Welcome to the two-hundred and thirty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and thirty-six.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Music Legends Revealed to read a story about whether Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize caused Tom Lehrer to quit doing satirical songs.
COMIC LEGEND: All American comics were banned in Fascist Italy…except Mickey Mouse!
As you might imagine, what with the government of a country coming up with reasons why it was okay to exterminate millions of people (lots of whom were its own citizens), things were kind of messed up in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. There were some strange arguments being made to justify whatever the heck the government wanted to do.
That was true in Nazi Germany (where they felt the need to counter a Superman comic strip, for crying out loud) and it was true in Fascist Italy.
One of the major aspects of fascism was that the state, the nation, was effectively part of your being. Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy from 1922 until 1943, said in 1922, “For us the nation is not just territory but something spiritual… A nation is great when it translates into reality the force of its spirit.”
This sense of nationalism grew as time went by, and you’d be amazed at the things that the Italian government would get themselves involved in. For instance, they actually sought to keep non-Italian TOYS from Italian children! Yes, they felt that foreign TOYS were a bad influence upon Italian children!
So it is of little surprise to note that eventually, the government turned their eyes to comics.
By the late 1930s, imported American comics were quite popular in Italy. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Popeye – all the big names were brought over (initially by Italian comic creators just using the characters without permission, but eventually with official comics).
But in 1938, the fear of foreign influences messing with their children led to a pronouncement by the Ministry of Popular Culture that all foreign comic strips were hereby banned from Italy. Italy’s popular comics (which were in newspaper form, similar to, say, Wednesday Comics) were to be only Italian-made comics!
What most publishers did was simply change the name of the characters and the creators of the comic and pretended that the comic was Italian.
Here is a 1940 Popeye comic strip under its Italian name, “Il Monarca di Roccaverza” (Monarch of Roccaverza) – while often they would come up with a fake name for the creator, here they just dropped EC Segar’s byline…
(Click on the page to enlarge)
While that was the case for every other comic strip, Mickey Mouse had a powerful fan in Italy who made things easier for him – Benito Mussolini himself!
Mussolini and his family were big fans of the Mouse, so after the edict, Mussolini allowed an exception for the Disney character, and Mickey continued to star in his own strips (the magazine was actually named after Mickey – Topolino, meaning “little mouse”) along with the same Walt Disney credit that appeared in America (the strip though, of course, was being done by the great Floyd Gottfredson).
(Click on the page to enlarge)
This was the case right up until February of 1942, when even Mussolini could not justify publishing an American cartoon when Italy was officially at war with the United States, so the strip was replaced by Tuffolino, an Italian Mickey knock-off.
The magazine (which had already shrunk in size from 20 pages all the way down to 6 pages by 1943) ceased publication in 1943 and picked back up in 1945.
That version of the magazine ended in 1949, and the series was relaunched in comic book format.
This Topolino series was exceptionally popular in Italy for decades.
Thanks to Ron Harris and his neat site, Words and Pictures, for the Topolino scans!
COMIC LEGEND: Walt Simonson and Chris Claremont re-worked an unpublished Carmine Infantino issue of John Carter of Mars into an issue of Star Wars.
In 1977, Marvel tried to re-create their Conan licensing success by licensing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars character.
Even though the series had a lot of strong talent working on it (Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane launched the title, and Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson and others worked on the series), it was over by late 1979. The last issue published was the third Annual.
However, when it was canceled, Marvel still had some fill-in work by Carmine Infantino in their files.
So a year or so later, Walt Simonson and Chris Claremont were given an odd task – take a fill-in Infantino did for John Carter and turn it into a Star Wars story!
And really, they did a marvelous job, with Simonson drawing a few pages as a framing sequence (aping Infantino wonderfully) and then adapting Infantino’s art where need be.
Check it out (the first two pages are just Leia thinking back upon her home planet of Alderaan’s destruction)….
Pretty darn impressive, no?
Thanks to Roger Ash and Eric Nolen-Weathington for their great book, Modern Masters: Walt Simonson, for getting the information from Simonson, and thanks, of course, to Walt for being so forthcoming!
COMIC LEGEND: Joe Devlin created Millie the Model.
While the internet is a great resource for spreading misinformation, it’s also a great source for FIXING misinformation, and we can thank Don Markstein, of the always amazing Toonopedia, for correcting a long-standing error due to two similar names.
We honestly do not know who created Mille the Model, which was Marvel’s longest-running humor magazine.
Launched in 1945, with art by Ruth Atkinson and a script by Stan Lee, it is unclear if either of those two were the actual creators of the character.
Originally a more sedate humor book (a young Mike Sekowsky drew the first year or so of the title)…
it became a more Archie-style book when the great Dan DeCarlo joined forces with Stan Lee in the late 1940s. The two would do the book for the next ten years!!!
DeCarlo was followed by Stan Goldberg…
As you can tell, both DeCarlo and Goldberg ended up at Archie Comics, where DeCarlo’s art became effectively the house style for Archie Comics (and where Goldberg still works!).
Goldberg stayed on the book through the late 1960s, including a mid-60s attempt to turn the title into a romance comic…
He also returned to the book in the early 1970s, when it turned back to a humor book, before its cancellation in 1973.
In any event, for years, writer/artist Joe Devlin was credited with the creation of Millie the Model.
However, that was due to a simple misunderstanding between two similar characters!
Devlin introduced, in the pages of Quality Comics’ Crack Comics #1 (in 1940)…
(the same comic that the original Black Condor and The Spider made their debuts)…
MOLLY the Model!
And Don figured out the mistake, and he now has us all informed!
So thanks, Don, for the sleuthing!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you next week!