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Bob Levin: The Pirates And The Mouse: Disney's War Against The Counterculture


The Pirates And The Mouse: Disney's War Against The Counterculture

Author: Bob Levin
Publisher: Fantagraphics

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In the early '70s, respected countercultural cartoonist Dan O'Neill and a group of likeminded cohorts calling themselves The Air Pirates released Air Pirates Funnies, a comic book that depicted Mickey Mouse and his cartoon ilk doing things that would make Keith Richards blush. The famously litigious Disney predictably sued for copyright violation, and the ensuing legal fracas–which forms the basis for Bob Levin's flawed but compelling The Pirates And The Mouse–naturally concerned much more than a bunch of hippies' right to draw Mickey Mouse getting his freak on. The Air Pirates' case tested the limits of the First Amendment, pitting a satirist's seemingly sacred right to lampoon and critique cultural icons and institutions against a corporation's equally inalienable right to protect its artistic property from exploitation. Levin's credentials as a lawyer ostensibly make him an ideal candidate to write Pirates, but his knowledge of the law never extends to a knowledge of how to make the case's legal aspects accessible. When discussing the murky perimeters of copyright law, Levin writes like a lawyer. Elsewhere, he writes like a guy in love with the sound of his own authorial voice, which often comes across as shrill and distracting. Thankfully, Pirates includes a generous sampling of the art in question, which is fascinating and informative, but also has the added bonus of not being filtered through Levin's prose. The book chronicles a riveting segment of American cultural history, but it's forced through a sieve of drug-clouded memories, contrasting recollections, and self-aggrandizing accounts, most notably from O'Neill, whose status as a world-class bullshit artist the author finds nearly as engrossing as his artistic output. Pirates ambles around an important story, even if it just barely survives Levin's ham-fisted telling.