Sunday, July 8, 2012

"The Captive Castaways"

(This being part one of a nine-part series covering the stories in Volume Three of Fantagraphics' Floyd Gottfredson Library.)

Like "The Great Orphanage Robbery," this story is divided into two distinct parts: in the first, Mickey and Minnie are on a mission to delivery supplies to a snowed-in town; in the second--inspired by the MM cartoon "Shanghaied," released in January of 1934--the two of them find themselves held prisoner on Cap'n Pete's ship.


Truth be told, the first part isn't actually all that interesting to me: they're basically just…flying around through most of it, and there's a lot of cartoon happenstance like the above, where they survive by luck more than anything else.  Although there is a certain amusingly persistent morbid aspect to it:


Yeah…I kind of think all this matter-of-fact dialogue about how we're all going to die would've been soft-pedaled a bit in a contemporary story.  Good times.

What I do think is worth dwelling on a bit in the first part of the story is the question of Minnie, and how she's portrayed.  Dave Gerstein, in the intro, characterizes her as "an eccentric ditz," which is okay as far as a brief description goes, but seems to me to suggest a far more coherent portrait than what we actually see: in fact, Gottfredson, consciously or not, seems decidedly ambivalent about her--certainly more so than in previous outings.  Why this should be, I could not begin to tell you.


Like this here: you can see the way they're both tossing around these sort of disconnected clichés as reasons why Minnie should or should not go--that's fine, and I daresay pretty funny, but then in the end you have Mickey all dizzy: oh, those women don't you know; you just can't win, can you?  They'll just talk you into submission, amiritefellas?  Even though that conclusion seems quite uncalled for by what had come before.


…but then again, Mickey's "no job fer wimmen" business is clearly meant to be at least somewhat chauvinistic, so what can you conclude?


We could compare and contrast all day long.  See that?  Pretty badass, eh?


…but then there's something like this, which, while not on the same level as this,



is certainly trending in that direction.  So who knows what to think?!?

Still and all, though, the fact remains, Minnie can go along and have adventures with Mickey like this.  Can you imagine Daisy participating in a big ol' picaresque adventure with Donald?  Can you imagine her wanting to?  Well…I guess there's "Hall of the Mermaid Queen," but that's kinda lame, and in any case, the fact remains, that sort of thing is simply not, as a rule how it's done with the ducks.  So there's something to be said for that in itself.


At any rate, our heroes ultimately end up ship-board and there's this quite disturbing rape-y stuff.  There's some of that in the cartoon, but here it's taken to a new level.  I do have a bit of a problem with this, I must say; obviously, there's no question that Pete is the villain, and nothing he does is condoned or anything, but it pushes the overtones of sexual violence into the realm of comic villainy, thus minimizing it.  Surely not ideal.


Still, must look beyond that.  There's also this, which I adore for just being jam-packed with jokes.  "Artistic and horrible" indeed.

The idea is that Pete is a smuggler of some sort.  So what's he smuggling?


Good gosh, indeed.  That is hardcore.  I'm actually a little surprised that the Gladstone reprinting of this story let this get through unbowdlerlized (they did).  I guess the exotic/Orientalist connotations of "opium" are such that it could be used in this context without exciting much note, but really, it's not ultimately very different than if he were just smuggling heroin.


Here's this…well, I don't know what you can call it other than flirtation, as Mickey tries to pull one over on Pete.  I mean, you have to note that there is no circumstance in which Pete's line in the second panel doesn't end with "all the girls."  Intriguing stuff, is all I'm saying.  Take this; take the Kat Nipp" stuff--I tell you, there's a very interesting paper to be written about the construction of gender in Gottfredson's mouse serials.


Has Pete always been illiterate? Possibly the question simply never came up before.  Though I'll bet we could probably find *something* that contradicts it if we looked through Gottfredson's entire corpus.


You have to admit, though, illiterate or not, that's a pretty impressive silver tongue he has in him.  I also very much enjoy Minnie's expressions in both panels.


And here's this.  I hate to bring down the level of discussion (yeah right), but wouldja say there's an extremely dirty joke buried somewhere deep in this comic?  No?  Well, you're probably right.  But it's fun to pretend!

Yadda yadda; long story short:


That'll show him!  Or would, if not for Pete being about as jailable as the Beagle Boys.

I wouldn't say that this story is an all-time favorite of mine--it's kind of all over the map in a way that doesn't always work to its advantage--but it's still plenty fun and interesting.  Next time, a brief word on the equally-brief "Pluto's Rival."

ADDENDUM: One other thing I wanted to point out:


Some of Gottfredson's narratives are quite cynical about human nature, but if you look at this story compared to "Shanghaied," you can see some real humanism emerging.  In the cartoon, the sailors were just generic baddies; they also play that role in the comic for a while, but ultimately they emerge in a sympathetic light, proving quite willing and eager to go against their boss on Mickey's behalf if given the opportunity.  I like that.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

[G]Still and all, though, the fact remains, Minnie can go along and have adventures with Mickey like this. Can you imagine Daisy participating in a big ol' picaresque adventure with Donald? Can you imagine her wanting to?[G]

Nope... and that's the biggest difference between Daisy and Minnie. Though it must be pointed out that, once Goofy was well established as a fully-realized character, he became the "standard companion" for Mickey on the latter's adventures. Gottfredson himself claimed that Goofy was the ideal adventuring partner for Mickey because Goofy was such a good contrast for the Mouse in terms of style and personality. (This may, by the way, help to explain why Minnie was "ditzified" to such an extent for this story -- to make her a clearer contrast to Mickey.)

[G] Has Pete always been illiterate? Possibly the question simply never came up before. Though I'll bet we could probably find *something* that contradicts it if we looked through Gottfredson's entire corpus.[G]

Well, it's kind of hard to imagine the Pete who runs the used car lot in GOOF TROOP being illiterate... Or should I refrain from going there?

[G] I wouldn't say that this story is an all-time favorite of mine--it's kind of all over the map in a way that doesn't always work to its advantage--but it's still plenty fun and interesting.[G]

Agreed. It's fun but doesn't quite measure up to some of Floyd's upcoming, tighter narratives.

Chris

July 8, 2012 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

How different was that – really – from Bluto?

Such behavior may have been a “shorthand characterization” of the era.

At least *I* view it as such.

July 8, 2012 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Hey, Geoff and all. I'm stuck with a lot of work and a bad cold today, so I'm not sure I can get all my thoughts in order—yet.
But...

"[Pete] pushes the overtones of sexual violence into the realm of comic villainy, thus minimizing it. Surely not ideal."

Joe's comparison of Bluto is right on the money, Geoff. The same goes for the depiction of many less famous "hulking bully" villains in cartoons of the early sound era. A big lug can almost always be counted on to push unwanted advances on the female lead.

But while it may not be ideal from a modern perspective, it makes sense in a different way: these typically roly-poly, clumsy villains would merely be figures of fun were the threat of unwanted advances not included. It's the shorthand by which Gottfredson, and the other auteurs of the day, reminded us that "hey, this bad guy may be funny, but he's still a very real and present danger."

For what it's worth, Gottfredson also seems to have been trying to modify the portrayal himself. Pete isn't only "in lust" with Minnie; as the story moves on, he appears to think he's genuinely in love with her—with no ill intent meant. (Of course, that may make him more dangerous, not less!)

July 8, 2012 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Oops! Re: illiterate Pete, in "The Great Orphanage Robbery," he signs his name with an X.

One year later, though, in "Editor-in-Grief" (same FGL volume!), he has clearly learned to read. So now we know how he passed the time in jail...

July 8, 2012 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Yeah, no doubt it is the usual thing. For some reason, though, it never quite struck me in the same way in Popeye cartoons. Maybe because the mouse characters feel more real to me? That seems plausible.

July 8, 2012 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Sure, but I’d say it was the COMICS Mouse characters that felt "more real". The cartoons of the ‘30s period, be they Mickey or Popeye were great fun and had a charm of their own – but neither felt in any way “real”.

That’s Unca Floyd’s work you’re groovin’ on! Not some animator's! ;-)

July 8, 2012 at 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

On the visual representation of gender: I find it very amusing that the flower that springs up from Minnie's hat also trails from her aviator's helmet.

July 8, 2012 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Sim said...

@David: In a Gottfredson story from the Second World War Pete still can't read!

July 16, 2012 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I'd call what Mickey was trying to do with Pete more "flattery" than "flirting", trying to get Peg-Leg Pete off his guard by playing to his ego.

July 17, 2012 at 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "fate worse than death" that Pete threatens Minnie with in these comics (and really, in the cartoons too) isn't too uncommon given the period. Hollywood villains during the silent era usually had these kind of sexual designs on the heroine when he got her alone. It's also an easy way to ramp up suspense and make the bad guy all the more hiss-worthy.

Pete is also part of the "heavy" tradition, the huge adversary to physically slight comedians like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. So yeah, the rape-y stuff is really creepy, especially since these characters are associated with the family friendly realm of Disney, but it's not too surprising when you examine the context.

October 26, 2015 at 10:40 AM  

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