Floyd Gottfredson is best known as the most legendary 'Mickey Mouse' comics artist, though not the first, as is often incorrectly said. The first 'Mickey' newspaper comic was scripted by Walt Disney and drawn by Ub Iwerks themselves, but they only did this for a few weeks before they got too busy with other projects. Gottfredson, however, was their most notable successor who would draw 'Mickey' comics for more than 45 years. He developed the iconic mouse into a fully fledged comics character and created several side characters still used in Disney comics today, such as Chief O'Hara, Eega Beeva and the Phantom Blot. Gottfredson combined his drawing skills with a talent for storytelling. He was both a master in creating gags as well as longer adventure stories. As such, he paved the way for the entire Disney comics concern. He set the standard which all of their artists and writers still need to follow. Together with Carl Barks he remains the most influential and revered Disney comics artist. But Gottfredson's importance in the history of comics goes beyond Disney. He had a profound effect on numerous humoristic comics artists, particularly in the "funny animals" genre. The man also proved that spin-off comics of a popular audiovisual media franchise could be more than just uninspired pulp. He was the first and one of the few in this often despised genre to gain credit for quality writing and drawing.
Born in 1905 in a railway station in Kaysville, Utah, Arthur Floyd Gottfredson grew up in the small town of Siggud, 180 miles south of Salt Lake City. As a youngster, he was interested in comics like George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Billy DeBeck's 'Barney Google' and Walter Hoban's 'Jerry on the Job', and he later enjoyed reading boys' adventure books by Horatio Alger and detective stories. At age eleven, Floyd accidentally shot himself in the arm while playing with a gun. It took nine operations to repair the damaged limb. The young boy had to stay at home, where he picked up drawing. Because he had lost most of the flexibility of his hand, he learned how to draw by moving his entire arm. He took correspondence courses in art from the London School, and from the Federal Schools of Illustrating and Cartooning.
His first job was as a projectionist and advertising artist for a small movie theater chain. He made his first cartoons for the automobile journal Contact, the local newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram and for the Farm Bureau magazine The Utah Farmer.
In the late 1920s, he moved to Los Angeles with the ambition to start a more professional cartooning career. Instead, he was hired by Disney as an apprentice animator on the 'Silly Symphonies' series. He was however soon asked to take over the four-month-old 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper strip. The strip was launched by the Disney Studios and King Features Syndicate in January 1930 following the tremendous success of the 'Mickey Mouse' animated shorts since 1928. Written by Disney himself and drawn by Ub Iwerks, the first serial was a loose adaptation of the 'Mickey Mouse' shorts 'Plane Crazy' (1928) and 'Jungle Rhythm' (1929). Yet after only one month Iwerks handed the artwork over to his inker Win Smith. Disney and Smith started a new storyline, 'Mickey Mouse in Death Valley', when Smith too called it quits. In May 1930 Floyd Gottfredson was brought in to continue the feature, both for the writing and art duties. What started as a fill-in job for just two months, ended up as a 45-year tenure. His presumed replacement Jack King lasted only two weeks on the strip, from 9 June to 21 June 1930.
Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot
Gottfredson is best remembered for the exciting adventure stories he made with Mickey and his gang. While he thought up the plots himself, he left the definitive scriptwork to other Disney staff writers from 1934. These included Ted Osborne (1934-1949), Merrill De Maris (1934-1942), Dick Shaw (1942-1943) and Bill Walsh (1943-1955). Gottfredson worked with the inkers Hardie Gramatky (1930), Roy Nelson (1930), Earl Duvall (1930-1931), Al Taliaferro (1931-1932, 1936-1937), Ted Thwaites (1932-1940), Bill Wright (1938-1943, 1946-1947) and Dick Moores (1943-1946), until he started inking the strips himself in 1947.
Where the early cartoon-Mickey was mainly involved in romantic and slapstick frivolities, Gottfredson's Mickey was a tough adventurer from the start. He fought pirates, cannibals, vicious criminals, master spies and other ennemies, and endured many death traps and other dangers. These types of excitement were unique for a funny animal strip at the time, and in the early 1930s, Gottfredson's 'Mickey' was probably the only comical newspaper strip with adult cliffhangers. When the 'Mickey Mouse' cartoons became more adventurous after 1932, their thematics and storylines were regulary adapted for the newspaper storylines. From 1932 to 1938, Gottfredson also drew the 'Mickey Mouse' color Sunday page, which marked the first regular appearances of the character in his trademark red shorts (the animated cartoons were still in black-and-white at the time). Gottfredson drew the Sunday page until 1938, when it was handed over to Manuel Gonzales.
During Gottfredson's tenure on the strip, several new characters were introduced, such as Morty and Ferdie ('Mickey's Nephews', 1932), the mysterious 'Phantom Blot', police chief O'Hara and his assistant Casey (all three in 'Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot', 1939), bullies like Kat Nipp ('Mickey Mouse Vs. Kat Nipp', 1931) and Butch ('Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers', 1930), and 'Eega Beeva', the man from the future ('The Man of Tomorrow', 1947). Besides Mickey himself, Gottfredson and his team were also responsible for developing the comics personalities of other characters who originated in the cartoons, such as Peg-leg Pete, Goofy, Pluto, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabella Cow. Gottfredson's Mickey matured along the way, and left the childish and impulsive behavior to Goofy and Donald Duck. By 1955, Mickey lost most of his heroic lifestyle when the strip was turned into a gag-a-day feature in a more suburban feature. These gags were written by Bill Walsh (1955-1962), Roy Williams (1962-1968) and Del Connell (1968-1975).
Gottfredson was head of the comic strip department of the Disney Studios from 1930 to 1946. Besides the 'Mickey Mouse' strip, the department was also responsible for the daily and Sunday 'Donald Duck' strip (drawn by Al Taliaferro), the 'Silly Symphonies' Sunday page with the comic strip debuts of the 'Big Bad Wolf' and 'Bucky Bug' (by Al Taliaferro, Earl Duvall and Ted Osborne), the 'Uncle Remus' Sunday page starring 'Brer Rabbit' (by Paul Murry and Bill Walsh), the Sunday page with 'Little Hiawatha' (by Hubie Karp and Bob Grant) and newspaper comic adaptations of Disney feature films and one-shot shorts in the series 'Treasury of Classic Tales' (script by Merrill De Maris, art by Hank Porter, Manuel Gonzales, Bob Grant). He was succeeded in this occupation by Frank Reilly from 1946 to 1975.
Chesty and Coptie. Lay-outs by Gottfredson, final art by Bob Grant.
In addition, Gottfredson did the lay-outs for a story called 'Chesty and Coptie' for a 1945 Chestie giveaway book published by the Los Angeles Community Chest. The finished art on this war-time charity promotion was done by Bob Grant. He contributed to the 'Treasury of Classic Tales' Sunday page by drawing the comic adaptation of the Disney short 'Lambert, the Sheepish Lion' by Frank Reilly in 1956. In March and April of 1958, Gottfredson wrote the Sunday newspaper story 'The Seven Dwarfs and the Witch-queen', which served as a sequel to the 'Snow White' movie with artwork by Julius Svendsen. From August to December of that year, Gottfredson and Svendsen also made an adaptation of 'Sleeping Beauty'. Gottfredson returned to the 'Treasury' feature once more in 1961 by doing lay-outs for the adaptation of '101 Dalmatians' for penciler Chuck Fuson. In addition, he did artwork on Frank Reilly's special Christmas stories with the movie characters 'Cinderella' (1964) and 'Bambi' (art in cooperation with Guillermo Cardoso, 1965).
Floyd Gottfredson retired in 1975, after which the 'Mickey' strip was continued by Román Arambula. Several of Floyd Gottfredson's newspaper comic stories have been reworked and redrawn by Bill Wright, Dick Moores and Paul Murry and for the comic books by Dell Publishing. Between 1978 and 1983 Gottfredson made 24 paintings of sequences from his classic stories. These were commissioned by collector Malcolm Willits, who was inspired by the success of the oil paintings Carl Barks made with the Duck characters. Floyd Gottfredson died in 1986 at his Southern California home.
Gottfredson's art, which evolved from cartoony to more realistic, has been an example for generations of 'Mickey Mouse' artists who followed behind him. Already in the early 1930s, European publishers started making their own non-authorized 'Mickey Mouse' artwork. In Italy, humorist Guglielmo Guastaveglia drew stories with Mickey and the Gottfredson creation Kat Nipp as early as 1931, while book publications of Gottfredson's stories from France, England and Italy all had locally produced cover art. During the 1930s, Serbian children's magazines like Veseli Cetvrtak, Decje Vreme and Mika Mis also published unlicensed Gottfredson-inspired Mickey comics by local artists like Ivan Sensin, Vlastimir Belkic, Sergije Mironovic and Nikola Navojev.
For the comic books by Dell/Western, artists like Paul Murry and Bill Wright made new stories with Mickey, Goofy, and Gottfredson creations like O'Hara and The Phantom Blot. These stories gradually lost most of their Gottfredson flair though, as the mouse became somewhat of a one-dimensional detective by the late 1950s. The Italian author Romano Scarpa made a great many classic 'Mickey Mouse' adventure stories, which have the same atmosphere as Gottfredson's stories from the 1950s through the 1990s, just like the American Noel Van Horn from the 1990s. Between 1990 and 1995, Floyd Norman was responsible for the 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper strip and he returned to the adventure continuities in the Gottfredson tradition. The art was done by Alex Howell and Rick Hoover. In 1993 and 1994 the Walt Disney Company launched a branding campaign called 'Perils of Mickey' with vintage Gottfredson art from the 1930s. It included a line of merchandising and new old-style comic book stories by writer David Cody Weiss and artist Stephen DeStefano. Writer and editor David Gerstein has referred to several classic Gottfredson characters and sequences in the stories 'The Past-Imperfect' (1998) and 'Picturing The Past' (1998), with artwork by César Ferioli. Dutch writers like Jos Beekman and Robbert Damen have also tried to recapture the Gottfredson touch in their scripts. Dutch artist Jan-Roman Pikula gives Gottfredson creations guest appearances in his 'Mickey Mouse' riddle comics, and there are many more examples of Floyd Gottfredson's lasting influence. Among the other Disney authors that have been influenced by him and his creations are José Ramón Bernadó, William Van Horn, Daan Jippes and Gerben Valkema. But also non-Disney authors have mentioned Gottfredson as an influence on their work, such as Osamu Tezuka, André Franquin, Morris, Albert Uderzo, , Federico Fellini, Marc Sleen and Willy Vandersteen.
Since 2011, Fantagraphics collects Floyd Gottfredson's run on the 'Mickey Mouse' comic in a series of luxury books, edited by David Gerstein and Gary Groth.