Vintage Disneyana in Eastern
Europe – Part 1
For close to 50 years they were hidden behind a curtain. An iron curtain. In 1989 the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall
fell and a treasure trove was revealed.
Eastern European Disney items had been produced, as in the
rest of Europe, since the ‘30s. Although production of
those items dwindled when the Cold War started in 1947, some still appeared
after World War II in unlikely places.
One will need many more years to write a comprehensive
history of vintage Disneyana in Eastern
Europe. This article simply intends to be the fist foray into this
fascinating new field.
Were there Mickey items released in the ‘30s in the Czech
Republic – which before 1993 was
still part of Czechoslovakia?
Very likely. However, the first piece of Disneyana from that country that we know of is a 1935
translation of the Blue Ribbon book telling the story of The Three Little Pigs.
It was probably around 1938 that RKO, to promote the release
of Snow White, issued a beautiful series of postcards based on a design it had
already used on the French and the UK
markets. Snow White was certainly perceived as needed relief by the Czech
population at the time Hitler was eyeing Czechoslovakia
as a prey to be soon devoured by his army, a process that started in 1938.
On February 15,
1940, a little dog called Punta was also to welcome Snow White in Czechoslovakia.
From its issue 76 and probably until sometime during the year 1942 the children
magazine Punta published Disney comics distributed by King Features Syndicate,
starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Three Little Pigs and
carrying on with Pinocchio.
It certainly looks as if the soothing power of Disney’s Snow
White had not lost its magic, even after the war, since at least two books
about the beautiful princess were released in 1945 in Czechoslovakia.
One doesn’t know if any Disney items were released before
World War II in Poland.
In 1939 and till 1945 the country was drawn into World War II. Due to its
particular history and its location between Germany
violence of all natures hit its territory with particular harshness. In 1947,
after the end of the war, communists took over.
1946, therefore, was the only relatively peaceful year the
Polish people experienced since 1939. It was during
that year that the Publishing Cooperative Wiedza
released its version of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Hungarian artist Bisztriczky may have interpreted Mickey in his own personal
way for a strange postcard printed in Budapest
in the ‘30s, it remains, nonetheless that Hungarian Disney books published at
the time were quite faithful to copyright laws and Disney quality
is very likely to be the Eastern European country that published the largest
number of Disney books before World War II. The publisher Palladis
Kiadása was at the origin of this very rich
catalogue. In 1934 it released Mickey in Giant
Land, in 1935 The Three Little
Pigs. Both books were translations of the Blue Ribbon versions. It is assumed
that quite a few other translations were released at the time.
Later (in 1938 and 1941), Palladis
Kiadása issued books telling the story of Snow White
and Pinocchio. Those were not based on an earlier Blue Ribbon version.
Unfortunately, World War II - that Hungary
fought on the Axis side – seems to have put a stop to Palladis
In next issue we will travel to Yugoslavia
where quite a few additional surprises await us.
in Eastern Europe – Part 2
In a previous article published in TDU 44 (?) we told the
story of Disney magazines in Yugoslavia
before WWII : Mika Mis, Mikijeve Novine, Paja Patak, Mikijevo
Carstvo, Strip and Truba.
Before the first one of those magazines – Mika Mis –
appeared in Serbia,
however, Mickey had been featured in quite a few other Yugoslavian
In 1932, Mickey Mouse comics had be seen, for the first time
in the country, in the pages of the children magazine Veseli
Cetvrtak (Joyful Thursday), the first children
magazine to be published in Yugoslavia.
The first Mickey story to appear was “Dozivljaji Mike
Misa” (“The Life of Mika the Mouse”) which had been
redrawn by Serbian artist Ivan Sensin and re-written
by Bozidar Kovacevic. Veseli Cetvrtak would cease
publication in 1933.
A short time later, Mickey was also seen in the children
section of the daily newspaper Vreme, in a story
called “Dozivljaji Misa
Mike i Majmuna Djoke” (“The Life of the Mouse Mika and the Monkey Djoka”), created by the Russian Sergij
The daily newspaper Politika had
been the first one in Yugoslavia
to create a children section, in 1930. From October 21, 1934 till the end of
1935, Politika published in that section Mickey and
Donald strips, as well as Silly Symphonies translated into Serbian by newsmen Duda Timotijevic, Bata Vukadinovic and even by the owner and director of Politika : Vladislav Ribnikar.
On April 25, 1935
and till September 30, 1936,
Mickey travelled to Zagreb, capital
of Croatia. The
magazine Crtani Film that would last little more than
a year, had been created by Ivan Zrnic, distributed
in both Serbia
and Croatia and
carried Mickey Mouse Sunday pages on its cover – recreated by little known
Mickey also appeared shortly in strange Serbian stories on
the cover of an other magazine released around the
same time: Crveni Vrabac
(The Red Sparrow) created by Jovan Grdanicki and
published in Belgrade from October 3, 1936 till December 5, 1936 for a total of 10
After having created Mika Mis in
March 1936, entrepreneur A.J. Ivkovic decided it was
time to expand and started Zabavnik, a sort of
strip-cartoon album reprinting the old Gottfredson
comics from Mika Mis. Zabavnik
would live from October 31, 1936
Finally, as if all of this was not enough, Gottfredson dailies were also featured in Politikin Zabavnik, the special
edition of the newspaper Politika, whose pre-WWII
life started on February 28, 1939
and would stop with issue 220 on April
4, 1941, two days before Hitler’s attack of Yugoslavia.
Disney may have been known before that date or in other Russian cities, but it
is there and then that Disney characters shone the brightest in the newly
During the 1935 Moscow Film Festival Disney not only
presented three shorts: The Three Little Pigs, Peculiar Penguins and The Band
Concert, he also won a well-deserved award. The small orange program of that
Festival, featuring one of the peculiar penguins on its cover has become,
needless to say, one of the most coveted Russian Disney collectibles.
The Russian poster of The Three Little Pigs that appears in
a photograph reproduced in the book The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch
was probably released around that same year.
The Three Little Pigs actually seem to have reached an
amazing level of fame in Russia
at the time. At least two books telling their story were issued before WWII by
the publisher Izdatelstva Detskoď
Literaturi controlled by none other than the youth
organisation (Komsomol) of the communist party! One
of those two books - released in 1937 in Moscow
and Leningrad and then in 1938 by
Caucasian publisher Ordzo – is based on the Blue
Ribbon version of the tale. The other one, smaller, saw the light of day
earlier, in 1936 in Moscow and Leningrad.
An interesting tidbit: the names of the pugs in the
Russian translation of the story are the same as the French ones. French
influence was still strong in Russia
in those years.
Walt Disney’s works were surprisingly well received in the USSR
before WWII, even under Stalin. The Cold War changed things radically. And it
is therefore absolutely amazing to realise that an original biography of Walt
titled “Jučn i Shački Iolta Disneya”
by Č.M. Arnoldi was released in the USSR
in 1967 when Brejnev was in power!
What other strange surprises does this new Disneyana field hold in store ?
Now that the curtain is lifted the grasping Eastern show can begin!
Acknowledgments: My sincere thanks to comic book
historian Zdravko Zupan for
the invaluable information and illustrations he provided for the Yugoslavian
part of this article, which completed those already included in “Disney Comics”
by Alberto Becattini (Editrice
Comic Art, 1995).