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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #114

This is the one-hundred and fourteenth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and thirteen. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Disney once had a series of Mickey Mouse comic strips depicting Mickey trying various ways of killing himself.

STATUS: True

Mickey Mouse was quite a sensation at the end of the 20s and the beginning of the 1930s, so it is no surprise that someone decided that Mickey would work well in a comic strip. Walt Disney was generally too busy to be involved in the actual production of the comic strip, but he did make sure to contribute one significant idea to strip writer/artist Floyd Gottfredson – the first story arc should include Mickey trying varying ways of killing himself, which would all end comically!!!

Here are some examples (from mid-October, 1930) (click on the image to enlarge)…

First off, Mickey thinks Minnie is cheating on him with some city clicker mouse…

This causes Mickey to want to kill himself…

Eventually, he comes to his senses…

Isn’t that fascinating?

How senses of humor (and Mickey Mouse having humor PERIOD) have changed…
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COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DC had to change the name of their Helix line of comic books because of the Shadowrun role playing game.

STATUS: False

When DC announced the name of their new science fiction and science fantasy line of comic books (that notably featured Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan) back in 1996, the name of the line was the Matrix.

5780_4_001.jpg

Most folks assumed that when the name changed, it was due to the upcoming film, The Matrix.

MATRIX.jpg

However, there also grew a significant scuttlebutt that it, instead, had to do with the Shadowrun role playing game, which included a Matrix of their own. Reader Richard Rittenhouse explains:

The story that I heard at the time was that the change was prompted by FASA, the publishers of the SHADOWRUN pen-and-paper role playing game. In the game, there was a virtual reality cyberspace called the “Matrix”, and the publishers had supposedly trademarked the term.

sr4_cover_final_large.jpg

It was an interesting possibility, so I went to the original editor of the Helix line of comics, Stuart Moore, as to why the name was changed. I asked Moore if it was because of the Matrix film or some other reason, and this is what he had to say:

Yes, that’s pretty much what happened. Given the way things change all the time in Hollywood, I was just glad when THE MATRIX film actually came out, under that name, and was a hit. At least that justified all the last-minute hell of changing our imprint name. I remember, at the time, being sure that years later I’d go to the theater and they’d have changed the movie’s title to “THE LATTICE,” or something. That would have been too much.

That really would have been!

So there you go, it was the film after all!

Thanks to Richard for the question and Stuart for the information!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Bernie Wrightson once thought he had some sort of disease due to the paint brush he was using.

STATUS: True

In the early 1980s, Bernie Wrightson did some of the most beautiful work of his career on a black and white adaptation of Frankenstein.

frankenstein.jpg

However, during his work on the book, he was rumored to have developed what appeared to be some sort of disease.

WrightsonBirth.jpeg

In an amazing interview in Comic Book Artist #4, Jon B. Cooke got to the bottom of the mystery, when he asked Wrightson about the rumor, and here is Wrightson’s reply:

What happened was that I developed a sensitivity to the metal nickel and that’s what the little metal part on a brush that holds the bristles is made of-it’s called the ferule-and it’s 90% nickel. It made my fingertips sore and inflamed-and they hurt and were really tender all the time. That’s all it was but, of course, I was worried about it because I didn’t know what it was. I saw several doctors who couldn’t identify it and I finally saw a skin specialist who diagnosed it and she gave me an ointment to put on. That cleared it up but the biggest problem I had was what am I going to do about holding a brush now? My fingers had to come in contact with the metal and I tried everything: I tried wrapping it in masking tape and that was no good because you lose the grip; I tried holding the brush further up on the stem so my fingers were on the wood but that was just ridiculous. So after trying all this stuff, my ex-wife suggested, “Why don’t you just paint that thing with nail polish?” Well, duh! [laughs] So I’ve been doing that ever since and it’s no problem.

Pretty weird, eh?

Thanks to Jon B. Cooke for the excellent interview!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!

61 Comments

This is actually the one-hundred and fourteenth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false.

And I was so careful with the other stuff. ;) Thanks, Michael!

Those Mickey Mouse things are the most terrifyingly bizarre treatments of a kiddie property I’ve ever seen–and I didn’t think anything would top Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble advertising cigarettes.

The Mickey Mouse stuff is bizarre, but when you read it in context with other stuff at the time it’s not so much– the very early Mickey Mouse cartoons are kind of cheerfully demented. Steamboat Bill has a lengthy sequence about chewing tobacco that seems right out of South Park, not a Disney cartoon.

Yes, I suppose it is more a commentary on how the present sanitizes the past than anything else–if someone did a cartoon adaptation of this today at Disney, they’d be lambasted for perverting the innocent spirit of the classic Disney characters, and someone would probably claim “Walt Disney is spinning in his grave”…

…which he would be, but only because he’d be irritated at not getting credit for suggesting it. :)

I’m very pleased to be in the same entry as those creepy Mickey Mouse strips. The sequence actually goes on for a long time. The final, silent panel in that first strip, where Mickey’s just reaching for the shotgun, always sends a chill up me. (There are some very racist strips early on, too.)

And I’d never heard the Matrix/Shadowrun theory until now. Funny!

How can one see the rest of the suicide strips along with the racist ones? I’m guessing Disney’s never going to officially release them. I’d like to see them.

Those Mickey Mouse things are the most terrifyingly bizarre treatments of a kiddie property I’ve ever seen…

Thing is, Mickey et al *weren’t* a kiddie property back then, any more than were the Looney Tunes gang or Tom & Jerry or any of the other classic characters. There was simply no context for age-appropriateness.

Early animated shorts were intended to be shown with whatever film that studio had in production at the time (as Chuck Jones once commented wryly, the Warner Bros shorts backed ‘Scarface’, ‘Public Enemy’ and similar wholesome family fare.)

Graeme,

the MM cartoon is Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Bill is a Buster Keaton movie.

the MM cartoon is Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Bill is a Buster Keaton movie.

and yet Disney actively attacks anyone who tries to use any part of THEIR work, despite being built on that foundation…

Excellent stuff, as always. I’d not heard the Shadowrun legend before, but seeing as (to the best of my knowledge) William Gibson coined the term ‘Matrix’ for a global computer network, it’d be hard to see how FASA could have any right to complain.

I’m very pleased to be in the same entry as those creepy Mickey Mouse strips. The sequence actually goes on for a long time. The final, silent panel in that first strip, where Mickey’s just reaching for the shotgun, always sends a chill up me. (There are some very racist strips early on, too.)

Definitely good company! :)

Thanks again for the help, Stuart!

Excellent stuff, as always. I’d not heard the Shadowrun legend before, but seeing as (to the best of my knowledge) William Gibson coined the term ‘Matrix’ for a global computer network, it’d be hard to see how FASA could have any right to complain.

Thanks!

With trademark, it doesn’t REALLY matter who originally coins the term (I mean, it has SOME impact, just not a lot), but mostly, it depends on who establishes the term in business (hence the term – trademark, meaning literally using the mark in trade). So Gibson could have invented the term and even used the term in books, but if he wasn’t using it as a title or in ads, etc., then he wouldn’t be able to get a trademark on it, while Shadowrun might have.

the MM cartoon is Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Bill is a Buster Keaton movie.

Always mixing them up! Thanks!

When would Gibson have coined the term? I know that a master computer system where people’s minds were stored was a part of the DOCTOR WHO mythos; the system showed up as early as 1976 or 1977; The Wikipedia entry on it (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrix_(Doctor_Who)) would seem to indicate that it predates Gibson’s usage.

Yeah, I have no idea if Gibson DID coin the term. :) Just saying that if he DID, he wouldn’t necessarily have any trademark rights to the term.

Like how the term “grifter” was used for years before Wildcats, but it is still a trademark.

Brian: You can probably make a follow up to the Mickey Mouse bit by doing one on the Uncensored Mouse comics from the 80s.

Brian: You can probably make a follow up to the Mickey Mouse bit by doing one on the Uncensored Mouse comics from the 80s.

Oooh…I DO like follow-ups!! Less work! :) Cheers, Jamie.

These Mickey Mouse strips must be the ones that AMAZING HEROES reported on way back. They said some small print house was going to put out a collection of bizarre and surreal 1930s MM newspaper strips which were definitely in the public domain, but Disney filed suit anyway. It was obvious that, even though the big corporation didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, fighting the suit was beyond the little publisher’s resources, and the project was dropped. Again, all this was according to AH.

Ssssshhh…Ted, you’re spilling the beans on the follow-up. :)

Those Mickey Mouse strips are FUCKINGAWESOME.

Agreed – I just had an opportunity to read them closely, and they’re absolutely hilarious. Great example of the surrealistic anarchy that prevailed in the very early years of animation.

Thank God Wrightson figured that out…what a terrible loss that would have been!

Simon Williams

August 3, 2007 at 2:53 pm

I have also read in a book, Disney approved a story line in the 40’s or 50’s(I think), in which Minny started dating, one Mortamor Mouse and as a result Mickey was going to commit suicide. Supposedly, the public was outraged and it never happened.

The Mad Monkey

August 3, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Nail polish, huh?
Great.
Now all he has to worry about is nail polish fumes…

Geez…can’t win for trying…lol.

The Mickey Mouse comics look hilarious.

What is that Frankenstein book by Wrightson? The artwork is Gorgeous.

Brian from Canada

August 3, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Kudos to whoever scanned those Mickey strips — I knew about the films they want to remain out of public memory (including the original, very anti-semitic version of “The Three Little Pigs”) but not the comic strips. Too bad we have to wait until this extension of their original copyrights is over before they can be published/released from the public domain: it shows a much different view of ‘Uncle’ Walt and his creations that should be out there!

That first MM strip is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

That Frankenstein art is amazing, and I am surprised that those Mickey Mouse strips are real. What was Walt Disney thinking about at that time?

Real bizarre stuff, that Mickey strip. Now, I don’t agree with the current paranoia of shielding kids from any material that could contain “strong” themes, but the one thing I’d never give a kid would be a comic strip showing a popular character trying out various suicide methods. Jeez!

Though I also have to say, most worrisome adults forget that kids just see things differently. I have distinct memories of reading bits of Watchmen as a young child, and a scene that would horrify a worrying mother (the Comedian raping Sally), just caused me slight puzzlement that I quickly got over. Lacking the maturity to understand the concepts involved in rape, the scene just rolled off me like water off a duck’s back. I was much more interested in how Dr. Manhattan was blue…

I’ve seen a very old “Felix the Cat” cartoon that ends with Felix getting his girlfriend pregnant and sticking a gas pipe in his mouth.

“I remember, at the time, being sure that years later I’d go to the theater and they’d have changed the movie’s title to ‘THE LATTICE,’ or something. That would have been too much.”

As the story goes, the second “Star Trek” movie was originally supposed to be called “The Vengeance of Khan,” but the studio insisted upon changing it because of its similarity to the just-announced title of the third “Star Wars” movie: “Revenge of the Jedi.” And we all know how that turned out…

Comic Reader Man

August 4, 2007 at 4:56 am

Here’s one I don’t think was touched on, was it?

When MEGO started producing their action-figure dolls of Superman, Batman, Spiderman etc. in the early ’70s they trademarked the name “WORLD’S GREATEST SUPER-HEROES”. Both DC & MARVEL objected to MEGO’s ownership of this phrase (mostly because they hadn’t thought of it themselves), and threatened to pull out their heroes from use unless MEGO turned over the title to them.

MEGO complied in order to keep the successful line going, and now DC & MARVEL jointly own the “World’s Greatest Heroes” name.

As far as I know, Walt Disney okayed those suicide attempt strips, when Floyd Gottfredson asked him. Suicide attempt humor wasn’t uncommon in the thirties’ comic strips. Felix the Cat had a similar sequence.

I think that first Mickey Mouse strip is absolute comedy-gold, if you read it as ending in the silent panel with him reaching for the shotgun.

On Micky Mouse, nobody has mentioned the cartoon where Dnald Duck is on stage and fires a machine gun into the audience. I don’t remember much more about the cartoon than that (except it was color, probably 1940s, and I think Mickey was on stage too) but that scene stuck in my mind.

Scott Clements

August 4, 2007 at 2:56 pm

In the UK there is a ‘monthly’ comic for ‘grown-ups’ called Viz. One character that has been featured in said comic was Suicidal Sid. He would decide to end his own life in every story, fail each time and eventually decide that life was, in fact, worth living. At this point he would die in a freak accident.

I don’t know if the Mickey strips were inspiration for that though.

The Mickey strips are actually a ripoff (or perhaps an homage, if you’re feeling charitable) of what is generally considered to be the first example of the comic strip form. It’s old as hell, and it’s from 1700s France. In it, a man continues to try to win the affections of a (very fat) woman with whom he is hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, she doesn’t reciprocate, and he resolves to kill himself. Over and over, he attempts to commit suicide, and even thinks he succeeds each time, only to wake up awhile later and realize that he is not, in fact, dead. Very dark, funny stuff.

The Mickey strips come straight out of that old strip. For more on the strip, and other fascinating bits of comics history, as well as some fine cutting-edge comix, check out the comix edition, Issue 13, of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Which, I might add, is one of the finest and most innovative publications currently on the market.

Are those Mickey Mouse strips the ones that Eternity reprinted as ‘Uncensored Mouse’ back in 1989?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 5, 2007 at 4:48 pm

I’m surprised the Matrix/Helix change managed to get a false rumour going – I remember at the time DC said it was because of an upcoming film from WB.
I even think they had a house ad explaining it.

Oh man, that is killer. Mickey trying to take his own life. Killer? I meant depressing and bizarre.

Today, it might be a strip of Mickey and Minnie going threw a building lobby shooting everyone is in sight in order to save Morpheu… I mean Donald Duck.

HOw come agents can’t anything unless it’s right in front of them or a helicopter? Just asking.

I noticed they got away with that Superman stuff in the Matrix sequels due to it being WB.

How about the story behind the Human Fly? My brother loved that book when we were kids. Was he a real guy?

I think that Doctor Who was the first to use the term “Matrix” to refer to a giant body of information. But, FASA did trademark “MATRIX” in the first release of the first Shadowrun rulebook.

I’ve always wondered if Warner Brothers had a deal with FASA to use the term, or if FASA was just too small to worry about.

Theno

Possibly, it didn’t matter, because although they had the trademark in pencil-and-paper RPGs, they didn’t have the trademark in movies. After all, you only get the trademark for the area in which you use the word/phrase/whatnot.

I had to read “Frankenstein” for a literature class in the early 90s and — being a cheap college student — I decided to get a copy at the library. Having just read a funny Hulk/Thing graphic novel by Wrightson and Jim Starlin, the Wrightson-illustrated Frankenstein novel jumped out at me (note: the art was on one side of the page and the full text of the novel was on the other).

I was absolutely floored by the art, as were my professor and fellow students. It caught the actual mood of the book so damn well it was scary.

If you do some digging, the Matrix movies paid fees to FASA for use of the term Matrix. So if the comics changed for the movie, and the movie changed for the game, then indirectly, the comics changed for the game.

One thing to note is that the Mickey Mouse suicide strips are pretty dark, but they are also pretty funny.

Is Gottfredson the unsung Carl Barks? (I’m speaking from ignorance here. I’m familiar with Iwerks and Disney, but not Gottfredson.)

At any rate, thank you. “The Floyd Gottfredson Library” is now just in time to make my Christmas list.

Yeah, Tim, Gottfredson is very highly regarded as a comic creator.

Maybe not to the level of Barks, but in the same vicinity.

If you do some digging, the Matrix movies paid fees to FASA for use of the term Matrix. So if the comics changed for the movie, and the movie changed for the game, then indirectly, the comics changed for the game.

Thanks, Tinner!

That’s quite interesting.

cool!hey, where can I find any more mickey’s comics on the WEB?
please write back
thank you

Gibson used the term Matrix in his mid eighties short story, Burning Chrome (which I coincidentally just reread on the train yesterday). Certainly not first.

Oh, I had a beautiful, oversized collection of those earliest Gottfredson strips when I was a young girl; there was a sequence in it about dangerous men hiding under the bed that totally freaked me out for a long time.

I hadn’t seen that Wrightson Frankenstein; he manages to make it look genuinely scary. I always thought the DeNiro Frankenstein was sympathetic and of course Elsa Lanchester is gorgeus.

i have some old small disney comic strip books from the 60’s to the 80’s i dont know what they are called and can not find anything like them anywhere…could you help me

@ Joseph Lacy – Do you mean the Gold Key Disney Digests? Those are hard to come by, but show up on eBay now and then. I have a bunch, including my favorite, #40 with Mickey Mouse in 3 Gottfredson stories (that as I understand it were virtually line-for-line redrawn by Paul Murray for reprinting in the comic books in the ’40s & ’50s).

When these strips were reprinted in Italy in the mid ’70, the Disney licensee had a strict no-death-in-stories policy (that still holds, AFAIK). Surprisingly enough, since Mickey did not succeed in his attemtps, they were OK for the editors and made through the print: it has to be said that they were reprinted in adult/teen oriented classic reprints book, NOT in standard comic books.
I was pretty young, then, but an eager reader of Disney comics: I was amazed to discover an older reprint (late fifties, maybe) that also had this sequence, but with an unbelievably rewritten dialogue. Mickey was actually blank shooting himself for the sake of getting a “shock”, diving in the river for “cooling himself down”, using gas for “sleeping and relax” and so on. I was a kid, not dumb and I figured out I had just discovered (dull) censorship in comics.

Thank you for bringing this back!

@John Seavy, The Flinstones were originally targeted to adults, not kids. It was a prime-time animated show, not a Saturday morning cartoon. It wasn’t until the third season that they decided to make the Flintstones more kid-friendly, and the cigarette ad was done before this decision.

And darn it, I wrote a song called “In the Matrix” before the movie ever came out. If I had been more industrious, I suppose I might have done something with the song, instead of letting it languish on cassette. Ah, missed opportunities!

Thanks for another fantastic post. The place else may just anyone get that type of information in such a perfect means of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the search for such information.

re: Stealthwise-The Wrightson Frankenstein pages came out as a deluxe version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein some years back, and was recently reprinted in an incredible hardbound edition by Dark Horse.

I own it; the art is fantastic and the production values just as great. Shouldn’t be too hard to find now.

Im not surprised in the least at a mickey mouse suicide strip.
ive been re-watching all those old early 20th century cartoons with my children (bugs bunny, mickey mouse, etc) and the attitude towards suicide, guns and other ‘sensitive issues’ is fairly nonchalant.
Everyone knows alot of those cartoons have been heavily censored in latter 20th century because there was so much suicide and gun violence in them.

“Too bad we have to wait until this extension of their original copyrights is over before they can be published/released from the public domain”

And then the next extension they buy from Congress, and the one after that, and the one fater that…

Um—speaking in my position as Mickey Mouse series editor at Fantagraphics Books, we’re publishing the unedited Floyd Gottfredson Mickey strip now with authorization from Disney. Check out their website for the four volumes that have been published thus far; “Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers” (the suicide story) is in Vol 1.

A BALLED OF SUICIDE

by G.K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay–
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–
I see a little cloud all pink and grey–
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call– I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way–
I never read the works of Juvenal–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational–
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small–
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

ENVOI

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,

Chesterton was still popular in many newspapers around the world at the time this Mickey Mouse strip was written. The spirit of this poem is so deep in the strip, I am convinced there is a connection.
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

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