Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Questions You’ve Never Asked: “Why the White Gloves?”

Every now and then at this Blog, we’ll answer an age old question you’ve probably never asked…

Recall the Mickey Mouse / Giant Ants comic book cover that illustrated my last post concerning our “home invasion” by hoards of ants? If not, go visit it HERE.

Back already? Okay, so Mickey’s ALWAYS worn the white gloves, ever since Uncle Walt and Uncle Ub Iwerks originally designed him. But, in one of those loveably absurd things (…or would that be absurdly loveable things?) that abound in comics and animation, the ANT is wearing those danged white gloves too!

Here are my thoughts on the matter of “Animated Characters and the White Gloves They Love”, along with a theory on their origins from comic book writer Dwight Decker, that I published in my APA / Fanzine column The Issue At Hand # 76, back in 2006.

Picture an animated cartoon character created anywhere from the late 1920s to early 1940s. That would be Mickey Mouse and Dippy Dawg (…who eventually evolves into Goofy) on one end of the spectrum and Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker on the other end. Heck, you could even throw in classic comic strip characters like “Mutt and Jeff”. Name something that they have in common. Think hard… I’ll wait.

Didn’t wanna think, eh? Skipped right to the next paragraph and the answer? Immediate gratification over all, huh? That’s the Internet for ya! Okay, the answer is WHITE GLOVES!

I hardly noticed the gloves in my younger days. They were just part of a character’s design. As I became older, and looked at some of the “classic” comics with sharper and more cynical eyes, I began to notice some of their more absurd (…whether intentionally, or otherwise) applications, particularly in the various Mickey Mouse comic books.

In a lair of giant, mutant, upright-walking ANTS (!), neither Mickey as prisoner, nor I as reader, batted an eye over the fact that the ants wore those omnipresent, four-fingered white gloves.

(Here’s the Original 1950 Cover to that story… Oddly the Ant is wearing YELLOW GLOVES here! This, of course, was corrected for the later reprint in 1965! …And aren’t we glad of that!)

When a villain awarded Mick his freedom if he could run a gauntlet of axe-wielding ROBOTS, can you guess what the otherwise unclad automatons were wearing?

Most recently, we readers were treated to a spectacular “Mickey Mouse version” of Dante’s Inferno. And I’ll be (pun intended) “damned” if the demons of this particular Hell weren’t equipped with BLACK VERSIONS of those (duplicate pun intended) “damned” white gloves! Such a wonderful parody of this basic design element! .

My letter of comment to this issue was forwarded to Dwight Decker, one of the writers involved with the script. He responded to me with a reason for the use of the white gloves. So, now it can be told. Here’s Dwight Decker:

You mentioned the business of those gloves Disney characters always wear. I never quite understood that until I saw a photograph that must have been taken about 1925, showing Charlie Chaplin with Martin and Osa Johnson (wildlife documentary filmers of that era) -- and Osa was wearing white gloves with three lines on the back!

"The only thing I can figure is that such gloves were stylish and commonly worn in the '20s just when animated cartoons were coming into their own, and it was only natural for characters in the cartoons to wear what real people wore. (I've heard white gloves made Mickey's hands stand out better in the old black and white cartoons.) Somehow the gloves became a standard convention for animated cartoon characters and persisted after they fell out of fashion for real people, the reason for gloves was forgotten, and cartoon characters wear them to this day.”

Just for this Blog post, Dwight added:

“I'm not sure if the three lines on the backs of the gloves are really a black decorative element or are just built-in folds so the gloves can expand when the hand is clenched. I suspect the latter, though there may have been styles where the folds were colored in.

"One funny thing I saw a few years ago was a cartoon of the Marvel super-heroes drawn in the old rubber-hose animation style, and of course all wore gloves like that. The crowning touch was that the Hulk's hands were bursting out of his gloves.

"The glove thing is an odd convention, though. It was satirized in the splash panel of Kurtzman & Elder's "Mickey Rodent" parody in Mad #19 (a character obviously Horace Horsecollar is hauled away by the cops for appearing in public without gloves), so the absurdity was realized as early as the '50s. In Disney comics, I've seen characters go swimming wearing bathing suits *and* gloves, and there have been surreal bits like a Beagle Boy filing his nails with his gloves on. It's one of those oddities that make you wonder who decides these things.”

Thanks, Dwight for a great contribution!

…So, how ‘bout that! The things you can learn by reading this Blog!


Mark Lungo said...

You might also want to check out . In fact, the whole site is one of the most fascinating on the net.

Chris Barat said...

I always thought that the use of gloves in the early cartoons had something to do with making the hands easier to animate separately from the arm (when the character is waving, wiggling fingers, etc.) Byron's suggestion about the gloves being easier to pick out on the screen makes even more sense.

Chris Barat said...

Oops, did I say "Byron"? I meant "Dwight". Sorry, DD. :-}

Joe Torcivia said...

Mark Lungo writes: “…In fact, the whole site is one of the most fascinating on the net.”

Even more so than THIS BLOG, Mark? :-) Thanks for an interesting contribution.


Joe Torcivia said...

Adding to this, I just checked “everyone’s most favorite Mickey Mouse cartoon” (Yeah, right!) the infamous “Mickey and the Seal” and, sure enough, he’s bathing with his gloves on!

…I guess the seal was just so darned cute that we never noticed!

Urk! Urk! Over and Out!