I've gushed about Gottfredson's Mickey before, focusing chiefly on the rodent's originally sympathetic character. But if there's one aspect to Gottfredson's work that Fantagraphics raises in high relief, it is his artwork. Fantagraphics' reproductions of the original strips are the cleanest and truest to date, bringing to the fore Gottfredson's mastery of pen and ink, shading, and melodramatic exaggeration. Contrast this strip, an 80s reproduction, with Fantagraphics' reproduction:
Fantagraphics' reproductions in these first two volumes of Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse are an endless source of wonder and revelation. In examples like this . . .
. . . we see the rough sort of cross-hatching and stippling that caught the eye and inspired Haight Street ne'er-do-wells like Robert Crumb and Vaughn Bodé — Fantagraphics' original meal-ticket.
Returning to the “Mickey Attempts Suicide” subplot, we also see the artist's pacing and perspective put to effective use. By the fourth panel, as our confused and dejected hero finally succumbs to despair, Gottfredson gives us only the back of Mickey's head . . .
. . . a self-consciously discreet point of view that filmmaker Martin Scorsese later exploited in Taxi Driver, when Travis Bickle gets dumped (via pay-phone) by his love interest.
When Mickey finally resolves to end it all, his vulnerability and lack of stature are grotesquely emphasized by the elements in his living room, including a framed picture that seems poised to fall on him:
These first two volumes are full of such stylistic discoveries, which seemed to occur to Gottfredson at a Pre-Cambrian rate. By the 40s, Gottfredson has all but traded in his pen for a sable brush, ditching the baroque cross-hatching and endowing the rodent with a more plastic environment, which readers no longer recognized as their own, but as exclusively Mickey's. Gottfredson's work was never again as affecting as the Depression-era stories.
I still hope Fantagraphics continues publishing the strips: Sky Island and World of Tomorrow are two later adventures I'd love to see receive the Fantagraphics treatment. As it stands, I've scanned and enlarged so many frames for contemplation, the current two volumes have extremely well-worked spines. Which gets me thinking: as much as I appreciate the devotion to scale, how much cooler would it be if these physical books were also sold with a DVD-ROM which could be explored for just such minutiae?
Ah, but copyright issues probably bar such a practical solution. Too bad! But don't let that be your excuse for not purchasing these fabulous volumes — now, while supplies last.