A History of International Disney Magazines before the War



Part 1/5


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 Italy, France, Spain, England, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Switzerland and Sweden before 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 LorenziniCollodi’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 bottom.


But in 1939 hell breaks loose in the world, once again. In June 1940, Germany invades France. 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 newspaper.


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 Chene,1984).


Part 2/5


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 born.


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, Yugoslavia, Switzerland 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)



Part 3/5


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 (Yugoslavia) 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 Syndicate properties.


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.


Acknowledgments  : 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.


Part 4/5


A Swiss excursion : Micky Maus Zeitung


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.


Mickey 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.


Musse Pigg 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 undeniable.


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 Mouse Weekly.


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);



Part 5/5


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 newspaper size.


In Hungary, 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.


In Mexico, 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.