Sunday, February 10, 2013

"The Last Balaboo"

So I turn to this story, which I really did not like the first time around.  And on rereading it, I still really don't like it.  In fact, I kind of hate it a lot!  To quote America's favorite emotional twelve-year-old…well, take it away, Bill:


Yup.  Earlier, I was sort of wondering if maybe in the past I'd been too hard on Scarpa in general: and, indeed, he certainly has his moments.  But then a story like this comes along and confirms all my negative associations, not to mention my irritated bafflement that other people (if inducks rankings are to be believed) are incapable of distinguishing between good Scarpa and bad Scarpa, and yes I realize that that's incredibly solipsistic on my part, but golly.  Let's see what people have to say about the hundred-seventy-sixth-best Disney comic EVER:

Would believe without any doubt that its [sic] a Barks story. 10 out of 10.

Counterpoint: no you bloody well wouldn't.  Because Barks stories, as a general rule, don't suck, and certainly not in the way that "The Last Balaboo" sucks.

I think this is the only story that Carl Barks said he envies the creator for its excellence!

Can this possibly be true, does anybody know?  Because that's really enough to make my brain explode.  Somebody shoulda shown Uncle Carl some GOOD European stories.

Brigitta's first appearance.  That's only one thing that makes this story great!

Actually, that one's accurate, if you cut out the last five words.

I don't know, people.  I just don't know.  Please explain to me why this story doesn't suck.  But first, I should probably explain why it does, shouldn't I?


I can't help but think that this opening is sort of the platonic ideal of a Scarpa plot: a nonsense word vaguely remembered from a dream somehow metastasizes into a long, convoluted narrative.  For better or worse.  Worse, in this case.


If nothing else, this comic is notable for the first appearance of Scarpa's most enduring original character, Brigitta MacBridge, whom Scarpa just throws in like she's an established character.  I know I've talked about Brigitta on the Disney Comics Forum, but maybe not here.  Now, as you know, the idea is that she's obsessed with the idea of marrying Scrooge.  We're meant, I believe, to take this as genuine infatuation rather than having any ulterior, gold-digging-type motives, although the fact that here she wants him to buy her expensive stuff seems to provide at least a little counter-evidence for that (if we wanted to defend her against this charge, we could say that for her, being bought stuff provides evidence that Scrooge likes her back).

The thing is, here, in this story, Brigitta's more or less just a flat cartoon character--more a Warner-Bros type than anything else, and it's certainly no coincidence that WB's comics haven't had the lasting appeal of Disney's (their cartoons have, obviously, and that's because cartoons don't call for deep characters).  It's a lazy character sketch, and sorta-kinda sexist, but more or less innocuous.  

But here's the thing: for the character to be lasting, to say nothing of sympathetic, it's necessary to provide her with some degree of psychological depth--and that's where you run into real problems, because then she just becomes a figure of pity, pathetically grateful for any scrap of positive attention she can get from Scrooge--and the fact that stories are never able to acknowledge this means that they feel like they're enabling and endorsing really toxic behavior.  And when you factor in the fact that her obsession is still played for laughs, you end up with a really unpleasant stew.  At best, it's possible to make Brigitta into an okay character by substantially revising this initial conception, and having her be a business rival of Scrooge's with whom he has an occasionally-flirtatious love-hate relationship.  But as Scarpa conceived her, she's basically barely-tolerable at best.  Not a felicitous concept.

Of course, for this story, that's really neither here nor there, as Brigitta's role is, thankfully, minimal.  This isn't an aspect of the thing that particularly makes me grind my teeth.


But we're coming right up on such a thing, believe me.  The idea, of course, is that Scrooge has made a promise that isn't really a promise in any meaningful sense because it was just random gibberish.  A dick move, you say?  Well, more of a toddler move, when you get right down to it.  But be that as it may…


And before anything else, let's note the facts on the ground: this species is effectively extinct.  We are given to believe that, twelve years ago, there was one specimen, somewhere in Borneo.


This is the first part that REALLY fills me with rage.  Yes, because the random gibberish that you spouted arbitrarily happened to correspond with an esoteric real word, you are now compelled to go on an absurd wild goose chase.  Donald's and Louie's enraged expressions there are just the worst.  Do we need an introductory lecture in semiotics here?  Because this is how a four-year-old thinks language works.  Let me explain, with the full realization that what I'm "explaining" is bleeding obvious: the concatenations of syllables that make up words do not intrinsically mean anything in some absolute sense regardless of what the speaker intends.  If I get a non-English-speaker to phonetically mouth the words "I promise to give you my house," he doesn't owe me shit unless, possibly, I'm able to get some rat bastard lawyer to convince a judge he does.  And in that case, it's obviously not a matter of the guy being honor-bound, as Scrooge allegedly is here.  This whole thing is just SO reprehensibly, irredeemably stupid.  And it's what the entire story is based on.

I suppose if one wanted to defend this, one could argue that there's some sorta poetic justice here--Scrooge tried to pull a fast one, but HA! Pwned!  There's a real balaboo!  But the story doesn't remotely play it that way.  I mean, yes, certainly, the story could be less idiotic with revision, but, as is all too often the case, revision doesn't seem to be something that Scarpa is interested in.


And let's always keep in mind how idiotically impossible this quest is in any case!  Dude's right on the money; if anything, I would say he's actually grossly overestimating their chances of finding this creature.  Borneo, deforestation notwithstanding (less when this story was written), still consists of hundreds of thousands of acres of jungle; when you add to that the fact that, if the last balaboo was seen twelve years ago, it is almost certainly dead by now, and you've got yourself a task that I would not hesitate to call literally impossible.  In addition to everything else, this takes any potential fun out of the search for the reader, because if they actually find the creature--which, of course, you know they will--you'll know damn well it wasn't because of any actual effort they put in; it was because of authorial magic, which I personally find less than riveting.  It's one thing to include a certain amount of lucky happenstance in a story, but this takes things to a whole new level.  If we're going this route, we might as well just only write stories starring Gladstone.


Brief break from negativity to acknowledge that this is an okay gag.


Oh but anyway, they find the damn thing, after some non-thrilling exploits involving crocodiles.  Whee.


But things don't get any less dumb in the back half of the story.  Let me make one thing clear: I care about conservationism more than anything else in the world, because it is the world.  I am utterly opposed to any killing of endangered species, people who go to Africa on hunting tours make me want to throw up, and, in spite of my generally non-violent principles, I'm all in favor of raining fiery death upon anyone trying to poach rhinos.  

THAT BEING SAID: Scrooge kinda totally has a point in that top right panel.  He goes through all this bullshit based on a completely nonsensical premise that you enforced in the most obnoxious way possible, and now you have cold feet?  Golly.  What happened to that "your word is your bond" business?  And ya don't think maybe Junior Woodchucks mighta had a problem with slaughtering the last specimen of an endangered species even before seeing how cuddly it is?  "Fickle" is right.


In spite of what some would claim, this story doesn't have any kind of ecological message.  I mean, okay, so  there was a different level of awareness of these issues back in the day; fair enough.  But Scarpa doesn't even evince any interest in even making a token effort to think through the issues that are really obviously raised by his own story.  "Sorry, li'l guy--no lovin' for you!  All your potential partners are dead dead dead!"  This is the closest the story comes to acknowledging its own obvious melancholy undertones: it doesn't matter what happens to this guy; his species is over regardless.  And it ain't even slightly close, either; it's just in the service of a dumb joke.  I see no evidence that this aspect of the story even occurred to Scarpa, which seems to me to be just unforgivably sloppy.


And this just compounds my doubts: "Here, Brigitta: a live balaboo to go along with the mangled corpse of his forebear that you're wearing on your head!  Happy birthday!"  The fact that Scarpa evidently found this wholly unproblematic…man.


So…who wants to break it to him that "encyclopedia" doesn't just mean "giant super-dictionary?"  I realize full well that comparatively speaking, this is a minor thing to carp on, but still…it's like Scarpa couldn't get anything right here.

In conclusion, there's just about nothing I don't hate about this story.  Scarpa was certainly capable of good work, but the fact that so many people are apparently unable or unwilling to acknowledge those times when he's not doesn't do him any favors.  I mean, I guess the art is adequate, but that's about all I can say for this monstrosity.  Okay okay, obviously my sensibilities are not universal absolutes, but if you like this story, please please please tell me fergawdsake why?  'Cause I'm just baffled.

Labels:

18 Comments:

OpenID reviewordie said...

I think you know my take on Scarpa already, but this story just nails it down tight for me. I have absolutely no defense for the problems you've brought up in this story, and nothing but agreement regarding your points against it. Yikes.

I'm intrigued by the way you'd re-invent Brigitta though. It'd be fascinating to see that kind of character used in 10-page gag stories. I maintain she can be used with her original characterization, but you pretty can much only do it in one long story before you use up all the good jokes you can get from it. No shame in a good one-shot character though...

The point about 'cartoons' did give me pause though. Despite my immediate response being that I have seen you reference Cowboy Bebop and that comics have all sorts of different character depths to them big and small, it brought to my attention something that was mentioned in the Barks model sheets. Specifically, what I will call "cartoony" (meaning stereotypically Warner Brothers) reactions in Scarpa's comic.

http://www.cbarks.dk/theinquiriessecond.htm

In a number of the scenes you've posted, and probably true in other stories, Scrooge's poses are... well, they're childish. It often looks like he's having a temper tantrum. I understand why Scarpa's doing that, he wants to convey mood and give you a humorous visual, but it's used as a crutch. And since there's no real 'natural' expression in his stories beyond 'vaguely happy', it leads to a weird sort of bipolar type of Uncle Scrooge.

It's worth noting that you absolutely can do this in a Duck story... just look at Rosa. He used big takes for the sake of a joke quite frequently. But Scarpa lacks the facial nuances to successfully pull it off. It's just hidden behind what I think is some really good inking.

I honestly think it's part of why people like Scarpa's art, why it doesn't hold up very well under scrutiny, and why he gets more praise than he deserves as a sequential storyteller. It's the veneer that holds everything together, and that ain't a way to make something solid.

February 10, 2013 at 4:17 AM  
Blogger Napoleon said...

I've been expecting this. I knew it had to come. It had been referenced so often in earlier reviews. And now it's here. Thank you, it's a very good and well-argued review that makes excellent point.

I think that many... shall we say, mysterious, INDUCKS ratings might be partly explained by nostalgia. That said, there aren't rose-tinted glasses big enough to justify the popularity of this particular dark gem.

I remeber reading this story as a kid, and even the four-to-five-year-old me found the premise and the execution to be mind-bogglingly nonsensical and a tad mean-spirited. It was to me really jarring and puzzling even then, which is probably why I have remembered it. I recall being confounded by the whole premise of a nonsense word that just so happens to be real -- and whose meaning convinently fits the occasion (meaning it is something that can, and has been, turned into hats). That's a metric shitton to buy, even for someone who actively believes in Santa Claus. Also, I remember feeling naturally sorry for the balaboo (undeniably cute as it is) and disliked pretty much all characters for being so callous towards this poor creature when they know it's so goddamn rare. (This is probably the moment I realized that extinction is not just for dinosaurs, so thanks for that unintentional education, Scarpa!)

But yeah, I think a Disney comic ought to be considered a failure when it, due to its bizarre inconsistencies can't induce willing suspension of disbelief in kindergartener who already loves the characters.

So no, I can't mount any kind of defence for this sad little story. Marx Brothers plot flowcharts make more sense than this one and are endowed with healthier moral constitutions. As for Scarpa in general - and what is true of Scarpa is, in my experience, true of a LOT of Italian Disney comics of the same era - I more or less concur your assessment of his uneven-ness. I must admit, though, that even his weakest work usually has some bright spots, be it one-shot jokes, character observations etc. Great moments, terrible quarters of an hour (to quote Rossini). However, if one can appreciate, kind of meta-textually, a sense of the absurd, character caricature, and camp, some of the worse Scarpa stories do become more enjoyable in an unintentional way. A bit like much can be made of this story's unintentional environmental themes as you've shown.

February 10, 2013 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Napoleon said...

As for Brigitta, she is a character with potential, and present-day Italian writers usually depict her as an agile entrepreneur who occasionally competes against parts of Scrooge's and Rockerduck's business empires. A certain willingness to prove herself to Scrooge through business prowess is usually present, and her romantic infatuation is often presented at the root of her aspirations.

That might not be the ideal feminist character yet, but she's come a long way. Present-day Brigitta is much more interesting and much less reprehensible a creation than she used to be. I mean, early Brigitta stuff is just plain horrendous. Early Brigitta's pretty much invariably the butt of jokes, a pathetic character mocked for being female(!) and having an unrequited love for Scrooge. I've seen some pretty bad stuff. Scrooge-firing-a-machine-gun-at-Brigitta-for-pestering-him-with-complimetary-baskets-of-fruit bad. No kidding. Also, Brigitta using a kangaroo court (there are few other kinds in Italian Duckburg) to force Donald into marrying her and then blackmailing her new unwilling fiancé to trick Scrooge into inadvertently tying the knot with her through some bullshit plan. Sick, sick stuff.

But my point regarding Brigitta was, she has been more fleshed out recently and is nowadays presented as a much more sympathetic character whose relationship with Scrooge is more complex than it used to be, with Scrooge occasionally conceding that she is a formidable, even admirable, opponent and both parties being less of the psychotic dick variety. Much more could still be done with her, though.

February 10, 2013 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

This story was a disapointment when I've rad for the very first time. I've seen plenty of Brigitta stories (including some by Scarpa) where she was a very interesting 3-dimentional character so I was puzzled that THIS is her introdution.

Heck, it's hard to call it an introduction sicne Scarpa acts like whe know who she is... I asume this mayb WAN'T the very 1st script he used Her but the 1st that got publish but that's just my theory.

I still hope to read One that that Scarpa story where Brigitta meet Goldie. Since they both trully love Scooge that must be a exiting clash...



As for the whole "You gave her Your word" rant Scrooge get's from his nephews is bizzare as well.
TRY to imagine a story where Scrooge would say his planing to traver to hunt down a rare animal to kill it and turn it into a hat without boys going :
"NO YOU CAN'T!!! JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS BLA,BLA,BLA..."
But here? "How dare you go back on you word! You march into that jungle right now and kill as many Balaboo as you need!"
What the hell ??

I guess this plot could work better if Scrooge would promise Her Balaboo in fron of TV crew or some press reporters so now his scared that the public eye wil will look at him the wrong way if he won't keep his promise so he goes on his search while his family is agianst this from the start...
Not best idea but I think it makes more sence.



NAPLEON : What's the title of that story where "Brigitta using a kangaroo court (there are few other kinds in Italian Duckburg) to force Donald into marrying her and then blackmailing her new unwilling fiancé to trick Scrooge into inadvertently tying the knot with her through some bullshit plan" ???? I actually would love to see this one :)

February 10, 2013 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

BTW -> I'm a "fur = murder" person as well so it's good to hear You're on the same page Geox :)

(Ok, I'm a bit of a hypocrite since I have ONE hat made from actuall fur which I ware sometimes but it was expensive both in Russia gift I got from a family member for Christmas so it's not like I'm gona throw it away just to make a point... )


But yhe - kiling animals for fur sucks and I hate to see my favorite characters consider taking part in such a crule event... :(

February 10, 2013 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Man, I have the best commenters.

@Reviewordie re comics vs. cartoons, you're quite right, of course--characters in cartoons can have lots of psychological depth (I sort of half-realized I was opening a can of worms by just saying something like that without providing clarification). But you know what I mean: compared to the comics, Disney characters in cartoons are much less real people. Bringing in Warner Bros specifically was really just pointlessly muddying the waters; I was probably unconsciously comparing Brigitta in this story to Daffy Duck (the old-school, insane Daffy).

Tangentially, I'll note that there's really no reason that WB comics couldn't have been as big a thing as Disney comics. I read quite a number of the former from my dad's collection when I was small; they were okay, and tried to do more or less the same things that Disney did when comic-izing cartoon characters, but without Barks or Gottfredson-type geniuses…well, they never really went anywhere, did they? There's a reason Disney comics are a going thing today and WB comics are not.

February 10, 2013 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Napoleon said...

@Pan Miluś:

The story with the heinous marriage plot is this one: http://coa.inducks.org/story.php?c=I+TL++720-A

If memory serves me right, this story should also include a drunkard in a sizable gag role. Yep, a real drunkard who acknowledges his own alcoholism in dialogue. Played for laughs. For kids, you see.

Oh, and it's by Scarpa (who else?).

February 10, 2013 at 5:42 PM  
OpenID reviewordie said...

I knew that you didn't mean to disparage the medium, and I hope that said part of my comment wasn't taken as more than a point towards you phrasing, and a segue towards what was legitimately my thought process. No insult taken or meant to be given! I just was really surprised when I went back and looked at Scarpa's stuff, and the way Scrooge tended to be posed.

I'm with you on WB comics, though I'm tempted to say that Disney starts from a better base emotionally, allowing them to tell stories around the characters in a way the WB could not without substantially altering said characters. But I'm no Gottfredson or Barks either! Who knows what mighta been. I'd love to read the Carl Barks Bugs Bunny comics he did though...

February 10, 2013 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Thanks Napoleon (always wanted to say this :) )

February 10, 2013 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Here's another point. Balaboo hats used to be all the rage, so much so that they made balaboos an endangered species. Why couldn't Scrooge just BUY BRIGITTA A SECOND-HAND HAT? There must be dozens of people willing to sell an old fur hat, and even if Scrooge had to have the hat resized, it would cost WAY less than the whole trip-across-the-world escapade.

February 10, 2013 at 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Italians just must have a higher tolerance for absurdity (or a lower need for intelligibility) in their comic stories. Nostalgia cannot explain this away.

The sole thing I will say in Scarpa's defense is that the general awareness and concern about endangered species was just not there in the 1950's (this was written in 1960), or even the early 1960's. To what extent did even Barks's Junior Woodchucks show concern for the environment in that period? I haven't checked all the stories with JWs in them, but my sense is that in the 50's and early 60's they're into woodcraft (tracking wild animals and such), lifesaving skills, and bridge-building, and not particularly worried about endangered species. That doesn't come until the stories Barks scripted for the JW title.

That said, the whole idea that it's OK to kill a last-of-its-kind animal to make a hat, and that we'll only hesitate to do this if the animal is *cute*, is pretty disturbing in any era. Not to mention the utter senselessness of holding someone to a promise they didn't knowingly make.

I've seen stories in which Brigitta was not actually gag-inducing (like Gaja Arrighini/Silvia Ziche's "la sfida 2 a 2"), but I still feel as a character she's a lost cause, from a feminist POV. The character Belle Duck (Scrooge's girlfriend in the steamboat years, now showing up in Duckburg) has way more potential.

By the way, does anyone know whether Gaja Arrighini is a woman? When Inducks doesn't have a photo, I try not to make assumptions (since Wanda, Andrea and Kari are all men!).

February 11, 2013 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Congrats, Geo!

You’ve finally found a Scarpa story SO BAD that even I won’t delude myself into believing that I can “fix” it!

Now, it’s really time to let the poor soul rest in peace. You wouldn’t want him (or his ghostly rodent creation David G. and I called “Marco Topo”) to haunt you for all eternity, do you?

Shifting gears: It’s not only Warner Bros. comics, but darned near every other funny animal series that failed to live up to the Disney stuff in terms of popularity and longevity. I feel there are two reasons for that:

1: Carl Barks.

2: Bruce Hamilton.

The great stories of Carl Barks gave us something to rally around that the other comics, Bugs, Woody, Yogi, Tom and Jerry, etc. didn’t have. Beyond that most of them were created by the same group of individuals… Strobl, Fallberg, Lockman, De Lara, Alvarado and more. The only true standout artist some of the other comics had was Harvey Eisenberg. Otherwise, none of them could touch Barks – not even my sainted Paul Murry.

Bruce Hamilton kept the DISNEY comics (and ONLY the DISNEY comics) alive when everything else in the Western Publishing stable went away. He also had the good fortune to come along just before DuckTales raised the recognition of these characters to levels among a general audience that they never had before in the USA, adding to whatever success he could muster before Disney muscled-in on his license.

Why did Western go away, while European comics remained popular? Oh, I dunno… maybe following Barks and Strobl with Kay Wright, and Bob Gregory – when Europe gave its readers Milton, Jippes, Vicar, Branca, Rota, and yes… even Scarpa had something to do with it! It was Hamilton who first introduced these fine creators to an American audience, further enhancing the reputation of the Disney comic, over those other brands. …Never mind, Rosa, Van Horn, and Block!

I feel that if Hamilton brought along some of the other Western licensed properties, they might have survived, or even flourished, via some kind of coat-tail effect.

I’d like to have seen Gladstone style Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker reprints, alongside the Disney titles. But, there weren’t paintings, lithos, and statues of those characters by (or based on) Barks for Hamilton to sell, so it just wasn’t to be. That sad conjecture aside, we ALL have very much to thank Bruce Hamilton for. He and Carl Barks are the reasons we are here, Blogging about this stuff today.

February 11, 2013 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

GEOX what you think about the icecream melting joke on page 5?

February 12, 2013 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo:

You really should have headlined this review "THE LAST BALABOOOOOOOOOO"!!!!

I must confess to liking this story a bit when it was first printed in America. It was in one of the very last Gladstone I releases in January 1990 (indeed, if I remember my CROSSTALK correctly, it may have appeared in the first American Disney comic to be released in the 90s -- at the top of the toboggan, as it were). It was my first glimpse of Brigitta MacBridge. The Balaboo was cute. Um... did I mention how cute the Balaboo was?

You're correct, the logical lapses in this story are SO egregious that it's hard to overlook them. The tale in English translation had plenty of energy, but its flaws grow more apparent with increased acquaintance.

Napoleon:

Interesting note concerning the changed characterization of Brigitta in the Italian comics. THIS version of Brigitta would have made a nice addition to the world of DUCKTALES -- a mixture of Rebecca Cunningham and Millionaira Vanderbucks, with a touch of the zany added for good measure. I think Tress MacNeille could have come up with a fine voice for her. Unfortunately, the DT creators weren't thinking along those lines; they didn't even seem interested in bringing back Daisy...

Joe:

What, you mean that Jeffrey Montgomery FAILED with those scads of licensed-property titles that he inflicted upon the public in the early 90s? I'm shocked, shocked, I say!

Chris

February 12, 2013 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger Napoleon said...

Chris: You're right, this Brigitta could have been a good fit to DuckTales Duckburg. Actually, the DT take on the canon seems decidedly more Scarpian than Barksian to me, should these be the labels to pick from. Also, Rockerduck, a prominent fixture of Italo-Duckburg, would have made much more sense as Scrooge's primary business antagonist than a Scottified Kilt-Glomgold. DT was already, probably unintentionally, going in the Italian direction. I sometimes think they ought to have gone all the way. In fact I just realized DT should have had Scarpa as a creative consultant at least. That *could* have been crazy awesome.

February 17, 2013 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

I can't defend this story either. The reason I kept that Gladstone issue of Uncle Scrooge for some time was because of the intro that came with it - Scarpa's recreation of a sketch that Barks did for him of Brigitta using a "money perfume". I always wondered why THAT story was never reprinted here in the USA.

Asfor Brigitta - I like the character, but the only stories I liked with her in it were "Secret of The Incas" and "The Funny Carrots". Still, she's a nice break from pairing Scrooge with Donald and the nephews all the time.

February 21, 2013 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger mr_tao said...

you know, I've the feeling you'd reevaluate(in better) your opinions by reading the original Italian stories.
A lot of the problems you have with them are very possibly to be because a bad French translation

December 2, 2013 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

I read "The Last Balaboo" in English. I HAVE read a lot of Scarpa stories in French, and I've liked some and disliked some. While I'll grant that there are likely translation issues in some of them, I think I have enough knowledge to make a fair evaluation.

December 2, 2013 at 11:59 PM  

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