Saturday, November 28, 2015

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 75th Anniversary


I'm a bit preoccupied with stuff, so as a little filler, it's time for...the Walt Disney's Comics & Stories 75th Anniversary Special Lightning Round! We're going to comment on each story in the book in rapid succession. I'm not including scans this time because a) it would be kind of hard to do good scans of this thing without breaking its spine and b) that would take extra time, obviating the purpose of the lightning round.


The first thing to be said about this book is that it's slick as hell. It may well have the highest production values of any Disney comic I've seen, with the cover and inside pages all being absolutely immaculate. The only criticism I'd make: ads on the inside and outside back covers? No extra comics crammed in there? I'd gladly have paid an extra dollar or two to get rid of those. I feel I am already sufficiently aware of the existence of Back to the Future and My Little Pony.

The idea is to provide an overview of the Walt Disney's Comics & Stories line, and at this it's pretty successful. As David Gerstein notes in the back, it's not really possible to do a thing like this in seventy-five pages without some lacunae—but it's really pretty solid. Just let it be noted than when I complain about something or another being missing, I'm fully aware of why it's missing. But where would this blog be without complaining?

OKAY GO.

“The Mighty Trapper” (1943)

We open—as how could we not—with a Barks ten-pager. His seventh ten-pager, to be specific, and ample evidence that even so early in his career, he had what it took. The story's a lot of fun, even if the fixation with trapping animals is a little creepy. For my money, the best part is this exchange:

Huey: I bet we catch a wolf as big as a horse!

Dewey: Bigger'n a horse—big as a—a—elephant!

Louie: Bigger'n an elephant! Big as a—as a—uh [this “uh” possible representing some sort of sudden brain malfunction]—a bohimaton!

I'd be extremely curious to know how or if foreign publications attempted to translate “bohimaton.”

“Ridin' the Rails” (1955)

Okay okay, I'll readily admit that in a retrospective like this, you've gotta include a Fallburg/Murry joint, even though it just seems wrong somehow that it should eat up almost a third of the book. In his little blurb that appears in the regular issues released concurrently with this book, David G notes that this “in 1993, Comics and Stories famously tried to reprint it,” but somehow—hard to fathom how this could happen, really—screwed up and only printed the third part. Notwithstanding that it seems unlikely that such a thing as a Murry/Fallberg reprint could ever be “famous” in any sense, fine! If we have to have one of these, we might as well right an old wrong! What to say about it? Not much. It's boring, as expected. Admittedly, Mickey isn't one hundred percent passive in this one, but there's also no amusingly off-kilter character like the faux-Shamrock Bones from that crystal ball story, so I guess it evens out (okay, not quite—few stories are as bad as that one is). The only sort of interesting thing is that we get a little history for Grandma Duck—she inherited this here railroad from some poor swain who failed to successfully court her, and he had named it after her, and thus we learn that in the Fallbergverse, her name is Abigail, flying in the face of Rosa continuity! And...I have to admit, Abigail is clearly a better name for her than Elvira. GO FIGURE.

“Low Diver” (1932, WDC reprint 1942)

BUCKY BUG, MOTHERFUCKERS. I don't think I read a single Bucky story as a young'un, but I must say, I have no objections to the character. I like the miniaturized universe he lives in. In this one-pager, Bucky's part of a breath-holding, underwater-staying competition. Of course, a BB story lives or dies based on how well the rhymes scan, and this one is...not terrible, but a little wobbly in places. Notably, there are a lot of lines that just have one or two too many syllables, eg: “Three minutes! That's the best I've seen!/My only chance is to use my bean!” That just jars. And the hell of it is, most of these could've been fixed with just a little thought, so here, just rewrite that second line as “My only chance? To use my bean!” Also, I can't help noting that Bucky succeeds by blatant cheating, and there's not even lip service paid to the idea that this is problematic. But what do I know of bug morality? I oft ask myself this question.

“Treed” (1940, WDC reprint 1943)

I literally ell oh ell'd when I saw that they'd actually managed to squeeze flippin' Little Hiawatha in here. This is the original one-page comic, not one of the later, actual story stories, and there's no dialogue, meaning none of the risible “have heap big pow-wow and smoke-um peace pipe”-type dialogue. I mean, it's pretty insubstantial, but it points towards those later stories—which were, after all, a WDC mainstay for a few years—without actually being one (and without, indeed, non-initiates being aware that they ever existed), which seems like a good compromise.

“Doing Bad for Good” (1957)

NOPE! I am never, ever going to be a Li'l Bad Wolf fan, and indeed, I'm never even going to theoretically understand the appeal of a character whose defining gimmick is being a huge goody two-shoes. I guess there could be a kind of macabre pathos in the fact that the only thing preventing his father from being a cannibal serial killer is his own ineptitude (intelligent humanoids eating one another—the fact that they're technically different species seems to be neither here nor there), but it's not like this can be played up within the Disney-comics context. Again, though, it's impossible to fault a retrospective like this for including the character, given his inexplicable popularity. I think I vaguely remember reading this one as a young'un. It is no better or worse than the norm.

“Game, Set, Match” (1943)

Here's one of Walt Kelly's little Gremlins vignettes, a wordless two-page thing. An interesting part of Disney's past, but I can't help but feel that more than any other stories, these have little meaning outside their contemporaneous World War II context. Even beyond that, I find this one specifically a bit on the inscrutable side.

“Looking for Some Action” (1958)

Now we turn to Scamp, who seems to me to be an odd and unique character—has there ever been another Disney-movie comic spinoff like this, let alone one with such enduring popularity? Man, and I don't even like Lady & the Tramp very much. I'm okay with Scamp comics, though, and I think Al Hubbard's art is far more appropriate here than it is in his bizarre-looking Donald & Fethry stories. This particular example of the form is adequate at best; there are some amusing moments, like Scamp breathing fire after eating a tamale (Mexican food perhaps seemed more exotic in the fifties than it does now). On the whole, though, it's just contrived: Scamp goes out to have some adventures and inadvertently does things that make the other dogs think he's heroic. Whoo. I must also note that the part where he randomly finds a cache of stolen money seems to have nothing to do with anything; it doesn't figure in his tall tales at all, and no one even seems aware after the fact that it happened. On the whole, 'salright, though. Maybe it's just nostalgia talking (well, not just nostalgia—I also remember those Li'l Bad Wolf stories from childhood, and I have no lasting attachment to them), but I would enjoy seeing some more of these reprinted as WDC backup stories.

“Three for Breakfast” (1948)

It's a Chip'n'Dale one-pager, where the chipmunks try to steal Donald's pancakes. It's okay for what it is (though rhyming “good” and “food” seems like a no-go), but I'd much rather have seen a full-length Chip'n'Dale story (I know, I know—length restrictions). I don't mind Chip'n'Dale, though the pidgin they speak in is far from my favorite thing ever. Again, I wouldn't mind seeing some of this old material reprinted, though Scamp comes much higher in order of preference.

“Magica's Missin' Magic” (1994)

I suppose it was inevitable in a full WDC retrospective, but it can't help but feel jarring as hell to straight from Western to Van Horn. To ease the transition, I would've gone with a Donald-vs-Nephews story; something that feels a little bit more Barks-ish. BUT THAT'S JUST ME. In and of itself, however...well, this story doesn't in any case rank among my Van Horn favorites. It's a highly contrived thing where Magica needs to play a specific tune to open a box, and for some reason only the Baron Itzy Bitzy (a musical flea, and surely Van Horn's most eccentric creation) can produce it. Very mild hijinx ensue. That is all. Hey IDW, when you going to get around to starting the task of bringing new-to-us Van Horn material to the States? I mean, yes, I've read a handful of stories in French, and in general, he clearly isn't operating at peak levels—but, dammit, it's still Van Horn, and we still need it. Get on that.

“March of Science: Dinosaurs” (1991)

Truly odd—not something I ever would've thought of as being particularly characteristic of WDC, but here we have a short, semi-educational (well, maybe that's pushing it) story, as Von Drake lectures us about dinosaurs. I'm glad to see it, though; it's actually rather winning, with entertainingly sketchy art by Bill White.

So what have we learned from this endeavor, boys and girls? Under the constraints, I really don't have many complaints; it's a solid retrospective. As David notes in the back, there are several entire decades that go unrepresented, but it's hard to say if this is a “problem,” since—as we all know—original Western Disney material in the late sixties through the end of Western tended to be kind of on the shitty side. Under the circumstances, “length limits” may actually be convenient to have as an excuse here; the absence of Gemstone seems more problematic, but at least it's made up for by the absence of Boom. The only thing that I really do think should've been included is a “story.” I mean, no, I don't believe I've ever read one that isn't on the terrible side, but dammit, there's gotta be something that's minimally acceptable—and really, people, it's right there in the title. Fans who aren't familiar with the classic material likely have no notion of what “and stories” is supposed to mean, and they are not getting any editorial assistance with this question.

10 Comments:

Blogger Sean Daugherty said...

Weren't most of the Boom! WDC&S issues one-story-per-book serialized things? Even without bringing questions of quality into it, it would have been difficult to squeeze into a sub-100-page retrospective like this.

As an aside, since I only started reading this blog during the latest dry period between the ending of Boom!'s license and IDW picking it up earlier in the year, have you ever spoken at any length on your thoughts of Boom!'s run? Personally, I liked what I think they were trying to do... but I never really felt they pulled it off with any effectiveness.

November 28, 2015 at 3:15 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Hey Geoff!

You "wouldn't mind seeing some of this old [Chip 'n' Dale] material reprinted..." Well, you got it! WDCS 725, on sale this week, has a full-length Eisenberg CND story in the back.

As for new-to-us Van Horn, we've tentatively got some coming in February and fairly often after that. Fingers crossed, in a "schedule not yet finalized" way.

And as for Li'l Wolf... I'm not sure he's got that much appeal, and I say that as a fan: for me, the true headline character is Zeke (and the way to soften the macabre is to think Pogo: these characters simply aren't 100% human, an' eatin' folks jest happens in these woods sometimes... it's th' natcheral order, even if it gives politer guys th' whimwhams... can't they moan about that dadburn coyote at Warner fer a change?)

November 28, 2015 at 4:57 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

One thing that surprises me in this book is: not a single appearance by Scrooge ? I know he isn't as much an important character of WD'sCS as Donald, but as one of the most famous Disney comics characters, he should at least have a cameo somewhere. I mean, if Ludwig Von Drake (delightfully) made the cut, Scrooge could at least have a one-pager to him ?…

November 28, 2015 at 5:12 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I wonder did Barks there meant "Behemoth".

Let's get biblical! ;)

November 28, 2015 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

@ramapith Huzzah about the coming reprints! You seriously make me want to try to like Li'l Bad Wolf stories, but it just never takes.

@Achille Talon I don't see the absence of Scrooge as a big problem. Sure, he's a pivotal Disney comics character, but this book isn't about Disney characters tout court. Given the compromises necessary to fit in as much stuff as this does, I think Scrooge is an acceptable omission.

November 28, 2015 at 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

Say, 75 years of WDC already -- I should get myself that book! Looks like quite a broad selection of stories, I like that, that's always been the attraction of the title.

You should do more of these quick/short reviews, GeoX, increasing your output a little more. There aren't exactly a mass of Disney comics review blogs out there!

One thing that does bug me a little bit about the contents of this release is that at the end of the day it feels like only two eras are really being represented here: Western in the 40s and 50, and the Disney Comics run in the early 90s.
You mention Boom! and Gemstone not getting in, or any of that awful 70s material -- but there doesn't seem to be any Gladstone either, unless you count the kind of material they'd have reprinted!
Not that I don't understand it. To me, reprints of foreign or vintage material has been the defining image of WDC&S since the 90s, and that's one thing I like about this selection: it's all domestic material.

November 28, 2015 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

But—but "Magica's Missin' Magic" was a Gladstone-era story, albeit Gladstone II.
Scrooge's absence, if you can believe it, was a mistake. I slotted "Magica's Missin' Magic," and began production on it (i. e. too late to turn back), before remembering that Magica was in it without him!

November 28, 2015 at 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Agreed that "Treed" was a brilliant editorial move, including Hiawatha without the offensive dialogue etc. I enjoyed the Grandma backstory in "Ridin' the Rails." I also found the Gremlins story rather hard to follow.

On Chip 'n' Dale's chipmunkese: just see what a mistake it is to write their dialogue in standard English, as was done in the Disney Interregnum's Holiday Parade 2's "Christmas Fray." (Compare to Gemstone's reprinting of this story as "Such a Clatter" in their Christmas Parade 1, where they restored the chipmunkese.) It doesn't suit them--it seems far too formal. Their dialogue is part of their characterization. Staccato, not legato. They don't talk, they chatter.

November 28, 2015 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

@Sean Daugherty Sorry for missing your comment earlier. I think Boom was pretty clearly badly in over their head there, with very little real idea of what Americans might possibly want from Disney comics--hence their ill-advised focus on Italian genre stories (which they didn't even bother to localize well) in the first year-or-whatever of their existence. Not that these are necessarily bad (okay, Ultraheroes is bad--Wizards of Mickey and Double Duck are okay on their own terms), but they're sure not what anyone was really looking for, certainly not as their sole source for Disney stories. They made their first good decision by printing that Casty stuff, albeit in an awkwardly serialized way, but by the time they made their second good decision, going all-in with the classic material, it was clearly too little too late.

P.S. Oh man, I totally forgot until I started writing this comment that in their first iteration they did make some effort at presenting classic material, in those themed hardcover books they put out. They contained some good material, I'll admit, but fact that they completely slipped my mind may be an indication of how successful Boom was in marketing them.

November 29, 2015 at 12:22 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

I thought the themed hardcovers were marketed well enough... but priced poorly; I (assistant-)edited them, and even I thought $30 was too much for that page count and that size.

November 29, 2015 at 2:32 AM  

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