Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Monsterville"

Some people seem to think that the issue of Gyro Gearloose (FC 1184) in which today's story appeared was actually written by Mr. Barks, but this seems unlikely.  Neither the dialogue nor the plots themselves feel at all Barksian--but they do feel very characteristic of the work of Mr. Lockman.

"Monsterville" bears superficial similarities to Barks' own "Dream Planet," but that story is much better put-together.  It's a somewhat ambivalent portrait of society.  Whereas "Monsterville"…well, it's weird.  It really feels like Probably-Lockman is trying to make some sort of social statement, but it's all very incoherent--difficult to make heads or tails of.


"Low-down come-uppance."  Just try to tell me that Lockman didn't write that.  I should be clear and note that these art-only Barks stories actually aren't bad, even if they're kind of silly.  The art helps a lot here.  Recently, there was a rather dopey debate on the Disney Comics Forum about whether art or writing is "more important" for a story--as though the two can be neatly separated.  I maintain that, while you can certainly talk about good or bad writing or art, the two are intertwined in such a way that we as readers simply are unable to judge what effect different art or writing would have on our appreciation for a story.  You might think, well, this story is what it is, and it would basically be the same even if it were drawn by Strobl or whomever, but I suspect that--with all due respect to Mr. Strobl--you would be unpleasantly surprised if you read his hypothetical rendering of this.


Well, anyway, for reasons that remain pretty murky, getting a ticket is the catalyst Gyro needs to present his swell plans for fixing the city.  Can you imagine living in a world where civic innovations were readily adopted just because they're obviously good ideas?  A thing like that.  There's obviously a utopian impulse here, but I don't think Probably-Lockman was aware of quite how deep it went.

Another thing I like about these Barks art-only things is the frequency with which he sticks in distinctive new duck characters, in a way that he rarely does in his own work.  Did Duckburg elect Jake McDuck as mayor?  All signs point to 'yes!'  Alas, however, his campaign was so expensive that it left him unable to afford a full-size hat.

But the main problem with this story is that Probably-Lockman doesn't seem to know quite what he's criticizing here.  The idea--spoilers!--is that the city gets all automated, which makes everyone bored.  There may be something to this…


…but what do higher air standards have to do with anything?  Aren't these good in and of themselves?  And yet they're presented as being just part and parcel with the rest of the big ol' changes.  It's hard to know what to make of this.


And then there's this kind of thing--are we meant to think that the Terrible Dark Side of all this new stuff is that now, what with people's houses not burning down, firemen will be deprived of a swell challenge?  I'm sure that when this new system is rescinded, people who lose everything in fires will comfort themselves knowing that, sure, it could've easily been prevented, but it was a reeeeeal rush for the firemen to try to get there on time.  Whee.


Obviously, I could do a similar riff on this scene.  More evidence that this wasn't written by Barks: if he had been doing the layout himself, he probably would've avoided  getting into a situation where there was no way to draw a scene other than by making the characters into midgets.


…but here we come to what I suppose is the meat of the story, and though it's not hugely profound or anything, it at least gets at real issues.  Personally, my idea of utopia is one in which there really is very little work; where people mostly do what they want to do to improve themselves and the world.  But, it must be conceded, given the current state of human evolution, you'd probably actually get a lot of stuff like this, albeit in a less exaggerated way.  Once again, Barks helps out here a lot; HDL'S looks of heavy-lidded ennui are winners.


Then again, even Barks isn't quite able to render Gyro's counter-revolutionary zeal in a way that doesn't look kind of silly.  It sure doesn't help that the best Probably-Lockman can come up with epithet-wise is the supremely silly-sounding "Monsterville."

Given that Lockman's idea of utopia, if he has such a thing, is almost certainly quite different from mine, I do quite sincerely wonder what that "yet" is doing there--does he actually think that, at some point, we may reach this level?


More waters-muddying--what does the availability of public transport have to do with anything?  Are cars supposed to be more…exciting?  Is this another thing like with the firemen and cops, where the fun challenge of not getting into collisions enlivens everyone's days?  Not buying it.  I lived for a year in a city--Montreal--with a great public transport system, and I can report that it did not appear to have stripped away anyone's will to live.


Okay, so this story isn't easy to parse, but I'll grant that the ending, where Gyro at least takes a personal stand against the status quo isn't bad.  I've read a lot worse.  And given past (okay, future) evidence, maybe it's for the best that Lockman's social commentary remains abstruse.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

Interesting analysis of a highly problematic story. Back in the early 60s, there was a very similar RICHIE RICH story, "The Perfect City," with much the same theme and denouement. Unlike Gyro, however, Richie didn't have a hand in the CREATION of the city, but he did lead the "counter-revolution" to change it back to a "normal" city. Amusingly, one of the changes he instituted was to switch out the classical music used at "teen hops" for, gasp, "swing music." Fight the Power, Daddy-O!

I THINK that Lockman (and yes, I do think he's the guilty party) was trying to get across the point that danger and uncertainty ought to be part of life. Absent those challenges, and with human nature tending to choose the path of least resistance, people WOULD probably tend to get bored and cranky. You can argue about the SPECIFIC dangers that Lockman chooses to highlight, but I'm not so sure he's that far off the mark.

At about this same time, THE JETSONS was taking a different approach to the problems of a super-technological world. Specifically, while the Jetsons and their friends and foes had all sorts of amazing gadgets and gizmos, the world of the future also contained loud-mouthed bosses, battle-axe mothers-in-law, crooks, and the like. In other words, the stereotypical world of 1960 was simply plonked down in the future, much as was done in reverse on THE FLINTSTONES. It'd be an interesting exercise to compare the "Monsterville" vision and the JETSONS vision and determine which future OUR future most resembles.

Chris

May 31, 2013 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Ah! Finally a new review :) Hope to see more soon

P.S.
Them links aren't working ;(

May 31, 2013 at 5:10 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

@Chris Yeah, I agree that that's probably the point of the story, and it's a valid point to make--but it's done kind of ineptly here.

@ Pan Fikst.

May 31, 2013 at 10:19 PM  

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