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Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (Disney)
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See also Oswald the Rabbit.
As of 2006, this character is somewhat "theoretical" to the world of comics. He has never appeared in a comic adventure licensed by Walt Disney or his company. However, Disney's recent acquisition of the character means that some very early comic adventures retroactively belong to them. Thus, when we say "Disney Version" we aren't talking about a comic produced by Disney so much as we are a character created and now owned by Disney. And we're leaving the door open for future comic appearances of the newly acquired character, which will in every way be owned and produced by Disney. Confused? Read on . . .

Walt Disney learns about copyright
After initially creating some supporting animated characters for the live-action Alice and Wonderland, new Hollywood residents, Walter Elias Disney and Ub Iwerks, chose to create a series that was entirely animated. Due to poor negotiating techniques on their part, however, the star of that series, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was owned by the studio distributing the films. Unbeknownst to Walt, Universal not only owned Oswald, but they had in fact put all of his animators, except for Iwerks, under contract to them. Thus, when Walt asked for a bigger budget for his short series in February of 1928, they not only refused, but tried to reduce his salary by 20%.

He threatened to walk.

They calmly told him to go ahead, since they had all his animators under contract.

Disney and Iwerks left, anyway.

Within about three months, they would release Plane Crazy, the first Mickey Mouse short film. By the end of 1928, they would release Steamboat Willie, the first film with a full soundtrack to achieve popular notice (1927's The Jazz Singer only had a partial soundtrack). It also marked the moment when Oswald's luck began to dissipate, and Disney's ascendancy as an independent filmmaker began.

Oswald nevertheless continued on as a regularly produced cartoon until 1938. However, the character changed substantially under Walter Lantz. (Lantz was at first head of Universal's new animation department, formed with the Disney-hired animators that Universal had put under contract. By 1935, though, he had formed his own independent studios, still tasked with producing Oswald shorts, among others.)

Under Lantz, Oswald gradually looked more and more like a realistic rabbit, and the stories themselves seemed less "edgy". By the time Oswald had his own comic title, the only thing left from the original Disney version was the name.

The Walt Disney Company Strikes Back
In the 1960s, Oswald took his last gasp of comic book breath, and disappeared completely. For forty years, he was very little more than an historical footnote. Then, in 2006, another American cultural institution died. ABC television's Monday Night Football ended its multi-decade run. Popular announcer, Al Michaels, would have to go to its new home on ESPN, while his friend and co-host, John Madden, jumped ship for NBC's new Sunday Night Football. Both ABC and ESPN were owned by Disney; NBC, by Universal. Disney thus traded Michaels to Universal in a complicated deal, one component of which returned the original version of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Disney. The media seized on the obvious headline from this deal and exaggerated the importance of the Oswald component of the deal, suggesting that Michaels, arguably the premier sports announcer alive in 2006, had been traded for the equivalent of a fourth-round draft pick. Michaels responded (albeit while on Disney-controlled airwaves) by saying, "Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice. I'm going to be a trivia answer someday."

It was a quote that publicly "sealed the deal". He was happy to return to a place alongside buddy John Madden on a network that offered him the chance at returning to Olympic broadcasting. Universal got a premiere sports announcer for relatively few concessions from Disney. And The Walt Disney Company got a chance to re-brand both Monday Night Football and Walt Disney's oldest creation not already in their vaults.

Yet the deal does complicate matters for comic book fans. Technically the deal did not include anything other than the character itself and the films actually produced by Walt Disney. So it could be argued that the early comic book adventures still belong to Universal. Yet the image of Oswald in those early comic adventures now belongs to Disney. As it would therefore take a fleet of lawyers to determine who actually owns the comic book appearances featuring the Oswald that looks like the one pictured on this page, we'll make things simpler.

If the Oswald character in a comic book looks like the one pictured, it will be considered the "Disney version". If not, it will be assumed to be the "Lantz version". In other words, the distinction is less about ownership of the story and more about ownership of the character depicted.

Another somewhat reliable distinction: the Disney version was always known as "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit", whereas the Lantz version, though it initially used the same title in films, is generally referred to as "Oswald the Rabbit" in comics.

Technically, in their original release, all comic appearances of Oswald happened because Universal wished them to happen. Walt Disney himself never had anything to do with Oswald's appearance in More Fun Comics, for instance. However, retroactively as of 2006, it's clear that these very earliest appearances are in fact of the Disney version, especially since they were published at a time when the then-current cinematic version was radically different.

First Appearance: New Fun (1935) #1

View a chronological listing of this character's appearances

Issue Appearances:
A Mysterious Melody (2016)

Buena Vista Lab (2005)
Epic Mickey: Tales of the Wasteland (2010)
Micky Epic (2011)
More Fun (1936)
New Fun (1935)
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (1940)

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