Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney's War Against The Counterculture, by Bob Levin

 In the early '70's, a group of underground cartoonists, collectively known as "The Air Pirates", published two underground comics called "AIR PIRATE FUNNIES", which featured the likenesses of dozens of Walt Disney characters, most prominently Micky Mouse and Minnie Mouse, engaged in decidedly un-Disney-like behavior. The brutal satire landed The Air Pirates in court, fighting Disney in a seemingly endless battle that would drag on for ten years.
 I've been fascinated by this story since I was six or seven years old, when I read about it in Les Daniels' COMIX: A HISTORY OF COMIC BOOKS IN AMERICA. It took me about 25 years to find a book devoted to the lawsuit, and another decade or so to actually sit and crack the damned thing open.

 THE PIRATES AND THE MOUSE: DISNEY'S WAR AGAINST THE COUNTERCULTURE is, on the surface, a fascinating book. The compelling David and Goliath narrative is somewhat undermined by author Bob Levin's dry style, which is often akin to reading an intellectual's description of watching paint dry.

 Levin injects far too much of his own life into a book that is, ostensibly, about a groundbreaking Fair Use lawsuit.The names of the people involved with the suit are dropped so fast and furiously that it was often difficult to remember who was who, and some information gets lost in the shuffle. (Levin, at one point, mentions that the marriage of two of the Pirates was unraveling....Until that point, I have no recollection of reading that they were even involved with one another.)

 Levin clearly did his homework; He interviewed practically everyone that was ever involved with the case, no matter how tangentially. (This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that most of these people were as high as a kite for the whole decade.)

 I was impressed by the research, but Levin's style was a chore to get through. There's a huge illustrated section about 2/3rd's of the way through the book, which features selected pages from the offending comics, pictures of The Air Pirates and some of the Lawyers, and a lot of sketches and related artwork. I believe that the readability of the book could have been greatly improved by breaking up some of the illustrations and placing them throughout the book, which would have given readers a chance to put faces to names, and see some of the art that is being referred to on any particular page.

 Fantagraphics has crafted a beautiful package, and they've done a great job illuminating this obscure chapter in comic-book history, but I really can't recommend this book to anyone other than those interested in the case's historical significance....Levin's writing is too much of a chore to get through at times to actually call this an enjoyable read.