When I feel down in the dumps, I often dig through my collection of DELL Disney comic books to cheer me up. The stories are always well written and well drawn and I find myself feeling lighter in spirit after curling up on the sofa and sharing some time with these old favorites.
Recently, while digging through some of the comic boxes in my storage unit, I ran across some of the foreign Disney comic books in my collection.
The history of Disney comic magazines outside of the United States is a very interesting one with many different countries producing new comics on a weekly basis featuring Disney characters.
Before World War II, people in countries like Italy, France, Spain, England, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Switzerland, and Sweden enjoyed these original adventures along with reprints of the American King Features Syndicate strips featuring artwork by Floyd Gottfredson and Al Taliaferro.
In 1932, a 20-page Italian weekly magazine called Topolino ("mouse" in Italian) began publication featuring Mickey Mouse's adventures. A companion Donald Duck weekly magazine was launched at the end of 1937 under the title Paperino e Altre Avventure (Donald Duck and Other Adventures). For the most part, these magazines featured locally produced Disney stories, despite giving a sentence credit that the stories were done by Walt himself.
Even though a 1938 restriction by the Ministry of Popular Culture forbade imported material to be published in magazines, reprints by Gottfredson and Taliaferro shared space with the locally produced comics. Fortunately, Mussolini loved Mickey Mouse and an exception had been made.
However, the weekly publication quickly ran out of American produced material and, for more than 50 years, Italian written and drawn stories of Disney characters filled the gap and have expanded and enriched Disney history.
In 1934, in France "Le Journal de Mickey" was released. There was a gap in publishing after World War II with the magazine being revived and redesigned in 1952.
In Spain there was a short-lived (only 74 issues) Revista Infantil Ilustrada (Mickey – Illustrated Child Magazine) that began in 1935 and ended in 1936.
The first British Disney comic stories, some less than four pages long, with Mickey, Minnie, Horace, Clarabelle Cow, and Dippy Dawg began in 1930 for Dean's Mickey Mouse Annual series. Most were drawn by Wilfred Haughton. The Dean annuals had full color covers and a spine decorated with Disney characters.
In the summer of 1935, a small advertisement appeared in the Daily Telegraph inviting applicants with cartooning experience or talent to reply to a box number in London. Successful applicants were then invited for an interview with Willibank Publications, a company with a tiny head of Mickey Mouse incorporated into their lettering.
The interviews were conducted by William Levy, his financial assistant Mr. Rosenburg and artist Wilfred Haughton in a small office in a building on Shaftsbury Avenue. Before publication began, the offices moved to Wardour Street, next door to the Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Ltd. London headquarters where all of the film and merchandise business was being handled.
The company was gathering artists for the 1936 launch of the British Mickey Mouse Weekly. William B. Levy, european sales director of Walt Disney Merchandise, was originally responsible for the magazine. The first artist hired was Wilfred Haughton because of his work on the Dean Annuals.
More than 500,000 copies of the first issue were sold when it was released on February 8, 1936. It was 10 3/4 inches by 15 inches and was priced at 2 pennies. It was 12 pages, and almost three-fourths of it was produced by British creators.
It was the first British colored comic to be printed on the expensive color photogravure process later used on British comics like the Eagle in the 1950s. It was one of the first jobs by Odhams Press that eventually became the publisher of numerous British comics. Soon, the circulation of Mickey Mouse Weekly was 750,000 copies per week.
Interestingly, in the American strip reprints, the American slang was relettered with a more British equivalent so Mickey's famous "Omigosh!" became "Goodness me!" "Dogone it!" became "Bother it!" and "I dunno!" became the more formal "I don't know!"
Although the format was reduced due to lack of paper and the "weekly" dropped from the title in September 1941, as the magazine started being published every two weeks, the magazine never stopped being released at any time during the war.
It continued publication almost unchanged until December 28, 1957 when a court case stated that Odhams Press no longer possessed the rights to the Disney characters. Walt Disney Productions through Vernon Holdings tried continuing the title from 1958 to 1959 as Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, then from 1959 to 1961 as Walt Disney's Weekly but without the same success of the previous incarnation.
There were 920 issue of Mickey Mouse Weekly, three 64-page Mickey Mouse Holiday Specials and one Mickey Mouse Xmas Special.
Basil Reynolds was the second key artist player in the Mickey Mouse Weekly team. He had obtained his position on the strength of his comic strip in the Daily Sketch called Billy the Baby Beetle. Artists Victor Ibbotson (who had been working next door on doing puzzles and games for Disney), Phyllis Thorpe and Stanley White soon joined the staff.
Reynolds was one of the youngest cartoonists who had strips in national newspapers. Strips such as Our Silly Cinema in the South Wales Echo & Express (1933), Septimus and his Space Ship in the Scottish Daily Express (1934) and Billy the Baby Beetle in the Daily Sketch (1935).
For Mickey Mouse Weekly, he created Skit, Skat and the Captain'and wrote and illustrated Shuffled Symphonies. When artist Wilfred Haughton couldn't keep up with Mickey Mouse's evolving look, he was replaced by Ibbotson and occasionally Reynolds who took over the front cover.
Before he left for service during World War II, Reynolds remembered briefly meeting Roy O. Disney in Levy's office one day. "Roy was kind enough to say that they all thought that Mickey Mouse Weekly was doing a good job, and they approved and were quite happy with the Shuffled Symphonies idea and format."
After World War II, Reynolds returned to drawing and worked on Bongo, Li'l Wolf and Danny the Lamb, True Life Adventures and Peter Puppet. In 1971, Reynolds returned to drawing his favorite Disney characters for the British Disneyland magazine.
The following are some memories written by the late Reynolds about how he was hired at Mickey Mouse Weekly.
"Early in 1935, I was on holiday sunning myself on a Norfolk beach, when I opened a letter from my father enclosing yet another cutting from the Daily Telegraph, his bible in such matters. (Reynolds' father was a noted commercial artist of the day and shared the same name as his son.) This time a comic artist was required by the usual anonymous box number. I remember experiencing a slight flicker of interest, but the sun and gentle lapping of the waves made any thought of work terribly remote, and I very nearly tore up the cutting. Which would indeed have been a pity, for that tiny scrap of paper was to lead me eventually to the pages of the mighty Mickey Mouse Weekly!
"As luck would have it after a couple of days I summoned up enough energy to scribble a reply to the advertisement, with scribble being the operative word. Years later I found my original letter deep in their files, and I still don't know how they ever managed to decipher it! I couldn't! My original letter to my first employer which got me my start in the industry had been boastful and untruthful enough, but this one was a real beauty, cataloguing all of my glorious achievements in some detail and leaving them in no doubt that the writer was an artistic genius they simply could not afford to miss! Strange to recount now, because I posted this load of bull then promptly forgot about it.
"Eventually a letter arrived from Willbank Publications from a gentleman called Rosenberg stating that he would be pleased if I would call around with specimens of my work. This I duly did, climbing up the narrow staircase of a building in Shaftsbury Avenue. Willbank Publications consisted of two tiny rooms containing two people—the short balding Mr. Rosenberg and a tall bespectacled female receptionist. By the time I left, the rooms contained just one person, for the balding and obviously ‘short fused' Mr. Rosenberg had fired the receptionist amid much frenzied shouting and arm waving on his part and floods of tears from the unfortunate lady.
"Throughout this unexpected drama I stood as one transfixed, nervously clutching my portfolio (such as it was) wondering whether there was any point in my waiting to show the gentleman my miserable specimens—after all, they could quite easily set him off again!
"However, all was well. When we were alone, Mr. Rosenberg smiled broadly, displaying several gold teeth, shook me by the hand, apologized for his outburst and looked at my specimens. He then asked me to return in a few days time when William B. Levy of the Walt Disney organization would be in the office to interview me.
"I scurried back to my drawing board and penciled out an idea for a page. My crude and hastily conceived offering I called Skit and Skat (with the byline The World's Smallest Cabin Boy and his Skatty Cat). I took this up to London on the appointed day and was duly introduced to William B. Levy for the first time by Mr. Rosenberg. Bald, pale and unsmiling, Levy glared at me through horn rimmed spectacles, looking like a pugnacious District Attorney, or possibly an extremely grim faced Phil Silvers.
"Also at this meeting was a middle aged chap introduced as Mr. Haughton, who was going to produce the covers for the new Disney paper. Without more ado, Haughton unfurled a roll of rather tatty cartridge paper and proudly showed me the cover of the first issue of Mickey Mouse Weekly, minus the lettering, drawn entirely with colored inks.
"This display rather surprised me, as I thought that such an important color job would have been executed on the best quality water color board, but all of the subsequent covers were done in exactly the same way. At this point, a very nervous Basil Reynolds unfurled his hurried offering. William B. Levy gazed at my piece in utter silence furiously rotating his jaw muscles while I squirmed in my seat. To my utter astonishment and delight however Haughton was enthusiastic. ‘That's just the sort of thing we need Bill," he said. Bill Levy nodded and said, OK, Reynolds, we'll take it—three pounds a page' and that was that!
"I shall always be grateful to Wilfred Haughton. If he hadn't chanced to be in the office that day I very much doubt whether Bill Levy would have taken me on. Years later, Levy did admit to me that he knew nothing of the art side and was basically a merchandising man."
(Send an email to Wade Sampson)
Wade Sampson grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Wade describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.