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Two new books you MUST buy!

If I can make each and every one of you buy a book this week, it would be one or both of these – Simply put, these are two of the best animation books of the year. Each completely different from the other, both are absolute must-haves for anyone, everyone who loves animation.

I’ve personally been a fan of Bill Plympton’s since I first saw his print cartoons in the Soho Weekly News (an NYC alternative newspaper in the 1980s). I actually met Bill at a comic con back then, but he wouldn’t remember that. However, I was lucky enough to become a personal friend of his since the time of his first short Your Face, which I helped distribute through the Tournee of Animation.

That said, I had no expectations for this large coffee-table art book, except to see lots of artwork from Bill’s films and comic strips. Boy, was I in for a surprise. First off, Bill got David Levy to co-write the book with him. Readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Levy’s writings and previous books. Chris McDonnell (Meathaus; Bakshi’s Unfiltered) did the layout, so the book is gorgeous. What I didn’t expect was how moved, dazzled and entertained I was by Bill’s story and the abundance of varied art and images.

This is Bill’s journey, told through his voice, and every page of this 264 page book is pure joy to read or to look at. Your Face (1987) was the film that introduced us to Plympton and was a breakthrough for him as an artist. It’s fascinating to see his early work fill the first 75 pages, as you can see his many influences (Yellow Submarine, Milton Glaser, David Levine) in his drawings. Your Face really nails what we are to know as Bill’s style – and from there on, in this book, we are able to see how he’s grown as an animator through storyboards, rough comics, production cels and pencil drawings. The text recounts his entire professional career. As “the king of the independent animators”, aspiring artists will find lots of inspiration in his story.

Terry Gilliam contributes a hilarious Foreword in the front, and Bill provides a detailed Filmography in the back, along with a list of his personal inspirations (it’s a great list and includes Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Rod Scribner, Hayao Miyazaki and R. Crumb among many many others) as well as his all time favorite and worst films (where Bill counts The Chipmunk Adventure as one of the worst – even though he animated on it!).

Independently Animated: Bill Plympton is available now on and at whichever book retailer still exists in your city. Also, New Yorkers can pick up the book directly from Bill on Monday May 2nd. Plympton is opening the doors of his New York City studio (153 W. 27th St. #1005) Monday from 4pm to 8pm to have a gala Starving Animator’s Sale of discounted artwork from all his classics: Your Face, How to Kiss, Guard Dog, The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger, Idiots and Angels. Refreshments will be served!

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: “Race to Death Valley” (Vol. 1) is a brand new hard-cover comic strip compilation from Fantagraphics (Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, etc.). However unlike the others, this should be of particular interest to animators and Disney fans. The book reprints several early continuities (more than 200 pages of comics, all unedited) of the Mickey Mouse comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson (whose occasional collaborators included Win Smith, Jack King, Earl Duvall, Al Taliaferro and Walt Disney himself). The strips themselves are great. In fact, it’s a crime these aren’t more well known. These daily strips are part of why Mickey Mouse became a popular character and world famous icon. The serialized adventures are exciting and fun, establishing a real personality for Mickey beyond what was possible in the animated shorts. The book has lovingly restored these strips from the original negatives and proof sheets – each one crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.

If that were all there was to this book, I’d recommend it highly. But that’s not all. Co-Editor David Gerstein has, as he did with his previous Mickey and the Gang volume, loaded this book with over 60 pages of supplementary articles and features that are a MUST for all Disney history buffs. Gerstein has packed the pages with all manner of extremely rare promotional material, newspaper clippings, artwork, rare strips, publicity art, merchandising, still photos, etc. none of which I’ve ever seen published anywhere before. These “sidebar” pieces include an appreciation by Floyd Norman, an introduction by Warren Spector and a Foreword by Thomas Andrae. Gerstein himself writes over 10 articles filling in the backstories of the cast of characters, as well as bios of Gottfredson and his collaborators.

I cannot praise this volume highly enough. I want to thank Fantagraphics for sending me an advance copy hot off the press. It will be available next month in book stores and comic shops, as well as Amazon and other online retailers. Order it NOW! You will not regret it.

  • Just have to add one thing here, Jerry: You forgot to mention Ub Iwerks. He originated the daily strip together with Walt Disney himself (with Ub doing the art and Walt doing the writing), and he drew the first two months of Mickey Mouse daily strips in 1930… in other words, most of the strips that were made before Gottfredson got the job. The fact that these initial comic strips were actually done by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks – both co-creators of Mickey – is an important part of what makes this collection a truly interesting purchase for any animation fan. Ub’s run on the strip has even got its own section in the book, complete with an accompanying essay about the animation legend. (Of course, this is not to say that Ub’s strips are the BEST strips. Floyd Gottfredson’s work definitely rules, but Ub’s strips are fun and interesting in themselves on very many levels.)

    Other than that… all I can say is that both of these books seem like great recommendations:) And when it comes to Mickey Mouse… Gottfredson was THE master of the mouse in comic strip form, and his stories and art just got better and better during the entire decade of the 1930s. So I have a feeling I’ll be buying much more than just the first volume of this series:)

    • Nicolas Orizaga

      I was just going to mention the same thing…very cool that the “beginning” part was included as a bonus feature…and I like the “character bios”…I can’t wait for this collection!!

    • Mesterius – You are absolutely right. I neglected to mention Iwerks. In fact there is a definitive article on Iwerks and the Birth of Mickey Mouse by Thom Andrae, and another piece about the origins of the strip by Gerstein, in the back pages. These precede a pristine reprinting of the first three months of the strip.

      All in all, the book contains every Mickey Mouse comic strip from January 13th 1930 through January 9th 1932. It’s an incredible feat of restoration and scholarship.

  • FleischerFan

    I’ve had this book ordered for months.

    Of course, so many of the Gottfredson strips have been reprinted in various formats over the years. However, it’s nice to finally have a well-researched, proper chronological reprinting project underway.

  • I want that Mickey book.

  • Rick R.

    I won’t get to read em till October, because there’s a second volume, “Trapped on Treasure Island,” that’s coming out then, and you get a discount for buying the two volumes together as a box set.

    I’m interested because I finally got a Disneyland Annual Passport this year, and I was A) curious about the mouse, and B) still curious as to what little munchkins of this era can possibly know of Mickey aside from him being the face of Disneyland.

    I remember the characters from my own childhood (the early to mid- 1970s) mainly reading quite a few story books with Mickey and Donald in them along with limited exposure to Mickey Mouse Club repeats, and maybe some episodes of Wonderful World of Disney that featured the classic shorts.

  • Brian Kidd

    That Mickey book is a steal!!! Thanks so much for the recommendation. Consider it ordered!

    I’ve always been a fan of Disney comics and Gerstein’s dedication to them over the years has played a big part in making sure they remain available. He’s really an unsung hero.

  • David Gerstein is a Disney treasure.

  • Call me crazy.. but I much prefer Floyd’s Mickey over Carl’s Donald.

    There’s much more “life” in the panels and more details in the backgrounds (*ever notice all that empty negative space in his panels??)

    Mickey in Death Valley is a must for me (*and not just because I also prefer the 1930’s Mickey over the 40’s one..haha)

  • A huge fan of Floyd Gottfredson when I was a kid, I was lucky enough to “follow in his footsteps” many years later when I wrote Mickey for Disney.

    Kudos to David Gerstein for a truly cool book.

    • Thanks, Floyd (er… both of you!).

      Floyd Norman, being a gentleman, is too modest to say so, but his Appreciation in “Race to Death Valley” includes some fascinating nuggets about his years as Gottfredson’s successor—with a sample of his final, unpublished daily serial, left incomplete when the axe fell on new strip production in the mid-1990s.

      • I didn’t know the final serial was left incomplete! What a shame.

      • Well, it wasn’t left incomplete in newspapers—because it never got that far.

        At the time, two- and three-week Mickey serials were written and drawn in complete form before serialization in newspapers began (…or so KFS editor Jay Kennedy told me back then).
        In this case, a serial was left incomplete—but since it never got to the point of being sent to newspapers, readers weren’t served an unfinished story.

  • Mark Sonntag

    Can’t wait for my copy. It’s funny, when reading the Gottfredson interviews in the “Walt’s People” books, he doesn’t seem to like his work of the 30s saying it is too cluttered. That may be true for some of the early efforts, but man the 30s Mickey comic strips are solid and display all the refinement in story telling that the animated shorts did as the decade progressed.

  • William

    Is Mickey planned to be a series, beyond this and the second volume mentioned above?