Thursday, January 27, 2011

'Stories'

Walt Disney's Comics & Stories featured, uh, stories, you know. As in, chunks of non-comic-y text. Actually, it's not just WDC; a lot of Western comics included these, apparently for reasons having to do with postal rates. In at least one instance, these arcane rules resulted in something worthwhile. Not the instance of Disney comics, however! It's really hard to express in alphanumeric characters the fundamental worthlessness of these enterprises. Granted, Western didn't have a particularly fantastic batting average with its non-Barks Disney comics, either, but at least you could read those knowing there was at least a chance you were reading something worthwhile. And I'll tell you something else: when I was small, I enjoyed the non-Barks stories most of the time. Looking back, it's really hard to see why, but that was me--dumb kid. Not very discerning. But even back then, I could still recognize the shittastic quality of the "stories." The short-short story is an artform, but there aren't any nascent Updikes or Kafkas here. I guess you probably can't blame the anonymous (for which I'm sure they were grateful!) writers, really; I imagine that the job of cranking them out was foisted onto the janitors or something, and, well, they did what they could. Which wasn't much.
One interesting sidenote that I discovered while sifting through Inducks looking for stories to feature here: at least one semi-regular character was introduced in a "story," this being Goofy's "Aunt Tessie", who appeared in a 1957 story and then was never heard from again until, nineteen years later, she was dredged up and appeared in a series of Italian stories…until 1988, when everyone apparently got bored with her and she was ne'er seen more. Such are life's vicissitudes.

Most of the "stories" aren't duck-based; they feature…well, pretty much all the characters who appeared in the WDC comics, plus various characters from Disney movies (Gideon and Honest John from Pinnochio were favorites for a while, for some reason--also Bongo, from the little-loved Fun and Fancy Free). But, as I said, not too many ducks! Possibly--just guessin' here--because everyone knew that the gulf between the stories' quality and that of the Barks ten-pagers that headlined each issue would make them look even worse than they already were. But I found a few--no, don't thank me! Thank…actually, why the hell would you thank anyone for inflicting this idiocy upon you? That's absurd! Nonetheless, these samples should suffice to make the point clear.



Seriously, now. Most of these stories at least sort of tried to have some sort of punchline of denouement or something; not this one. If, understandably, you don't want to read it, here's the "plot:" Daisy wants someone named "Farmer Frank" to invite her to a dance. "Farmer Frank" appears and asks her to said dance. The end. Oh, and also, Grandma shows herself to be unfamiliar with the subjunctive mood. You can just feel the author thrashing around, desperately trying to fill up the necessary space. But did he do so by including, I dunno, conflict? Interest? Anything? Well, certainly not anything intentional. Daisy does evince a disturbingly cynical attitude toward gender relations, and the whole story seems to reinforce the old gender schema where the man is simple and honest and steadfast and the woman is wily and treacherous. Really, I can't seem to shake the vague impression that there's something disturbingly predatory about Daisy's pursuit of this mysterious "Farmer Frank" character, not to mention Grandma's encouragement thereof. I mean, really, anonymous writer: "I'll bet you're a real spry dancer. Big men usually are." Um. Do I have an unusually dirty mind? Perhaps, but the fact remains, this whole thing just squicks me out something fierce. Which, I suppose, makes it more interesting than most of these stories. Certainly more interesting than our next entry:



…well, this one at least has a punchline, sort of, albeit an incredibly lame punchline: the kids want to go to The Circus, but the bridge is out. OH NO THEY WILL MISS THE CIRCUS WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Answer: Helicopter! Pwned! Then, Grandma makes a terrible pun and the kids laugh like idiots. I suppose in this story's "defense," I will say that since, unlike the last one, there's a conclusion of sorts, I can imagine it being done as a comic. A terrible comic, but what the hey.



Hey, look! It's, of all things, a sequel to "Trick or Treat!" It's not what you'd call exciting or anything, it has some weirdly stilted dialogue, and the steadfast refusal to refer to Hazel as anything but "the Wicked Witch" certainly grates (the "bibbity bobbity boo" bits indicate that she's related to the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella), but it's probably about as good as these things get! The novelty factor certainly helps. And it features one of the all-time great lines of dialogue ever: "Let's try Uncle Scrooge's house. He'll probably give us some money, because he has lots of it." Yes. This strikes me as a cogent logical deduction, and an astute reading of Scrooge's character.

I would stop here, but I feel like it would be a betrayal of you, the reader, if I ended this entry with anything other than total banality, so feast yer eyes on THIS:



The story is Donald gets seasick on ships, but he doesn't get seasick riding camels. Yup...that about covers that. Dig the richly-evocative descriptive detail: "After they had traveled through winding streets lined with shops and bazaars, they finally stopped in front of a camel caravan." God, can't you just feel the arid desert wind on your face?

I'd be lying if I said these stories deserved greater recognition, but they are a part of Disney history, so enjoy them--or at least barely tolerate them--in good health!

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The description in the second story uses a much higher level of intensity than is called for: the ducks "scream" and "shriek" their dialogue. How...dramatic.

SK

January 27, 2011 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

If everyone weren't shrieking all the time, we wouldn't be able to perceive the full measure of how awesome it all is. Alternatively, the writer took Disney's "all exclamation points, all the time" mandate literally and assumed that that's just naturally how this sort of dialogue would translate into prose.

January 27, 2011 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

At least Western tried to produce new prose stories on a fairly regular basis. Harvey, on the other hand, rotated its prose stories ruthlessly. God only knows how often I saw "Richie Rich and the Bread Line."

So, when can we expect the exegesis of "Minnie's Hollywood Chatter"?

Chris

January 28, 2011 at 4:20 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Ha--I actually have a scan of one of those "Hollywood Chatter" bits right here. A baffling mixture of what I take to be genuine bits of gossip (many of which involve totally-forgotten celebrities) and made-up stuff involving Disney characters. Fortunately, since it's not Duck-centric it doesn't fit in this blog's character, and I feel no obligation to pursue it further.

January 28, 2011 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

For "character," read "charter."

January 28, 2011 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

Let’s be honest here, you’ve picked a “clay pigeon” or “barrel-bound fish” to take aim at. I’ve been party to decades of discussions about these comics we love, and have read as many accounts as I can possibly find, and nowhere in that reading, nor in any exchange I’ve been a part of – with professionals of the Gold and Silver Ages, professionals of today, or with fans and readers of ANY age – have I ever found “love” for these text stories.

Nor, honestly, have I found noticeable animosity or dislike. Mostly, as I did as a young reader, everyone ignored ‘em!

We know WHY they were there. Postal regs. And a greater insight as to the reasons they “read” as they did was most likely that Western was also the publisher of Little Golden Books – and I suspect this was an early example of media cross-pollination.

Where you do cross the line into unfairness is when you write:

“I guess you probably can't blame the anonymous (for which I'm sure they were grateful!) writers, really; I imagine that the job of cranking them out was foisted onto the janitors or something,…”

I’m certain that the editorial guidelines of the Little Golden Books were “foisted” onto those WRITERS (not “janitors”) – and with those guidelines being of a more juvenile bent than the comics that surrounded them – even those comics that were lesser efforts than those of Carl Barks – they must have made the best of the situation.

There were many great unsung writers at Western: Carl Fallberg, Don R. Christensen (a friend of mine in his later life), Del Connell, Bob Ogle (who wrote cartoons for Chuck Jones at MGM), Vic Lockman, Bob Gregory (who should have stuck to writing and never put pencil to drawing board), Mark Evanier, and even the great Michael Maltese – which means that both my “heroes” Barks and Maltese wrote for Western Publishing. No doubt I’ve left dozens off this informal list.

Maybe some of them contributed to these text stories. Maybe not, but I can’t imagine they didn’t pull SOME double duty.

And, love ‘em, hate ‘em, or just ignore ‘em… at least the Text Stories allowed for “spot illustrations” by artists like Tony Strobl and Paul Murry. I’d always give at least a glance at the illustration – often of a character or characters you didn’t often see in the main comic stories – even if I never read a word of ‘em.

Joe T.

January 29, 2011 at 3:40 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Well, sure, these stories aren't hard to mock, but I would note that this blog has a proud history of going for the easy targets.

No, I don't think they were actually written by the custodial staff, but whoever did…well, didn't do a good job, to put it mildly. I like the theory that this could be spillover from Little Golden Books standards (is there any hard evidence for this?), but the idea that little kids need their reading matter dumbed down to this extent is...well, pretty insulting to little kids, honestly. Hey, I'm not particularly condemning anyone here; the parties involved were obviously just trying to fulfill a ridiculous bureaucratic rule as efficiently as they could. But however you look at it, the results weren't pretty. In any case, I apologize if the entry seemed unnecessarily condescending.

For the future, however, let me just say this: I'm pretty certain that you are going to take great exception to my eventual entry on Vic Lockman, whenever I get around to writing it.

January 29, 2011 at 4:16 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

When it comes to Western Publishing, there is no “hard evidence” on many things! I’ve spent the last 30 years piecing together whatever knowledge I’ve amassed by people’s memories, opinions, and conjecture. And, even in all that time, I’m still learning new things. Call it “Publishing Archeology”!

Most persons involved are gone, and can no longer be questioned, alas.

But, it certainly stands to reason that Western filled its text page requirement with material culled from its Little Golden Books operation. While other publishers employed crime and adventure fiction, educational pieces, and eventually letter columns, Harvey, as Chris pointed out, created its own original material of this sort, but recycled it over and over.

All I can offer in support of my theory is that the Western’s texts certainly READ like Little Golden Books – and the support structure for this was probably “right down the hall”, ready for use.

Western’s “Big Little Books” of the sixties employed many of the same writers as did the comics – Fallberg and Christensen, for instance. Those books actually carried writer’s credits, so that can be taken as fact. What we will never know is whether those same comic book scribes doubled on the texts, or writers from a different stable were employed.

As for Vic Lockman, I’m expecting an interesting column from you, even if we differ in opinion – and that’s why I enjoy your Blog in general! It’s always interesting!

I appreciate Lockman more for the UNIQUENESS of his style, the alliteration, and other odd conventions, than for the plots themselves. I really went all out to mimic that in the Gyro story I dialogued in UNCLE SCROOGE # 362! Those at Gemstone familiar with his style agreed.

Lockman was actually quite good until the late sixties. Then, due to too much work, burnout, or some other factors (I'm assuming), he went into severe decline.

His lead story in THE JETSONS # 2 was possibly the best of that series. “Trapped in Time”, a standout, 4-chapter, 1967 Mickey Mouse serial, was THE best such entry of its time.

I look forward to your post on Lockman, and have very much enjoyed this look at “Stories”.

Joe T.

January 29, 2011 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I'll bet you could write a really fascinating book about Western/Disney history.

Maybe the problem is that I'm mainly familiar with Lockman's later work--when it seemed like he was more-or-less singlehandedly writing the Donald Duck book. Most of this stuff I find not so much horrible as consistently, leadenly mediocre--which is actually worse in some ways than out-and-out horrible; give me spectacular failure over dispiriting mediocrity any day. I also associate him with awful gimmick characters (the friggin' Beagle Brats) and crossovers. But a fuller discussion of this is for another day, or two.

January 29, 2011 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

A quick note about one of the "stories": Witch Hazel was only Witch Hazel at Western Publishing in her first appearance, at least as far as I can recall.

After that she was anything else: The Wicked Witch (even though she wasn't wicked), Wanda Witch (...as a result, Wanda is still her name in Portuguese), even just The Witch—in stories that starred her, no less.

Why the avoidance of "Witch Hazel"? It happened to Bugs Bunny too: he had his own Witch Hazel in his cartoons, and in Western's comics she was renamed simply "The Swamp Witch" (to the best of my knowledge; if she was ever Witch Hazel, Joe Torcivia will know!).

I haven't verified this, but I can only imagine Western was trying to keep Little Lulu's Witch Hazel unique. Interestingly, Lulu's Hazel debuted the same year as Disney's; so if my theory is true, the editors must have decided rather quickly that Lulu's Hazel was more important.

Disney's Hazel only reappears once in awhile, but in modern times, it's nice to be able to name her correctly when she does show up.

January 30, 2011 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Looks like "Witch Hazel" was an irresistible bit of wordplay to just about everyone.

January 30, 2011 at 4:10 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo and David:

Bugs Bunny’s regularly recurring comic book witch was “The Swamp Witch”. You can see her at my Blog post for January 24, 2010:

http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/on-subject-of-bugs-bunny-football.html

She did not look like the Chuck Jones animated character, and I’d suspect her name had more to do with E.C. Segar’s “The Sea Hag”, than the antagonist of “Bewitched Bunny”, etc.

In other American Disney comics, she was indeed referred to as “The Witch”. In some late 1964 WDC&S, there was a very short-running recurring feature “Beelzebub and The Witch”, featuring the character.

Back to Vic Lockman: There was a period (1968) where he was writing DONALD DUCK, UNCLE SCROOGE, MOBY DUCK, the duck lead and other features in WDC&S – and (it would seem) most of the new material produced by Western for Non-Disney comics. I suspect that was his tipping point into the “mediocrity” you accurately describe – and the later true decline (aided by Western’s ever-restricting guidelines).

January 30, 2011 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I LOVE THOSE STORIES REVIEWS! I hope one day you will make more:)

November 3, 2012 at 3:25 PM  

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