One surprise announcement that broke this afternoon at Comic-Con–because, apparently, it had been finalized barely hours before–is that Fantagraphics Books has made an agreement with Disney to publish the complete run of Floyd Gottfredson’s “Mickey Mouse.” Gottfredson drew the “Mickey Mouse” daily comic strip from 1930 (a few months after its inception) to 1975. Its first few decades, when it was a wild adventure strip, are revered among collectors, but have been impossible for most modern readers to see; Fantagraphics has been describing this project as their biggest initiative since their complete reprinting of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” began. We spoke with Fantagraphics’ publisher Gary Groth about Gottfredson’s version of the Mouse, and what their books will be like.
TECHLAND: What were those early Mickey Mouse strips like?
GARY GROTH: He was a really feisty character, and he had character. He interacted with other characters, he got into scrapes, he was inventive, he was ingenious, it was classic yarn-spinning that Gottfredson was so brilliant at. The character himself had considerably more juice to him than a lot of people think. And it really was Gottfredson’s drawing, which was just so gorgeous–it had a density and an elasticity to it. His stylistic approach to the character changed over the years, but he really hit his stride within a year or two of the strip’s inception. He’s the one who really made the design of Mickey Mouse what they used in Fantasia and other animated pieces.
Do you know how the “Mickey Mouse” project is going to be packaged and designed?
A little bit, yes. Jacob Covey is going to design them–he designed our Popeye books and our Gahan Wilson book. We haven’t spoken in any detail about it; actually, I just told him about it a few days ago! He’s very excited about it. The format is going to be slightly larger than our Peanuts books, a landscape format, two years of the strip; we’ll break it off at the end of an adventure, so it might not be exactly at a two-year point. Black and white.
Was there a Sunday strip?
There was a Sunday strip, but it wasn’t part of the continuity. We’re going to do the dailies for now, and then I think we’ll probably go back and do the Sundays. The dailies were continuity, six days a week.
How did the deal come about?
Well, as you probably know, Gemstone was doing the [Carl] Barks [Disney] material. I think I tried to get the Mickey Mouse material from Disney at one point, and they told me that it was already licensed. And then one day I saw a Mickey Mouse cover–a catastrophically designed Mickey Mouse cover, if I may say so–in the Diamond solicitations, and I was just kicking myself over not being able to get it. Eventually, Gemstone failed, and I realized that the license had to have been taken back, and I contacted Disney, and that was about two years ago. We did a serious negotiation for about seven or eight months.
There’s some of that Gottfredson material that Disney’s resisted having reprinted in the past. How are you working things out with that?
I think I’ve persuaded them to allow us to reprint it in its original form. There’s some sensitive material–material that would be considered racist today, and should have been but wasn’t considered racist then. My plan and my hope is to reprint it exactly as it was, with some explanatory text for a modern audience. I want to keep it intact.
What was the peak of the strip’s popularity?
It stopped being an adventure strip around 1950, and Disney’s directive to Gottfredson was to turn it into a gag strip. It became somewhat less interesting then–it lost that forward momentum. I don’t know whether or not it became more popular then. As an adventure strip, it was very popular. Of course, that was Mickey Mouse’s heyday as a film and comics star before he became an icon. This is a dream project, just like “Peanuts” was. I think it’s the last truly great, masterful strip that has not been reprinted.
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