The Italian Roots of Mickey Mouse

Sun, 01/26/2014 - 01:00

Mickey Mouse has Italian blood – at least 60% of it.

Few probably know in fact that many of the stories and characters related to the beloved cartoon series were created and designed by Italian authors. In 1968, 60% of Disney characters were devised in Italy. In subsequent years, the percentage increased to 75%. In 2009, 41,000 pages of stories, including new books and reprints, had been produced in Italy.

The revelation that Mickey Mouse (Topolino in Italian) is in part Italian was made by Mario Gentilini, the historical director of Mickey Mouse Italia; back in 1968, during the Italian TV show Canzonissima, he introduced two young designers: Romano Scarpa and Giovan Battista Carpi, who would go on to become two giants of Italian comics. Within 30 seconds, they sketched Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shaking hands.

A hidden story, where many great authors and illustrators remained unknown for years because Walt Disney loved to be considered the only father of his creatures: from Carpi to Scarpa, from Luciano Bottaro to Pier Lorenzo De Vita, from Giuseppe Perego to Giulio Chierchini, from Luciano Capitano to Sergio Asteriti, to the present day with Giorgio Cavazzano and Massimo De Vita.

It was only after the death of Disney in 1966 that the identity of these hidden talents began to emerge - for a simple reason: to reassure the millions of teenage readers who, after the death of Disney, feared that the beloved characters he invented would also disappear. Better to reassure them then that it wasn’t just Walt to create those stories. It was a global collaboration, where Italy played a major role.

The Italian adventure with Mickey Mouse started 82 years ago, in 1932, when the anthropomorphic mouse arrived in Italy from the United States to be published by the Florentine publisher Nerbini; it moved to Mondadori in 1935, to Walt Disney Italy in 1988 and to Panini in September 2013.

Italian minds were also behind the successful series of Disney parodies, the first of which debuted in 1949, titled “L’inferno di Topolino” (“Mickey Mouse Hell”), a humorous transposition of the Divine Comedy, with Mickey Mouse in the role of Dante, and Goofy in that of Virgil. A masterpiece by Guido Martina and Angelo Bioletto that would inspire many others, including “Paperodissea” (parody of the Odyssey), “Paperiade” (Iliad), “Dracula di Bram Topker” (Dracula), “Promessi Paperi” (The Betrothed), and “Avventure di Top Sawyer” (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).