Saturday, March 15, 2014

"The Flying Farm Hand"

So I thought it was high time I read the handful of Carl Barks stories that I never have, and I figured if I was going to do that, I ought also to blog about them, since this will be my last chance to have first-reactions to Barks stories.  I've read all his art and story stuff, but there are some Grandma Duck's Farm Friends art-only material and a few Woodchucks scripts that I've yet to partake of.  Of course, you could question the notion that art-only stories really count as "Barks stories," but what the hell.  As I've noted previously, there's this totally erroneous tendency amongst some to think of art as secondary to writing, more of a side-issue than an intrinsic part of a story, but that is WRONG WRONG WRONG.  If we look, for instance, at the Lockman-penned Gyro stories I wrote about last Summer, we can easily see that, in spite of being Lockman's brain-children, they nonetheless have that unmistakable Barksian stamp.  

Now, see, I wrote the above paragraph before actually reading these GDFF stories.  And after doing so, I'm going to have to back off my initial plan to write about all of them---because they're just not that interesting.  Those Gyro stories were, by and large, legitimately intriguing, and I had things to say that made writing about them a more or less fruitful endeavor.  Probably because Gyro naturally lends himself to a kind of zaniness that, whether or not you like it, makes you sit up and take notice.  Whereas Grandma, not so much.  Art can only do so much, it turns out.  Some of these stories are vaguely entertaining, but they're mostly just insipid.  Not bad in an interesting way; hell, often as not not even bad, period. But my soul shrivels and dies at the thought of trying to say anything about them.  And I think the entries would be as tedious to read as they would be to write.  I am going to write about the Woodchucks stories which I (as of this writing still) haven't read, though.

Nonetheless, before reading on and abandoning this portion of my quest, I gamely attempted to write something about "The Flying Farm Hand."  A deathless classic of literary criticism it may not be, but here it is.


I have to tell you, I seriously considered having this entry consist of nothing but panels from the story interposed with me going "WHAT."  My work ethic, such as it is, prevailed, but I'm not sure if this story really deserves it.  I knew that Barks had drawn a story featuring Dumbo, but I had not 'til now had the pleasure.  If nothing else, I suppose it's interesting to see how he does when called upon to draw characters from other universes.  The answer is "pretty well," for all that may or may not be worth.  Crossover stories can be artistically fertile, but Occam's Razor suggests that they will much more likely be the product of desperation and flop sweat.  Dumbo, of course, didn't talk in the movie, but I suppose in the larger scheme of things his dialogue here is a pretty minor sin.  I do have to wonder if, while Barks was drawing this, he was thinking "this…is…so…stupid."

Here's the Official Duck Comics Revue Position On Dumbo: we like it.  We find it charming, and as far as nightmare fuel in Disney movies go, it's hard to beat "Pink Elephants on Parade."  We understand why the crows have become infamous; if nothing else, the movie did itself absolutely NO FAVORS by calling the leader "Jim Crow."  Even for the time, there was really no excuse for that.  Still--noting, as always, that I'm a white guy and would not want to denigrate any POCs' personal perceptions--I find them substantially less problematic than a whole lot of other Disney characters I could name.  Sure, they talk in dialect, but they're sympathetic, and they're clearly not stupid, so…well.  If we want something to really get upset about, I think we should look at the truly mind-boggling "Happy-Hearted Roustabouts," which is either truly vicious satire or truly amazing cluelessness.  I like to imagine that "Hairy Ape" is an intentional reference to the Eugene O'Neill play, but I have my doubts.

This story is sort of a retread of the movie, in that it involves Dumbo finding his place in the world, sort of, though why he would need to do that again--or, indeed, why he'd be willing to leave his lucrative circus career for farm work, of all things--is anyone's guess.


Yup, not only Dumbo, but Br'er Fox.  Again, a thing that is interesting mainly in theory.  Not clear why he wouldn't be able to get corn, though.  Scarecrows work to the extent that they do because they scare crows.  Since Br'er Fox isn't scared of him, what's the problem?  I guess because he'll go back and report on his evil doings?  Still, seems like an easily circumventable problem.

But just look at that scarecrow-throwing business.  It's possible that Barks just couldn't be arsed; then again, it's also very possible that no one could've made that look dynamic.


Imagine how weird it would've been if these had been the crows from the movie.  Could that have happened?  At what point did they become anathema?  Also: "it was home sweet home to them."  "You're wearing the home of the crows."  Sure, you get what Lockman's trying to say, but he sure is saying it in the most maladroit way possible.


TWO-FISTED ACTION!  Again, I think Barks had kind of an impossible job here.  


Well ain't that just dandy.  Makes you wonder how these non-anthropomorphic crows would interact with the movie crows.

Actually, to tell the truth, there's not really anything that particularly stands out about this story as notably offensive, once you get past the whole premise.  But I find it's just a dispiriting slog, very much unworthy of Barks' talent.  I suppose he needed/wanted some extra cash, and no doubt it was easy enough work, what with not having to come up with a story, but the results are not particularly ennobling.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo writes:

“If we look, for instance, at the Lockman-penned Gyro stories I wrote about last Summer, we can easily see that, in spite of being Lockman's brain-children, they nonetheless have that unmistakable Barksian stamp.”

I believe there are TWO WAYS that this works.

ONE: The artist literally draws what the writer’s script calls for – nothing more / nothing less. I’d say this was usually the norm at Western Publishing, and it resulted in MANY good to great comics over the decades. …And, a disturbingly large number of poor ones, particularly from about 1969 until the bitter end -- that having more to do with the “talents” of the artists they employed during the period.

TWO: The artist embellishes with touches of his or her own, asserts his or her influence on the story – and, to some degree, actually REMAKES it into something different. Jack Kirby may be the most famous practitioner of this method.

That second approach is what I believe Barks did in such instances. His claim, which I tried to embrace when I was scripting Disney comics, of always wanting to produce a story he would mind buying himself (paraphrasing here – but you get the point), probably compelled him to do so reflexively.

March 15, 2014 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

That's a good distinction, and I think you're right. Based on the finished products, though, I suspect that Barks was a lot more inspired by the Gyro stories he was assigned to draw than these GDFF things.

March 15, 2014 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Well, Gyro WAS Barks’ OWN creation, so it adds that he would have felt more proprietary about him than Grandma.

March 15, 2014 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and silly me: that should be “produce a story he WOULDN’T mind buying himself” in my first comment. But, I’m sure you all read it that way.

March 15, 2014 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I will be 100% honest - The crows are propably my favorite thing about the "Dumbo" movie.


I had this film on my VHS since I was a todler and I didn't realise they can be taken as racist until I was around 15.

But out-side of the Jim Crow name I don't see what the big deal is. Not only these character's are pretty cool and fun (that song "If I see an Elephant fly" is one of my top favorites of Disney) but they also three-dimentional (the scene when they get sad for Dumbo)

Also I think it's a positive example of using this type of stereotypes. Dumbo is an outcast and many Afrian Ameicans where still outcast back then. So the idea of them relating to him and wanting to help him appears to be pretty postive subtext on Disney's part.


I was happly supprise (if not a bit shock) when I saw them having a cameo - with lines (!) - in episode of "House of MOuse"

March 15, 2014 at 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Deb said...

Bre'r Fox's comment is that he couldn't get any crn with a live scarecrow on duty, referring to Dumbo. I'm certain that the non-live scarecrow wouldn't have deterred Bre'r Fox in the least.

March 16, 2014 at 2:41 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

No, I got that much. I'm just not understanding how even Dumbo would have much in the way of deterrent power. I can see how that paragraph is less than clear, though. In my semi-defense, I was experiencing some stereotypical foreigner-type illness while writing this entry.

March 16, 2014 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

What the... I just notice! Dumbo TALKS in this thing? O_o

March 16, 2014 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger tymime said...

From what I can tell, the main reasons anyone talks about the Grandma Duck stories are:
1. Barks drew a few
2. sheer WEIRDNESS
3. I think one of Donald's family members that wound up in Rosa's family tree is named in one?

March 16, 2014 at 7:11 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Presumably, Br'er Fox wishes to sneak into the field unobserved, and Dumbo (or any living scarecrow) could deter this simply by seeing him and raising the alarm. Grandma Duck would then come out with her...oh, wait, no, I'm thinking of Katie Mallard. Does Grandma pack? Perhaps she would just come out with a pitchfork.

For examples of the embellishment Joe describes, see Barks's art in my favorite Daisy story, Daringly Different, written by Unknown ...especially the upside-down moosehead on the wall, positioned so as to be able to read the comic-book-papered ceiling, and the sign on the magazine staff's van: Hooray Home Magazine Invasion Craft.

March 16, 2014 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Indeed--"Daringly Different" is, dare I declare, decidedly delightful. Very likely the best of Barks' art-only efforts.

March 17, 2014 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Sidious said...

Tymime: "I think one of Donald's family members that wound up in Rosa's family tree is named in one?" --- I don't think I remember anything like that. Sure, Don Rosa used quite a few throwaway characters from Barks stories, such as Eider Duck, who was merely mentioned in "Farragut the Falcon," but I don't think one of them came from the Grandma stories. HOWEVER, there was something strange in Barks' 1950 story "Donald's Grandma Duck:" in it, Grandma receives a letter telling her to pay her debts, and that letter is signed "Ezra Scrooge." We've never been told who that Ezra might have been.

March 17, 2014 at 6:59 PM  

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