Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Comic Book Letter of Comment: Mickey Mouse “The Return of the Phantom Blot”.

It happens to every true comic book fan. A moment and a book come together in a way you never forget. It is the time you become a fan of the comic book – for years, if not for life

It’s different for everyone. Here’s mine. Mickey Mouse in “The Return of the Phantom Blot, a four part serial beginning in 1964’s WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES # 284. Author (still) unknown. Art by the great Mickey Mouse artist Paul Murry.

In January 2006, this story was reprinted for the first time in the United States in Gemstone Publications’ MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS # 285. My Letter of Comment to this issue expresses sentiments I’ve waited almost 42 years to share. Enjoy…

To the readers of this blog, I ask: What’s YOURS? Your moment? Your book? Your story? You know you have one… share it with us!

Here’s a look at the original cover of WDC&S # 284. Then, on to the LOC…

“[The Phantom Blot] was about the meanest criminal I ever faced!”Mickey Mouse, speaking some of his truest words, from 1964’s “The Return of the Phantom Blot”, reprinted in MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS # 285.

Oddly, it was the first issue of WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES since the early 1950s to not offer a lead feature by Carl Barks that made me a fan of the Disney comic book genre for life!

Issue # 284 opened with a non-Barks Donald Duck lead titled “The What-Zit Bird”. Not bad, but I’d read better duck leads in the past. There were also entertaining middle-stories starring Li’l Bad Wolf, Daisy, and Mad Madam Mim. But, the “back-ender”, Chapter One of this wonderful Mouse mystery tale, grabbed this wide-eyed nine year old as no other story from any publisher had to that point.

A bold and intriguing villain was this “Phantom Blot”. In my scant few years of comics reading, I’d seen Mickey square off against Pete often enough, as well as dog-faced felons of every size, shape, and temperament… but there was no one quite like this. Despite his limited panel time, there was clearly something special about this black-cloaked blackguard. He immediately seemed like a foe for the ages.

The title, “The Return of the Phantom Blot”, was also something to ponder. I had a reasonably complete collection of Mickey’s comic book exploits dating back to 1959, but there was no sign of any Phantom Blot. Who was he, and where did he return from?

The answer to that question would wait fourteen years, until 1978 and the release of a hardcover coffee table-sized book from Abbeville Press titled simply “MICKEY MOUSE”. In it, I discovered the extraordinary combination of Mickey and Floyd Gottfredson – and, in an interior text piece, learned that the Phantom Blot was a product of that historic run -- in 1939! Apparently, the Blot was INDEED a foe for the ages… Gold and Silver Ages, that is.

The four month unfolding of “The Return of the Phantom Blot” fully captivated me and moved me from “young casual reader” into “never-miss-an-issue” mode – a condition that prevails four decades hence. During that blissful time, I saw foreboding black shapes in dark corners I never knew my house had! Today’s conventional wisdom notwithstanding, it can be fun to have the willies as a kid, as long as you know it’s ultimately make-believe. The spring of 1964 may be long gone, but I’ve been an unabashed Blot booster ever since!

It would seem that the Blot’s return impacted far more than just this solitary reader. From this tale, the Phantom Blot moved directly to a fondly-remembered series of his own that presented a then-unique melding of the “Duck and Mouse worlds” and, to my knowledge, was the first comic book series to feature a villain as its title character!

This event began a period of creativity for Western Publishing’s Disney line not seen since its formation, and never seen again. The debuts of Super Goof, Emil Eagle, Dangerous Dan Mc Boo and Idjit the Midget, Moby Duck and Dimwitty, studio creation “Cousin Fethry” visiting in the DONALD DUCK title, revivals of Shamrock Bones and Neighbor Jones (…rhyming unintentional), the “Mickey Mouse Super Secret Agent” series, and titles for The Beagle Boys, and Junior Woodchucks all came about in the years immediately following the Blot’s reappearance.

Add to this the final years of work by Carl Barks, and it was quite a time to experience… and, to think, it all started with a Blot! An interesting question for the readership would be “What story or issue affected you as ‘The Return of the Phantom Blot’ did me?”

Joe Torcivia


Anonymous said...

That cover, with the Blot looming in the window in the background, scared the living daylights out of me when I was six.

Joe Torcivia said...

Same for me, “Anon”!

Perhaps because of that, the Phantom Blot has always been my favorite comic book villain – even more so than Ra’s Al Ghul and The Joker!

Imagine what a THRILL it was for me to actually work on a story with the Blot in it – “The Treasure of Marco Topo”, in Mickey Mouse # 309 and WDC&S # 720… 47 years after reading my first Blot story!

Sometimes, life can be very kind, if you hang around long enough!