Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson
'Mickey Mouse '(16 February 1946) - © Disney.

Floyd Gottfredson is best known as the most legendary 'Mickey Mouse' comic artist, though not the first, as is often incorrectly said. The first 'Mickey' newspaper comic (1930) 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 comic 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 comic artist. But Gottfredson's importance in the history of comics goes beyond Disney. He had a profound effect on numerous humorous comic 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. 

Early life and career
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. Gottfredson 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.

Mickey Mouse, by Floyd Gottfredson
'Mickey Mouse', 8 March 1932. © Disney.

Mickey Mouse
In the late 1920s, Gottfredson moved to Los Angeles with the ambition to start a more professional cartooning career. Instead, he was hired by Walt Disney as an apprentice animator on the 'Silly Symphonies' series. He was soon asked to take over the four-month-old 'Mickey Mouse' newspaper strip. The comic strip was launched by the Disney Studios and King Features Syndicate on 13 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, on 8-10 February, Iwerks handed the artwork over to his inker Win Smith. Iwerks had a fall-out with Disney, because the studio was professionalizing into a uniform style, while Iwerks wanted to keep his own individual style and creative control. Disney and Smith started a new storyline, 'Mickey Mouse in Death Valley', but Disney became too preoccupied with his animation studio. Therefore he strongly pressured Smith to write and draw the comic series on his own. Smith resisted and also called it quits. On 17 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. In the end Gottfredson turned out to be the artist Disney was looking for. Someone equally skilled in writing as well as drawing. And more enthusiastic about continuing a daily newspaper comic. 

Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot, by Floyd Gottfredson
'Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot'. © Disney. 

Gottfredson is best remembered for the exciting adventure stories he made with Mickey and his gang. While he thought up the plots himself, from 1934 on he left the definitive scriptwork to other Disney staff writers . 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 enemies, 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 humorous newspaper strip with adult cliffhangers. When the 'Mickey Mouse' cartoons became more adventurous after 1932, their themes and storylines were regulary adapted for the newspaper plots. 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, after which it was handed over to Manuel Gonzales.

Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson
'Mickey Mouse and Eega Beeva' (30 April 1948) - © Disney.

New characters and evolution of the comic
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). Apart from Mickey, 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. Gottfredson also gave Mickey a hometown: Mouseton (sometimes named Mouseville in modern Mickey stories). 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).

'Mickey Mouse' (5 February 1966) - © Disney.

Head of Disney comics
Gottfredson was head of the comic strip department of the Disney Studios from 1930 to 1946. Apart from the 'Mickey Mouse' comic 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 'Br'er 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). From 1946 to 1975, Frank Reilly succeeded Gottfredson as head of the Disney comic strip department. 

Chesty and Coptie by Floyd Gottfredson
'Chesty and Coptie'. Lay-outs by Gottfredson, final art by Bob Grant.

Later comics work
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 Jack Hannah's 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).

Cinderella's Christmas Party, by Floyd Gottfredson (1964)
'Cinderella's Christmas Party' - © Disney.

In 1983 Floyd Gottfredson won an Inkpot Award. Posthumously he was also bestowed with a Disney Legend Award (2003) and inducted in the Eisner Hall of Fame (2006). 

Final years and death
Like many early 20th-century studio comic artists, especially at the Walt Disney Company, Floyd Gottfredson remained anonymous until the 1960s. In 1968 he was tracked down by Disney comics enthusiast and collector Malcolm Willits. Luckily the veteran was still alive and thus able to both answer a lot of questions, as well as enjoy his well-deserved recognition. In February 1968 general audiences finally learned Gottfredson's name, when Willits wrote about him in an issue of of Vanguard. 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 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.

Painting by Floyd Gottfredson

Legacy and influence
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 ('Topolino' in Italian) and the Gottfredson creation Kat Nipp as early as 1931. Between 1932 and 1935 Giovanni Bissietta, BurikoGiorgio ScudellariGiove Toppi and Gaetano Vitelli also made some Italian Mickey comics. 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 četvrtak, Dečje Vreme and Mika Miš also published unlicensed Gottfredson-inspired Mickey comics by local artists like Ivan Sensín, Vlastimir Belkic, Sergije Mironovič Golovčenko and Nikola Navojev. The Croatian cartoonist Veljko Kockar created an anthropomorphic cactus in 1942, Kaktus Bata, whose design and stories were very reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. In Thailand Wittamin drew 'LingGee', a character who was a hybrid of Mickey Mouse, Horace Horsecollar and Popeye. His story 'LingGee Phu Khayi Yak' (1935) plagiarized panels and storylines from Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse' story 'Rumplewatt the Giant'. In Japan mangaka Shaka Bontaro drew another illegal Mickey story, 'Mikkii no katsuyaku' ('Mickey's Show', 1934). 

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 on. 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 TezukaElricAndré Franquin, Primaggio MantoviMorrisEverett PeckAlbert 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.

Mickey Mouse, by Floyd Gottfredson

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