understood as a character who (however dully, in more recent incarnations) battled with bad guys and went on adventures.

June 17, 2011 at 1:31 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

There's a picture of Mickey in Gladstone's MM in Color book as he appears "today" (ie, 1988 or thereabouts) which is really utterly risible--somebody was trying to make him look like some marketing executive's idea of late-eighties "urban" chic, meaning he looks like he's trying to be in Kriss Kross. Really, now: there is no way in the world that anyone seeing that image without knowing anything about the character's history would assume that he was or had ever been anything other a soulless corporate logo.

What I'm saying is, Disney hasn't exactly done their flagship character's image any favors over the years.

June 17, 2011 at 1:46 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I think that was the image that the person writing the intro (can't recall who) compared to the image of a star of MIAMI VICE... the "genial young lout." And who can forget MICKEY MOUSE DISCO or MICKEY UNRAPPED?


June 20, 2011 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

So they change the "cream puff inhaler" to "big cake eater". Im not familair with the second one (out-side of literal meaning) Is that a slang for something?

May 25, 2013 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Francis DiMenno said...

That kick which mickey administers is what is known as a "pedicatory kick". Basically, it's a sublimated way of having anal intercourse. In Roman times, pedication was the traditional punishment for a thief.

January 17, 2020 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Ayrton Mugnaini Jr. said...

Those undignifying butt-kicking and tail-knotting remind me of a phrase quoted by Brazilian cartoonist and writer Millôr Fernandes: "Honour was placed by God on the most unlikely places of the human body."

August 24, 2020 at 8:20 AM  

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