It was a 'sort of' debut because Steamboat Willie was in fact the third animation that Mickey appeared in, following Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho. However, the earlier two cartoons didn't appeal enough to distributors for them to take them on. Thus, Steamboat Willie was the first Mickey Mouse film to receive distribution, and it's considered important for many reasons, including the fact that it's the first animation to feature synchronised sound.
The title takes the - ahem - mickey out of comedian Buster Keaton's film Steamboat Bill, Jr. The title of Keaton's flick refers to a song, 'Steamboat Bill', which happens to feature in Steamboat Willie along with 'Turkey in the Straw'. In fact, what with the synchronised sound, an argument could be made that Steamboat Willie is the very first music video; it is, after all, a story built around two feature tunes. Consider, though, how quickly animated features with synchronised sound developed: it's only 12 years until Disney's Fantasia, a timeless masterpiece that wedded music and imagery so well. It's worth nothing that another part of the plot involves love interest Minnie Mouse almost missing the boat.
In the 90-odd years from his not-quite debut, Mickey has come a long way, and he's all over the place. Clearly, I can't avoid him, no matter where I happen to be strolling after work - whether it's on the entrance to a house in suburban Glebe after recording the audio of a spoken word gig, or in the window of a clothes shop in the high street of that fashion capital, Parramatta, as you'll see.
Although, in this instance, Mickey's activities are a little questionable. What exactly is Mickey Mouse doing, with his back to us, on this top? Where's Minnie now?
It seems somewhat of a distance from Steamboat Willie to 'motor-boating Mickey'.
I was wandering the back streets of Glebe the other day, having attended (and recorded) October's edition of Tell Me A Story when I came across only the best doorbell ever. (It's not like I was randomly approaching doors of houses, casing joints - although I did note it was set into the high wall-with-solid-security-door surrounding the yard.) It's Mickey Mouse, in a classic vintage pose, cast in metal.
It was too good a doorbell not to photograph - even though I know, what with the dicky moustache, thick-rimmed glasses, t-shirt collection and hi-tops, this tendency to 'photograph random objects and blog about them' makes me an over-aged 'hipster', apparently.
But I couldn't just upload the image without actually saying something about it.
On first look, clearly, it could have been better executed: the actual button of the doorbell should have been one of the buttons of his lederhosen. Perhaps that was the original plan.
I decided to do a search for the 'original' image, hopefully to determine who the artist was. That proved a little difficult to ascertain: it may have been Les Clark, who was animating towards the end of the 1930s, or perhaps it was Ub Iwerks, who co-created the character.
No matter. What proved more interesting was the fact that so many variations on that classic image exist. The artwork has been interpreted and adapted, and many of those images have been collected on Pinterest.
Well, I thought it was psychedelic until I saw this one - the proper, full-blown LSD trip with all the colours and the paisley.
Then I found this more sinister variation. More '80s eccy than '60s LSD. Three buttons and scary tongue, it's with ear recursion, it's all a bit scary, really.
It makes a bit of sense that Mickey Mouse would be given the counter-cultural artistic make-over. On the one hand, it's rebellion: taking the symbol that may represent the commercial, conservative way of life reinforced by the military-industrial complex. Or whatever. But there's also that element of psychedelia that involves the LSD-user’s regression, to childhood. Hence the Victoriana and World War I chic that became all the rage during the swingin' 60s 'summer of love': the Beatles' Sgt Pepper costumes, Pink Floyd using the title of a chapter from Wind in the Willows as the name of their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It's what those twenty-something hip acid trippers were recalling from their childhood, rooting around grandma's house. (The American psychedelic equivalent of England's Victoriana was 'cowboys and indians' - a similarly seminal idyllic of regression.)
Speaking of Mickey Mouse in psychedelia, Aussie pop artist Martin Sharp seems to have snuck a Mickey Mouse reference into the artwork he created for the cover of the album Wheels of Fire, by the legendary Cream (which featured Sharp's UK flatmate, Eric Clapton, on lead guitar). It's either on the back cover or the front cover, depending on which edition you have:
The Mickey motif appears in the corner, bottom right. Here it is in detail:
Obviously not the same classic Mickey, but certainly a reference looming in the mix. And speaking of Mickey Mouse looming in the mix of juvenile hippie regression and music, consider 'Mr and Mrs Mickey Mouse' by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, who specialised in presenting that older genre of music to hip, swingin' '60s audiences:
Returning to the initial theme of the post, the adaptation of the image of Mickey Mouse in that pose, here's an example from the digital age: Mickey rendered in the RCA leads that connect your blu-ray or DVD player to your telly.
More traditionally, there are products bearing the image. Mickey's one of those blue-chip trademarks that has spawned an industry. And clearly, a cup you can one-shot the hottest coffee out of…
And having appeared on all manner of mass-produced items, it's no surprise that even Andy Warhol has had a go:
I did see that Mickey Mouse somewhere else… Where was it? Oh yeah, on Psy's belly, flashing that Oppa Gangnam Smile! (Even though he was looking in the opposite direction, and had somehow lost his tail.)