No corporate entity is more synonymous with the pure and simple magic of childhood than Disney. That being said, when you’ve been around for as long as Disney it’s impossible to not have a few dancing skeletons in your closet. Try as they might to distance themselves from it, Disney has released its fair share of content over the years that simply wouldn’t fly today. However, it wasn’t just Disney’s cartoons and films that contained content that might shock modern audiences. In addition to their animated features, Disney’s original characters have also been appearing in comics nearly as long as they’ve existed.
This dates all the way back to the daily Mickey Mouse comic strip published by King Features, which began in 1930, only two years after Mickey’s official debut in Steamboat Willie. Since then, comics based on Disney characters, particularly those featuring Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and of course Mickey Mouse, have been massively popular the world over. As you can imagine, this means that there are just as many (if not more) disturbing comic stories that have made their way out of the Mouse House over the years. Here below is just a small sampling of what we found.
15. WINNIE THE POOH IS A JERK
Regardless of where you were first exposed to Winnie the Pooh and the rest of the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood, a few things have been consistent across every one of Disney’s portrayals of the character. Pooh may be forgetful and have an arguably unhealthy relationship with honey, but he’s always been shown to be a kind and loyal friend.
That’s why our first entry, the Winnie the Pooh comic strip written by Don Ferguson and drawn by Richard Moore, is so jarring (and hilarious) to read. Beginning in 1978, the strip ran for 10 years and regularly portrayed Pooh & friends to be a bunch of jerks to each other. In fact, some of the strips seem so out of character for a Disney production that our own Brian Cronin was asked to prove that the comics were real.
14. EXPLOITING MENTAL BREAKDOWNS (FOR MONEY)
Our next entry is the first to feature the talents of the legendary Carl Barks. Concepts and characters like Donald’s hometown of Duckberg, his treasure hunting uncle Scrooge and their rivals The Beagle Boys were all created by Barks during his nearly uninterrupted work with Disney from 1942-1974. His 1957 story The Golden River, saw Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie trying to take advantage of Scrooge’s mental illness for money.
After realizing the dry season is causing his money pile to shrink, Scrooge becomes increasingly anxious about feeling poor. Hoping Scrooge will give them a donation for a youth center, his nephews convince him to try blowing hot air into the pile, causing his Money Bin to crack. Scrooge finally loses it and his doctor orders him to take a vacation under the care of his nephews. Donald and the boys use this as an opportunity to convince their unstable relative that the titular Golden River is being controlled by a magic Dwarf King who will reward him with gold if he’s generous to the needy.
13. MINI MICKEYS GETTING KILLED
Like a surprising number of children’s nursery rhymes, the song 10 Little Indians has a pretty dark origin. In the original piece, half of the “Little Indians” meet some sort of untimely demise. In 1935, the rhyme was (for some reason) adapted for Mickey Mouse Annual #6 by writer/artist Wilfred Haughton and artist Floyd Gotfredson, and many of the “Little Mickeys” don’t fare much better.
Across the five page comic we see these mini Mickeys getting attacked or eaten by several large animals, being blown up by fireworks, and even getting torn up in a helicopter propeller. The most disturbing part about it is that they seem gleeful to charge toward their own destruction. The second to last panel even says of the only two Mickeys that make it out alive, “Two little Mickey Kids do their best to die, never come to any harm no matter what they try.”
12. DONALD DUCK TRIED TO BUILD AN ATOM BOMB
Our next pick is another Barks story all about Donald Duck’s efforts to build an Atomic Bomb. That’s right, Disney actually approved a comic about Donald Duck developing one of the most devastating weapons in the history of the human race. In fact, this comic is one of the few we’ll cover that’s actually been banned by Disney from being reprinted in its original format.
Was it because Disney felt uncomfortable about the idea of one of their beloved characters being depicted as trying to build a weapon of mass destruction? No! They were concerned that Donald came off as “mean” because when the radiation from his experiments caused people to lose their hair, he decided to quit working on the bomb to charge them for another invention, Dr. Duck’s Atomic Hair Grower.
11. MICKEY MOUSE BOMBED NAZIS
As we’ve discussed in the past, American comics (like most American media) have a rich tradition of seeing its heroes taking on Nazis. That being said, it may come as a surprise to many of our readers to see none other than Mickey Mouse acting as an agent of the U.S. government against Nazi Germany.
Mickey’s first efforts to fight the rising tide of fascism came in a 1943 story plotted by Floyd Gotfredson, drawn by Dick Moores and scripted by Bill Walsh which saw the local Chief of Police asking Mickey to pose as a gasoline truck driver to suss out a Nazi spy ring. After the success of this mission, the same creative team wrote an ongoing story that saw Mickey take a secret mission to Berlin, where after being captured by the Nazis, Mickey escapes and goes on a strafing run of Germany before capturing Hitler himself.
10. DONALD DUCK HAS PTSD
If you’re a fan of cartoon history, you likely already know that Donald was featured in a number of propaganda cartoons, which saw him doing things like fighting Japanese soldiers. As a result, the theory that Donald’s trademark rage is actually a sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a popular one. The most significant piece of evidence to support this theory comes from another comic by Barks published in 1945 titled, The Icebox Robber.
In it, Donald has been sleep walking and eating food from his fridge, but believes his nephews are responsible. To prove their innocence, the boys set up firecrackers to wake Donald up the next time he sleep walks. This massively backfires when the poor Duck awakens to have an actual WWII flashback. Donald precedes to scream in terror, “I’m in a minefield! Machine Guns ahead! It’s a Jap ambush, to arms!” before chasing his nephews around the house with a weapon.
9. SCROOGE TOOK OVER AN ISLAND BY PRETENDING TO BE A GOD
Our next entry is the Barks story, Race to the South Seas!, which originally appeared on the pages of March of Comics #41 in 1949. The story follows Donald Duck (aided by his nephews) and his cousin, the unnaturally lucky Gladstone Gander, competing in a race to find their Uncle Scrooge, who has been lost at sea for some time.
When the competing cousins finally find Scrooge, he’s assumed control of an entire island’s native population by allowing them to worship him as a God. Scrooge informs Gladstone (who reached him first due to his luck) that he’s elected to stay and run his business from the island so that his family won’t interfere. For his efforts in finding his uncle, Gladstone is written out of Scrooge’s will, with Donald named his sole heir for staying out of his business.
8. SCROOGE DESTROYED A UTOPIAN SOCIETY
While we’re on the subject of Scrooge corrupting an entire society, Barks wrote another story that explored this concept in 1953 titled Tralla La for Uncle Scrooge #6. After suffering a nervous breakdown due to the stress of his work, Scrooge is unable to deal with handling or talking about money without backsliding.
Scrooge and his nephews travel to the mythical city of “Tralla La” (a play on the fictional city of Shangri-La found in the novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton). Scrooge begins feeling better, until he realizes the bottle caps he’s been discarding from his medicine have become the basis for a new monetary system in the former paradise. Hoping to alleviate the issue, Scrooge has hundreds of bottle caps airdropped in to the city. The city’s inhabitants are furious to find their fields effectively turned into landfills and the Ducks are forced to flee the utopia they’ve destroyed.
7. DONALD DUCK: ARSONIST
Our next comic is another Donald Duck story by Barks, titled The Firebug, which debuted in 1945 on the pages of Four Color Comics #108. The story saw Donald trip and bump his head while heading downstairs to start a fire for his nephews. As a result, Donald becomes a crazed, serial arsonist who gets into a conflict with a “fire cop” who turns out to be a doppelganger looking to steal Donald’s fire starting techniques for himself.
After helping the real cop escape and capture his evil twin Donald starts a fire in the courtroom using the judge’s trashcan, only to be awoken by one of his nephews. However, Barks’ original pages portrayed the events as reality and Donald ended up in jail. Western decided they couldn’t have an issue end with a Disney character behind bars so they had staff artist Carl Buettner redo the comic’s final two panels.
6. CASUAL RACISM
The next comic we’ll be focusing on, another Donald Duck story called Darkest Africa, is Barks’ most heavily censored work. Since its original publication in the U.S. for March of Comics #20 back in 1948, the story has never again been printed with its original artwork because of its racist depiction of Africans.
The story follows expert butterfly hunter Donald Duck (along with his nephews) on a trip to Africa to capture the world’s rarest species of butterfly. His rival on this mission, Professor McFiendy, hires a group of African “savages” (who also happen to be cannibals) to capture the Ducks. In every reprint of the comic since, significant alterations have been made to downplay their caricatured features, with at least one panel being removed entirely.
5. SCROOGE IMPRISONED A WOMAN
Another heavily censored Barks story is actually one of his most famous, Back to the Klondike. So much of Barks’ original story featured in Uncle Scrooge #2 was reworked that the 32 page story actually became a 27 page one. Thanks to a reprint in 1981 that published the full story though we now have the entirety of Barks’ original vision.
The story finds Scrooge and his nephews returning to the Klondike where he made his fortune. When they arrive, Scrooge tells the story of how he was swindled by Goldie, a dancer who drugged Scrooge and stole from him in his youth. When he returned to the saloon where they met to collect, Scrooge got in a massive bar fight and then effectively kidnapped Goldie to force her to work his claim for a month to work off the debt.
4. MICKEY MOUSE GETS GONORRHEA
In arguably our most disgusting entry on this list, paragon of virtue Mickey Mouse, is infected with Gonorrhea for a PSA in the April 1944 issue of LOOK magazine. The comic’s aim was to inform readers about the benefits of Sulfa Drugs, which were the first antibiotics used to treat the disease. In it, Mickey walks readers through the history of the drug’s creation and how Gonorrhea attacks the body.
Mickey plays the role of multiple scientists who were involved in the drug’s development, which leads to one particularly disturbing scene of Mickey infecting fairly realistic looking lab mice with the disease (which raises all sorts of questions). However, the worst panels discuss the dangers of overdosing on Sulfa Drugs with Mickey reeling from gulping down a bottle of pills. So not only are we accepting that Mickey Mouse has Gonorrhea, we’re also watching him overdose and potentially die.
3. MICKEY MOUSE ADOPTED A WEST AFRICAN “NATIVE”
We’ve already established Disney’s less than sterling reputation for the representation of Africans and African-Americans, but our next pick, the 1948 Disney storybook Mickey Mouse and the Boy Thursday, might be the worst of them all. While not technically a comic book, it did contain a number of incredibly offensive illustrations of Mickey and the titular Thursday.
However, the art is far from the most offensive part of the story. The book sees Mickey order a crate of West African bananas only to find “a genuine African native” inside instead. For the entirety of the story Thursday is basically treated like a dog. After naming this human being with a thinly-veiled reference to Robinson Crusoe’s Native American servant, the man Friday, Mickey proceeds to teach Thursday how to behave like a civilized person, since all he knows how to do is hunt, eat and worship. Seriously.
2. MICKEY MOUSE TRIED TO COMMIT SUICIDE (REPEATEDLY)
This next one is another pick from the Mickey Mouse comic strip, with Gotfredson on both art and writing duties this time around. Though Walt Disney was far too busy to contribute to the strip about his most famous creation, he did contribute one idea for the comic’s first arc: Mickey Mouse should try (and fail) to kill himself.
Inspired by a similar bit in the 1920 silent film Haunted Spooks, the strips found Mickey feeling suicidal after Minnie leaves him for another guy. He then proceeds to plan or attempt to kill himself in several different ways, including shooting himself, jumping off a bridge and hanging himself. Each strip ends with some ironic punchline about Mickey being afraid to die until he finally decides life is worth living when he makes friends with some squirrels who stop him from hanging himself.
1. GOOFY AND MICKEY MOUSE SOLD AMPHETAMINES
Our final entry, a comic strip called Mickey Mouse and the Medicine Man focuses entirely on the merits of amphetamines. To make matters worse, the comic was actually released as a promotion with General Mills and its Wheaties cereal, making this a bonafide pro-drug ad aimed directly at children.
The story depicts Goofy showing up to Mickey’s house with some new “stuff” named Peppo. After drinking it, Goofy literally leaps through the ceiling, while Mickey is shown running around the house hopped up on the drug. After deciding they have to start selling the drug to “make a fortune” they meet with Peppo’s manager who assigns them to Africa. When they arrive at their first village Bamboola, they find its inhabitants are being sedated by their medicine man so he can steal diamonds. After getting thrown in jail for selling on his turf, Mickey doses their king with Peppo without his knowledge to snap him out of the sleep spell.
Which entry did you find most surprising? Let us know in the comments below!
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