Mickey at 60: The Hidden Underground Treasureby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
It is hard to imagine that in November we will be celebrating 90 years of Mickey Mouse. For me, I can't even remember a time when Mickey Mouse was not in my life in some form whether it was comic books or watching his cartoons on television or some form of merchandise.
I still have my well-worn How to Draw Mickey Mouse booklet that I got as a kid at the Art Corner at Disneyland. I still wear my vintage Mickey Mouse wristwatch that was the only inheritance I was bequeathed by my late uncle decades ago who had worn it proudly for years. My house is filled with a variety of Mickey Mouses of all sizes, time periods, and conditions in addition to at least a dozen books that focus solely on "Walt's Mouse."
That collection contains all sorts of oddball limited edition books, as well including both issues of the 1989 UnCensored Mouse comic book published by Eternity Comics that reprinted the very earliest Mickey Mouse comic strips; El Mundo Magico de Mickey Mouse (a 124 glossy-page Spanish book from 1995 with wonderful black-and-white as well as color images of oddball Mickey over the years); the 1971 Dan O'Neill Air Pirates Funnies underground comic books where Mickey is involved with sex and drugs (as well as some of O'Neill's Mouse Liberation Front flyers defying a court order to cease and desist); and Mickey's Golden Jubilee (published by Junipero Serra Press in 1980.
It was written by Francis Weber and is only 3 inches by 2 inches with a blue cover, gold-tipped parchment like pages and only 10 pages long. It was produced for collectors of miniatures and was a limited edition of only 300 copies; the text superficially covers the history of Mickey Mouse.
For those readers grumbling that they would have picked up copies of these and other obscure Disney books in my collection if they had only known they existed, I will share a recent discovery.
Brandon Kleyla, sometimes known as Trader Brandon, just released a small book titled The Field Guide to Tiki Decorating only available directly through him.
Why is that of interest to Disney fans? Kleyla is a former Disney Imagineer who was responsible for designing Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel and Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at The Polynesian Village Resort, as well as working on the décor for Universal Florida's Volcano Bay. It took him seven years to do both the Disney locations and he is currently thinking of producing a second volume.
"The book started because people were asking me to write a Trader Sam's related book which, obviously, because of Disney trademark restrictions on intellectual property, I can't," shared Kleyla with writer Seth Kubersky. "But I started putting together thoughts together of what I could share about creating a backstory, music, lighting…kind of a big overview."
Getting back to Mickey Mouse, one of the favorite oddball books in my collection (and you might still be able to still pick up one of the few remaining original signed copies of volume two published in 1996 at if you hustle) is Mickey at 60 by William Stout and Jim Steinmeyer. It still makes me laugh.
Stout is an amazingly nice guy, which is not always true for professionals with the skill and experience that has made him one of the most respected and envied artists in the world. He is a famously diverse artist of international renown in many fields: themed entertainment and motion picture design (specializing in science fiction/fantasy/horror films), comic book art, book illustration, poster design, CD and record covers, public murals, and much more.
Today, Stout might be best known for his groundbreaking artwork on dinosaurs and he is internationally recognized as a leading illustrator of prehistoric creatures. Author Michael Crichton acknowledged Stout's work as one of the inspirations for his book, Jurassic Park.
In 1993, Universal Cartoon Studios chose William Stout to design the primetime proposed animated series of Jurassic Park. One of Stout's "hidden treasures" is that, in 1984, he wrote and illustrated the children's book, The Little Blue Brontosaurus (recipient of the 1984 Children's Choice Award and the unacknowledged basis for Lucas and Spielberg's animated feature The Land Before Time).
Stout also worked for Walt Disney Imagineering for a year and a half as a conceptualist, designer, producer and planner for Euro Disneyland, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Writer Harlan Ellison encouraged Stout to leave that safe, well-paid environment to pursue his own dreams.
After leaving Disney, Stout continued themed entertainment conceptual design work, contributing ideas and designs to a host of non-Disney (as well as Disney) projects.
In 1995, Stout became the key character designer for the Walt Disney full-length computer animated feature Dinosaur (although little of Stout's outstanding work made it into the film, which is unfortunately too often the case with much of his development work like on a proposed Godzilla film). In late 1997/early 1998, Stout completed three late Cretaceous murals and supervised the full-sized dinosaur sculptures for Walt Disney's Animal Kingdom.
What is Mickey at 60?
Stout himself explains:
"The first book of Mickey at 60 (1988) was done the year of Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday, while I was working at Walt Disney Imagineering. It started as office humor. I kept getting inundated by all this Mickey's 60th hype around the offices, and I thought, 'Well, if Mickey were really 60, what would he look like?' And I thought, 'He hasn't done a picture in years. He's probably let himself go. He's living in a little bungalow in Hollywood. Minnie's probably divorced him and is living off her alimony in Miami.'
"So, I do this little sort of simple, overweight, grungy cartoon version of what Mickey might look like now. And it got a great reaction at work where I was xeroxing them off and passing them around to co-workers. I started to draw these three panel strips and I developed this strange way of working. I would draw a whole page full of Mickey at 60 comic strips (five to a page) and then pass it to my friend Jim Steinmeyer (another Imagineer working there) and I would leave the word balloons blank and he would fill in the word balloons. So I never knew what he was going to write, and he never knew what I was going to draw.
"What he wrote was hilarious. Then I distributed the copies to anyone who was interested there in our office area at WDI. They were all drawn actual printed size. I occasionally gave Jim a brief guideline ("Mickey's in the stages of having a heart attack," or "Mickey's getting audited by the Internal Revenue Service," for example), but I never dictated any of Jim's dialogue, as tempting as that was.
"I wanted it to be as raw and crude and underground as possible in its presentation: crude printing (Xerox), crude binding (two staples). I called it an 'Anti-Comic'. I printed up the books and began to sell them within WDI. They sold briskly. Then I took a box of the remaining copies to San Diego for Comic-Con. They sold out within two hours! Some people bought six copies each!
"You know, it really is not so much a satire of Mickey Mouse, as it's really a satire of almost every Hollywood movie star I've ever met who's sort of living in his past. It is one of the projects of which I am proudest. I truly think it's one of the funniest comic books ever written. The show biz satire is dead on and hilarious. I look back at those drawings and wonder how I did them. It's some of the simplest, yet most expressive work I've ever done."
Today, Jim Steinmeyer is best known as one of those "invisible men" who designs stage illusions for many of the top magicians like Siegfried and Roy, David Copperfield, Doug Henning, Lance Burton, the Pendragons, and even earlier for Orson Welles and Harry Blackstone. He has written several books about magic and is the foremost authority on 18th and 19th century stage magic.
He developed the magical effects for the Disney / Cameron Mackintosh stage production of Mary Poppins among other projects.
In 1987, he worked as a concept designer and consultant/concept design for Walt Disney Imagineering. In this capacity he was responsible for overall concepts for rides and attractions, as well as show outlines and scripts.
Some of his work can be seen in Toontown at Disneyland, at Disney California Adventure Park, and in some of the redesigned Epcot presentations in Orlando, Florida. In 1994, The Land Pavilion at Epcot opened with new shows written and show produced by Steinmeyer, including Food Rocks.
Steinmeyer and Stout were hired at WDI on the same day and immediately put on a huge project together.
"Jim Steinmeyer is one of the most interesting and funniest guys you'd ever want to meet but very private, very mysterious but always with a great sense of humor behind what he is doing. He created the magic illusions for the live Lion King and Beauty and the Beast stage shows.
"He's incredibly charming and charismatic in a sweet, funny way. Through our time at WDI, Jim and I became very close. We both shared a similar sense of humor; very dark and with no respect whatsoever for authority. Because I worked in film and Jim worked in various aspects of show business, we both had met lots of show biz personalities. We incorporated what we knew about The Biz in our Mickey strips. We still occasionally work on projects at Disney."
"I was always fascinated by (cartoonist Robert) Crumb's comics and sketchbook stuff…so I made a promise to myself that I would draw these strips but I wouldn't pencil them. I would just go right to ink. I wouldn't even use rulers for the panel borders. That way it didn't seem like work. It was really liberating to be that free with my line."
On a spur of the moment whim, he xeroxed off 300 signed copies with cardstock covers and sold them for $15 a piece at the San Diego Comic Con. They sold out in the first two hours.
The pair donated all of the money to the Crippled Children's Society since it didn't seem right to make money from the project because they were already working for Disney. When he later found some leftover copies, he sold those and donated the money to charity.
That first issue was barely 24 pages of artwork including covers. It begins with a three-page comic book sequence to set up the concept and then each page after that has five strips covering everything from Mickey's agent to his vacation in Las Vegas to his appearance on Johnny Carson. There is even the uncensored version of the "Evolution of a Mouse" poster he drew that in an edited form has appeared elsewhere.
Stout recalled, "(CEO) Michael Eisner even personally requested a copy of Mickey at 60 through inter-office mail and sent back a nice note complimenting the effort. It seems he could appreciate the difference between his three fingered corporate companion and the dyspeptic Hollywood rat who stars in our cartoon strips. We like to think that they're both lovable in their own ways."
Some of the strips were somewhat harsh toward Eisner. As Mickey chows down on a sandwich, he grumbles, "This guy Eisner is doing it right. I like his visibility as a spokesman but just see if they make a rubber head of him!" Later, he gets angry that Eisner won't put him in a new film and quits and finds out that "Eisner actually owns the image so I can't wear the ears in public!" They later reconcile because of "falling T-shirt revenue".
After Stout left Disney, he and Steinmeyer kept in touch and, in 1996, eight years later, they produced a second volume of Mickey at 60. This second volume is almost twice the size of the first volume with Mickey Mouse running for President.
The proceeds from this second volume benefited the Clear View School, a school for mentally disturbed children. Harvey Kurtzman (one of Stout's mentors) began the fundraising program for this school, and his wife Adele then headed that program. This edition was limited to 950 copies and 50 artist's proof copies.
A five page Mickey's scrapbook featuring Mickey commenting on his photo scrapbook where he is posing with various real and cartoon celebrities again prefaces pages with five strips on each page. Page after page of Mickey doing his taxes, the tax audit, visiting Paris, his trip to the unemployment office, his book tour, his hilarious run for president, and his jury duty.
Actor Mickey Rooney had announced his candidacy for President of the United States and that was the inspiration for Stout and Steinmeyer to do the second volume.
Stout recently revealed, "I'd love to do a volume three. I've roughed out some ideas already. It takes time, though — both mine and Jim's. I get easily distracted by paying jobs. I also began writing a "Mickey at 60" one-man show. I was originally writing it for our mutual friend, Roger Cox. (Steinmeyer shared with me in an earlier interview about the importance of Cox to the Adventurers' Club at Pleasure Island.)
"Roger would have been ideal to portray Mickey on stage but he sadly passed away. Roger's death took a lot of the wind out of the sails of that project. I would still like to get back to it and finish it. I think it would make a great one man show and a hilarious 'autobiographical' (from Mickey's point of view) graphic novel."
Another Pleasure Island anecdote about Mickey at 60 from Stout: "There was even talk of including 'Mickey at 60' as a presence in the Comedy Warehouse (a club I helped to design) within the Pleasure Island section of Walt Disney World. I drew up 'Mickey at 60' drink napkins and Jim wrote hilarious word balloon dialogue for them. They were never manufactured, however. It seemed strange and ironic that WDI was going to license our 'Mickey at 60' character from us."
Fans of William Stout, Harvey Kurtzman (the man responsible for the first MAD comic books and magazine) type humor of American icons, or Mickey Mouse and Disney will definitely want to try to add this hidden treasure underground iconic satirical collection to their personal libraries. And while visiting, Stout's website, check out all those other terrific sketchbooks, including Dinosaurs Volume Two that features some of his concept art for Disney's Dinosaur.