Dreaded Subtext

File this under “Jobs I Didn’t Want But Manage to Get Anyway.” Did you know I once wrote the Mickey Mouse Comic Strip? That’s correct. One day my boss called me upstairs to the third floor of the Roy O. Disney Building and informed me I was the new writer of the daily newspaper strip based on Walt’s famous mouse. The original comic strip writer, artist, Floyd Gottfredson had retired in the late seventies and now his successor, Del Connel was finally packing it in. A new writer was needed and somebody thought it should be me. However, I was not exactly thrilled with the opportunity. Why would I not want such a coveted job, you ask? Here’s the reason why.

Back in the thirties when Mickey Mouse entertained millions of adoring readers of America’s newspapers, he was a spunky, feisty little guy who thumbed his nose at established conventions. He was an adventurer, and a fighter. Most of all he was entertaining and funny. By the nineteen eighties, Walt Disney’s famous mouse had morphed into a corporate icon and had all the vitality and energy of Ozzie Nelson. Writing gags always came easy to me and I was known for my cheeky sketches depicting the Walt Disney management and my fellow artists and colleagues. However, now I was required to crank out six daily gags along with a Sunday page and I had to do this every week. Hardly a daunting task for a gag writer like myself, but this assignment came with a catch. I had to do all this using the character, Mickey Mouse when the famous rodent was hardly a barrel of laughs.

Being funny is the requirement of a gag writer and I was willing to give it my best shot. However, it’s tough to be funny when you’ve been given a character that has become an animated icon. And, an icon practically devoid of humor, with the exception of a cute, “Hiya folks!” As expected, I continually found myself in trouble with Disney’s legal department because of the silly stuff I would write. Innocent gags - nay, stupid gags were now considered a corporate dig at other companies or organizations. I was often called upstairs to face our legal counsel and asked, why did I write a particular gag? My reply was plain and simple. “Because I thought it was funny.” Let me give you an example. In one particular gag, Mickey’s pal, Goofy has purchased a satellite dish in order to get better television reception. As expected, Goofy - being Goofy didn’t quite understand the purpose of the tech device and simply used it as a bird bath. Soon, Disney received furious letters from Satellite companies. They were upset at the subtext in the comic strip and wondered why the big corporation was picking on them? Once again, I had to explain there was no subtext. We’re not that clever or sophisticated, I pleaded. It was just a stupid gag. Keep in mind, Mickey’s friend is named, “Goofy.”

Such are the perils of writing Disney’s Mickey Mouse. In spite of all this, I managed to keep the strip going for another five years before we were finally cancelled by King Features Syndicate. In some ways I enjoyed writing gags for the famous mouse. Yet, I couldn’t help be somewhat relieved when Mickey’s home in the newspapers came to an end. The feisty mouse and been a star in nineteen thirties but the nineties were a different time altogether. Perhaps it was time to let Mickey ride off into the sunset. In any case, it was time for me to do the same.

 I wrote the Mickey Mouse Comic Strip for a number of years. Sometimes the job was fun... and sometimes not.

I wrote the Mickey Mouse Comic Strip for a number of years. Sometimes the job was fun... and sometimes not.