LONG POST - Dan O'Neill's C&S

Ronald Evry revry at nyx.cs.du.edu
Mon May 9 02:57:19 CEST 1994

Sorry about the length of this one...I'll probably go back to lurking after
Okay folks --- I FOUND my copies of "Dan O'Neill's Comics and Stories" Vol. 2
Nos. 1 & 2 in my basement (I haven't the foggiest notion if there was ever a
Vol. ONE...maybe he was referring to the two issues of "Air Pirates"), from
They are fun books drawn in a moody, loose style, mostly featuring strips
starring "Cub Calloway, Ace Reporter." No. 2 has a classic that was reprinted
around in the UG press at the time involving the question of white sugar vs.
honey ("bee poop"). There are also some "Odd Bodkins" reprints, and one strip
that has a character who STRONGLY resembles the "Phantom Blot."
But the most interesting (and most relevant to our thread here) is in the first
issue; "O'Neill in the Dock!" A cartoon version of O'Neill himself is depicted
behind a courtroom dock. He says, "Yer Honor..."
"Walt Disney Productions has accused me and my friends of copyright and
trademark infringements, unfair competition, trade dispargement, intentional
interference with business ... and lately ... aggravated assault on MICKEY
".. A mere $700,000.00 from my petty cash fund will satisfy their honor.."
"To these charges, I must say POO-POO!
".. and WHY, your honor, do I say POO-POO to these charges.. ?
"I say POO-POO because I can't say BULLSH*T in court ..
".Poo poo it is, yer honor"
"in the first degree ..
" hee hee hee "
O'Neill's explanation goes on for quite a few panels, revealing how his "Odd
Bodkins" strip, which had been running from 1963 to 1970 was about to be
cancelled because the publisher's friends at the country club didn't understand
it. But when hordes of fans demanded the strips return, it was reluctantly put
back. Eventually, O'Neill heard a rumor that someone "ABOVE the Governor's
office" wanted Charlie (his publisher) to drop it again in six months. Angry,
he decided on a plan of revenge: "Violate every copyright available ... get
"Because if the strip was SUED ... CHARLIE would have to pay ... cuz CHARLIE
OWNED the strip.."
" .. I went to see my MOUTHPIECE. I said, 'WHO sues ANYBODY ..?"
"Bill, my mouthpiece, said "
" DISNEY!! "
"So I fired my characters .. and hired some RED CHINESE comic strip characters
"I dressed them up like Disney characters and ran them out on stage!!
"They were PERFECT lookalikes on the outside .. but INSIDE their bodies beat
hearts of pure red commie meat!!"
(Now you must understand that throughout his commentary, from the "mouthpiece"
on, characters are spitting images of Gottfreidson's mouse and other early
Disney images, except that their faces are covered with a black "stamp" that
says "CENSORED by Court Order")
O'Neill explains how the characters were a "hostile bunch" who quoted from the
little red book. He himself showed them the "secret entrance" to the strip and
went on a vacation.
"I let them appear in their Disney suits .. until I figured they had done about
$450,000 worth of damage..
".. at $5000 an appearance.."
O'Neill's mouthpiece gives him bad news. What he is doing is PROBABLY legal ..
"This is PARODY!!"
After a few month, O'Neill left the strip and started AIRPIRATES studio with
four other artists.
"We immediately drew upon the services of the Red Chinese comic strip
characters .. and did two comic books Air Pirates #1 & #2 .. Mickey Mouse was a
"He was in the dictionary .. he meant (A) a tyrademark for cartoon character
created by Walt Disney (B) .. designates danceband music that is corny,
unimaginitive, bland, etc. 2. childish, oversimplified.. unrelated to reality,
etc. (a Mickey Mouse college course)"
(pictured here is the MOUSE, standing in a giant copy of Webster's New World
Dictionary 1974, censor stamp blocking his face, and waving in the air, saying
" hi kids! ")
"It suddenly occured to us .. Mickey Mouse was an ADJECTIVE in the living
language .. you can't copyright or own an ADJECTIVE! Catherine the Great
doesn't own "GREAT" .. neither does the GREAT Gatsby.. "
O'Neill goes on to say that the MOUSE fascinated him now..."symbolically a
MONSTER.. all the world knew him .. he represented AMERICA!! The worst of our
national vices .. materialism and flag worship!"
He continues to explain how publishers are afraid to parody Disney because of
lawsuits -- "even if they win, it COSTS them to win .. so Disney wins by
punishment.  ..Parody loses.."
O'Neill makes some jokes about his comics being pornographic and maybe causing
someone to become a "mouse raper."
Then he quotes ol' Joe Goebbels, "JOKES cease to be funny when they deal with
the holiest goods of the nation .." Then he explains how you can't keep a
magazine going for very long if you have to spend $10,000 an issue to defend
There's more yet, but skipping to the end, he depicts himself in Jail next to a
"Black Pete" type character (of course there's a "CENSORED" stamp on the
character's face):
"Hi mate! I'm in for RAPE and MURDER .. what are youse in for.."
"uh .. .. I drew a picture of Mickey Mouse .."
This comic is long out of print & probably will never be reprinted. Needless to
say, it is a fascinating work that reads as well today as it did back then.
O'Neill's art was sketchier than he did in "Odd Bodkins" or "Air Pirates," no
doubt because he was pressed for time when producing these books. They helped
pay his considerable legal expenses, and the message that Disney got across to
artists the world over was "don't try to step on OUR toes or we'll squash you."
Don't forget, this is the same company that went all the way to the Supreme
Court to try to keep people from owning video tape recorders. Yet when they
lost that case, they turned around and became the most successful company in
the world in marketing pre-recorded video.
There's an object lesson there: as time wears on and more and more of Disney's
early material goes into the public domain, they will gradually lose the tight
controls they now impose on characters that have already entered the domain of
"folk legends." The answer is to widen licensing now, while they still can;
encourage experimentation; stop holding the lid down on the steam kettle.
Disney could be a name associated with creativity and be a powerful influence
on new generations. The first steps along these lines have already proven to be
highly profitable for them. The question is whether the company has more than a
"Mickey Mouse" imagination.

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