Mickey Mouse #304 by Various

Posted by on February 25th, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Boom Kids!; 40 pp.; $3.99; Color; Comic Book

The part of the Boom Kids! solicitation for Mickey Mouse #304 that really stood out was the statement that the comic’s lead story, “The Pirate Ghost Ship” by Bill Walsh and Floyd Gottfredson, had not been reprinted in its entirety since 1944. To longtime fans that meant that the tale had not been re-presented in the fine albums and comics released by the Gladstone imprint in the latter half of the 1980s. Reading the story today, a couple of reasons for that oversight suggest themselves, although it endures as an interesting product of the confluence of creativity and commerce.

“The Pirate Ghost Ship” is a lengthy segment of the Mouse’s daily newspaper strips done for the King Features Syndicate. The strip began in January 1930 as a sequence of loosely linked gags written by Walt Disney himself. In short order, the strip was modified to reflect King’s desire to capture its share of the growing public enthusiasm for continuity strips, particularly ones involving exotic derring-do. In May of 1930, Gottfredson was brought aboard (some say shanghaied) and proved himself to be the Good Mouse Man.

Mickey, of course, had begun life as a plucky, resourceful, enterprising underdog so the call for sustained adventures seemed pitch-perfect for him. As it turns out, it also proved tailor-made for Gottfredson. That being said, nothing I’ve seen before from either of them quite prepared me for the absolutely furious action and breakneck pacing seen here.

“The Pirate Ghost Ship” starts fast and runs hard throughout. Mickey signs up for a hitch aboard a tuna trawler. (“Shucks! The country needs more food … and a couple of days hard work won’t hurt me!”) By the third installment, Pluto has plummeted from the crows nest and, during the five days following, the strip sees a storm at sea, Pluto overboard, monstrous fish, the sighting of a pirate’s frigate, the sinking of the fishing boat and a shark attack — over a single working week! Nor is there any let-up in the action toward the wrap-up, with its battle between monstrous water serpents, sunken treasure retrieved, a busted dam, a river of fire and an exploding island, and that’s skipping over walking the plank, a whale attack, a mutiny, wrestling an ape, a warning, “ghostlie haff-human forms,” sea cannibals, Dead Man’s Isle and its “walking death,” natives who speak in musical sounds, shrunken seadogs, a fight with a crocodile and a green princess who’s otherwise a Minnie Mouse look-a-like in a Dorothy Lamour sarong.

This is lickety-split storytelling anticipating an A.D.D. pandemic among newspaper readers. Emphasis remains squarely on the gag-a-day format while overarching continuity makes seat-of-the-pants plotting seem languorous. Any given installment seems comfortable commencing with a non sequitur or incongruence. There are also a couple of notable fatalities along the way, which may account for the story’s absence within the Gladstone canon.

Mickey Mouse #304 is rounded out with a two-page joke by Gottfredson and co-writer Webb Smith “in its first re-printing ever!” as well as a 10-page Goofy misadventure — “making its American printing debut!” — in which he takes up the occupation of tree trimmer with predictable if spectacular results.

I quote Book Kids! solicitation information with an ulterior purpose. Sharp-eyed readers might already have noticed that “The Ghost Ship” is not definitively dated within Gottfredson’s career, all years and spans being extrapolated and couched. Specific chronological information isn’t to be found in the solicitation or in the comic itself. Clearly, this isn’t a priority of the Boom or its presumed audience of Kids! but it does, in retrospect, emphasize defunct Gladstone’s comparative thoroughness in presentation. And, not to be too much the company shill here, it also whets the appetite for the more definitive and exacting reprinting of the Mouse adventures forthcoming from Fantagraphics.

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3 Responses to “Mickey Mouse #304 by Various”

  1. patford says:

    Thanks for pointing this out.
    My preference is to read the strips, but in the near term this will be fun to read.
    The comic book does have what some see as the advantage of the strips being slightly edited to smooth out the continuity by eliminating panels devoted to recapping. Kim Thompson (hushed mutter: “heathen.”) has expressed a preference for editing out redundant panels as a reading experience, when a strip is not being archived.
    The better cartoonists didn’t often “waste” panels.
    Harold Gray often used panels which recapped previous events as a way of having Annie (or another character) deliver an entertaining little speech recounting the events from a personally informed point of view. Since Gray’s continuities are variations on a narrow theme, it’s really the point of view which makes the strip interesting, not so much the plots, which if you’ve read a year of Annie, you have already seen.
    What would be nice is, if the Disney comic books would follow the lead of the Simpsons comics, and seek out talent like Gilbert Hernandez, Peter Bagge, etc. to create new Mouse and Duck stories.

  2. Michael Grabowski says:

    I found reading “Ghost Ship” to be ultimately a frustrating, disappointing read. Maybe it’s the rhythm of this later period in the Mouse’s adventure run, or maybe it’s the editing done here. It really reads like more than just redundant/recap panels have been cut.

    On the other hand, I’m always happy to see Gottfredson’s Sunday strips reprinted, as with the 2-pager here, and hopefully Fantagraphics will complement its reprints of the daily adventures with some color Sunday volumes.

  3. R.C. Harvey says:

    Actually, just to straighten out the crooked record, I didn’t write this. Some other worthy soul did, and I hope he comes forward to take the credit. Or the blame, whichever.