A History of International Disney Magazines before the War
As an Italian, a French or a Nowegian
today where Mickey was born, they will answer swiftly, without a doubt : “In a comic book.” You will be hard pressed to
convince them that he first appeared in an animated cartoon.
Small wonder : The magazine Topolino
(Mickey’s name in Italian) is read in Italy by more than one million people
each week, Donald Duck & Co. delights one fourth of the whole Norwegian
population weekly, Le Journal de Mickey in France is the most populat youth magazine in the country.
But what makes it even more difficult to uproot the idea
that Mickey was born on the printed page is that the history of Disney comic
magazines outside of the United States
is a very long one indeed, and that it extends in very unlikely territories. In
the war kids read Disney comics.
An Italian named Topolino
The history of pre-war international Disney comic magazines
started, as was to be expected, with a mouse. A half-American-half-Italian
mouse named Topolino.
On December 31st,
1932, the Florentine publisher G. Nerbini
launched a weekly magazine called Topolino (“mouse”
in Italian), the header of which included an Italian version of Mickey Mouse,
badly drawn but quite recognisable. Clearly, the first “Mickey Mouse” strips
published were not coming either from the Disney Studios. The publication
director identified himself as “Paolo Lorenzini – Collodi’s nipote” (“Paolo Lorenzini – nephew of Collodi”),
probably to establish the magazine on Carlo Collodi’s
(the author of Pinocchio) fame. Collodi was in fact Lorenzini’s grandfather.
In issue 7, Topolino started
looking a bit more like an official Disney character. The Disney copyright was
added and although strange Mickey strips carried on being published, they now
included a sentence stating : “Story created and drawn
by Walt Disney”. In May 1933, in parallel to Topolino,
Nerbini launched the huge “Supplemento
di Topolino” that would
last two years.
Till the end of 1934, however, the print run of Topolino never topped the 50.000 copies. In the meantime
the Milanese editor Arnoldo Mondadori
had bought the Disney rights to publish the weekly magazine “I Tre Porcelini” (“The Three Little
Pigs”) and launched its first issue on March
28, 1935. That same year Nerbini sold its
license to Mondadori and on August 11, 1935, with issue 137, Topolino started being published in Milan.
In February 1937, Mondadori
stopped the publication of “I Tre Porcelini”
to focus on Topolino and on the new Donald Duck
weekly magazine that was launched on December 31st, 1937 under the
title “Paperino e Altre Avventure” (Donald Duck and Other Adventures). The Italian
tradition of locally produced Disney stories (that would evolve after the war
in what is now known as the “Disney Italian
School”) was once again at work in Paperino. Whereas interior stories were drawn by American
artists like Taliaferro, the cover presented a story
by Italian artist Federico Pedrocchi, “Paolino Paperino e il misterio
di Marte” (Donald Duck and
the Mystery of Mars). The last issue of Paperino was
number 149 published on October 26,
1940. In war time, Mondadori started
concentrating again on its main title, Topolino.
Staring in 1938, the Ministry of Popular Culture had imposed
very restrictive measures to publishers. No imported material was supposed to
be published in magazines. Topolino remained
unchanged till the war, however, thanks to the support of Mussolini whose love
for Mickey was well known.
The pressure of the war, though, forced the magazine to
reduce the number of pages to 20, 15, 8 and finally the absolute minimum of 6
in December 1943. A Mickey head remained in the header, but starting in issue 478
of February 10, 1942, the
Mickey strips disappeared, replaced by strips of Tuffolino,
an Italian copy plagiarizing the Gottfredson strips.
On December 21st,
1943, with issue 564, Topolino stopped
being published for two years. After the end of the war, on December 15, 1945, it resumed its
course. The last issue of the old Topolino series,
number 738 was bought by readers on April
15th, 1949. It contained the next to last instalment of
the story “Topolino e il Cobra Bianco” (Topolino and the White Cobra) by Guido Martina who would
become one of the masters of the Disney Italian tradition.
Two weeks later, the first issue of the new series of Topolino, much smaller, much thicker, was launched by Mondadori. It remains more than 50 years later, one of the
most popular Disney publications in Europe.
Le Journal de Mickey becomes part of French culture
In August 1997, a French man of Hungarian origin received
posthumously the Disney Legend award. His name : Paul
Winkler. His glory year : 1934. While the “Topolino” magazine is still struggling to achieve fame in Italy
with a meagre 50.000 copies sold per week, he launches on October 21st, 1934 a magazine of
almost similar format that reaches right away a circulation of 300.000 copies
per week. “Le Journal de Mickey” was born. For all of us, collectors, it is
important to mention that two “test issues” – number 01 dated June 1st,
1934 and number 2 of October 14th, 1934 – were released before the
official number 1.
Unlike Topolino, Le Journal de
Mickey started right from the beginning as an official Disney magazine. In
fact, Winkler had even travelled to London
in 1933 to meet with Walt, in order to get his “go ahead”. From number 1 to
number 296, Le Journal de Mickey knows its golden age. Its cover is divided between
the Silly Symphony strip at the tope – whose dialogues are translated in verses
by Leon See – and the Gottfredson Mickey Mouse at the
But in 1939 hell breaks loose in the world, once again. In
June 1940, Germany
One day before, the “Armistice” is asked by Petain,
number 296 – by far the rarest issue of Le Journal de Mickey – is published
among complete chaos. The date : June 16, 1940. Paul Winkler, Jewish, pursued by
the nazis, manages to flee to the United States.
Le Journal de Mickey moves its offices to Marseille, in the South of France, in
the so called “free zone”. In September 1940, the publication of the magazine
resumes. But the lack of paper forces it to reduce its format and Mickey
himself disappears starting with issue 390. Little by little, all of the other America
series are also replaced, till only an empty shell is left full of second rate
French series. Le Journal de Mickey dies in July 1944, with issue 477.
From March 1947 to March 1953 (during 313 issues!), Paul
Winkler tries to revive the formula with “Hardi presente Donald” (Hardi presents
Donald). The format and content are the same as those of the pre-war Journal de
Mickey but the audience is fading, faced with this old fashioned children
It is only when Winkler meets an other French Disney Legend,
entrepreneur Armand Bigle, that the Journal de Mickey’s saga is ready to resume. On June 1st, 1952, the new
series of the Le Journal de Mickey – with a modern design inspired by Life
Magazine – is launched to great applause. But that is already an other story that extends to the present.
Acknowledgments: My sincere thanks to Leonardo Gori and Eta Beta for the
illustrations they provided for the Italian part of this article.
Sources: “Disney Comics” by Alberto Becattini (Editrice Comic Art,
1995); “Happy Birthday Mickey – 50 Ans d’Histoire du Journal de Mickey”
by Michel R. Mandry (Editions du
Before the Spanish Civil War : Mickey, Revista Infantile Ilustrada
From Florence to Milan, from Milan to Paris
and Marseille, from Marseille to… Barcelona.
Not even 5 months after the first issue of the French Journal de Mickey, on
March 7th, 1935, in the north of Spain, the third of the European
Disney weeklies, Mickey – Revista Infantil
Ilustrada (Mickey – Illustrated Child Magazine), was
Almost totally similar to Le Journal de Mickey, published by
Editorial Molino, it would, unfortunately become one of the shortest lived
pre-war Disney publications. In July 1936, Spain
is about to enter 3 years of civil war. On August 8th, 1936, after only 74 issues, the
Spanish Mickey ceases its activities.
On an Island with the English Mickey Mouse Weekly
While Mickey – Revista Infantil Ilustrada held the
record of the lowest issues published, the English Mickey Mouse Weekly twenty
years later would hold the opposite one with a total of 920 issues.
The first one was released on February 8th, 1936. William B. Levy, European
Sales Director of Walt Disney Merchandise, was, of course, the main responsible
for the launch. In 1935 he started recruiting the magazine’s staff. Not
surprisingly, the first artist hired was Wilfred Haughton, who had been drawing
Mickey in the Mickey Mouse Annuals published earlier by Dean. Basil Reynolds
was the second key artist player in the team. He had obtained his position on
the strength of his comic strip in the Daily Sketch called “Billy the Baby
Beetle”. Mickey Mouse Weekly’s staff soon settled in Wardour Street, in Soho,
where two more artists joined it : Victor Ibbitson and Miss Phyllis Thorpe.
As all its European brothers, the Mickey Mouse Weekly
magazine looked like a large newspaper and contained King Features Syndicate
strips. But it differentiated itself thanks to the amazingly rich colour cover
illustrations created by Wilfred Haughton. Those were soon reaused
or copied in France,
and Sweden. In
addition, the publisher Odhams Press,
did a fantastic colour job. Mickey Mouse Weekly became the first coloured comic
to be printed photogravure. The public appreciated :
more than 500.000 copies of the first issue were sold !
When the war started, during the blitz, the offices were
evacuated to Chorley Wood. Although the format was
reduced due to lack of paper and the “weekly” dropped from the title in
September 1941, as the magazine started being published every two weeks, the
magazine never stopped being released at any time during the war and even
published a Victory Issue on June 2nd,
1945. And so it lived its long life, almost unchanged till December 28th, 1957 when
a court case stated that Odhams Press no longer
possessed the magazine’s copyright. The editor Holding tried to re-launch the
title from 1958 to 1959 as “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse”, then from 1959 to 1961
as “Walt Disney’s Weekly” but without success. The long golden age of Mickey
Mouse Weekly was past.
Sources: “Disney Comics” by Alberto Becattini (Editrice Comic Art,
1995); “The Mickey Mouse Weekly” by W.O.G. Lofts (Magical Moments and Memories,
issue 6, Winter 1994)
Mickey magazines in Yugoslavia
One aspect of Disneyana history
that has been seldom discussed, if ever, includes all items ever produced
before the war in Central and Eastern Europe. I will
cover that subject very soon in Tomart’s Disneyana. The exploration of this virgin field, however,
must start right away, as no less than four Disney publications were born in Belgrade
before the war! Extremely rich and qualitative publications
at that, although none of them possessed the Disney copyright.
Aleksandar J. Ivkovic
was born in Russia
in 1894, came to Serbia,
married a Serbian girl and took her name. After his arrival in Serbia,
he founded the publishing and printing house called “Rus”
and then (in 1937) created the “Universum Press”
company, which produced, published and distributed comics.
On March 21st,
1936, Aleksandar J. Ivkovic
launched the comics magazine Mika Mis
(Mickey Mouse), the first official Disney magazine in Serbia
that would be published till Friday
April 4th, 1941 (number 504), two days before the German
bombs started raining on Belgrade.
The actual last issue, number 505, was released on October 8th, 1941 and was immediately
forbidden by the nazis.
Mika Mis, as its little brothers
in other European countries, in addition to Mickey stories created by local
Serbian artists, published a lot of material distributed by King Features
Syndicate. Its team included excellent artists like Nikola
Navojev who drew some of the local Mickey strips and
the very talented Vlastimir Belkic
who created the greatest part of its Disney strips as well as many of its
covers. Those covers represented Disney characters, during the first hundred
(and some) issues. Then they started featuring also other King Features
On February 15, 1936, Mickey gave its name to a second
Serbian publication : Mikijeve Novine
(Mickey’s Journal), thanks to D. Dragicevic that run
the magazine till issue 40 and to J. Lazarevic that
followed him till its last issue, number 64, was released on October 15, 1938. Mikijeve Novine included US
Disney stories (unlike Mika Mis) as well as Disney
covers drawn by local artists.
Of course, true to his character, Donald would not let
Mickey be the only player in Serbia
and so, on October 2, 1938,
the Paja Patak (Donald
Duck) magazine was launched by Djuradj M. Jelicic. It did not feature Disney covers, did not include
Disney comics (neither local nor American), and although a little Donald face
was included on its cover, it did not last long. Its
last issue was number 24, sold on January18, 1939.
The fourth publication was luckier. Mikijevo
Carstvo (Mickey’s Empire) was launched on February 23rd, 1939 by Milutin S. Ignajacevic, the
former editor-in-chief of Mika Mis. He managed to
attract to his venture the leading scenarist Branko Vidic as well as the very
skilled artist Nikola Navojev
and Djordje Lobacev (Djordje authored quite a few of its covers). Despite its
name, Mikijevo Carstvo did
not feature any Disney cover and published only one or two Disney stories,
created by local artists. Of all the Serbian comics magazines printed till the
war, Mikijevo Carstvo was
the last to die, on April 9th,
1941, with 217 issues released.
Beside Mika Mis, Mikijeve Novine, Paja Patak and Mikijevo Carstvo, one must also
mention two other Yugoslavian publications that may be counted as “Disney
publications” : “Strip”, the comics magazine published
in Belgrade from April 10th, 1935 till June 4th, 1936 (63 issues)
included a Mickey face in its title, starting with issue 21. “Strip” had some
issues translated in Hungarian and Slovak. “Truba”
(The Trumpet), for its part, did not have a Mickey in its title, but did
sometimes use Disney covers inspired by Mickey Mouse Weekly. It was published
from March 1934 to Oct. 15th
1938 with a total of 55 issues.
Those 6 Yugoslavian magazines are extremely rare to find
today. No wonder, the most successful of them, Mika Mis,
had a pick circulation of only 30.000 copies. A nightmare and
a delight for collectors.
My sincere thanks to comic book historian Zdravko Zupan for the invaluable information and illustrations he
provided for this article and that completed those already included in “Disney
Comics” by Alberto Becattini (Editrice
Comic Art, 1995), as well as to Caterina Tarasco for the translations in French of Becattini’s book that helped me write this article.
A Swiss excursion : Micky Maus
The only major European country that did not have its Disney
magazine before the war was obviously Germany.
Hitler had come to power in January 1933. But there was, nonetheless, a Disney
magazine in German published in… Switzerland.
Micky Maus Zeitung was born thanks to publisher Bollmann
from Zurich, in December 1936 (when
its issue 0 was released) and lived till September 1937 (issue number 18).
Issue 0 contained a competition that asked kids to give
names to Disney characters. In issue number 1, the results were published and
Donald therefore became known for a while as Schnatterish
(the Tittle-tattle). Most of the splendid covers of Micky
Maus Zeitung came directly
from the English Mickey Mouse Weekly.
goes North with Musse Pigg Tidningen
In the mid ‘30s, Walt Disney Productions sent to Sweden
its representative, Robert Hartman, to supervise the merchandise produced in
the Scandinavian countries and that was distributed by a company called Sagokonst (The Art of Fables). During that trip, Hartman
noticed a small studio called L’Ataljé Dekoratör that had produced some of the illustrated cards
published by Sagokonst. The Disney characters were
perfectly “on-model” and Hartman decided to contract that studio to see if its
artists would contribute to a project that he had in mind :
the Swedish equivalent of the English Mickey Mouse Weekly. The studio staff was
quite interested and in 1937 a new magazine called Musse
igg Tidningen (Mickey Mouse
Magazine) was published by L’Ataljé Dekoratör.
Tidningen was a very high quality magazine. Although
it was published on a monthly basis and no more than 23 issues were released (8
in 1937 and 15 in 1938), its importance in the history of Disney comics is
It was the first comic magazine ever in Sweden
and most of the stories it published were locally created thanks to scenarist Roland Romell and
artists Birger Allernäs,
Lars Bylund and Åke Skjöld. As was the case for Micky
Maus Zeitung, Mika Mis and some special issues of Le Journal de Mickey, part
of the covers of Musse Pigg
Tidningen came directly from the splendid Mickey
Acknowledgments: My sincere thanks to Caterina Tarasco who translated
crucial Italian sources and to Caroline Jung who did the same for references in
German used to write this article.
Sources : “Wie Micky Unter
die Nazi Fiel“ by Casten Laqua (Rowohlt, 1992); Disney
Comics” by Alberto Becattini (Editrice
Comic Art, 1995);
From Eastern Europe to Palestine
going through Mexico
Before we conclude this series of articles, let’s travel to
three very different regions of the world to look for other Disney magazines of
a publication called “Miki Eger” is rumoured to have
been published in the mid ‘30s. Unfortunately, I have been unable, to this
date, to find proof of the fact.
however, the evidence is there. Although not “official”, Disney magazines
existed. Three publications, at least, used Disney characters on their covers
during the ‘30s.
First, “Paquito”, that also
published Mickey and other Disney strips between 1935 and 1943 and whose Disney
covers, created locally, are often splendid, but totally disregard copyright
laws. “Paquin”, then, that featured some Disney
characters on its covers in the mid ‘30s with as much care for copyrights as Paquito. Finally “Chamaco Chico”
that contained some Donald Duck (renamed El Pato Pascual) strips from around 1939 to 1948.
The holly land will be the last stop of this long journey,
as we just found out, to our utter amazement, that two issues of a Disney
magazine of small newspaper like proportions, were
published in Palestine, in 1947, to
celebrate the Jewish new year, Hanukah, only 8 months before the birth of Israel.
Thus ends the saga of the Mickey Mouse “newspapers” that
started on new year’s eve 1932 in the splendid city of
Florence, in Italy
and concluded itself under the sun of Palestine
during the Jewish new year. A saga that still has a strong
impact on Disney’s perception on the old continent. Mickey might have
travelled there aboard Steamboat Willie, for most Europeans, though,
he was born in a comic magazine.
And for many he was not even known as Mickey!
Acknowledgments: My sincere thanks to Ulises Mavridis who provided the
information and illustrations related to Mexican comics.