Friday, February 23, 2018

Might solve a mystery / Or rewrite history!

"That doesn't even look like me!"
- "Does Mickey Mouse look like a mouse?"
"The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

A while back, I caught the pilot episode of the 2017 reboot of DuckTales, the Disney animated series about the adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his family, somewhat based on the Scrooge McDuck comics by Carl Barks. I grew up watching the original DuckTales series like many of my generation, but this new series was at least as fun as the original series! To be absolutely honest though, I have always had a weak spot for the Duck family since my youngest days. And I think that holds for a lot of people in the Netherlands. The weekly magazine Donald Duck (which features Disney comics) is the best-read magazine for readers under 12 years, and even adults can enjoy it: the Netherlands is one of the few countries with its own Disney comic studio, where they are allowed to script and draw their own comics, which means that Donald Duck often features comics that address Dutch culture or the latest news or happenings (for example, elections or Sinterklaas), making it a joy to read for both the young and old.

Mickey Mouse is in general more popular than Donald Duck across the globe of course, but in the world of Disney comics, the Mouse's adventures are usually just not as entertaining as the treasure hunting stories of Scrooge, or the Duck-down-on-his-luck stories featuring Donald and the other inhabitants of Duckburg. However, there was one type of Mickey Mouse story that I absolutely devoured, though I think few people outside Europe are familiar with them. For did you know there's a whole comic series of Mickey Mouse as a detective?

While the tradition originated from the original (American) Mickey Mouse comics, with Mickey battling the likes of the Phantom Blot, Mickey Mouse's adventures as a private eye absolutely flourished in Europe. For a mouse who is often characterized as either a do-gooder, or a mischevous being who tries hard to clean up his own mess, the role of intelligent detective might seem strange, but I grew up watching the head of the House of M dressed in a raincoat and fedora solving the most fanciful crimes together with Goofy, Chief O'Hara and Detective Casey! I have an idea that this side of Mickey isn't really well known outside Europe, as the Mickey Mouse-as-private eye comics are mostly published in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

One story that made an enormous impression on me for example is the comic with story code D 94021, which is apparently a Danish Mickey story originally published with the title Damen i blåt ("The Lady in Blue"). (Dutchies can find this story with the title De laatste uren van Mickey Mouse in Donald Duck Pocket 37: De eerste Olympische kampioen). The story starts in media res, with Mickey desperately hunting for the mysterious woman in blue in the few hours that he has after she poisoned him. The whole story plays like a noir thriller, with Mickey trying to find out who poisoned him and tracing down every clue as the clock is ticking. Mickey has to rely on the help of a collegue for the brawn, as the poison is slowly starting to work, while the Lady in Blue keeps on taunting the mouse in his dying hours, even going as far as preparing a figure of a dead Mickey.


The story is pretty exciting, and even makes use of some visual clues to foreshadow what is to come, which is why it has always stuck with me as a very iconic Mickey Mouse story, even though many will not be familiar with this side of the Mouse. And yet to a lot of European readers, this is how they'll know Mickey. A Mickey who solves crimes, often in stories that feature visual clues and a genuine trick to some kind of jewel robbery or some other mystery. In my review of Ellery Queen's Drury Lane's Last Case, I also mentioned that I was very fond of the Italian story Topolino e il segreto di William Topespeare when I was a kid and that I only later found out it was based on Drury Lane's Last Case. So for many children, Mickey Mouse is actually a first step in detective fiction.


In the Netherlands, Mickey often acts as a detective in short one-page comics titled Mickey lost 't op ("Mickey Solves It"). These are very short whodunnit comics of just a few panels, where the reader is quickly introduced to a mystery like a robbery, and with Mickey declaring in the final panel that he knows who did it, with the solution often either printed upside-down at the end of the page, or printed elsewhere in the publication (if applicable). These mysteries are very much like Encyclopedia Brown, or for the Dutchies, like the ones the comic Inspecteur Netjes, being rather simple in set-up, but they do make good use of the visual medium, often with a visual clue hiding in the background that the reader has to relate to something said by the characters. Dutchies can read a selection of these comics on the official Donald Duck magazine website by the way!

These one-page whodunnit Disney comics have a long history in the Netherlands by the way. Different characters starred in comics in the exact same format in the past, for example Basil and Dr. Dawson from The Great Mouse Detective and the Mickey Mouse comics character Shamrock Bones (known in the Netherlands as Sul Dufneus). In fact Shamrock Bones/Sul Dufneus had a long series of mystery comics, and short stories in various Dutch Disney publications in the eighties and early nineties, though Mickey took over his role in Dutch Disney publications after that.

So while to many this might sound strange, Mickey Mouse was actually one of the characters who really got me interested in mystery fiction from a young age on. I wouldn't go as far as saying that I only got interested in mystery stories because of him as a child (as that isn't the case), but his adventures as a detective were certainly one of my favorites to read, and I suspect that the 1-page whodunnits have always made an impression on me, as the lines of reasoning based on the elimination process based on physical clues (often brought visually) used in these comics are certainly what I still hold highest in mystery fiction in general. I wonder if more people have read mystery comics from an early age on. For me, mystery comics/animation have been a constant since I was young, starting with these Disney comics and cartoons like Scooby-Doo!, and from my teens on with series like Detective Conan or Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, but it seems like most of the other mystery bloggers started with series like Conan well into their adulthood. Which is probably also probably because of availability in a language they know, sure, but let's say in general for mystery comics with a fair-play element in them. I myself can't even imagine my youth without these mystery comics.

10 comments :

  1. Being Swedish, my experience is more or less the same as yours. The publication of Disney stories in Sweden is quite similar to that of the Netherlands. My favourites were always the "Kalle Ankas Pocket" - an equivalent of your "Pockets 2e reeks 3" possibly?

    And Mickey is always the detective to me. Here's a typical Mickey pocket book from my early, formative years: https://inducks.org/issue.php?c=se/KAP++29

    And of course that influenced me quite a lot growing up.

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    1. We too have a "Donald Duck Pocket" series, though that has gone through several iterations. The currently running series with over two-hundred volumes is the third one, and the one I grew up with. The pocket you linked to would've been from the second Donald Duck Pocket series, of which I have read only a few volumes (I remember they were only partially printed in color, as opposed to the full-color third series).

      In the Netherlands, or at least when I read the comics, the Mickey as a detective stories were mostly featured in the Donald Duck Pocket series, as they were mostly comprised of translated European comics, while the Donald Duck magazine usually only featured the Mickey Solves It one-page shorts. So yeah, I too really liked the Pocket series for their Mickey Mouse stories (though the better Donald/Scrooge stories were usually not published in the Pockets, but other series).

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    2. No, we're agreed. The best Donald/Scrooge stories were by American creators (Barks, Rosa) and therefore were not eligible for these pocket books which consisted almost entirely of Italian Disney stories.

      But I've always liked the Italian ones - they're the ones I grew up with and will always cherish. (And that includes quite a lot of the Donald stories as well.)

      I still subscribe to the Swedish pockets, I have a full set and I'm not going to stop subscribing to them ever...

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    3. Yeah, we had a different series of oversized books with much better paper/printing than the pockets for the Barks stories ("The Best Stories of Donald Duck" and "Adventures of a Wealthy Duck"), while Don Rosa was both published in "Adventures of a Wealthy Duck" as well as "Donald Duck Extra", a monthly with longer Donald/Scrooge tales from both USA/Europe.

      I have a weak spot for the Italian stories too, especially with all the characters you usually don't see in the others (like Rockerduck or Paperinik/Duck Avenger/Super Donald/whatever they translated it as).

      I haven't read a Donald Duck pocket in ages, though I see they released a "Premium Pocket" series here these last few years, with limited series collected in one single pocket (instead of random story collections like in Donald Duck Pockets). Might wanna pick some of these up...

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  2. The plot of "The Lady in Blue" sounds a lot like one of my favorite movies, "D.O.A." (1949).

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    1. I haven't seen that movie, so I only skimmed through the summary on Wikipedia, to see if it was perhaps based on that movie (like how that Mickey Mouse story I mentioned was blatantly stealing from Drury Lane's Last Case), but it's quite different save for the premise, as in the Mickey Mouse story, it's really about someone wanting to get revenge on Mickey for something he did in the past, and the culprit is taunting him all the time knowing the Mouse will die soon.

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  3. Love your Ellery Queen TV series quote at the top. 'The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader' was probably my favorite episode, great comedy between characters back and forth, and also featuring a very original and fair dying message too, if I recalled correctly :D

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    1. Yeah, that's a great episode both for the mystery (an original dying message in a very interesting setting) as well as for all the comedy about Ellery's characterization in the comic (it's funny when you realize that radio!Ellery too is already at times more action-focused than novel!Ellery)

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    1. Yeah, a great number of these Mickey Mouse as detective stories were in fact translated from the original Italian, I think (together with comics from the Nordic countries). I think the only original Dutch detective Mickey stories are the Mickey Solves It one-pagers, and probably only a number of them.

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