The protagonist in Fantagraphics Books new Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley isn’t your father’s Mickey Mouse. It’s your grandfather’s.
This early newspaper strips, beginning in 1930, by Floyd Gottfredson — what, you thought Disney drew these? — show an character who seeks out adventure, gets in fights, jumps from speeding trains, steals a car and chases after bad guys out west.
This little Mickey has an inflated view of his own abilities — “Daniel in the lion’s den was a coward compared to me” is a typical proclamation, usually just before his great idea goes wackily wrong.
More amazing, with these strips from 1930, Mickey predates the debut of Terry and the Pirates, usually considered the granddaddy of adventure strips.
And as written and drawn by Gottfredson, this mouse is all action. When excited, his arms go straight up over his head, his big-footed feet shoot forward at 45 degrees and his tail goes heavenward.
Gottfredson’s drawings are just about perfect. Minnie, described as “a fickle, frivolous flapper,” dances and Mickey takes prat falls. The artist could capture both the excitement — marvel at that long, long train as it snakes through the mountains, down into Death Valley — and the wit — in the next day’s installment a goat foolishly beams with pride at having just ingested Minnie’s treasure map.
Reading these great strips, you can almost block out that insipid squeaky voice now forever associated with the Mouses, and the sight of some mute college student in an odd costume and a giant, wobbly polystyrene head loitering around amusement park midways.