February 13, 2016 posted by

Saturday Book Reviews

Mickey Mouse: The Tomorrow Wars Edited by David Gerstein and Gary Groth

Mickey-tomorrowwarsFantagraphics latest volume in their on-going Floyd Gottfredson library has just come out. Subtitled The Tomorrow Wars, the new book features the continuities and gag-a-day panels from mid-1944 through mid-1946 in Disney’s remarkable Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip.

Once again, editors Gerstein and Groth have compiled a beautiful package of comic art rarities – a must for any collectors/historians of Disneyana, comic strips and animation. At this point in the strip’s chronology, Gottfredson (and writer Bill Walsh) alternate between serial adventures and gag-a-day strips (the latter introduce artists Paul Murray, Dick Moores, Emanuel Gonzales and Bill Wright into the mix).

The comic strips themselves are a delight. Gottfredson (and crew) provide bouncy, upbeat artwork befitting the lead character – and the serials herein provide particularly interesting escapist fare (as most of these were produced during the height of World War II). Mickey takes on pirates, goes west, explores a haunted house; the title feature, The World of Tomorrow, is a spectacular sci-fi fantasy. I may be in the minority, but I found the gag-a-days and the experimental “short stories” (one-two- and three-week continuities in 1946-47) to be illuminating – you can feel writer Walsh trying to figure out a new format for the strip while they are actually producing it.

As usual, David Gerstein has amassed a selection of bonus front and back matter that augment our appreciation of the strips. A special highlight here is the publication here of four rare comic strips by Walt Disney himself, his 1920 samples for Mr. George’s Wife. Thomas Andre explains the inspirations for The World Of Tomorrow and The House of Mystery, the two most intriguing serials included here. Italian Mickey Mouse maestro Giorgio Cavazzano discusses how Gottfredson inspired his own Disney comics work. Among the special features are a spotlight on Dick Moores and Paul Murry – as well as Gladstone Comics editor Byron Erickson; a cover gallery of foreign Mickey comics volumes; and a wonderful and obscure Gottdredson 4-page Community Chest giveaway comic, Chesty and Coptie, is reprinted.

If I had any nits to pick in this volume it would be the unfortunate use of purple for the pages that feature expert introductions (by Thad Komorowski, Jonathan H. Gray, Leonardo Gori, Frank Stajano and Joe Torciva). The black type against the dark purple makes it a little hard to read (at least to this old codger) – they should have gone with white type (which they use for the “About The Editors” on page 288).

That said, these volumes are vital to our understanding of the big picture of Disney history – not to mention being fun to read and delightful to look at. Volume 8 continues the tradition, adding valuable information to the collective knowledge pool. Attention Mekka Men, you have your orders! Buy this book. Buy them all!

strange-as-it-200Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler by Chip Jacobs

Here is a remarkable tale of Hollywood history that sheds light on the man who provided the music for several TV cartoon series of the 1960s – not to mention the infamous Ed Wood feature Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The son of poverty-row movie composer Lee Zahler, Gordon Zahler was paralyzed as a teenager in a ninth-grade gymnastic stunt gone horribly wrong. But that didn’t stop him from starting one of the first companies to license and re-license stock musical themes from his father’s archives to new film and TV productions (everything from Crusader Rabbit to The New Three Stooges cartoons).

Author Chip Jacobs was Gordon Zahler’s nephew and he throughly traces his uncles incredible career – which included providing music to numerous animated series including the King Features TV Popeye’s, Filmation’s Superman and Larry Harman’s Bozo (to name but a few).

Zahler also partnered with Walter Lantz for years in a venture that allowed the pair to pocket the music royalties for cues heard in Universal’s cartoons. It’s a fascinating read. If you’ve ever wondered about the man behind those stock tracks – or the origin of those sound tracks in the first place – you’ll appreciate this one.

The Nine Old Men: Lessons, Techniques, and Inspiration from Disney’s Great Animators by Andreas Deja

nine-old-men-dejaNot to be confused with John Canemaker’s excellent biographical Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, animator Andreas Deja’s new volume (via Taylor & Francis Group and Focal Press), sheds further light on the work of the fabled “Nine Old Men” (Clark, Reitherman, Larson, Kimball, Kahl, Thomas, Johnston, Lounsbery and Davis) as only Andreas can.

If you’ve ever seen any of Andreas’ in-person talks about Disney’s classic animators you know what a treat this is: a masterful dissertation by a major current-day practitioner who has studied this work extensively for decades. His insights on each is a master class on character animation. Andreas does not disappoint.

He traces each animators career, film by film (features and shorts), each film illustrated a choice scene of pencil animation, pointing out what makes each animators work distinct – and important. It must be noted that the reproduction of the pencil art is magnificent – the next best thing to holding the original drawings themselves.

Needless to say, whether student or an enthusiast, this one’s a keeper. Highly recommended.


  • I really enjoyed the Mickey Mouse comic strip collections. I can’t wait for the next volume which introduces Eega Beeva, “The Man of the Future”. I also can’t wait for “The Screaming Cowboy” storyline which sort of foreshadows some of the television production headaches that Walsh later face when he worked on Disney television shows (such as getting punched in the stomach by the kid that later appeared on “The Donna Reeds Show”).

  • On a related note, I’ve also been enjoying the Donald Duck daily comic strip volumes from IDW Publishing.

    • I have been enjoying the Al Taliaferro Donald Duck books very much. It’s nice to see the Donald Duck strip reprinted in as nice a format as Mickey Mouse has been. It’s easier than trying to find these strips on old Donald Duck Orange Juice cartons. I hope these strips can find an appreciative audience even though they aren’t an adventure strip like Mickey’s.

  • Jerry, have you seen the POPEYE CLASSICS volumes of reprinted Popeye comics by Bud Sagendorf? They are a really nice collection too.

  • Glad you pointed out the illegible black type on purple paper, which I mentioned to David as soon as I saw a copy. Not sure what happened there…

  • The Mickey Mouse series is up to volume EIGHT?! Oh, I really have fallen behind on these.

  • Re: The Tomorrow Wars
    Besides the hard-to-read type, I had one more minor quibble: the picture of Minnie Mouse on the cover just doesn’t provide the right representation of the book, as it seems to me. First of all, if the title of the book is “Mickey Mouse” then Mickey and not other characters without Mickey should be represented. Besides that, the cross expression on Minnie’s face is not very invitational for the reader to want to know what’s inside–at least for me. Of course I am already committed to this series and I would have bought the book in any case, and doubtless many others are equally less concerned about the outside than the inside.. My third quibble with the artwork is that it doesn’t represent the “Tomorrow Wars” concept. The title to me doesn’t conjure up Minnie Mouse. Mickey and one of the robots would have been a better image. To be sure, this is a very minor concern, but of the series it’s the least appealing cover so far for me.

    But enough about the exterior–the inside of the book is what really counts, and the stories really pack a wallop. They are more intense than the usual Mickey fare, and contain quite a bit of sophisticated content. There are at least two deaths in the adventure stories, and in the humor strips there are some pretty edgy gags. Mickey beats up on Minnie in one strip, and even ends up in jail in a couple of the others. Definitely not so much “kid stuff” as the characters are known for now. I hope this series continues!

    • Which strip in the book has Mickey attack Minnie? I must’ve miss that one.

    • It’s on page 162 (well, actually, she apparently beats up on him, but he is the aggressor.)

    • Minnie’s on the cover, because they alternate between Mickey and a supporting character for each volume. IT’s done for the Box sets, which look odd when you have Mickey twice, apparently looking at himself.

  • Meanwhile, IDW is starting a collection of the Silly Symphonies Sunday strip. It’s ironic that the past several years has brought a flood of beautiful reprints of long unobtainable strips, even as the classic newspaper strip has faded into a shadow of its former self.

    What does that leave unrepublished? I remember “Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales” from the 60s, a successor to Silly Symphonies that existed mainly to serialize current Disney releases. A nostalgic favorite, even if quality was all over the map.

    The comic book adaptations and spinoffs of the features are worth a second look. Come to think of it, I wish some of the other studios would consider a volume of their own comic book adaptations.

  • It’s great that the Mickey Mouse strip is being reprinted in this fashion, and Gottfredson is getting the credit long overdue. His work “moved like lightning and shone like day,” as Bill Blackbeard put it.

    Among the comics produced by or for Disney was an oddity called “Merry Menagerie,” syndicated by King Features in the ’50s. It was a panel featuring random animal-oriented gags – what’s odd is that it uses no established Disney characters, nor does it promote any of the studio’s productions.

    As for Gordon Zahler, Ed Wood used his music library for several of his films. (Exceptions: “Jail Bait” reused the score from “Mesa of Lost Women” composed by future H-B music director Hoyt Curtin, whose name was misspelled “Kurtain” in the credits; “Bride of the Monster” had a score by Frank Worth.)

  • The last thing I recall Gordon Zahler music used for animation purposes was the time it was used for a second series of ‘Road-Runner/Coyote’ shorts for “The Electric Company”, directed by Chuck Jones. Does anybody (besides myself) remember them?

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