Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Still the Champion"

Right, so this is the story I was alluding to last time with this:


Looking it up on inducks I realized--I had totally forgotten this--that Gemstone actually reprinted it, in their sixtieth-anniversary issue of Uncle Scrooge. Go figure.

It comes from a Duck Album. Duck Albums were a long-running Four Color Comics series, the conceit of which is that the ducks are gathering 'round the ol' family album, and telling the stories of the various photographs--one for each character. I remember really, really liking this conceit when I was small; hell, I like it NOW--but the stories themselves are, predictably, nothing much to shout about.

In the particular issue where this appeared, there's a twist: Donald has decided that dumb ol' still photos are Old Hat:


The photographs that stories in the other albums are based on are rarely if ever justified; that is, there's no logical way a picture could actually have been taken at that moment. This "home movies" business takes that illogic to a new level, though: are we supposed to imagine that there were Secret Cameras recording each of the stories? Or are these just recreations? Neither rationale seems particularly convincing.


Also, who's supposed to have designed the title cards? HMM. But never fear; in the end, Grandma's luddite ways are vindicated:


Yeah, smug it up, Granny. But don't come crying to me when the goat comes back for your precious photo album.

SO ANYWAY, on to the story. Ol' Indian Joe's in the lead! What to do?!?


HOO BOY. But don't worry; Dan Snyder will be happy to explain to you how Scrooge is only using that word to show his deep appreciation and respect for Joe's Native American heritage. And naturally, since it's so totally non-loaded and inoffensive, there will have been NO PROBLEM reprinting it:


Huh.

But in all deadly seriousness, while this would likely cause the usual suspects to start fulminating about the dread specter of Political Correctness, I think it's wholly reasonable that ordinary citizens should be able to open a Disney comic book without fear of running smack into a racial slur.

(On a wholly unrelated note, though, I do like Scrooge's dollar-sign lamp.)


Okay, so that's ridiculous, but in fairness, it's pretty much the exact same kind of ridiculous that we see in "The Second-Richest Duck," so I guess I can't cavil. But that's okay; there's plenty else about which I CAN. And this was 1953, note; excuses that "oh, the writer just wasn't familiar enough with the character" are not valid at this late date--at least not for Americans, who don't have to wait for Western stories to appear in translation.


It's hard to imagine how he thinks he's guaranteed to stay on top if he's only ahead by one cent, but again--Barks! However, here you will note the first instance of a recurring feature in this comic, which is that all the meaningful action takes place off-stage, relayed to us second-hand. It is a less-than-thrilling storytelling technique.


Yeah, you'll really have to...wait, what? You're telling me you're not already raking in millions every DAY? I mean okay, so you maybe have to rejigger your businesses to make them more efficient or whatever, but let's not pretend that there aren't OPTIONS. This panel appears to be assuming that Scrooge's fortune is static and never-changing.


...so the anonymous writer of this story was sufficiently familiar with Barks to bring back this iconic phrase, but not enough so to have any idea how Scrooge would be likely to behave in a Barksian setting. OR--we must acknowledge the very strong possibility--the writer just didn't care; it was super-easy to gain some credibility by using this one phrase, but that doesn't mean he's actually going to do anything that requires work.


I mean seriously, not that Barks' Scrooge didn't have ethical struggles from time to time, but this seems excessive. Also, it's a pretty damned pathetic way to try to be number one. If you want that position, you should EARN it, dammit. It's not impressive if you only win by default because everyone else is losing on their own.


See? More off-stage action. Somehow, "the government is third" always cracks me up. And it must be noted how SUPER-WEIRD it is that the radio announcer would be providing these wealth standings.


D'OH! Note, again, how the writer here doesn't understand Scrooge, whose first impulse--obviously--would be to go for a swim in his cash, rather than frolic around in a park.


Okay, fair enough, renewed tenacity in the face of defeat is reminiscent of "Only a Poor Old Man." The goofy way this tenacity manifests itself--wholly devoid of business acumen--may perhaps not be, so much.


Huh. It turns out that the kid didn't REALLY have a new industrial recipe for the manufacture of gum. Who coulda knowed? Though I guess the fact that he had a working recipe AT ALL is impressive enough.


...as someone who has never mastered the art of blowing bubbles with gum, I am nonetheless fairly confident in saying that that is nonsense. Still, the kid obviously has SOME pretty amazing technique to have been able to do that.


Er...yay. A stirring victory for our hero. But WAIT; earlier he was moaning about how much he'd "have to sweat" to make just one million, but the fact that Joe is still making five million a day somehow isn't a problem?

Okay, thinking too hard about these things isn't likely to get you much of anywhere, but a disposable story like this really does go to show why Barks was the best. This writer didn't understand something that Unca Carl did: it's not that easy to make readers root for a super-rich character to get super-richer. If you want to have a prayer at getting them to do that, one of the key ingredients is to get them to admire the character for his resilience and industry--tougher than the toughies, smarter than the smarties. By contrast, here we're apparently meant to cheer for Scrooge because, in the face of difficulties that have caused him to totally capitulate, totally unexpected things have happened that arbitrarily made him the "winner." This doesn't just make him seem less impressive; it makes him seem actively pathetic, which I don't think anyone wants.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Chris Chan said...

Maybe that kid had a chicken from Plain Awful under his shirt to blow that square bubble.

February 3, 2016 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Not my favorite story. I'm still trying to figure out why we reprinted it! (First Strobl Scrooge—maybe?)

February 3, 2016 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Ha! I missed that fun fact. Well, at least it gives the story a bit of historical interest.

February 3, 2016 at 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only is it Strobl's first Scrooge, it's also the first ever non-Barksian appearance of the Beagle Boys.

February 4, 2016 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Uncle Scrooge is very rich.

February 4, 2016 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

CITATION NEEDED.

Little did I know how redolent with history this insignificant-looking little story is!

February 4, 2016 at 10:21 PM  
Blogger Clapton said...

GeoX:
Really love your reviews of Non-Barks western stuff. Hope to see more!

February 5, 2016 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Mesterius said...

Well, obviously that kid was hiding a square chicken under his skirt and making IT blow that square bubble. OBVIOUSLY.

February 5, 2016 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Not joking, I think the writer might have been actively referencing Lost in the Andes just like he was referencing Only a poor old man, in his desperate attempt to make what is not a Barks story feel like one.

As for the "NEEDED" citation, it's from our French comic books here, and twice at that: first, our counterpart of the Carl Barks Library, being modeled after the Italian version, contains "identity cards" of Barks-created characters at the end of each book, as a special feature of sorts, and this story was mentioned as being the first non-Barks tale with the BB. And the story was also reprinted in a Beagle Boys-themed special issue because of that.

P.S.: (Yes, that was me posting anonymous earlier because I did not have time to connect or write a lengthy post such as this one, but desperately wanting to get the info through in spite of a restricting schedule)

February 5, 2016 at 6:07 PM  
Blogger Richie said...

Pretty sure the NEEDED CITATION was aimed at Paul Miluś' ridiculous claim. We all know the Little Helper's the one rolling in the cash.

February 5, 2016 at 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Baar Baar Jinx said...

"Not only is it Strobl's first Scrooge, it's also the first ever non-Barksian appearance of the Beagle Boys."

And I notice the "176" convention has already been violated. Guess I can't be too hard on those Italian stories, then.

Also, if that actually was supposed to be e reference to "Lost in the Andes", it's nothing short of miraculous that Western writers recognized Barks' genius back then.

February 6, 2016 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

I dunno--god knows I'd LIKE to think that's a "Lost in the Andes" reference, but without even the smallest dialogue cue to that effect, I find it extremely doubtful.

February 6, 2016 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I think it's save to asume that it was inspired by "Lost in the Andes" but was not ment an actuall homage/wink to the fanbase...

February 7, 2016 at 2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Not only is it Strobl's first Scrooge, it's also the first ever non-Barksian appearance of the Beagle Boys": true, and we can also add that it is the fourth American appearance (and fifth ever appearance) of the Beagle Boys.

"And I notice the "176" convention has already been violated. Guess I can't be too hard on those Italian stories, then": actually, that convention hadn't been estabilished yet when this story was published in 1953.

In fact, Barks' Beagle Boys went into three stages in regards to the rule of their prison numbers:

1) No numbers: first appearance, in the ten-page "Terror of the Beagle Boys" in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 134 (November 1951).

2) "176-" followed by random numbers: this started in their second appearance, in the ten-page "The Big Bin on Killmotor Hill" in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 135 (December 1951); the rule was followed for almost three years, until "The Seven Cities of Cibola" (included) in Uncle Scrooge 7 (September 1954).

3) "176-" followed by any permutation of 1, 6 and 7: this is the definitive rule, and was introduced in "The Mysterious Stone Ray" in Uncle Scrooge 8 (December 1954).

So, Strobl's 1953 story was just following the rule #2.

February 7, 2016 at 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like Strobl must have traced some of the art in this story. There are several drawings here that look... different from his style and familiar somehow, particularly Scrooge's expression as he hands the bill to the bubblegum boy, and his anguish as he's heading up the stairs.

There's no way that the square bubblegum thing was just a coincidence, but as Pan Milus said, it's probably not supposed to be an "homage" either. More likely it's just an instance where the writer remembered a funny concept from the earlier story and repurposed it for a gag in this one, likely without even expecting the reader to have read "Lost in the Andes".

February 8, 2016 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

About the "traced" thing: Strobl rarely inked his stories himself and instead had someone else ink them for him. The style we associate most with him is that of stories inked by Steve Steere, but perhaps this day he asked someone else with a more distinctive style who did not resist making a few changes in places he thought he could do better than Strobl.

February 8, 2016 at 5:15 AM  

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