Mickey Mouse in the old days

Via Jen Dewalt in Grapefeed, this story, “Back in the day, Mickey Mouse attempted suicide and fought opium smugglers” (by Cyriaque Lamar on the 22nd), beginning:

Intrepid readers will remember that one time Mickey Mouse and Goofy espoused the salubrious effects of amphetamine-laced soft drinks.

The truth is, that helium-voiced cartoon rodent weathered many a dubiously family-friendly moment during his early years.

For example:

Perhaps the most bizarrely bleak Mickey adventure was the story arc that ran from October 8 to October 20, 1930. According to cartoonist Floyd Gottfredson, Walt Disney was inspired by the 1920 Harold Lloyd comedy Haunted Spooks, wherein the main character tries suicide and fails in a slapstick manner. In 1975, Gottfredson recalled the meeting where Disney pitched Mickey’s grief-struck demise:

One that I’ll never forget, and which I still don’t understand was when he said, “Why don’t you do a continuity of Mickey trying to commit suicide?”

So I said, “Walt! You’re kidding!” He replied, “No, I’m not kidding. I think you could get a lot of funny stuff out of that.” I said, “Gee whiz, Walt. I don’t know. What do you think the Syndicate will think of it? What do you think the editors will think? And the readers?” He said, “I think it will be funny. Go ahead and do it.” So I did, oh, maybe ten days of Mickey trying to commit suicide-jumping off bridges, trying to hang himself […]

But strangely enough, the Syndicate didn’t object. We didn’t hear anything from the editors, and Walt said, “See? It was funny. I told you it would be.”

Mickey eventually decides to live after some adorable woodland fauna convinces [note fauna treated as a mass noun] him not to hang himself. (“When I look into your smiling faces, I feel ashamed! It isn’t such a bad old world after all! It took a squirrel to prove what a nut I was!”) And lest we forget, Daisy Duck would take equally dire measures approximately 13 years later. This wasn’t the only occasion Mickey bucked the hyper-sanitized image of modern Disney. A 1934 storyline saw his nemesis Pete moving opium…

… Finally, there was this incident, where Mickey assaults a transvestite and barks an epithet that’s euphemistic as all get out.

Yes, big cream-puff inhaler. This seems to have been a Disney invention, based on cream-puff ‘weakling, male homosexual’, with inhaler suggesting sucker, so that the whole thing conveys faggot.

[Update: A reprint of the cartoon, colorized and cleaned up some, appeared in a Boom! Mickey Mouse Classics volume in 2010:

Cake-eater?]

9 Responses to “Mickey Mouse in the old days”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Ken Rudolph on Facebook:

    Wow! This makes “Song of the South” look entirely p.c. in comparison. Any idea of what year this was published? Is it a unique bit of comic strip fag bashing…or did this happen a lot? I don’t recall such overt homophobia showing up in comics when I was young; but I suppose I was blind to it if it did happen.

    As far as I can tell, it’s from 1931.

  2. John Baker Says:

    There are other examples of anti-gay humor in early Disney, but they’re pretty rare. In one of the classic Donald Duck adventure stories by Carl Barks (I have a reprint of it somewhere, but not in front of me), Donald initially is working as a museum guard and a stereotypically gay man asks for directions to the museum’s doily collection. The interaction has Donald saying “Sheesh” (or some similar word) to himself after he gives the directions and contributes to his feeling that his life lacks adventure (in contrast, of course, to the rousing adventure that follows).

    In contrast, Disney never intentionally targeted African-Americans (although native Africans it considered fair game). When it did use African-American characters, such as the crows in Dumbo and the live-action characters in Song of the South, they are intended as positive figures, by Disney’s lights at the time. There is subtle racism here, most obviously in the lack of use of African-Americans and the way in which their concerns were subsidiary when they were used, but it’s different from the frequent and overt racism seen elsewhere. Apparently Disney had no interest in alienating any portion of its market.

    So why were there anti-gay jokes and, since they did exist, why were they so rare? I assume that the anti-gay jokes were limited by the need to fit them in to a child-friendly narrative. In the strip reprinted above, the transvestite is not just a stereotypical gay but also a stereotypical bad guy. (That one’s still pushing it, though.) In the Donald Duck story, the gay was also stereotypically unadventurous, in contrast to the swashbuckling life that Donald wanted and was to get.

    And why are doilies stereotypically gay, anyway?

  3. rubberchickencircuit Says:

    In 1920s slang, a cream-puff inhaler was a straight guy who slummed with gay guys, which Mickey is accusing Kat Nipp of being. (Kat Nipp is a villain whom Mickey hadn’t met at this point in the story—he guessed the gay guy might be him.)

    In the rewrite, a cake-eater was a guy who flirted with unattractive women so that he could mooch money or food (i. e. cake) off of them. Also makes sense in context.

  4. Tijuana bibles « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Mickey Mouse in the old days, I came across Tijuana bibles involving Disney characters, in particular a famous one pairing […]

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    […] few days ago I posted on “Mickey Mouse in the old days”, ending with a clearly homophobic strip from 1931 […]

  6. Vintage Gay Comics « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] mentioned or depicted in mainstream comics (though effeminacy could be alluded to and derided, as here). Apparently the cover shows a practical […]

  7. John Baker Says:

    Hi, Arnold. I just came across this strip reprinted in Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley (Fantagraphics Books 2011). The editors’ take (p. 108) is that “a tough butcher’s boy opines that Kat Nipp is still tougher by performing a crude ‘sissy’ impersonation.” I think their take is correct. It doesn’t do much to change the meaning of the strip, but it does make more sense in context that the stereotypical homosexual is only pretending to be one.

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