Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Brain-Strain"

If there's one main takeaway from these stories, it's that Lockman's conception of what exactly Gyro should be doing as an "inventor" is distinctly different from Barks'.  For better or worse?  Well, I suppose that's a matter of opinion, but I will speak more of it shortly.


"Brain-Strain"--again with the painfully generic titles.  You see an opening splash panel like this in a Barks story, you expect the narration box to read "how did Donald and Gyro find themselves in this predicament?  To answer that question, we must turn to the previous day, in Duckburg."  Just shoving us into the action like this with no explanation is kind of awkward.  And are we really meant to believe that Donald is this dumb?  Sure, he does dumb things often enough, but generally this is either the result of hubris or of coming up with ideas that seem like they could work.  Just straight-up building a boat with thumbtacks?  I have my doubts.  No, it's not a major part of the story or anything, but I feel like you should try to get the small details right anyway.  Certainly, there's no compelling reason why the boat's disintegration had to be predicated on something so dopey.


If we remember back to that one Barks short where Gyro has a new pool but is self-conscious to use it because he doesn't want them to know he can't swim…well, he can't swim at all, strongly or otherwise.  I guess we can say that this takes place after that, however.  Sure, why not?  Actually, this whole "OMG how do I get to the island?" bit is neither here nor there; it's just Lockman making time with something that doesn't have any connection to the central plot, such as it is.


Yes!  Sulphur, charcoal, and saltpeter make gunpowder!  I learned this fact in elementary school.  We had this cool little quasi-educational role-playing game going on where we controlled different tribes of people in different parts of the world, and one of the rules was that our people could invent a thing if we could describe how it's made.  Our tribe was obsessed with inventing gunpowder, for some reason--which we did, though as I recall it never served any very good use.

So this is a science-class type of invention--something that someone, in real life, could actually copy.  That is not remotely the sort of thing that Barks would have Gyro invent; for him, the inventions were more or less the same as magic.  And if we look at the other stories in this issue, we can see that, while they aren't like this, they're also distinctly non-Barksian.  "Mighty but Miserable" probably comes closest, but all of them approach the concept of "inventing" from different angles.

What do I think?  Well, to me, the problem with Lockman's work is not that he has a different way of characterizing Gyro than Barks does, but rather that he doesn't have a coherent way of characterizing him.  I find that the character becomes kind of fuzzy and indistinct when he's going around doing all these miscellaneous things: coming up with sports and being a city planner and, here, playing Bill Nye, Science Guy.  These stories aren't exactly bad, but I think I'd find them more compelling if Lockman had a distinct vision.  Like it or not, his stories are more action- than character-based.  Barks was great in part because he did both action and character extremely well.  Lockman, not so much.


I'll end on a positive note, however, and say that, if we have to accept that Donald is this inept, him going from using thumbtacks to railroad spikes is kind of funny.  And that's about the level of praise I would use for this issue: not great, but semi-frequently kind of funny.  Hey, that's not so bad.  It could be, and often was, a whole lot worse.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Still hoping you will end you're "Gyro marathon" with review of my Gyro-story ;)


BTW -> I have mix fillings about this opening as weel. I think it's a interesting way to mix things up but at the same time the dialog is lazy and makes the whole thing look way too bizzare.
Funny how the title has tille to do with the plot out-side the openg sequence

July 15, 2013 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo writes:

“If we remember back to that one Barks short where Gyro has a new pool but is self-conscious to use it because he doesn't want them to know he can't swim…well, he can't swim at all, strongly or otherwise. I guess we can say that this takes place after that, however. Sure, why not?”

Aw, c’mon, Geo… That sort of obsessive continuity (that we so often criticize superhero comics over) didn’t come into play until Don Rosa… and, thanks to him, others like David Gerstein and me. Those guys never talked to one another as we do. And, even if you feel it’s the editor’s job (and you’d have a point), it just wasn’t done that way back then.

This happened in far higher profile things than disposable throwaway (ACK!) comic books… Fred Flintstone’s CAR sometimes had two seats and sometimes had four. It had a trunk only when needed, and once (when they needed a door-slammed on Fred’s thumb) it suddenly had a door! Let alone that the HOUSE once had a second floor that appeared and disappeared within the same episode (“The Hot Piano”). Far more people watched The Flintstones then read a Gyro Four Color (at least until the age of endless reprints – but even that is countered by the age of endless syndication) and continuity gaffes were present, almost as a rule.

I know H-B TV animation and Western’s Disney comics are not the same thing, but it’s an example of the attitude that evolved, over the years, toward (take your pick) tighter continuity, or greater respect toward what came before.

I also think it’s kinda funny that Donald would be that annoying and inept here (and then NOT be so in other stories), in some way paving the way for characters like Peter Griffin.

July 15, 2013 at 8:21 AM  
OpenID reviewordie said...

Continuity's just a natural offshoot of consistent characterization and setting. Besides, it's a fun thought exercise to see how things fit, even if they're not meant to.

But you bring up a point about Disney comics that's pretty interesting to me... to what degree should we apply historical context to the stuff we're reading when it comes to our personal enjoyment?

When I was getting in to these comics the first time, and even now with Gottfredson, I pretty much only apply the "It was probably not racist when he wrote it" filter to my experience. Beyond that, I look at the stories the way I would a comic that came out today when it comes to pacing, the quality of the art, jokes and characterization. I'm not trying to measure it from an objective perspective... I just want to read it and find out how much I, personally, like the work.

If I have to remove myself from the experience so I can mentally place all the tools I have as a reader in a box while I read a comic, or experience any piece of media, I don't think that's really much fun at all.

I don't have anything to add about the story, but I will say that the issues people have with drawing Gyro in to a panel with a Duck-height character are showing up pretty prominently in what you have up here. Lots of odd proportions on Gyro to make him 'fit', with the better panels tending to be ones where Donald's not in them at all. Oh Gyro. Why did you have to be cursed with gigantism?

July 15, 2013 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

I hope it's apparent that I'm just goofing around when I talk about "continuity" in a story like this. :p

As for Gyro, if I remember correctly, Barks himself lamented that he wouldn't have made him so tall and gawky if he'd realized the difficulties that would entail when it came to putting him in panels with "normal"-sized characters.

July 15, 2013 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo writes:

“I hope it's apparent that I'm just goofing around when I talk about "continuity" in a story like this. :p”

Of course it is, Geo. That’s why I responded with some of the typically absurd examples from The Flintstones, rather than a more detailed dissertation on Duck lore. It was in the vein of my “meeting Scarpa’s madness head-on, while scripting his stuff”, as I described in some other long ago comment.

However, the bigger point is that “continuity”, as we know and worship it (be it in superheroes, Star Trek, or Ducks), didn’t REALLY manifest itself to “THAT DEGREE” until “fans” took over from the original group of creators. That just took LONGER with Ducks (at least in the USA), because Western was such a closed shop to new talent and ideas.

July 15, 2013 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"I find that [Lockman's Gyro] becomes kind of fuzzy and indistinct when he's going around doing all these miscellaneous things: coming up with sports and being a city planner and, here, playing Bill Nye, Science Guy."

I dunno, Geoff; I'd be less forgiving if Gyro were being Bill Nye in Donald's kitchen, teaching the nephews a dull lesson. From my childhood perspective—when I first read "Brain-Strain"—it seemed clear that this shipwrecked Gyro would quite happily be back home, engaged in his more usual "magic," super-hi-tech doings; the challenge here, as the opening caption projects, is that he can't be back home. The result is something we could call "subsistence inventing"; the Gyro equivalent of hunting and gathering, made easier by simplicity but much harder by scarcity of resources. And even if it's not the same kind of escapist fun as seeing him invent a hydraulic ramjet peanut butter spreader, it has a special appeal all its own.

I'd kill to see you review "The Isle of Can't-Be-Can", one of my favorite Gyro stories, and one that I had a lot of fun translating many years ago. It shows Gyro, with Donald, as a kind of scientific detective on assignment for Scrooge; as different as can be from the situations Barks put Gyro in, but for me it's not a personality distortion: just a different, but equally legitimate challenge for the same character.

July 15, 2013 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Interesting point. I may have to give the story a little more credit.

As for "The Isle of Can't-Be-Can," we'll see; the problem with writing about stories in the Gemstone digests is that it's hard to adequately scan them without mutilating the books.

July 15, 2013 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Seconding David’s nomination of “Can’t Be Can”, and also giving a nod to “Fun, What’s That?” where Gyro and Scrooge are under doctor’s order to stop inventing and counting money, respectively – and they just can’t. That’s a nice twist on both their characters

July 16, 2013 at 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Mindlink said...

I have to say, I disagree with you on this one. I find the opening narration box to be very original for a Duck comic, reminding me a bit of the opening narration of a Twilight Zone episode.
And I remember the page where Gyro is struggling in the ocean to be quite scary as a kid. BTW, that trick he does with the paddle oar, I think I've seen it somewhere as an actual tip if you're lost at sea and need to swim for a distance. All-in-all, I really enjoyed this story, and it might surprise you to know that up until today, I always believed this WAS a Barks story, the characterisation and situation is very similar to Bark's own Gyro stories. A bit McGuyveresque as well maybe, particularly the gunpowder bit.

March 9, 2014 at 11:31 PM  

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