Mickey's Gloves

In the new Staff Report, Why do cartoon characters only have three fingers? Euty closes by saying,

To which I can only respond, Is it time yet???

I believe it’s the same thing. Easier to draw without making the hands look blobby.

It really is a good question and there’s no real definitive answer. I received this from cartoon historian Jerry Beck :

"Most early talkie characters were either based around vaudeville performers
or blackface comedians who wore white gloves while performing. Some characters, like Mutt & Jeff, wore them because it was the fashion of the day. Men wore gloves, just as they wore hats back then. Gloves made it easier for the artists to communicate hand action - especially in black & white cartoons. "

To add my speculation, if the hands are a different color than the rest of the body, they stand out more. The hands are one of the most important body parts, and the easiest (or at least, most plausible) way to make them a different color is to put them in gloves.

Ah, good point. And now that you mention that, I remember reading somewhere the point that if the hands are the same color as the body, they dissapear whenever the hands are in front of the body (given the limitations of color and shading in early animation.)

Did the convention of gloved, three-fingered hands originate in animation, or was it done in newspaper cartoons earlier? Who was the first gloved, three-fingered character?

Ever seen a mouse’s hands? Kinda scary. Toss some gloves on those puppies.

Mr. Jack, probably the first funny animal (ca. 1898) is wearing gloves in the illustration here.

I wonder if an aspect of the gloves is smoothing of the cognitive dissonance inherent in the funny-animal gestalt. Funny animals, by definition, have hands. Perhaps, in the early days, gloves were a way to give them hands while muting the obvious anatomical questions.

Alan Smithee. It’s an animation convention owing to animal paws having four joints but later adapted to human cartoon characters. I’d guess that Felix the Cat was one of the earliest; possibly Mickey Mouse’s protogenitor Oswald The Lucky Rabbit was the first to actually don gloves.

Awww, c’mon. Mr. Jack?

In an Extremely Goofy Movie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0208185/ (I’ve seen it a lot - I have a 7-year-old) Goofy’s son Max and his friends are sitting around in a Coffee House near campus. One character, like all college students, asks a Transcendant Question:

“Hey, man, did you ever wonder why we always wear these gloves?”

It cracked me up completely – the only thing in the movie that did. Because, of course, in the cartoon universe the characters all do wear gloves.

Back in the 1950s, Mad magazine had a comic strip with Mutt and Jeff discussing the same thing. When they took off their gloves, underneath they had … more gloves! Mickey Mouse shows up in the last panel to say “Us, too!”

I have to agree with the earlier entries about it being a convention of animation. Fleischer studio characters did it, too. Did you ever watch 1920s and 1930s anmimation? everything is Black and White. They tended to avoid gray – maybe because umpteenth generation copying rendered gray as white. the bodies were all stark black, so the hands were probably white for distinction, and so you could clearly see what the hands were doing.

Robin Williams offered Jay Leno the explanation " … so they can’t pickup their cheques …" in reference to the movie “Alladin”.

This is a missed opportunity to create an urban legend to match the one about why early computers used all UPPERCASE instead of all lowercase letters.

Of course cartoon characters have only four fingers – Thomas Edison purposely made his early animators remove one finger from all their creations because he didn’t want them to be able to give anyone the Finger. Later animators carried on the tradition unknowingly.

I like to believe that four-fingered cartoon characters are all Yakuza.

I checked The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. In the first Mutt and Jeff strip shown, from 1918, the characters are not wearing gloves (and have five fingers). The next strip, from 1919, shows them in the army and now they are wearing gloves as part of their army uniforms. They continued to wear them as civilians later.

But it wasn’t the fashion for all men. A 1920 Bringing Up Father shows a uniformed bellboy and a well-dressed woman wearing gloves, but none of the other male characters do. And a 1924 Hairsbreadth Harry has a character in top hat, tails, and spats without gloves.

In fact, not another single strip included from before World War I or the decade after has an non-uniformed male character wearing gloves.

And every single one of them has five fingers. Including Krazy Kat.

I think the glove was invented because of a simple color problem. Look at Mickey Mouse - the gloved cartoon character which spawned dozens of others. His body is almost entirely black. It was simply easier to paint the body black, and with black and white film, it made sense stylistically as well. Black reads very well against almost any background (which, in a black and white film, were varying shades of gray)

A problem arises, however when a dark character’s hands go in front of his body. If his hands were the same color as his body (i.e. black) they would blend in with the body color and disappear. Black outlines around the hands only work for non-black characters, and white ink is expensive. The white gloves are a perfect solution because they allow the audience to see his hands very clearly when they are in front of the body. White gloved hands simply pop and make the performance much more readable, which is why clowns and mimes use them and also why gloves stayed for so long in animation, even after the advent of color.

On top of that, a gloved hand is also easier to draw, and having a seam at the wrist makes the complicated drawing task of twisting and bending the hand at the wrist much easier.

Mad also did a “Mickey Rodent” strip with Darnold Duck. IIRC they riffed on the gloves, taking them off and showing bare hands (same color as their bare arms), and complaining about how much money they had to spend on them. Bill Elder did the first part of the strip close to Disney style, but later shifted to his own darker style, with the characters commenting on that and saying, “Hey! Now I’m being drawn with five fingers!”.

No, not really.

In the splash panel, a group of supposed Disney characters has this dialog:

Later, Darnold Duck and Mickey Rodent go to a swimming hole:

You remember the ending better. After a while the style of the art changes, and Bill Elder’s signature appears instead of Walt Dizzy’s. At that point Darnold says:

Not one of Mad’s best, IMHO.