Saturday, June 28, 2014

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on: Mickey and Donald #1 (Gladstone, cover date Mar. 1988)

Mickey and Donald was, in a way, a quintessential Gladstone I publication; one of the Gladstone I-iest Gladstone I comics of them all. What makes that so? One factor is, of course, the combination of vintage mouse and vintage duck material, the latter -- if I'm not mistaken -- all by Barks except for various one-page gags and such, while Mickey was -- in contrast to the Gottfredson-dominated flagship mosue title -- represented by Western-derived reprints by Murry, Bradbury, Wright, and others. In fact, this premiere issue's proto letter-column', besides a preview image of #2's cover (taking up most of the page's space) and a boldface editorial introduction to all readers and boldface one-line response to the letter-writer, consists of a letter from a reader lamenting the loss of Mickey Mouse Digest and the absence of an alternative vehicle for such Western fare.

Add to the actual comic book content the familiar logo and issue price/indicia, title logo design, and Daan Jippes art on the front cover, and the familiar stoic but humble (giving the comics the dignity they deserve, but not forgetting their cartoonish nature) typeface used in for the letter column and for Cross Talk (and not to mention all of the intelligent, caring letters from fans the world over and the mastery of insight, information, and charming grace of Geoffrey Blum's Cross Talk writing), and you have a Gladstone I comic), and the wonderful texture and aroma of that newsprint, and you have a pure Gladstone I comic -- the most perfect comics ever produced.

As #1 was released in December, it featured a Jippes reworking of the cover to 1949's Firestone Giveaway #9, which Inducks credits to Jim Pabian. I have a sneaking suspicion that Gladstone scheduled this title's debut so as to be able to use this cover. For my money, Jippes' version is an improvement, with a better grasp on the characters' personalities -- esecially Donald's. The original looks like it was by a children's book author of the era who only knew how to imitate the characters' general appearances and draw them smiling.

Cover by Daan Jippes. Recreation/reworking of Jim Pabian's cover to Firestone Giveaway #9, December 1949.

"The Trail to Treasure". Art by Paul Murry. Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #242, cover date Nov. 1960. 8 pages.

I had expected to find that this was from a Dell or Gold key issue of Mickey Mouse -- I've always assumed that any Murry story originating in WDC&S would be a three-part serial. It was preceded by Murry's serialized re-drawing of "An Education for Thursday" and followed by the Fallberg-Murry three-parter "Mickey's Strange Mission" (which was in turn followed by another, "The Moon-Blot Plot" ... which appears to not have had anything to do with the Phantom Blot, alas), so perhaps it was a rare "refresher" perhaps Murry got going again ... or Fallberg wasn't available in time to start writing a new serial. (Both scenarios remind me of how creative team scheduling is done at the big modern comic publishers.)

Even as a child, I felt that Murry's stuff was benign and dull in comparison to Gottfredson's. I still have a certain respect for the serials, though. And even by that margin, this story is still toothless ... especially when you consider that its trappings, uncovered ancient hieroglyph tablets and our treasure-hunting heroes being kidnapped by pirates (led by a bland iteration of, as he's called here, Black Pete) are the making of a rollicking adventure, but instead, they're used to set up an overly cute ending gag. And the stuff on the island involving dropping the ancient artifacts down the mountainside on the opposing teams' heads is just too slapsticky for me.

"New Toys". Written and drawn by Carl Barks. Firestone Giveaway #49, December 1949. 8 pages.

All the charm and yuletide warmth of most of Barks' late `40's Christmas stories. With the nephews at first being greedy and materialistic, it's more akin to "A Letter to Santa", but in the end, when the nephews' give away their new toys to poor children sadly watching them playing, it turns out to have all of the optimism and good will toward men that Barks displayed in "A Christmas for Shacktown".

"Christmas Surprise". Art by Bill Wright. Firestone Giveaway #49, December 1949. 8 pages.

As Blum notes in "Cross Talk", by including this and the above story, this issue reprints the contents of FG #49 in their entirety. It's nice to see Wright art -- I've said before, as Gottfredson's former inker, he's the closest a Western mouse artist ever got to having a Gottfredson-like spark of life to them and a rich, flexible feel to the inking. Also, as essentially a domestic sitcom -- much like Barks' ten-pagers -- it doesn't set the reader up for disappointment the way that "Trail to Treasure" did. And there's real humor here, not cheap slapstick; Mickey's determination to keep Minnie's presents hidden and Goofy's determination not to let his friend down feel like "real" motives, and ring completely true of these characters as we generally know them. And Mickey and Minnie's discovery of Goofy in an unexpected place at the end is silly, but as a result of the character's earnest but self-complicated efforts, it's genuinely funny and endearing.

"Fir-Tree Fracas". Written and drawn by Don Rosa. Original. 4 pages.

Early Rosa. Poor Donald -- he thinks he's completely succeeded at something unique and commendable, only to have disaster fall upon his creation. Who knew that Christmas lights could be the cause of such a wide-scale disaster ... shown so effectively and striking in its devastation because, ironically, of Rosa's grid-like art, reflecting his construction background.

-- Ryan

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