"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
The offices of Walt Disney have been restored to its original location on the studio’s Burbank, California, lot, complete with authentic furnishings and decorations.
Formally dedicated on Monday, the reconstruction of Disney’s formal and working offices on the third floor of Walt Disney Studios’ Animation building will be a permanent exhibit, open to employees, cast members and visitors. It will be added next year to the studio tours conducted for members of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.
A long-lost short film starring Walt Disney’s first animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, will be screened next month for the first time in 87 years.
The six-minute “Sleigh Bells” hasn’t been seen since its original release in 1928, and was feared lost forever. However, a print of the film was rediscovered by a researcher browsing the online catalog of the British Film Institute’s National Archive and restored by Walt Disney Animation Studios.
The comics medium allows for diverse interpretations of characters, both narratively and visually. Artist Jaakko Seppälä has taken 10 of the most iconic comic characters — from Asterix to Batman to Lucy van Pelt — drawn in the style of 10 famous artists (including their respective creators or most popular illustrators).
For decades, only 25 seconds was thought to exist of Empty Socks, the 1927 Walt Disney short starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. However, Agence France-Presse reports a near-complete copy has been discovered at a National Library of Norway facility in Mo i Rana, a small town near the Arctic Circle.
With an original run time of 5 minutes, 30 seconds, Empty Socks is notable as the first Christmas film produced by Disney. In the short, Mickey Mouse predecessor Oswald plays Santa for a group of orphans.
Eighty-six years ago today, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse made their official debut in “Steamboat Willie,” the 1928 animated short that helped to launch an entertainment empire (their actual first appearance was in a May 1928 test screening of “Plane Crazy”).
To celebrate the occasion, Biography has released a history of Mickey Mouse (sorry, Minnie), highlighting the iconic character’s origins, his 1935 makeover, and his promotional role during World War II.
Disney, meanwhile, sent a rickshaw-driving Mickey on a trip across India for his birthday in a new animated short called “Mickey Mumbai Madness,” which debuted today on Disney Channel India (you can watch it below, along with “Steamboat Willie”).
He’s gathered a Murderers’ Row of great contributors and collaborators to tell the life’s stories of 16 cartoonists, in the most obvious format to do so — comics, of course.
But what, exactly, constitutes a cartoonist? Some of those included might have worked at one point in the field, but made their greatest marks in other areas: people like Walt Disney, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Hugh Hefner (whose inclusion will likely be the biggest surprise to more readers; and, make no mistake, the book is made as much for the casual reader as the expert, armchair or otherwise). Others you might not think of as cartoonists at all, like Edward Gorey or Al Hirschfeld.
And changing the world — the whole world?! — is a pretty bold claim, certainly bolder than changing, say, a genre, or a medium or an industry. Certainly Disney and Osamu Tezuka qualify, as do Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced the superhero as we know it, and Jack Kirby, who reimagined the superhero, made countless contributions to the form and who created or co-created characters and concepts that today make billions of dollars.
But what about Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Crumb and the aforementioned Hirschfeld? Are their influences and innovations on equal footing?
Pop culture | Eighty years ago today, Donald Duck was introduced as a supporting character in the animated short “The Wise Little Hen,” part of Walt Disney Productions’ Silly Symphonies series. His comic strip debut came a few months later, in an adaptation of the short by Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro that ran in Sunday newspapers between Sept. 16 and Dec. 16. To mark the milestone, the National Turk publishes “a love letter to the duck,” while The Telegraph offers 10 surprising facts about the character. [National Turk, The Telegraph]
Political cartoons | The South African cartoonist Zapiro, himself no stranger to controversy, said the Eyewitness News cartoon depicting the South African legislature and the people who voted for them as clowns (and calling the voters “poephols,” or idiots) was a mistake. “I think the EWN cartoonists made a big error in the way they depicted the voters, what they called them and the shadow in the bottom corner, which could be misconstrued as meaning black voters,” he said. “They should have – and the editors of EWN should have – picked it up. But, they have apologised and anything that goes beyond that now is just bandwagoning by politicians.” Meanwhile, a fake Zapiro cartoon made the rounds on social media over the weekend. It’s based on a real 2002 cartoon that showed doctors finding the brain of then-president George W. Bush while giving him a colonoscopy; the fake cartoon substitutes South African President Jacob Zuma, who went into the hospital over the weekend. [Times Live]
In order to find a home for Mickey Mouse on the comics page, cartoonist Floyd Gottfredson and his cadre of artists had to change things around a bit. The freewheeling, anarchic, carefree, gag-filled attitude of the cartoons was slowly replaced with fast-paced adventures stories, and while Mickey’s basic nature didn’t change much from the cartoons to the newspaper page, he did become tougher, pluckier and wilier. Gottfredson never abandoned the slapstick antics of the cartoons, but instead integrated it into the daily strip. Never the focal point, instead it was one of many elements used to keep readers engaged.
Although the history of The Walt Disney Company has been thoroughly documented over the past nine decades, its archives still contain a few surprises.
Take, for instance, a newly uncovered sketch from 1938’s “Mickey’s Toothache,” an incomplete animated short that found our hero enduring what’s described as “a psychedelic nightmare” after inhaling too much laughing gas during a dentist’s visit. Disney Archives Director Becky Cline explains to Yahoo! News that as a result of the overdose, Mickey is plopped into a “nightmarish world inhabited by living teeth, dental floss, a psychotic dentist’s chair and a vengeful pair of dental pliers.” It sounds vaguely similar to 1935’s “Mickey’s Garden.”
If I had $15, I’d spend the first $3.99 on the first issue of 47 Ronin, a retelling of a Japanese legend written by Mike Richardson and illustrated by Stan Sakai. I saw a preview of this and it looks phenomenal. Next up is my favorite soap opera, Life With Archie #24 ($3.99), in which Moose contemplates running for the Senate and The Archies reunite. This comic is consistently well written and the stories really drag me in. I’ll slap down another $3.99 for Popeye #7, because I’m a Roger Langridge fan. And because I love a bargain, I’ll finish up with Freelancers #1, a new series from BOOM! Studios that looks kinda fun — and hey, there’s a variant cover by Felipe Smith, one of my favorite manga artists.
If I had $30, I’d revert to my childhood and pick up the Doctor Who Annual ($12.99) from Penguin. When I was a kid, the British comics annuals were the high point of the holidays, and I’m pretty sure I have a vintage Doctor Who one tucked away somewhere. It’s probably aimed at kids but that just means I can share it with my nephew and nieces.
The splurge item to get this week is the new box set of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. This is Miyazaki’s longest manga by far, and the story continues after the movie ends. It’s going to be the same large format as Viz’s earlier box set, but the seven volumes are being bound as two this time. It’s $60, but I noticed Amazon is offering a steep discount, so I’ll add another splurge: Nickolai Dante: Sympathy for the Devil ($29.99), a story that ran in 2000AD. I saw artist Simon Fraser describe it at NYCC this way: “Nikolai Dante is a swashbuckling hero from the far, far future, the year 2666, where he is alternately working for and against the czar, and for his own family and against his family, and in the meantime trying to get as drunk and screw as many women as he possibly can.” Sold!
Publishing | The anime and manga company Bandai Entertainment will stop distributing new products in February, although its existing catalog will continue to be available until the licenses expire. The company will shift its focus to licensing its properties for digital distribution and merchandising. President and CEO Ken Iyadomi said the decision to shut down new-product operations was made by the Japanese parent company without his input, and he strongly implied the underlying problem was that the corporate parent wanted to charge more for its anime than the current market will bear. Bandai published the Lucky Star, Kannagi and Eureka Seven manga, among others; all new manga volumes have been canceled, which means Kannagi will be left incomplete, at least for now. [Anime News Network]
Awards | The finalists for the Cybils, the blogger’s literary awards for children’s and YA books, have been posted, and they include five nominations each in the children’s and YA graphic novel categories. [Cybils Awards]
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: Race to Death Valley
by Floyd Gottfredson; edited by David Gerstein and Gary Groth
Fantagraphics Books, 288 pages, $29.99
It must seem difficult for younger generations to fully understand just how integral Mickey Mouse once was to the Disney franchise. While at one time his smiling, three-circle face was the iconic symbol for the company, today that image has been shoved aside to make room for Cinderella’s castle. The Disney bread is now officially buttered by a bunch of divas and Buzz Lightyear. These days Mickey is relegated to stalwart supporting cast member, fit for entertaining the preschooler crowd on daytime television, though efforts like the recent Epic Mickey video game show an interest in making him a viable player in their stable once more.
Even for my generation (that’s Gen X for those of you keeping score), understanding Mickey’s appeal was a tough proposition at times given how bland he seemed to appear in various cartoons and other products we or our parents were expect to shell good money out for. Everything about him stank of goody-two-shoes pitchman. No wonder he eventually faded from the limelight.
All eyes are on Egypt right now, but the question that’s being hotly debated at The Hooded Utilitarian is how the localization of Mickey Mouse comics for Egyptian readers expresses the imperialism of the Walt Disney corporation. This being The Hooded Utilitarian, the answer is long, a bit rambling, and filled with interesting images.
The comics examined by writer Nadim Damluji were created between 1959 and 2003, so this is not about the current revolution but rather about how cultures permeate one another. The Mickey Mouse comics in the article have locally created covers that touch on a number of aspects in Egyptian culture, and that art alone makes the article worth reading. The covers and other local content just form the wrapper for translated comics by Western creators, however, and there’s the rub. Damluji points to a Carl Barks comic in which Uncle Scrooge discovers a pyramid and, convinced it will be full of gold, hires generic local Arabs to excavate it. The story does raise issues of ownership and primacy (Why does Uncle Scrooge think he can keep the gold? Why couldn’t the Arabs find the pyramid?), and it seems rather clueless of the Disney folks to print it in an Egyptian comic—had they run out of more generic storylines? On the other hand, the most interesting thing to me was those Egyptian covers. While Damluji seems to be presenting the comics as a wolf in sheep’s clothing—here’s something familiar, kids, but what’s inside is going to make you feel bad!—I see it the other way, as Mickey adapting to local mores by adding content the local audience finds attractive, much as manga publishers put new covers on Japanese content and serve it up more or less unchanged. My guess is that this is more about keeping costs down than the heavy hand of imperialism. And surely Egyptian kids, especially in this day and age, are savvy enough to know that Mickey is an import, even if he does celebrate Mawlad.
The other thing that seems to go uncommented upon is that these are comics. Uncle Scrooge finds the pyramid by sitting on its pointy top. It’s a gag! Huey, Duey, and Louie acting more mature than Donald? That’s funny! A dog biting a man isn’t funny, but a man biting a dog is. Finally, it’s also true that the stories are old and represent cultural values that are passe and have been for a long time. A 50-year-old Disney story may say something about attitudes in the 1950s, but it’s more an artifact than a measure of current opinion.
Seriousness aside, it’s a fascinating post just because of the cultural information. And for more, check out Damluji’s blog, in which he follows in the footsteps of another cultural icon from an imperialist country, Tintin.
In what is sure to be one of the most acclaimed comics events of 2011, Fantagraphics has announced that they will be publishing a definitive collection of Carl Barks’ seminal run of Donald Duck comic stories. In an exclusive interview with Robot 6, Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth revealed that the company – which announced their plans to publish Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics last summer – had acquired the rights to reprint Barks’ work from Disney and that the first volume will be released in fall of this year. The comics will be published in hardcover volumes, with two volumes coming out every year, at a price of about $25 per volume.
Although the stories will be printed in chronological order, the first volume, “Lost in the Andes,” will cover the beginning of Barks’ “peak” period, circa about 1948. The second volume, “Only a Poor Old Man,” will cover roughly the years 1952-54 and feature the first Uncle Scrooge story. Later volumes will fill in the missing gaps, including his earlier work, in a process somewhat similar to Fantagraphics’ publication of George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the name, the Barks library has been one of the great missing links in a time that many have dubbed the “golden age of reprints.” Acclaimed around the globe for his rich storytelling and characterization, as well as excellent craftsmanship, Barks has long been regarded as one of the great cartoonists of the 20th century, equal to luminaries like Charles Schulz, Robert Crumb and Harvey Kurtzman. He’s been one of the few major American cartoonists whose work has, up till now, not been collected in a comprehensive, manner respectful of his talent (at least not in North America), however, so this announcement comes as extremely good news for any who read and love good comics, let alone are familiar with Barks’ work.
Fantagraphics will release an official announcement about the project tomorrow. In the meantime, click on the link to read our exclusive interview with Gary Groth:
This week Euro Disney, the company that runs Disneyland Paris, signed a new deal with the French government that will allow them to continue building on the site in Marne-la-Vallée, outside of Paris, through 2030.
Plans are to build a new theme park to accompany Disneyland Paris, which opened in 1992, and the adjoining Walt Disney Studios, which opened 10 years later. According to the Telegraph, the company is considering a “superheroes park” for that third park:
Philippe Gas, the chief executive of Euro Disney, said one idea for a third park is “a superheroes park” following the acquisition of Marvel by Disney – although the construction of a third park is a long-term vision. Mr Gas said there is a possibility that a decision to build a third park could come as late as 2020, although it may come earlier if planned work on the Disney Studios park is completed.
It’s not surprising that Disney would consider using the Marvel stable in their theme parks; while they’re locked out of Walt Disney World in Florida due to licensing agreements Marvel had in place with Universal before the acquisition, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have Spider-Man and X-Men themed rides in France.
(Artwork above is concept art for a Dubai Marvel-themed park that was supposed to open in 2012 … whatever happened with that?)