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!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to comment on a 12-year-old post, but I couldn't help but chuckle when in Tito Faraci's "Topolino... sulla scena del crimine", a parody of CSI-style shows, the investigators complain about the hardships of their work, including the difficulty of taking fingerprints in a city where everyone wears gloves :)

I love Mr Faraci's trademark light-hearted irony-slash-sarcasm. Luckily, quite a lot of his stories have been published in Poland, where I live. Here's hoping you'll have a chance to read more of his comics in the US!

Joe Torcivia said...

There’s never a problem with commenting on older posts around here! They’re always welcome!

As I use Comment Moderation, I see every comment regardless of how old the post! Others may not think to look this far back, but know that *I* will always see them!

I LOVE Faraci’s Phantom Blot story that appeared here in WALT DISNEY SHOWCASE # 6, 2018 …and I’d love it even if I *didn’t* do the translation and dialogue!

I'd sure like to see more...

Anonymous said...

I love that story, too! It was published in Poland back in 1997, when I was but five years old, and I sure enjoyed it a lot, especially that it was the debut of Brick Boulder, who went on to become a great mainstay Mouseton character used by a plethora of authors! My enthusiasm was not even marred by the fact that we got it in the "Blot's face blotted out" version Pan Miluś and Spektrus talk about here: (By the way, Egmont's old "hooded Blot" policy was so effective that for a large part of my childhood and adolescent years I had little idea the Blot had a face under that cowl - much less what that face looked like!)

While it might be relatively easy to recognise a Disney artist by his/her style of drawing, I usually find it somewhat harder to identify the writer by their script alone - especially as I most often have to rely on translations. Even so, Tito Faraci is one of the exceptions, as his love for characters and apt use of light sarcasm easily gives him away. I can see that so far, apart from "Chief Casey's Longest Night," three of his longer comics have appeared in the US: one Ultraheroes story that I have never read, the adorable "Another Christmas on Bear Mountain", and one of my all-time faves, "The River of Time."

I can assure you that there are lots and lots of other great yarns by Mr. Faraci, and I hope that you will have a chance to enjoy them in the future :) If I were to single out one, it would be the acclaimed "Dalla parte sbagliata" ("On the Wrong Side"), a great parody of various thriller and action cliches, in which the Mickey-Pete chemistry is amped up to eleven as the two are forced to team up and operate outside the law (and outside their safe Mouseton, too!). It's really two fish out of water (or rather... a mouse out of a hole and a cat out of... basket? Urgh! That's what you get when you try to carry a metaphor too far).

Joe Torcivia said...

Sorry for the amount of time it took to get this comment posted… a bunch of things kept getting in the way.

As most people who read this humble Blog probably know, I first saw The Phantom Blot in Paul Murry’s 1964’s “The Return of The Phantom Blot” but never saw his face until a good decade and a half later, when I finally saw one of the reprintings of the original story.

Identifying writers can indeed be tricky, especially when they were uncredited as most American Disney writers were until the 1980s. But, for us, it would be even more difficult to recognize an Italian writer, because we would only see that writer’s work translated and re-dialogued for American publication.

It’s like Vic Lockman has a fairly easy writing style to recognize but, if his work were translated into another language, it would lose the alliterations and unique phrasings that make his stories identifiable to me. You'd have to go on "plotting-similarities" alone.

That’s why comics research is so fascinating, and so much fun!