Update: On Sale Now!
This just in: “Mickey’s Craziest Adventures” is on sale at Comixology for half off for the month of April. $3.99 is a steal for this book. Read it on as big a screen as you can!
I’d still recommend the print edition, which will be even bigger and looks great, but I can’t argue with that price. I have an Amazon link at the bottom of this article if you’re so inclined to buy it in print, and want to help support this here site…
The Origin Story of Mickey’s Craziest Adventures
A couple of years ago, French publisher Glenat began a new series of books created by French/Belgian creators starring the Disney Mice and Duck characters. They were given freer rein than usual to do the books in their own styles.
Starting in the fall of 2016, American publisher, IDW, began the work of translating and publishing those books in English in North America. Two books are out so far. This is a review of the first one.
The conceit of this book is that writer Lewis Trondheim and artist Nicolas Keramidas discovered a stack of forgotten Disney comics at a garage sale. Part of that collection included a serialized feature that ran from 1962 to 1969 in “Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories: Mickey’s Quest”, called “Mickey’s Craziest Adventures.”
This book ‘reprints’ those strips — at least, as many as they could find and fit into one album. “Some of them are feared lost forever,” the introduction to the book gravefully intones.
Skipping Around for a Great Story
The great thing about this arrangement is that it gives Trondheim and Keramidas the chance to just draw the good stuff and not always worry about how it glues together. You can have a strip about Mickey and Donald chasing after a pack of monkeys in the jungle in one strip, and then follow that immediately with a strip about outracing some gorillas and snakes, before jumping ahead to an underground secret city.
Tip for reading this book: Watch the headers carefully. They’ll tell you the strip number and, from that, you can see how far a jump into the future the next strip is from the one you just read.
It never feels like a cheat, either. It always feels like you’re getting the good stuff without any of the plot mechanics you might have to worry about in a standard narrative. Even crazier, at the end of the story, you’ll be able to tell someone else all about this crazy adventure and make coherent sense of it.
That might go something like this:
The Beagle Boys and Peg Leg Pete team up, steal Gyro Gearloose’s shrink ray, use it to steal all the money in Uncle Scrooge’s money bin, and then run off with it. Donald and Mickey are in hot pursuit of the scoundrels, and wind up in a frantic adventure involving everything from the Abominable Snowman to underwater civilizations to mischievous monkeys and fearsome feathery dinosaurs.
The book is a frenetic homage to the classic styles of those Disney comics without becoming a satire or parody. It’s a book done with love, depicting the characters perhaps more harshly at times than they would be today, but in the same manner and tone that they would have been fifty or seventy years ago. Notoriously, early Mickey Mouse strips were much more biting. (IDW reprinted the classic Gottfredson strips, so you can see for yourself…)
Most of all, “Mickey’s Craziest Adventures” blends the humor with the action well. There are sight gags and word play along the way, but it’s mostly the crazy amount of energy and imagination on every page that carries this story. Not only does Trondheim land a great joke at the bottom of every page, but he often sneaks smaller ones in along the way
Dialogue writer and editor David Gerstein (working from translations by Ivanka Hahnenberger) is an old pro at handling this kind of work, and he doesn’t disappoint here. There’s one or two balloons in the book where I get the feeling a particular turn of phrase was used solely because it fit in the available space. The rest of the time, though, itall felt flawless. I never felt like the dialogue was written merely to fit the pre-existing balloons.
Odds are good he did a lot more work that I’ll never know about, just because I didn’t read the original French edition. Translating and adjusting dialogue in comics is a thankless and tricky job.
The Keramidas Style
Keramidas draws both great expressions and great animated characters. Mickey and Donald move across these pages. There’s very little time to rest in these pages. Running through remote locations and jumping off tall cliffs into the shallow waters before climbing a mountain — it all looks good. It’s all energetic. The page has a sense of motion even though you know it’s a static piece of paper.
If you’re hard core about these characters looking strictly on model, you’re not going to like this book. Also, you need to get out more.
There, I said it.
Keramidas’ style works in this book. It feels like a classic 1950s or 1960s adventure comic with its lushly inked backgrounds and detailed drawings of nature. Except it’s fronted by a walking Duck and his Mouse friend. Those two come pretty close to being on character, actually, but act a bit more frantic, and have heads that come closer to Keramidas’ style that Gottfredson’s or Barks’.
That’s the charm of it for me. It looks different, but it looks good. There are lots of schools of art for the Duck books. Heck, even Don Rosa and William Van Horn have widely divergent styles that pay homage to different eras of Carl Bark’s work, but add plenty of character of their own. You also have certain other schools, like a lot of what you might see out of Italy, which I think is where Boom! gets the majority of their stories from for the Duck books these days.
Coloring for Good Effect
The other half of what makes this book feel so authentic in the way it tries to replicate the traditional newspaper strips comes from the coloring. It is the single biggest factor, in fact, for this book looking so authentic to its time period.
Brigitte Findakly deserves special mention for pulling off this book in the face of its conceit. She deserves cover credit for her contribution, which she sadly doesn’t get.
Her work buys into the premise and does the single best job of pulling it off. As good as Keramidas’ art is, it alone wouldn’t make you think the book was set in the 1960s. It’s only after the coloring work that the great cartooning in this book translates into something that feels correct to its time period.
Findakly, who also expertly colored Manu Larcenet’s “Back to Basics” series, pulls off every trick in the Photoshop book to give this book the look of a reprint from 50 years ago. You not only get the classic four color dot patterns, but you get every misprinting issue you can ever remember from reading the Sunday comic strips. It has the limited color palette.
Add to that the occasional coffee mug stains and random color steaks off the printing press. Throw in the natural grain of newspaper sparsely felt deep in the background. It’s an impressive design accomplishment, in addition to being a strong coloring job.
There’s no white on these pages. In the areas that would be white, Findakly shows the paper yellowing with age. It’s slightly exaggerated in the scan you see above. That’s just due to the way my scanner handled it. I’m glad, though, that you can more easily see some of the work that went into coloring this book.
This is the kind of work that I’d usually think of as being distracting to the art or self-indulgent. But it works here so well, because of the premise of the work that everyone involved so completely buys into.
IDW Nails the Production Quality
This is how Franco-Belgian books should be printed in North America. There are no compromises here. The book is hardcover and oversized. It’s album-sized at 9 by 12 inches in size. Yes, the book is a foot tall.
It gives the art room to breathe, and it’s beautiful. You don’t need an Artist’s Edition for this book. It already feels like you’re seeing the art at full size. The coloring only helps with the effect.
How big is this book? It doesn’t fit on my scanner.
The Smell of Comics
It even smells good. You know that Fresh Book Smell that a fresh book store copy gives you? No, not the thirty year old comic book newsprint smell. I’m talking about the smell of a book with a spine fresh off the printing presses and shipped to the store. It’s wonderful, and this book has it.
(C’mon, how many comic book reviews have you read where they reviewed the smell of a comic? PipelineComics.com stands head, shoulders, and nose above the crowd!)
Don’t Be Price Sensitive
For a book this size to only cost $14.99 is a minor miracle in this day and age. Look, we all know IDW has a reputation for pricing their comics a bit on the high end. But for $15, this book is a steal for quality. It’s a solid price point based on its number of pages.
It’s worth it not just for fans of classic Mickey Mouse (and Donald Duck) comics, but also for new readers who’ve never come close to Disney Duck material. This is still a fun book, and that different style and sensibility might be a big help for those people.
For a ten page preview of the book, see BleedingCool.com.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #30.)