"The Advertising Giant"
Oh man, people. Now we come to this story--the one I really want to talk about. This shit is fucking interesting. I daresay it treads thematic territory that you won't see in any other Disney comic--or at least, none spring readily to my mind. On the one hand, I hesitate to give Scarpa too much credit here, since I'm not wholly convinced that he was cognizant of the implications here...but, well, he did it. That much is undeniable.
Okay, so the idea here is that Mickey is annoyed by the ubiquity of advertising, but at a certain point he sorta snaps and wants to become an adman himself--cue mild satire of the industry. Ultimately, he decides he wants to go big, and gets a job in the advertising division of a big cosmetics company; unfortunately, his immediate superior here is Pete, and various murder attempts ensue (Trudy also puts in an appearance).
So far so mildly amusing. But now we get to the interesting part (and people who have read this story are rolling their eyes here in annoyance thinking yeah yeah, we know what's coming; stop being so damn coy), and the reason that, according to the introduction by Luca Boschi, republication was forbidden for twenty years after its initial appearance (I have no idea how formal this interdiction was, but that's what Boschi claims--and it's true, at any rate, that, unlike all of Scarpa's other late-fities/early-sixties work, this one was not reprinted a few years later).
Um…SPOILERS, obviously. Though if you're waiting for a US printing, I suspect that you may wait a long time; the issues here are such that they could easily freak out a timid publisher.
So the CEO of his cosmetics company is named Yves Lipstic in French. While Mickey and Pete are on assignment, they come across this house the appearance of which freaks Pete out for mysterious reasons. Naturally, Mickey feels the need to go back later to investigate. And there he meets Yves's…sister.
It is maybe perhaps the case that you can see where this is going. Which is here:
Now, of course, you can point to any number of examples of comedy cross-dressing in Disney comics at which no one bats an eyebrow, but those are strictly for laughs and don't really raise any deeper questions. This, however, is something rather more than that: no, this situation isn't exactly the result of gender dysphoria per se, but it certainly suggests things along those lines. You can see why an editor might be sort of uncomfortable with it (also worth noting the way that the artifice of both cosmetic and advertising industries parallels the artifice of her public identity--clearly, Scarpa put a fair bit of thought into this, to his credit). There's more, too:
Now…before we get too carried away here, I should note that Mickey had uncovered Lipstic's gender by releasing a wind-up rat toy, which freaked her out, and since we know only girls are freaked out by rats, QEfuckinD. So that's kind of silly and sexist.
BUT STILL. I feel like we really ought to forgive that, given the amazingly blunt assertion of a feminist trope that remains operative fifty-plus years on; i.e., that men are judged by what they do and women by what they look like (so the ultimate compliment for a man is "strong," whereas for a woman it's "beautiful"). Was this an intentional statement on Scarpa's part, or just something he blundered into? I don't think that's an important question; the story deserves full credit for it in any case.
It's also worth noting, for better or worse, that there's a very strong sense of violation in Pete's blackmail scheme here that you don't often (ever?) see in these things. I don't suppose this would've been much on Scarpa's cultural radar, but the parallels with closeted gayness are quite clear--another thing that could be alarming to a publisher.
'Course, the ending doesn't involve the guy "coming out" to the world at large; how, given this scenario, could it? Still, there's a sense of liberation, and the fact that Mickey is being such a mensch about it--with no irrational hang-ups to be seen--is gratifying. Let's face it: a lot of actual, real-world people at the time would most certainly not have been--and even today, the situation might be a little iffy, depending on the cultural milieu.
This, I feel, is a story that could really use the Becattini-style analysis, because, intentional or not, it really does present a good jumping-off point for a discussion of gender and sexuality. I don't want to oversell things here; it's still mainly a goofy story--I just emphasized the notable parts in this regard. Buuuuut…out of all the Scarpa stories I've read, which is many, it's surely also the richest for analysis. If there were any justice, it would totally be printed in the US.
(SPOILER: there is no justice.)
Labels: Romano Scarpa