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!

Spectrus said...

I don't think I've ever read this story (it was only ever printed twice in Germany, both as serials - 1965 and 1983). Part of this is the problem that Mickey always seems to be underrepresented; there is a monthly Donald Duck comic magazine but nothing with predominantly Mickey in it... (and those non-Duck/non-Mouse characters like Zeke Wolf are having an even harder time)

Even when I strain myself, I can't say I have one particular "defining comics moment". I think this is because I'd started reading them at a very young age and I simply don't recall the stories that impressed me so much back then. But of course, there are certain stories that are very close to my heart. Part II of the "Lords of the Galaxy" cycle (Pezzin/De Vita) is certainly among them, also some Duck Avenger stuff (I didn't choose my screen name Spectrus for no reason). And "Dialing for Disaster", Egmont's masterpiece. Wait, maybe it's "The Frog Queen" (Topolino e le rane saltatrici) by Scarpa - I'd actually mark that down as my favourite Mouse story, PERIOD... it's simply awesome!

As for The Phantom Blot, Inducks tells me that there was a comic book remake of "Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot" (drawn by Bill Wright and Dick Moores) already in 1949, and another one partially re-drawn by (you've guessed it) Paul Murry in 1955, the same year the Italians used the character for the first time ("The Blot's Double Mystery"). In fact, Italy managed no less than 18 Blot stories before "The Return of the Phantom Blot" happened (one of these, also drawn by Scarpa, just had its first German release last year!)...

"[T]he Phantom Blot moved directly to a fondly-remembered series of his own that [...] to my knowledge, was the first comic book series to feature a villain as its title character!"

Interestingly, something similar just happened here in Germany with our relatively new "Premium" LTB line. So far, the title always included a titular hero, but issue #17 instead only bears the Blot's name on its cover! It contains all three story arcs of Darkenblot (1, 2.0 & 3) plus the interludes (2.1 and "The Return") and has already been declared by some fans to be the best Disney comic book ever released in Germany. Casty did it again...

Joe Torcivia said...


Now, THESE are the discussions I love most! Getting into the background and specific stories and time periods that go into the creation of a “dedicated fan”, of which you’ll agree both you and I (and most everyone who comments here) are!

When I refer having to a “defining moment”, I mean EXACTLY that! Comic books had been a fairly significant part of my life for the previous five years, dating back to before I could even read. In fact, it was BECAUSE of comic books that I was reading before I started school.

But, until “The Return of The Phantom Blot”, they were “just another thing in my life”, as were toys, games, hardcover books, magazines, TV programs, etc. I had gaps in my comic books runs, and never gave it a thought. I just took it as I found it.

“The Return of The Phantom Blot”, however, was where I decided I was not going to miss an issue… ever again! And, in mid-sixties pre-comic-book-shop / pre-comic-book-convention America, that was not an easy thing, because no one store got everything – and once a comic book was “gone”, it was “GONE”! Yet, from that point – until I gave comics up for nearly a decade in 1972-73 - I missed only TWO ISSUES of the monthly WDC&S! Quite a feat of dedication, under the prevailing conditions!

It’s interesting that you do not claim a similar “defining moment”. Perhaps because comic books were more a common part of the overall culture, or the “general European landscape” than they would ever be in America?

Every appearance of the Blot, original or remakes of that original, occurred before my existence, so “The Return of The Phantom Blot” was a completely new experience for me, even having had a good working knowledge of the comics Mickey Mouse.

And, in one of those wonderful things about life, I would be the one responsible for getting Scarpa’s “The Blot’s Double Mystery” first printed in the USA – lobbying Gladstone Series One for it, as a (all together now) “dedicated fan”!

If David has his way, I’d expect to see any additional “Darkenblot” stories at IDW, provided the proper slot presents itself. HERE is that “Darkenblot” link!