In the world of funny-animal comics cultdom, artist-writer Floyd Gottfredson is overshadowed by Carl Barks, the Donald Duck artist. But Fantagraphics Press’ new Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: “Race to Death Valley” contains all you need to know to revel in the very different, deeply pleasurable work of Gottfredson.

Working with one of the most famous — and most anodyne — cartoon characters in the world, Gottfredson turned the grinning, goody-goody Mouse into a plucky, even reckless adventurer, his smile transformed from a people-pleasing smirk into a challenge to the world.

From Gottfredson’s pen flowed quick-paced adventures in which Mickey tried to beat Pegleg Pete to a gold mine; in other tales, Mickey is framed for a bank robbery and has to scamper on the lam. Gottfredson drew Mickey with a nosy snout and the bright eyes of an adrenalin junkie. The mouse’s diminutive size inspired Gottfredson to have the character attempt daredevil races, leaping stunts, and develop a flurry-fisted fighting style.

It’s safe to say that Gottfredson, starting in the 1930s, rescued Mickey Mouse from Walt Disney, whose instincts always tended toward the safe and sentimental — he never wanted to alarm the masses. Gottfredson’s Mickey is no revolutionary, no precusor to underground-comix anarchy, but he sure as hell enjoys the thrill of chasing bad guys and eluding them himself, outsmarting both his foes and the expectations of his readers.

This beautiful volume gives the Great Rodent his humanity.