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DCML: Disney Comics History, 1930-1984

It All Started With A Mouse

By David Gerstein

American Disney comics began in 1930 when Walt Disney himself began writing a Mickey Mouse daily comic strip for newspapers with Ub Iwerks handling the art. When control of this strip shifted to the talented Floyd Gottfredson later in the year, its ensuing popularity led to the growth of an entire comic strip department within the Walt Disney studio and the production of such additional strips as Silly Symphonies and Donald Duck (the latter, and initially the former, drawn by the great Al Taliaferro).

It seemed a shame, of course, not to reprint these strips in the growing comic book industry, so in 1935 Disney associates Kay Kamen and Hal Horne began to publish Mickey Mouse Magazine; when Horne dropped out of the deal, Kamen farmed out production of the magazine to Western Publishing. Besides comics, the magazine featured stories, games, and poster-style full-page illustrations.

In 1939, Western began publishing a series of one-shot comic books entitled Four Color, containing a wide variety of newspaper strip material. When in early 1940 an all-Donald Duck number in this series was a big success, Kamen and Western editor Eleanor Packer took the hint and transformed Mickey Mouse Magazine into a full-fledged comic book, Walt Disney's Comics And Stories.

The Dell Disney Comics

By David Gerstein

But a good thing - the newspaper strips that began the move to comics - was about to come to an end. With both Four Color and WDC&S reprinting them, the supply was running low. So original stories began to be produced especially for comic books. The first to be created were Pluto Saves the Ship (1941) and Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (1942), both for one-shot titles; WDC&S took the plunge to new material as well with a Walt Kelly adaptation of The Flying Gauchito in WDC&S 24. The first two stories marked the debut of now-famous Duck Man Carl Barks.

The success of Carl Barks need not be documented here; suffice it to say that by the late 1940s, original material made up the vast majority of the Disney comics being published, and by this time Mickey, Donald, and others had regularly appearing slots within Four Color (which became the characters' own individually-numbered titles a few years later). Among the characters who found success at this time were Li'l Bad Wolf (first appearing in WDC&S 52), Br'er Rabbit (FC 127), Chip 'n' Dale (WDC&S 69), and Hiawatha (WDC&S 30), but the biggest find of the era was Uncle Scrooge McDuck, whom Barks created in 1947 and who received his own very popular title beginning in 1952. Barks' Gyro Gearloose and Taliaferro's Grandma Duck also received a lot of exposure from Dell, although their solo titles were never issued regularly.

In the late 1940s, Western also made the decision not to continue adapting Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse for publication in WDC&S. After tossing Mickey around between a good handful of undistinguished artists for a full six years, Western finally settled on Paul Murry; unfortunately, the six-year inconsistency had heavily damaged Mickey's popularity. This is why up to the present day, Disney Duck comics tend to outsell Mouse equivalents.

Gold Key and Whitman Disney Comics

By David Gerstein

In 1962 Dell, which had been distributing Western's comics for decades, broke off its agreement with them which led to the creation of Gold Key Comics, Inc. This period is regarded as the beginning of a long decline for Disney comics as the quality of many non-Barks stories plunged. Gold Key gave a solo comic book to Barks' Beagle Boys and promoted characters like Super Goof, Moby Duck, and Mad Madam Mim (to name a few who have survived from this period), but many of their attempts did not succeed. The space taken by this glut of new stories wiped out all remaining newspaper reprints. In fact, many of the new stories Western began making at this time never appeared in the States; they were prepared in a special deal with the Walt Disney studio for foreign consumption alone. Donald's cousin Fethry, the tycoon John D. Rockerduck, and hillbilly hermit Hard-Haid Moe were some of the characters who were largely consigned to these foreign stories.

In later years Western dropped the Gold Key monicker to publish its comics under the label, Whitman, of its book-publishing arm. This did not reflect a change in quality. By the mid-1970s fans had shied away from Disney comics for the most part, and their distribution was very low; by 1984, when Whitman's line breathed its last, few were around to mourn its passing.

What then?

Then there were no Disney comics in the USA until 1986, when Gladstone publishing started their publishing of them.

They still do that (1996), but didn't during 1990-1993 when the Walt Disney Company produced their own comic books instead.

Last updated April 3, 1999.

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