Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Scrooge's Second Childhood"

A thing of note is the fact that post-Western US Disney comics saw a far greater variety of reprinted "classic" Western mouse stories than they did duck stories. Think about it: as far as mouse material goes, you not only had Gottfredson, but you also had lots and lots of Paul Murry, as well as more Bill Wright and Dick Moores than you might expect. Whereas when you look at the duck material, it was virtually all Barks, with a very few Tony Strobl stories thrown in, and even fewer from other artists. I think this reflects the fact that there's much more of a critical consensus about duck comics: everyone agrees that Barks is the best, and there's a lot of Barks to reprint, so that's that. Whereas when it comes to mouse material...well, things are much more fragmented. Pretty much everyone agrees that Gottfredson is number one,* but of course, Gottfredson wasn't writing comic-book stories, even if his earlier work was oft reprinted in that form. Since original stories came to replace the Gottfredson reprints, and since more kids were surely reading comic books than the comics page, there's a lot of nostalgic fondness for Murry (in my opinion, sporadically-merited at best, but that's an argument for another time), but Murry still didn't have the hegemony that Barks did in his realm, so even tertiary artists get their moments in the sun.
*there were occasional indications on letters pages that some people prefer Murry to Gottfredson, but that viewpoint is so thoroughly alien to my sensibilities that I can only pass over it in silence.

But is the obscureness of old non-Barks stories deserved? Not to any greater degree degree than it is for non-Gottfredson mouse stories. There's a lot of irredeemable trash, sure, but you can find some decent stuff if you look hard enough, and I remain keenly disappointed that Strobl and company have largely disappeared from critical consciousness.

So let's try to remedy that a bit, shall we? I'm skeptical of the idea that me pointing out problematic aspects of stories could result in their censorship, but if it's true, it's only bloody well fair that me saying nice thing about stories should facilitate their reprinting. This is a 1956 story that I read when I was small and reacquainted myself with recently, and hey, it's not half bad, in spite of the fact that Moores is not among my favorite duck artists. He generally fares a bit better with mice, I find, but as you'll see, his ducks are kind of childish-looking, with their overly rounded heads and, for the nephews in particular, with their eyeballs right in the middle of their eyes in somewhat disturbing fashion (though it isn't too bad in this particular tale).

So here's the setup. I get the impression that in these old stories, the characters were less well-formed, leading to them being assigned these weird character idiosyncrasies for the sake of a single plotline. Not that there isn't wide variation in the way they're depicted to this day, but it's hard to imagine a contemporary writer hinging a story around the idea that Scrooge only eats quail.

…also, Scrooge is a petty thief. Of course, even Barks depicted him as dishonest on occasion too, but seriously? Poaching quail to save two cents? That seems wrong, somehow. Scrooge is the guy that people should be poaching from, and getting exiled to Australia as a result.

The idea is that Scrooge panics and decides to pretend he's chasing butterflies so Grandma doesn't suspect him. I'm pretty sure that in the real world, "second childhood" denotes senility, but this story takes a rather more literal interpretation. I enjoy Donald and HDL's amusement at this, which is perfectly warranted--it's Scrooge's own stupid fault, after all.

Naturally, the "cure" is an ocean voyage. Man, it would've been super-easy to be a doctor back in the day: no need to actually know anything about medicine; you just mandate that people go on trips to foreign climes for every damn thing. Stress? Forest lodge. Tuberculosis? Swiss Alps. Leprosy? Lourdes. Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Syndrome? Space. Yes, those were simpler times. Death-ier, also. But I digress.

This is definitely a more amusing way to do exposition than most, with Scrooge's nephews needling him like this. Wasn't that nice? Wasn't that nice? I also like that the penny-wise-pound-foolish idiocy of this whole thing is explicitly pointed out.

We interrupt this story to bring you narcotized children selling you toy guns.

We now return to our regular programming.

Question is: what "other relatives" could Scrooge have taken along? Gladstone? That would've been a barrel o' laughs. Gus? Actually, another thing about these old stories is that writers were more willing to make up random one-shot relatives out of the blue. So probably some of them.

This is what happens when Scrooge learns--quelle horreur!--that the ship has no quail. And this is another of those things: the idea, weirdly prevalent in old Scrooge comics, that if you have enough money you can just buy any ol' factory, amusement park, or luxury liner no matter what, right there on the spot. I don't think I've ever seen this idea in any other media. Is it just an incomplete understanding of how stocks work? Or is it a quasi-mystical notion that The Rich Are Different Than You And Me, and therefore can just do any ol' magical shit? Is there one single source that this comes from? I am genuinely interested in this.

Donald and HDL come up with the swell idea of slaughtering seagulls to quench Scrooge's ravenous quail-hunger. And eating seagulls makes you think you can fly, because shut up, that's why.

Anyway, Scrooge gets wind of this, throws a tantrum, and gets them let off the ship. Always scheming. I like that his cunning plan to score a free lifeboat goes nowhere.

He wanted to leave the ship because, in one of those really dopey coincidences, he'd seen that there was this tiny quail island nearby. If you're like me, you wonder: how the hell did quail get here? If we're assuming they're the same species as the ones back in Calisota, they can't be native; someone must have introduced them, for whatever reason. And then, they realized they hated quail and cannibalized one another, which is why they're nowhere in evidence. Gruesome stuff, and a scenario that's sure to repeat if Scrooge goes through with his bizarre idea of abandoning his entire empire and just spending the rest of his life on this island.

...well, maybe you're not buying that, but the story does turn into the weirdest Twilight Zone episode ever. Not that the ducks are ever presented as vegetarians or anything, but this story does seem to emphasize the slaughter of animals more than most. That picture of Scrooge with his teeth showing is a bit disturbing. Go on--kill a quail with your bare hands and gnaw on its uncooked carcass! You know you want to.

...but alas, no; instead, they decide to take to the sea again. Sure it's ridiculous, but the idea of them passing up rescue ships because of a lack of quail is pretty funny. You'd think that the people on the ships would determine that they were delirious from thirst and/or hunger and forcibly take them aboard anyway.

I like the fact that Donald and HDL come out on top here, especially since they do it without any conniving whatsoever--it's all down to Scrooge's nuttiness. Makes them very likeable, in an easygoing sort of way. For some reason, I also find the idea of Scrooge lugging away this lifeboat quite amusing.

…and that's about how that ends.

So, this story. Silly for sure, but still fun. Does it deserve to be reprinted? In an absolute sense, I guess it's up in the air, but Gladstone reprinted old mouse stories that are way, way worse than this, so relatively speaking, absolutely. Yeah, I guess it seems a little unsophisticated compared to the best of the European comics we've gotten, but still. Certainly if we ever see a new publisher, I'd love to see them put out stuff like this on occasion. Disney comics do have a storied history in the US; sure it's checkered to say the least, but I feel like large parts of it are being unjustly neglected. Hey, potential-publisher-people, hire ME! I'll totally go through dozens and dozens of old comics and give you suggestions for reprints! Dirt cheap, too! Have your people call my people. We'll work something out.



Anonymous Elaine said...

On the "buying anything on the spot" front...isn't that just a way to represent Absolute Richness to a child reader? (Not unlike the money bin itself.) With enough money you can Buy Anthing, just the way one buys a candy bar. It would be interesting to see, though, whether, say, Daddy Warbucks was also able to buy factories, hotels or ocean liners by plunking down a pile of cash.

January 14, 2012 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Garmt said...

The "money can buy anything" approach to solving problems is reminiscent of Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's "Le Tour du monde en 80 jours" (Around the World in 80 Days). Fogg is a rich gentleman who wagers he can travel around the world in 80 days and frequently uses his enormous wealth to move things along, from handing out bonuses to ship captains and train stokers if they hurry up, to bailing himself out of prison and, indeed, buying a steamship right in the middle of the Atlantic, just because he wants to burn the ship's wooden superstructure because they ran out of coal. Rather Scroogian, don't you think?

January 14, 2012 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Indeed. This sort of thing clear has a history that I'm unaware of.

January 14, 2012 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Seagulls are notoriously uneatable because of their toughness. "Cook the gull in a large pan, so you can fit a brick next to it. Once the brick's done, throw out the gull." (Dutch WW2 joke recipe.)

January 16, 2012 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


One of my favorite Moores Duck tales. I find Moores' rendition of the Ducks quite charming, despite the goo-goo dolls aspects of the characters' eyes. My guess is that Moores also wrote this himself, which might partially explain the one-off, quirky nature of the "Scrooge must have quail" notion.

I don't think that it was taking a trip that was supposed to cure people of their maladies so much as going to the RIGHT PLACE -- hot springs spas for joint problems, open-air rural retreats for those bowed down by the cares of the city, etc. Granted, the death rate was higher, but still, in that era of medical practice, what else could one do?


January 17, 2012 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

If you're still looking on this old page… it has recently come to my attention that the Bible includes, during the Exodus, an event where the Jews are stranded in the desert with nothing but an ocean of quails to eat. I… don't know if there's any connection, but if Lockman could do Og's Iron Bed, I wouldn't put it past the realm of possibility. Thoughts?

July 30, 2017 at 1:36 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home