on June 1, 2011
This is a must-have item for anyone interested in comic strip reprints, Disney history, or just plain good-times!
I am a collector of comic book reprint hardcover material - of which there has been a great number lately. They vary in quality and it really comes down to three things:
1) do you like the character/comic?
2) is the artwork complete, reproduced well, and authentic?
3) are there any value-added materials in the book - such as essays, photos, etc?
If you are reading this review - then I must assume you have some interest in Mickey Mouse and/or Gottfredson's artwork - so #1 is a given.
As for #2 and #3 - wow. Just wow.
This book does an excellent job of printing the material on a nice, heavy, white paper that makes the art look fantastic (and it is fantastic art to start with). The paper is matte, so there is no glare, but it is quality paper that is crisp and doesn't fade or "smudge" the work. It looks wonderful.
As for #3 - this is where this book may be the best comic strip reprint book I've ever seen.
The essays and photos are top-notch and enlightening. I am especially impressed with the short essays introducing each "chapter" or story that the volume holds. You really get context and interest as you embark on the next pages. There is some material that I haven't seen reprinted since "The Censored Mouse" - a very short-lived comic in the 80's (2 issues?). I am glad to see some of that material here - where it can be treated as part of a cultural heritage, in the context of the times it was created with appropriate information and essay explanation.
This book is just rich in material - both reprinted strips and supporting information. I cannot think of a better example of what a strip collection could be. It's fantastic and I look forward to every published volume finding its way into my collection.
Ah, Mickey Mouse; that vacuous smile, that soulless laugh. His silhouette is literally a corporate logo. When I was young I used to watch Popeye and Warner Brothers cartoons after school because Disney didn't syndicate. Even when Disney started producing new cartoons for syndication in the late 80's Mickey Mouse was always conspicuous by his absence. The Disney Corporations intention may have been to protect their most famous property but in my mind it made Mickey seem snobbish. However in the first three decades of his existence Mickey was extraordinarily accessible in cartoons and the newspaper dailies. The cartoons were fun if a bit repetitive and shallow but the newspaper comics were where Mickey was really given the opportunity to develop as a character and Floyd Gottfredson was the man who made it all happen.
The first storyline featuring Gottfredson's talents was `Mickey Mouse in Death Valley' upon which this book is named. Walt Disney himself wrote the first third of the story and let me just say that Disney may have been a brilliant businessman but as a writer he was lacking. Disney's Mickey seemed to only talk in puns and stale jokes and the story was all over the place. When Gottfredson took over writing he initially emulated Disney and it wasn't until the second story, `Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers', that Gottfredson began to find his own style and by the time `Mickey Mouse Boxing Champ' rolled out Gottfredson had made the character his own. He slowed the stories down to a pace more appropriate for a daily comic and his art style improved to the point where it was just off the charts magnificent. Whereas the first story felt hokey, frantic and dated Gottfredson changed the series to feel funny, well paced and edgy. Hard to believe that Mickey could once be described as edgy but for a pipsqueak he could dish out (and take) some punishment. The town bully actually snipped off the end of Mickey's tail and tied his nose in a knot. That's pretty hardcore.
I am a HUGE fan of Elzie Segar's Popeye but the character was never intended as a role model. Mickey on the other hand was a legitimate good guy who was resourceful, brave and big hearted but Gottfredson to his credit didn't make him perfect. When Mickey believes that Minnie is in love with another *ahem* rat he attempts to commit suicide... repeatedly. Mickey is not above using alcohol to get one over on an enemy and even pulls out a pair of pistols in order to motivate the "heavy light weight champ" to train harder. Like Popeye, the early Mickey Mouse was a product of the depression era and lived a simple small town life. From starting a war with the town bully to fighting a local boxing tough guy Mickey's adventures generally kept him close to home and I liked that. With every story I read I enjoyed this book more and more and Gottfredson's art style is some of the most aesthetically pleasing ever to grace a comic strip.
I have yet to purchase a collection from Fantagraphics that wasn't top notch quality and this one is no exception. From the cover to the binding and the additional material on Gottfredson this is a fantastic book and one that will look lovely on a bookshelf. My ONLY issue is that the comics themselves are shrunk a bit and I occasionally had some difficulty reading text. Most of the time it's not an issue and the images look terrific. I can unreservedly recommend this book to fans of comics in general and or fans of Disney. As long as Fantagraphics continues to produce these Mickey comics by Gottfredson I'll continue to purchase them.
on June 3, 2011
I'm really just stunned at the quality of newspaper comic strip reprint collections coming along these days. It seems that all of the publishers have stepped up their game to make these collections the best they can possibly be. Fantagraphics has outdone themselves with "Race to Death Valley." The book itself is a beauty, just the right size without being too large or too small. Some might complain that the strips (3 to a page) are too small, but to my eye they appear just about right, emphasizing Floyd Gottfredson's art to the best advantage (and the reproduction quality is outstanding). The stories are just great, movie serial, pulp style adventures. In addition to the comics themselves, Fantagraphics has again gone one step beyond in providing a wealth of background material, including essays on the genesis of the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip, Floyd Gottfredson, analysis, appreciations and more, with lots of color illustrations from the Disney archives. Each story sequence has it's own introduction, and there's an additional section at the end of the book that reprints the very first sequence of the comic strip (by Disney himself and Ub Iwerks) from just before the arrival of Floyd Gottfredson and "Race to Death Valley." In fact, there's so much background material crammed into this book, I'm not sure Fantagraphics can maintain this level through future volumes (but I hope they can). If you've loved these strips before, this is a collection you'll absolutely want to have on your shelf. If you've never read Mickey Mouse's "Indiana Jones" style adventures before, this is a great opportunity to dive in and see what you've been missing. With Amazon's price, it's beyond a bargain and a worthy addition to the growing library of quality newspaper strip reprints.
on November 28, 2012
Growing up I read many Walt Disney Comics. One of my main sources was the great "Walt Disney Comics Digest" put out by Gold Key Comics/Western Publications. I liked many of the comics they reprinted, but among the best were the "duck stories", especially the longer Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge adventures, by Carl Barks (tho like many of us, I would learn who Barks was many years later) and the Mickey Mouse stories by Floyd Gottfredson (tho it was much later that I learned their names).
I also came to learn that the great Mickey Mouse adventure stories by Gottfredson were actually reprints of the daily and Sunday Mickey Mouse comic strips. But what was frustrating, was that while Carl Barks materials were reprinted completely several times (and now are again being reprinted by Fantagraphics), no one had done a comprehensive reprint of Gottfredson's work. Until now.
This then is the first of what should be about 15 or so volumes reprinting all the dailies (and now also Sunday) Mickey Mouse adventure strips by Gottfredson. While he worked on the strip for several decades, I believe they will only go from 1930 to 1955, when the adventure stories ended in favor of gag-a-day strips (per editorial decree). And he also only worked on the Sunday strip for about 5 years. So with about 2 years per daily volume, there should be 12 volumes of dailies and 2 of Sundays.
Each volume will follow the same basic format. A great introductory essay or two that gives info on the strip and the current set of stories. Then the stories, broken up into distinct storylines with some introductory info on each. Then followed up by a variety of extras: info on the reprinting of the stories (reprinting some of the covers of these collections), info on the major secondary characters, other background info, and sometimes bonus material in the form of stuff like sequels done oversees and never seen in the US!
Volume 1 has about 2 years of dailies. The stories are:
"Mickey Mouse in Death Valley", in which Mickey and Minnie travel to Death Valley to find a gold mind left to Minnie by her uncle Mortimer Mouse. Clarebelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar are minor characters at the beginning. Introduced are 2 villains who will plague Mickey for a while: the crooked lawyer Sylvester Shyster and his henchmen Pegleg Pete. Helping Mickey and Minnie is the mysterious Fox, not helping them is a gullible Sheriff. This story gets us off to a good start.
"Mr Slicker and the Egg Robbers" has Mickey building a miniature golf course and dealing with a raft of thefts where he has to solve the mystery. He gains a friend in tough-guy Butch, and helps foil the marriage between Minnie and the main villain, Mr. Slicker.
"Mickey Mouse Music", "The Picnic" and "Traffic Troubles" are 'short' stories that brings us to the next main story.
"Mickey Mouse vs Kat Nipp" has Mickey deal with a new enemy, troublemaker Kat Nipp.
"Mickey Mouse, Boxing Champion" & "High Society" first has Mickey being forced to prepare for a fight with a heavy-lightweight champion, Ruffhouse Ratt. Next, his tough-guy pal Butch returns, and Mickey tries to get him into 'high society'.
"Circus Roustabout" & "Pluto the Pup" has Mickey joining the circus and we get an introduction of Mickey's longtime pal Pluto!
"Mickey Mouse and the Ransom Plot" has Mickey and the gang (Minnie, Clarabelle, Horace, and Pluto) on a camping trip and dealing with an old gypsy woman and kidnappers!
"Fireman Mickey" & "Clarabelle's Boarding House" has Mickey as a volunteer firefighter and hi jinx at Clarabeller's boarding house.
We see Mickey as a character develop in these early strips. Is he a kid or a young adult? Its not clear. We go back and from between adventure strips (with some danger) and more humorous stuff as Gottfredson gets more comfortable with the strip (this will further develop). As part of this development, Mickey will also take on different jobs (circus roustabout and firefighter in this one). We will also see development in the other characters in the strip. These secondary characters came from the animated shorts, and due to the changes in those shorts, some characters will come and go from strip to reflect this.
Bonus material is great.
We actually get the beginning of the Mickey daily strip by Walt & Ub Iwerks before Gottfredson took over, in the "Lost on a Desert Island". This story was hard to get because of the non-PC depictions of natives.
We have a variety of other materials, such as case articles on Mickey & Minnie as well as Butch and Pluto.
All together a great collection, and I look forward to the next volumes.
on August 1, 2011
Every once in a while, a book comes along that is simply spectacular. This collection of comic strips by Floyd Gottfredson is a perfect example of how to present, analyze and reconstruct subject matter that is viewed differently today. The series editors (David Gerstein and Gary Groth) pull no punches in discussing why Mickey was carrying a gun or the use of slang that is noticeably offensive by today's standards. This is a wonderful vehicle for presenting historically accurate art. Other companies should take notice.
Mickey Mouse is a global icon.
It is really hard to imagine a time when the Mouse didn't pervade every media outlet. When these comics were produced, it was Mickey's first foray into the lucrative comic pages of the day. The editors recount the story of how the strip came to life through research vignettes that are carefully peppered between the serials. The first three months worth of strips were written by Walt Disney and drawn by Ub Iwerks. Win Smith handled it for a few weeks before Gottfredson was brought in on a temporary basis. Gottfredson ended up at the helm of the strip for the next 45 years.
There are fourteen serials presented in the book covering January 13, 1930 to January 9, 1932. The editors went to extreme lengths to secure the strips. Often, they had to borrow panels from collectors when Disney's masters had been damaged. The strips have been reproduced in a brilliant fidelity; the artwork and lettering stands fresh. Some of the antics may seem silly or overtly simple, but you have to remember the restrictions that a four-panel comic presents. The first panel needed to "catch up" the reader while the last panel needed to offer a reason to read it the next day. Gottfredson quickly became the master of the medium.
The supplemental material provided by the editors would shine on its own. Historical context is provided that explains the quirks of the characters as seen through modern eyes. Yes, there are times when Mickey carries a weapon or when certain ethnicities might be overly generalized, but you have to appreciate the comics as they were presented.
The last 60 pages of the book are dedicated to essays and archival features. Included are the first three months of the strip before Gottfredson took over. The editors offer essays about the artists that assisted Gottfredson and how the characters existed inside the world of the comics.
This is a stunning work. The historical presentation is flawless, as is the artwork. We meet a Mickey Mouse that very few of us experienced. When Gottfredson was penning the stories, he wasn't bound to the same code that the animators found themselves having to adhere to. As Mickey evolved on screen to become the charming every-man, the comics offered a Mickey that was more aligned with the earliest shorts. He was more of a good-natured rascal who was always looking for the best in people and in situations.
This is a must-have for Mickey fans, comic fans and anyone else with an interest in the early years of the Disney Company. You will garner a greater appreciation for Mouse and how he developed across different media. You will also get to see Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Kat Nipp and Butch in more of a starring role. Pick up a copy; you won't be sorry.
on June 12, 2011
Floyd drew the Mickey of my youth. Those of us who grew up back then consider this Mickey Mouse as THE Mickey Mouse. We watched as mickey grew along with us. Some of us gave up on Mickey when we hit highschool fearing we would be teased for reading little kid comics. There were a substantial number of us who simply grew along with the famous mouse. Gottfredson also grew with the mouse. Early Mickeys must look kinda crude by todays standards; but it was the Mickey of that period. The adventures were never dull and Gottfredson, like Barks, never talked down to his young readers. The stories are as good or better than most of todays comic adventures. Its a look at comic history. For some of us its a trip down time; a nostalgic trip into our past. Yet young readers today should become quickly absorbed into the adventure. I highly recommend this book and hope that others follow.
on December 1, 2013
This fine book gives wonderful insight into the early "life" of a beloved character, Mickey Mouse. It shows why Mickey gained and grew to such popularity over the years. Via newspaper comics, he was part of everyone's daily life.
Gottfredson was an excellent choice made by Disney to illustrate these wonderful adventures. The depiction in each panel, displays a cartoonish vision of life in this nations earlier years. This collection is just plain fun to read too. It would be a wonderful book for parents to share with young children learning to read. Stories that capture the imagination of young and old.
on June 22, 2011
This book is a must have for Disney fans and vintage comic strip fans. I found the most surprising strip though was not the Mickey strips (which are awesome) but a strip Walt himself drew when he was about 19 years old shortly before discovering animation.
on July 25, 2011
"race to death valley" is the first volume of a collection of comic strip serials originally created by floyd gottfredson in the 1930's. the collection is well put together, very informative and interesting. the comics themselves are a glimpse into disney and also american history. the stories are also exciting and lovable for all ages. gottfredson helped develop mickey mouse's character and personality (and also the characters of minnie mouse, kat nipp, clarabelle cow, and a host of other familiar faces) through these comics. i recommend this to anyone who loves the "tintin" stories by hergé or anyone who has a deep affection for mickey mouse. i can't wait until the next volume comes out in october, i have already pre-odered mine!
It's common to make excuses for the past, to assume that people who lived and died before we did are therefore lesser, limited beings, stunted by not having been born in the obvious high point of all civilization. This is, of course, bunk. Human ingenuity is pretty much what it always has been, and old stuff sometimes seems fusty mostly due to the fact that it's old, and was made by people who lived in a different world. So old art -- in almost any medium you can mention -- will have works just as good, or better, than the current peaks.
For example, the "graphic novel" -- if we quickly define that as a book-length work of comics created for original book publication, and brush aside the million objections -- is going through a strong period right now, but comics -- the art form of pictures and words in sequence, telling long stories or short gags or combinations of those things -- has had multiple, overlapping peaks in various areas for the hundred years that it's been a serious, moderately mature art. In particular, the newspaper strip, which was for six or seven decades the commercial pinnacle of that world, started throwing out masterpieces as early as the 1910s or '20s (depending on who you listen to), and had a great decade through the depths of the Great Depression. (I'm a particular fan of E.C. Segar's Popeye strip, which I've been babbling about for the last year or so, but there are a dozen other examples of the same era.)
And that's a long way around to Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse strip -- though I suppose I could have come around the other long way, starting with Carl Barks and damning Gottfredson with the faint praise of "second-best Disney cartoonist" -- but that strip, at least as seen in this book, is an odd artifact of its time, not quite sure of itself and bouncing around among premises, tones, and styles.
The cover credits it purely to Gottfredson, though the table of contents has much more intricate credits, detailing the story input of Disney himself, and the art contributions of Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson, Hardie Gramatky, Earl Duvall, Ted Thwaites, Al Taliaferro, and even Ub Iwerks. It reprints the first two years of the strip, from January of 1930 through the first days of 1932, sliced up into continuities (not always in chronological order) and separated by what eventually felt like too many text features.
Once you wade through those bits of text -- some about Gottfredson, some about his collaborators, some about the characters, and all of them just a bit too Disney-chipper in tone for a book from Fantagraphics-- you get to the stories themselves. The first story Gottfredson had a hand in is the title piece, "Mickey Mouse in Death Valley," which zigs and zags the most, veering from farce to melodrama and following the over-cranked pace of a cliffhanger movie serial. Once that finally ends, Gottfredson & Co. are on more solid ground, keeping Mickey (and Minnie) mostly in the context of their community (unnamed here, though a scholarly footnote indicates it became "Silo Center" later in '32) and friends, with stories about boxing and fire-fighting, circuses and the new character Pluto, Mickey's taxicab business, a picnic, and others. There are two other long melodrama continuities here -- one about a sneaky suitor for Minnie's heiress hand, and another about a sneaky Gypsy tribe also out to get Minnie's money -- but they maintain their pace and tone much better than "Death Valley" (with its many hands) did.
The art is evocative and detailed, still in a very Ub Iwerks-ian rubber-hose style -- and the first continuity of the strip, reprinted in an appendix, is pencilled by Iwerks himself, with the most energy and verve in the book -- giving it the feel of an early Mickey cartoon extended and expanded. (Though that does highlight the lack of music!) The character of Mickey -- and the simple fact that he has a character, and isn't just the waving silent mascot of the last couple of decades of Disney -- will be surprising to most readers, but this mouse was a tough little guy, ready for both adventures and fun at any minute, and he's deeply enjoyable to read about.