Monday, August 13, 2012

"The Sacred Jewel"

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

Admit it: you thought I'd given up on this series, didn't you?  Well, the only appropriate response to that is MORE FOOL YOU.  I'm not going to deny that I got a bit side-tracked (though not as much as I have from my alleged side-project--hoo boy), but when I say I'm going to do a thing, I do it, dammit!

Actually, part of the delay here may be due to the fact that I don't necessarily feel like I have that much to say about this here story; there are definitely some important points to be made, but in his review of the book, Chris made most of them already, leaving me to snipe pettily from the margins.  And if you took that last phrase to imply that I'm not actually a huge fan of "The Sacred Jewel," you're not far off.

Of course, this was the one story in the book that Gladstone did not reprint, for reasons that are on the one hand obvious but on the other a little questionable.  They were actually going to print it, but someone nixed this idea at the last moment; I'm not sure where, but I'd swear that some later issue of some comic or other actually printed what would have been the cover for one of the issues containing it (I think it was the same art featured on the left cover on page 254 of the book).  Oh well--if it had been printed, something else would've gotten the boot; I would bet that that "something" would've been one or more of the old, obscure Bill Wright stories that they featured, and given that the chances of those ever appearing elsewhere seem slim, I think we ultimately made out okay.  Anyway.

As Chris notes, this is that rare situation in which Gottfredson actually depicted a whole 'nother civilization, as opposed to just random groups of "savages" or gypsies or what have you, and…no, he doesn't seem wholly comfortable doing this.  Unlike the later "Monarch of Medioka," nothing really seems to gel, as indicated by the crazy array of accents and dialects that various characters--all part of the same culture, in theory--deploy.


As for the reasons that the story was never reprinted, they probably have something in particular to do with these passive-aggressive fellows, who are representative of an idea of A-rab "savagery" which might not have gone down too well.  I'm not going to try to insult anyone's intelligence by saying that this is wholly non-problematic, but as far as censorable Gottfredson offenses go, it (and other things like it in the story) seems to me to be pretty small beans--it's all such a chaotic mishmash that I'm not sure whether anyone reading this would genuinely be offended.


…and if nothing else, we have them calling Dippy a "vulgar-looking jackal," which is definitely a keeper.


This must be one of the last times in Gottfredson that Minnie goes globetrotting with Mickey.  The attitude here is interesting; Mickey assumes that she's going to want to go along and that's all there is to it, whereas in later stories she would just sort of wait at home by default, everyone just assuming that that's the normal thing for her to do.  I don't necessarily think this is a positive development, but it probably had at least as much to do with the perception that Goofy was the ideal foil for Mickey as it did with overt chauvinism.


Oh boy!  It's "The Cold Equations," Disney style!

…no?  Oh well; it was worth a shot.


"Wishest thou of know what are a caferel" is a line that I kind of love.  I'm really wondering what if any actual ordering principle Gottfredson had for these accents, though.  I just can't shake the impression that this was not a terribly carefully thought-out story.


And…Pete and Shyster, whose presence, it must be said, just screams timidity--ie, we're in this whole new setting, kind of intimidating, but at least we can fall back on these old reliable characters--something solid and familiar.  Never mind how they got here or got in with the evil (though strangely rarely-seen) Prince Kashdown; their presence just seems really, really superfluous.  It really feels like the story is just going through the motions.  This part is, presumably, supposed to be SHOCKING! for the reader, OMG IT'S THEM, but really it's just, oh. It's them.  Chris also points out that when they're in disguise they speak in their broad comedy accents even when there's no one else present; that actually seems like it would be justifiable: you want to get used to talking that way so you don't slip up at an inopportune time--though admittedly, it's hard to imagine Pete having the discipline to manage that.


Barks did this same joke about the worthlessness of foreign currency in "Volcano Valley."  There is an extent to which this story seems more like a generic riff on "foreignness" than on any culture in particular.


…an' how about the alcoholic camel who's only sober when he's drunk and vice versa?  I mean, I suppose I appreciate this in theory, but in practice it just comes across as distractingly weird in a story that doesn't really hold together all that well in any case.


I would be only too glad to purchase Christmas seals to help fight tuberculosis!  Was this a Disney-specific thing, or did all syndicated comics of the time have it?  And does it ever appear anywhere else in Gottfredson?


…and then there's THIS, in which we realize, gah, the jewel glows because it's RADIOACTIVE!  These cavalier mentions of radiation always sorta freak me out; Barks does it too on occasion, most notably in the ten-pager where HDL  get Donald a camel for Christmas.  My half-assed google searches have not revealed at what point people knew it could be dangerous, but man--a single grain of radium doesn't seem like much, but if it's enough that it's emitting a bright glow, I feel like you would probably already be dead.  

Next time it's P-L-U-T-O he's Pluto the Racer (c'mon, someone get what I'm riffing off of there!).  Well, actually, next time it's probably self-indulgent maundering about "Dr. Faustus."  But THEN Pluto, dammit!

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Swamp Adder said...

Oh boy! It's "The Cold Equations," Disney style!

No, that would be Barks' "Rocket Race to the Moon". : )

August 14, 2012 at 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

Funny, "Rocket Race to the Moon" was published 6 years before "The Cold Equations."

I'm freaked out as well about the radioactive stuff, but mostly when Donald follows the nephews around with geiger counters. Where does he get that stuff anyway? It's not like you can buy it at every street corner. "Maybe in 1985 you can, but in 1955 it's a little different!"

August 14, 2012 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

"Rocket Race" is no doubt more apposite, but I was just enamored of the idea of Dippy being consigned to the void. :p

I first learned of the existence of geiger counters from duck comics. It wasn't 'til years later that it occurred to me that there was something potentially alarming about the characters casually messing around with highly radioactive substances.

August 14, 2012 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

"Chris also points out that when they're in disguise they speak in their broad comedy accents even when there's no one else present; that actually seems like it would be justifiable: you want to get used to talking that way so you don't slip up at an inopportune time--though admittedly, it's hard to imagine Pete having the discipline to manage that."

Gottfredson actually used this trope in several later stories. In "Mystery at Hidden River," there's a strip in which Pete, posing as a French-Canadian lumberjack, mocks Mickey's efforts to make him drop his accent... only to succumb in the final panel. That was a clever bit of self-awareness on Floyd's part. Also, in "Love Trouble," Mickey calls his cousin Madeline by her fake name of "Millicent" when they're talking on the phone and Minnie has no chance of hearing them.

"I would be only too glad to purchase Christmas seals to help fight tuberculosis! Was this a Disney-specific thing, or did all syndicated comics of the time have it? And does it ever appear anywhere else in Gottfredson?"

Harold Gray used Christmas-seal emblems quite a lot in LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, just as he used War Loan stamps during the WWII years. The emblems are preserved in the IDW ORPHAN ANNIE reprint volumes. I would imagine that a few other strips used similar insignia.

Chris

August 14, 2012 at 6:21 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“…it's hard to imagine Pete having the discipline to manage that”.

Pete may have been able to summon up some extraordinary discipline to accomplish this feat, but I’m of the mind that, no matter how hard they try, oafish bad guys shouldn’t be capable of award-level acting performances – and, if they were, they wouldn’t be otherwise oafish.

In “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold – Again”, I had the Beagle Boys momentarily “drop out of character in mid-speech” in their fumbling guises of both sailors and shipwrecked pearl divers. …But, not long enough that the “treasure-struck” Scrooge, or the put-upon Donald, would notice. HD&L may have had a rare off day, but Yellow Beak (who had only a momentary glance at the Beagles previously, bless him), does suspect something fishy.

This, of course, is in tribute to Pete’s “breaking character” as the old lady in the original Barks and Hannah “Pirate Gold”.

I think Gottfredson just liked doing that “last panel reveal” thing, because it worked well (even when done humorously) in the format of a daily continuity strip. Or, maybe it was an editor’s choice, or sumpthin’.

August 15, 2012 at 2:59 AM  

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