Today is Mickey Mouse's official birthday. Created in 1928 he featured in a handful of short films before being distributed successfully in his officially recognised debut film, Steamboat Willie.
According to legend, Disney began sketching ideas for a new mouse character after a rights issue and fallout over his character Oswald involving Universal Studios. Those ideas were refined by Ub Iwerks, his chief animator and draftsman.
In his first and unsuccessful cartoon, Plane Crazy, released in 1928, the world's most famous rodent lures Minnie onto an airplane, where his repeated attempts to force his kisses on her eventually cause her to parachute out of the plane. His second appearance, the Gallopin' Gaucho based on a film of the same year Douglas Fairbanks's The Gaucho saw him tobacco chewing, beer drinking and generally mischievous. A character for adults.
Mickey made his first comic strip appearance on January 13, 1930. The comical plot was credited to Walt Disney himself, art to Ub Iwerks and inking to Win Smith. The first week or so of the strip featured a loose adaptation of Plane Crazy. Minnie soon became the first addition to the cast. The strips first released between January 13, 1930 and March 31 1930 have been occasionally reprinted in comic book form under the collective title "Lost on a Desert Island".
While Disney and his cartoon animations continued to focus on comedy, the comic strip effectively combined comedy and adventure. This adventurous version of Mickey appeared in comic strips and later comic books throughout the 20th and into the 21st century.
Floyd Gottfredson, who was responsible for the comic, left his mark with stories such as Mickey Mouse Joins the Foreign Legion (1936) and The Gleam (1942). He also created the Phantom Blot, Eega Beeva, Morty and Ferdie, Captain Churchmouse, and Butch. The next artist to leave his mark on the strip was Paul Murry whose first tale appeared in 1950 but began to work regularly with "The Last Resort" (1953). In Italy, Romano Scarpa in Topolino reused the Phantom Blot and Eega Beeva, and created Atomo Bleep-Bleep. Under Western Publishing Mickey was characterised as a Sherlock Holmes detective until editor Byron Erickson at Egmont and Cesar Ferioli returned Mickey to classic adventures.
Disney originally called the mouse Mortimer, but Disney’s wife, Lillian, apparently disliked that name and suggested Mickey. He went on to become one of the most beloved characters of popular culture with both adults and children of the 20th century, and his round ears became the brand image of Disney.
He had a makeover in 1935, and according to Time magazine, Mickey also appeared in color for the first time that year; The Band Concert's use of Technicolor was so innovative that critics still consider it to be a masterpiece.
He has played leading roles in a number of animated versions of classical stories such as Charles Dickens' Scrooge. Mickey portrays Bob Cratchit in "Mickey's Christmas Carol".
The eighty-year old icon has maintained youthful continuity for Disney as new characters have come along. Most recently in Disneyland Anaheim, he joined "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus with more than 5,000 fans to sing her "Happy Birthday" on October 5, 2008 at her "Sweet 16" birthday party, a park-wide gala attended by dozens of celebrities and fans from around the world.
Mickey's own birthday seems to be a much quieter affair, with little on Disney's website or much fuss. But perhaps that's just what the octogenarian would want? Or perhaps he's just too busy? Together with Minnie Mouse, he posed for photos at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India on October 30th, 2008. The cartoon characters are in India for a special live event titled "The Mickey Mouse Show" in New Delhi and Mumbai, this November, in which they dance Bollywood style and speak in Hindi.
He seems to adapt well to travel, new audiences and young people. His characteristics and good guy image have developed, differing significantly from his first offering, in Plane Crazy (see below) featuring social, racial and ethical stereotypes of the day. Manga and anime fans recently told me at the Frankfurt Book Fair, that they also watch Mickey Mouse regularly, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Perhaps very much a character for our time. He combines comedy with adventure. His modern personality encompasses a dashing smile, eternal optimism and perseverance in the face of difficulty. With so many talents he will surely remain around for generations to come.