Friday, September 28, 2012

Now, Krazy Kat--there's a comic For Real Men Only!

There's an article from the seventies by the late Bill Blackbeard, reprinted in MM3, called "Mickey Mouse & the Phantom Artist."  Here's the opening:

I cannot read this without shouting "citation needed!" at regular intervals.  There's this idea here that the MM comic was some sort of marginalized, embattled entity that adults, in their arrogant ignorance, simply dismissed unread as "kids' stuff."  But…is there any actual evidence of this?  Like, whatsoever?  We're really supposed to imagine all these Adults thrilling to Flash Gordon and Popeye and Terry and the Pirates, but then they came to Mickey Mouse and thought, WHOA WHOA WHOA, a MOUSE?!?  I'm not going to get the super-ultra-mature adults-only excitement that I crave from a strip about a mouse!  Fuck that shit!  I mean, maybe that's how it worked in the Blackbeard household, but in general…?

…well, let's just say, I have my doubts.  So, for the record, does Geoffrey Blum, who, in his article on "Sheriff of Nugget Gulch," asserts that

On Sundays Gottfredson did not so much relax his narrative standards as alter them because the stories were written for a special audience.  Boys and girls who might shy clear of the more adult cartoon buried in their father's daily paper would grab at the colorful Sunday section.

Fight! Fight!

Of course, this is so much trivial nitpicking ("ah, so pretty much the usual thing, then?"), but I can't say I'm a huge fan of the slightly smug/chiding oh-those-benighted-adults tone in Blackbeard's article, especially as it seems to me to almost certainly be based on a wholly erroneous assumption. 


Blogger Chris Barat said...


This article originally appeared a LONG time ago (as in, the early- to mid-70s) when relatively little was known about Gottfredson OR the impact of his work on the general public. So I'm willing to grant Blackbeard a mulligan on it. The reprinting of this piece was also a tribute of sorts to Blackbeard, who died recently and was a legit pioneer in comic-strip research.


September 28, 2012 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Articles like that can be (as they say) a slippery slope.

I first read the Blackbeard piece about 30 years ago, and it was nearly a decade-old classic even then.

Funny thing about fan-writings back then… I don’t think citations were “needed”, or even wanted. An author had a thesis or a point-of-view combined with some knowledge of the subject that was a degree beyond that of the general public, and he or she simply went with it. We were so hungry for information of any kind that we lapped it up. And, the author’s (presumably) “having been there” was qualification or citation enough.

Clearly it is possible to have “been there” AND have been incorrect, misinformed, or not be in possession of all the facts – but, more often than not, merely “having been there” was enough.

It’s why I always deferred to (or accepted as fact) anything that came out of my conversations with persons like Don R. Christensen or Tony Strobl – or in exchanges of letters with others like Mark Evanier, Roger Armstrong, and Chase Craig. Those fortunate enough to have met Carl Barks (I never did!) must surely have felt that way as well!

Blackbeard, by Internet reports, was born in 1926. In 1933, that would have made him approximately as old as I was when Gold Key Comics began. So, he “was there” for Gottfredson moving into his prime, at the same point in his personal cognition, as I was for the coming of Gold Key Comics.

I think most of you accept what I say about Gold Key without specific citations because I “was there” and also accumulated information from various insiders… though we are talking about a Blog post, as opposed to a published article.

But, bear in mind that what is now Blackbeard’s “published article” was once his fanzine writing – and was never intended for as inconceivable a venue as a series of Gottfredson hardcovers! It was prepared for a considerably narrower and less demanding audience than exists in the information-overloaded 21st century! And, being the pioneering work that it was, still lives today!


September 28, 2012 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

For the record--I assume this is obvious, but--I'm not denying Blackbeard and all his works or anything like that; the man did a whole lot for the comic form, obviously. I'm just quibbling with this one bit of this one essay.

September 29, 2012 at 2:36 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I’d figured that was where you were coming from on this, Geo. Not to mention that we all must “feed our Blog-Beasts” regularly, lest they fall into the sort of disuse that certain others among my Blogging friends are wont to do. (You KNOW who you are!) It’s a good subject that’s sparked some debate. Clearly, it has me interested. And that’s all I ask from any Blog post.

But, to continue with my Gold Key analogy, Blackbeard “was there” – and, no doubt, spoke with and / or corresponded with others who “were there”, or were comic strip or newspaper insiders as well.

With regard to the Mickey Mouse strip, he may have known that was the prevailing attitude of the day, from having “been there”, aided by knowledge later accumulated (…Not unlike my own writings about Gold Key). Maybe he just found this to be the case from having interacted with a large enough sampling of others who “were there”, and formed his hypothesis. Is it fact? From this vantage point, I dunno how we’d ever know for sure!

That leads us back to the demands of “Now vs. Then”. We did not actually know who those people were – or whether or not he’d actually drawn on the views and experiences of anyone at all. …But, we didn’t care. Because he was telling us something “we didn’t know” and that (at the time) we wanted very much TO know – because so precious little WAS known. AND (important point!) it sounded “credible enough” to be accepted and believed without official citation.

Lest we forget, the youngest of Barks’ original readers are now over 50. I wonder how many of Gottfredson’s original readers of the ‘30s are even alive today, much less able to provide insightful commentary. That makes writings of the period valuable indeed – even if the passage of time, and the greater accumulation of knowledge accompanying such passage, calls some of that writing into question.

I’d wager that the foundations of most of what we know today about such things are based on the writings of folks like Blackbeard (who introduced me to the name of Floyd Gottfredson), Don and Maggie Thompson, Roy Thomas, Les Daniels (who introduced me to the name of Carl Barks) and others – and many of us today may not even know that!

Finally, to lighten the mood, isn’t it somehow cool to have a book begin with “Blackbeard” and end with “The Pirate Submarine”?!

September 29, 2012 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

While I certainly know of Blackbeard by reputation, and I totally understand what prompted your demands of "Citation needed!", Geo ... trust me, dude: Blackbeard was highlighting an irony and an injustice (Mickey Mouse NOT being recognized as an adventure character, despite Gottfedson's harrowing serials) that some of have been dealing with for decades, if not our whole lives! (Sorry to be dramatic!)

... to the point where, today, I'm honestly surprised that there's someone who expects that it'd be even somewhat commonplace for there to be comics afficianados who consider Gotffredson's Mickey to be in the same league as Flash Gordon.

Unfortunately, I can only draw on personal experience to back that up -- I'd need a disseration grant to thoroughly argue and demonstrate my case. So, for the time being, I'm left with:

1. Back in the day, when being at a comics shop and purcashing Gladstone's and then Disney Comics' Mickey Mouse titles, I was often overwhelmed by being regarded condescendingly by both other patrons *and* often the shopkeeps themselves for buying "kids' stuff" ... and at the time, I WAS A KID!

2. When I was in 7th grade and my sister was in 5th grade, it so happened that her homeroom library included one or two Tintin albums. She brought one home, and told me that it was "cool". Incidentally, this was my first exposure to Tintin. I looked it over, and was struck that it reminded me of, in different but similar aspects, both '30's Gottfedson serials and `40's Barks Donald Duck adventures. I commented, "This reminds me of the Donald Duck comics from the same time." She scoffed, "RYAN! Does Donald Duck get lost in the city of Shanghai?!!!" I retored, "YES!!!" Her face turned red.

A bit later, I confronted her about what she'd meant by that, asking, "What did you think is IN my comics?!" She shrugged, "I dunno. Mickey goes to the farm ... sees the horse for the first time."

Make of that what you will. ;)

-- Ryan

September 30, 2012 at 3:13 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Another thing to consider, as to why Gottfredson’s “Mickey Mouse” may not have been regarded as the great adventure strip that it was, may be because Gottfredson appears to have literally INVENTED the “Funny Animal Adventure Genre”!

Human characters like Flash Gordon and Terry, to use your own examples, “had adventures”. So did more cartoony ones like Popeye.

But, characters like Mickey Mouse did not. At least not until Floyd Gottfredson decided that they would indeed have serious adventures! Just like their human counterparts!

And, for all we know from our vantage point eighty years out (!), newspaper editors of the day may not have even KNOWN what to do with a strip like that! It makes perfect sense that (at least by 1933) what Gottfresdon was doing may not have been fully absorbed by the general public.

And, alas, as Ryan Wynns’ sister (above), many persons I’ve encountered – and even too many decision-makers within Disney itself – continue to prove, it hasn’t been fully absorbed even now!

September 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I don't know that people's reactions to Mickey in the here and now prove much: today, the character is seen--with, alas, no little justification--as a bland corporate icon rather than a dynamic character. The Gottfredson books are great and all, but you still have to really go out of your way to encounter the character in his best guise. Whereas yesteryear, you would have to go out of your way to not encounter him.

September 30, 2012 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...


But the scenario you describe as the here and now was pretty how much things already stood when Blackbeard wrote his article.

You're not wrong in calling "bs" on Mickey not being seen as an adventure character, but Blackbeard was trying to wake people up to the reality ... at least as I see it.

(And this is a whole other discussion, but Gottfredson is actually worlds apart from Herriman, IMHO...)

-- Ryan

October 3, 2012 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, but Blackbeard *wasn't talking about* the time he was writing the article. He was talking about back in the thirties, when he was a kid. Sure, I'll agree that Mickey had been intensely marginalized since them, but...

October 3, 2012 at 11:56 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...


Gotcha. And fair point. To figure out what popular perception was back then ... would take a lot of hard work, and I can imagine running up against walls. Still, I'd love if there were thorough documentation of the situation to peruse! :)

-- Ryan

October 4, 2012 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

How did I miss this thread years ago?

I can confirm—Bill Blackbeard told me about having had experiences, as a boy in the 1930s, much like Ryan describes: where his beloved Mickey comics were presumed by uninitiated newspaper readers to be kiddie fodder, even when Mickey's screen cartoons were understood as being for all ages.
A strange discrepancy, and frustrating for Bill and his friends, but likely grounded in what average people expected of each medium at the time.

September 1, 2018 at 8:12 PM  

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