For nearly 40 years, Manuel Gonzales brought Mickey Mouse to newspapers nationwide. At its peak, his Mickey Mouse-starring comic strips appeared in 120 newspapers around the world with a collective circulation of more than 20 million readers each week.
Manuel was born on March 13, 1913, in Cabana, Spain. His family moved to Cuba when he was 1, and then immigrated to Massachusetts when he was 5. They then relocated to New York City, where he attended the National Academy of Design.
While living in NYC, Manuel and his best friend created a comic strip based on World War I flying “aces”––an early foray into the medium for the budding draftsman. While the strip never found publication, the work helped the young artist earn the nickname “Ace” by his early associates. From a young age, Manuel aspired to be an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post. He greatly admired renowned illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, and Frederic Remington.
In 1936, The Walt Disney Studios was in great need of new artists to work on its first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Open auditions for artists were held at Rockefeller Center in New York, and Manuel was one of 33 selected from thousands of applicants to join the Disney ranks. In 1938, Manuel took over penciling duties on the Sunday Mickey Mouse comic strip from Disney Legend Floyd Gottfredson. After taking a three-year break for Army service, Manuel began to pencil and ink the strip in 1946, a role he continued to occupy until 1981.
During his time at Disney, Manuel was known by his colleagues simply as “Gonzy.” He was amazed by the talents of the artists around him and was honored to be in their ranks. Those who knew him described him as a humble and gentle family man with a passion for World War I aircrafts, steam locomotives, and fine art. He often enjoyed socializing with his friends from Disney, but especially appreciated his time with his wife and two sons.
As a Disney comic artist, Manuel helped to expose the world to the off-screen adventures of Mickey Mouse and his pals Goofy and Pluto, and also drew nine-week promotional comic strips that helped introduce films such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp. He later penciled and inked the popular daily newspaper strip featuring Scamp, the mischievous son of Lady and Tramp, from 1956-1981. Occasionally stepping in to pencil the daily Donald Duck strip, Manuel contributed to various Disney comic books and publications throughout his lengthy career, and was known for tackling each project with a masterful sense of artistry.
Manuel was presented a “Mousecar” award for his company accomplishments by Walt Disney himself in 1966. Walt joked that Manuel, who signed each of his comic strips as “Walt Disney,” had probably signed Walt’s name more often than Walt himself had.
Manuel passed away on March 31, 1993.