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!
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