WALT DISNEY COMICS & STORIES
By Ed Sanchez
The beginnings of Disney comics can be traced to 1930, when Walt Disney began writing a Mickey Mouse daily comic strip for newspapers. The strip, initially drawn by Ub Iwerks, shifted shortly thereafter to Floyd Gottfredson. It did so well that an entire comic department was created at the Walt Disney studio, producing additional strips such as Donald Duck and Silly Symphonies (both featuring the work of Al Taliaferro).
1935 saw Disney Associates Kay Kamen and Hal Horne take advantage of the growing comics industry by publishing reprints of the daily strips in Mickey Mouse Magazine. Eventually production of the publication was entrusted to Western Publishing, and in 1939, they began distributing another series entitled Four Color. The comic book contained character one-shots: reprints of daily strips focusing on different characters in each issue. Because the Donald Duck issues of Four Color were among the most popular, Mickey Mouse Magazine was re-invented in October of 1940 as an official monthly comic to also include Donald Duck stories, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories was born. The first issue featured Donald Duck on the front cover, but also continued the Mickey Mouse serial "Mickey Meets Robinson Crusoe" from its predecessor.
The earliest issues of Walt Disney Comics and Stories also contained daily strip reprints and short gags. Over the years, dozens of characters appeared in the book and on the cover, with Donald Duck making his popular recurring cover appearances as well. The book was usually made up of two or more feature stories, two or more text-and-picture stories, one or two puzzle pages and sometimes a contest. Issues contained a table of contents and 64 whopping pages of story.
Issue #31 (April 1943) introduced the first of over 250 ten-page Donald Duck stories by the legendary Carl Barks. Barks had produced Pluto Saves the Ship (1941) and Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (1942) as one-shots for the publisher, and he quickly got noticed as a very gifted creator. Due in part to Barks' talent, as well as a dwindling number of strips available to reprint, the title shifted from mostly strip reprints to original material. This ushered in a golden age for the title that lasted well into the 1950s. Year-after-year, Barks produced an incredible array of stories for the publisher, including the Donald Duck Christmas special (1947), which introduced his most famous creation, Uncle Scrooge.
Barks also premiered many of his most fondly remembered characters in issues of WDC&S like #88 (January, 1948, the first Gladstone Gander), #125 (February 1951, the first Junior Woodchucks), #140 (May 1952, the first Gyro Gearloose), and #134 (November 1951, the first Beagle Boys in a one panel appearance).
Years before he joined the Disney Studio, Carl Barks had worked for the adult humor magazine, The Calgary Eye-Opener, and had collaborated on a one-shot with Eye-Opener editor, Ed Summer, in 1932. This one shot entitled Coo-Coo (distributed in extremely small quantities and to which Barks contributed many of the gags), shows that Barks was an enormous talent even before his work on Disney characters.
In 1962, Dell ended its agreement with Western Publishing to distribute their comics, and this led to the creation of Gold Key Comics. It was during this period that WDC&S began its long decline, due in part to the lower quality of the material (especially when compared to when Barks worked on the series). The title continued to decline in popularity and was finally laid to rest in 1984.
Recently, Steve Geppi, president and CEO of Diamond Comics Distribution and Gemstone Publishing, acquired the rights to publish Disney Comics. These new comics will not only include reprinted classic material, but also new comics featuring characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.
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