American Disney comics began in 1930 when
Walt Disney himself
began writing a Mickey Mouse daily comic strip for
newspapers with Ub Iwerks
handling the art. When control of this strip shifted to the
talented Floyd Gottfredson later in the year, its ensuing
popularity led to the growth of an entire comic strip department
within the Walt Disney studio and the production of such additional
Silly Symphonies and Donald Duck
(the latter, and initially the former, drawn by the
great Al Taliaferro).
It seemed a shame, of course, not to reprint these strips in the growing comic book industry, so in 1935 Disney associates Kay Kamen and Hal Horne began to publish Mickey Mouse Magazine; when Horne dropped out of the deal, Kamen farmed out production of the magazine to Western Publishing. Besides comics, the magazine featured stories, games, and poster-style full-page illustrations.
In 1939, Western began publishing a series of one-shot comic books entitled Four Color, containing a wide variety of newspaper strip material. When in early 1940 an all-Donald Duck number in this series was a big success, Kamen and Western editor Eleanor Packer took the hint and transformed Mickey Mouse Magazine into a full-fledged comic book, Walt Disney's Comics And Stories.
But a good thing - the newspaper strips that began the move to
comics - was about to come to an end. With both
Four Color and WDC&S reprinting them, the supply
was running low. So original stories began
to be produced especially for comic books. The first to be created were
Pluto Saves the Ship (1941) and
Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (1942), both
for one-shot titles;
WDC&S took the plunge to new material
as well with
a Walt Kelly adaptation of
The Flying Gauchito in
The first two
stories marked the debut of now-famous
The success of Carl Barks need not be documented here; suffice it
to say that by the late 1940s, original material made up the vast
majority of the Disney comics being published, and by this time Mickey,
Donald, and others had regularly appearing slots within Four
Color (which became the characters' own individually-numbered
titles a few
years later). Among the characters who found success at this time were
Li'l Bad Wolf (first appearing in WDC&S 52),
Br'er Rabbit (FC 127),
Chip 'n' Dale (WDC&S 69),
and Hiawatha (WDC&S 30), but the biggest
the era was Uncle Scrooge McDuck, whom Barks created in 1947
and who received his own very popular title beginning in 1952.
Barks' Gyro Gearloose and Taliaferro's Grandma Duck
also received a lot of exposure from Dell, although their solo titles
were never issued regularly.
In the late 1940s, Western also made the decision not to continue adapting Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse for publication in WDC&S. After tossing Mickey around between a good handful of undistinguished artists for a full six years, Western finally settled on Paul Murry; unfortunately, the six-year inconsistency had heavily damaged Mickey's popularity. This is why up to the present day, Disney Duck comics tend to outsell Mouse equivalents.
In 1962 Dell, which had been distributing Western's comics for
decades, broke off its agreement with them which led to the creation of
Gold Key Comics, Inc. This period is regarded as the beginning of a
long decline for Disney comics as the quality of many non-Barks stories
plunged. Gold Key gave a solo comic book to Barks' Beagle
Boys and promoted characters like Super Goof, Moby
Duck, and Mad Madam Mim (to name a few who have survived
from this period), but many of their
attempts did not succeed. The space taken by this glut of new stories
wiped out all remaining newspaper reprints. In fact, many of the new
stories Western began making at this time never appeared in the States;
they were prepared in a special deal with the Walt Disney studio for
foreign consumption alone. Donald's cousin Fethry,
the tycoon John D. Rockerduck, and hillbilly hermit
Hard-Haid Moe were some of the characters who were largely
consigned to these
In later years Western dropped the Gold Key monicker to publish its comics under the label, Whitman, of its book-publishing arm. This did not reflect a change in quality. By the mid-1970s fans had shied away from Disney comics for the most part, and their distribution was very low; by 1984, when Whitman's line breathed its last, few were around to mourn its passing.
They still do that (1996), but didn't during 1990-1993 when the Walt Disney Company produced their own comic books instead.
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