Mickey Rat is on TV. Artist: Robert Armstrong.


Original Medium: T-shirts
First Appeared: circa 1971
Creator: Robert Armstrong
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Mickey Rat started out not as a character, but merely an image. He was just a picture by cartoonist Robert Armstrong (who also played a major part in …

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… popularizing the term "couch potato"), and his purpose in existing was to sell T-shirts. He didn't look all that much like Mickey Mouse (which may be why Disney didn't instantly sue him out of existence), but the resemblance wasn't so vague people didn't get it, especially when his ugly, long-snouted face was accompanied by his logo. He sold a lot of T-shirts.

So many, in fact, that he branched out into comix. His first appearance was in L.A. Comics #1, published by The Los Angeles Comic Book Company and dated December, 1971. Armstrong drew his adventures, which were scripted by Chester C. Crill. The following year, the same publisher brought Mickey out in a comic of his own, also written by Crill and drawn by Armstrong.

Mickey Rat's character was not finely drawn — in fact, it was kind of crude, a word that would also describe Mickey himself. He was sleazy, opportunistic, capable of just about any foul deed, but also shallow, one-dimensional, and incapable of growth or subtlety. He seems to have had little in the way of motivation, beyond his creators' desire to make him the opposite of the other Mickey in every possible way.

Things improved a bit, but only slightly, when Armstrong started writing as well as drawing him, which began with the second issue (also out in 1972). Underground publishing being rather a fluid enterprise, the second one was put out by a completely different outfit — Kitchen Sink Press, which also published the work of Jay Lynch, Robert Crumb and other well-known underground cartoonists (and which later did highly acclaimed editions of Steve Canyon, The Spirit and Li'l Abner). Even then, tho, Mickey was about as well-rounded a character as one could expect from a picture on a T-shirt.

After that, the comic books remained in print, but new issues didn't come out for years. Eventually, Armstrong brought his rat to Last Gasp Eco-Funnies (Cherry Poptart, Slow Death Funnies), which put out the third and fourth issues in 1980 and 1982, respectively.

Mickey Rat's unappealing visage is a familiar sight today, and Disney still hasn't sued him out of existence. Of course, now he has more of an excuse to exist than just reminding T-shirt buyers of Mickey Mouse. He's a nostalgia item in his own right, who once had his own comic book.


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Text ©2004 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Robert Armstrong.