Ah yes...Moby Duck. How could any character who was invented solely to make a bad pun out of his name fail? And yet…here he is: the answer to the Duckiverse (at least, the American duckiverse)'s ultimate trivia question. Actually, that's not true; that would be "Dimwitty Duck" (how many contentious staff meetings did it take to hammer that one out, I wonder?), Moby's assistant in later stories. But still. "Moby Duck?" Who? Why? WTF?
Yes, the sixties was a time of great gimmickry in Duckdom. First, there was Ludwig Von Drake, eccentric genius (and later, unofficially, Matilda McDuck's husband in the Don Rosa continuity). Then, there was Fethry Duck, Donald's insane beatnik cousin. Then, last and very definitely least…Moby Duck. A whaler with a vaguely pirate-ish accent as inconsistent as Kevin Costner's in Robin Hood.
Now…admittedly, my viewpoint here is probably skewed by my cultural upbringing--I grew up with Greenpeace, and I knew from a very early age that whaling was an extremely bad thing. Most people my age or younger did, I think. Thirty years earlier, maybe we wouldn't have. I don't know. But the fact remains, all I can think when faced with such a character is: who in God's blasted, disease-ravaged creation thought trying to make a motherfucking WHALER into a sympathetic character in the duckiverse was a good idea?!? JESUS CHRIST. What makes this especially bizarre is that that he has a porpoise sidekick, the cleverly-named "Porpy." Seriously, that would be like Tarzan going around murdering chimpanzees. No, we never (as far as I know) actually see him killing whales (suggesting that, consciously or not, the writers had an inkling that there was something deeply wrong with this whole venture)--his stories generally degenerate into run-of-the-mill treasure hunts and escort missions and like that--but he certainly obsesses over his desire to to so often enough, and I cannot tell you how deeply unpleasant this makes them to read.
And yet, SOMEBODY thought this was a good idea, and so the character existed. He had his own comic book that ran thirty issues--pretty impressive, for such a strange, superfluous character. Ludwig--who these days has a hell of a lot more cultural capital--only managed four. He (Moby) continued to appear in occasional Donald and Scrooge stories after his own book folded, but when Gold Key/Whitman lost the Disney license, he completely disappeared from the US--you see, Gladstone (and later Gemstone) had a very different publishing philosophy than their predecessors. They weren't fixated on creating and maintaining their own lines of stories and characters; creators were pretty much free to do what they wanted, and that--combined with the fact that foreign language stories were, for the first time, being localized--made for an artistic free-for-all. So...lacking any corporate backing, Moby was gone. He still appears occasionally in European stories (much less frequently than Ludwig or Fethry, however); according to Wikipedia, he's been reimagined as a whale conservationist, which is as it should be. I'm ninety-nine percent sure he's never been seen on US shores since 1984, though. It would, I suppose, be sort of interesting to see what some of his more recent appearances look like (some of them HAVE been published in France, so I could use my dubious French to check some of them out, but notice that I only said reading them would be sort of interesting), but I can't imagine anyone seeing the disappearance of Moby Duck as any great loss.
Anyway, whales. "Wailing Whalers." Right. Carl Barks wasn't totally inactive during the seventies; he wrote (but did not draw) a handful of Donald stories (the mediocre "Pawns of the Loup Garou," eg), as well as twenty-odd Junior Woodchucks stories of wildly varying quality. The art was mostly handled by Tony Strobl, but in recent years Dutch artist Daan Jippes has taken up the task of redrawing them, and these remakes are being reprinted as the definitive versions. I'm not sure I approve of this--Strobl's (or Kay Wright's, in this case) art may not be super ultra transcendent, but it's certainly not an abomination before the LORD or anything, and it frankly strikes me as kind of disrespectful to shove them aside so cavalierly. And in any case, I think it's open to question whether Jippes' art is actually an improvement. That's neither here nor there, really; I just wanted to state my grievance.
A lot of these stories had environmental themes, and they tended to be...not subtle. And this one is no exception. Barks certainly deserves some credit for doing a "save the whales" story at this early date, but the fact remains, the result is not particularly...readable? Good?
To be clear, there is no Moby Duck in this story. As you would expect, the Woodchucks are trying to save whales.
Yeah! How do you think THEY feel?!?
And who is the antagonist in this tale?
Um. Never mind the general heavy-handedness; this is really the story's main problem. Turning Scrooge into a Captain Planet villain was, I have to say, ill-advised. The results are jarring to say the least (but is there another way to think about this? Read on).
In any case, it's not really worth going over the story in any detail: they're attacked by pirates, Scrooge learns not to be such a big fat JERK, and that's that. The real reason I wanted to bring it to your attention was to float a probably-implausible theory that would go a long way towards redeeming the whole thing, and actually making it kind of badass: "Wailing Whalers" was first published in 1971. The Moby Duck comic began in 1967 and ended in 1978. Is there any chance the former was meant as an explicit response to the latter? Because that would have taken a great deal of chutzpah, especially given how savage the whole thing is. Barks wouldn't have been able to actually use Moby as the villain here, since Gold Key would not have wanted the brand to be sullied, but he was the creator and definitive definer of Scrooge, so who was gonna tell him no to that? And if anyone questioned him, he would certainly have been able to claim plausible deniability. I have to say, if that's the case, then I guess I actually kind of approve of Scrooge being used in such a way. That's some majorly subversive shit. As I said--it's just a theory. I have no idea if it's at all plausible; who knows if Barks was even paying attention to marginal junk like Moby Duck? But wouldn't it be cool if it were?
Labels: Carl Barks