Eid Mubarak Said, ev'ryone! Are there any Eid-themed Disney comics? I have my doubts.
Well anyway, things have been quiet around here because I've been busy relocating. I recall I suggested some time ago that I was planning on writing about some old non-Barks Western stories in the Spring. Clearly, that did not happen, and I'll tell you why: because it was predicated on the idea that I would have returned to Indonesia by that point; without immediate access to the latest IDW comics, I figured it would be a good opportunity. But...then my return was delayed. And delayed. Boy, you don't even want to KNOW the stress and frustration I was experiencing. Finally, however, I'm back in Jakarta, and as such, it's time to pay old debts. For starters, here is "Rattled Railroader," a 1958 story by Tony Strobl and Carl Fallberg. Please enjoy it!
We open with Scrooge strolling in as HDL gorge themselves on jam--as you do. Imagine a full-grown duck etc! You would be able to tell this was written by Carl Fallberg even if inducks didn't tell you so, given the fixation with railroads (in fact, is it possible that the only reason inducks is willing to attribute this to Fallberg is for that reason?). As you may have inferred from subtle little comments I've made here and there, I'm not a fan of the endless Fallberg/Murry MM serials, but Fallberg does okay here (and come to think of it, Murry also worked on a few duck stories that I like--is it just that Mickey presented different challenges that neither of them was quite up to?).
Probably the most entertaining thing in this story is Fallberg's light self-deprecation as he shows Donald geeking out about trains. NOT A TOY. GRAPHIC NOVEL NOT COMIC. VIDEOGAMES ARE TOO ART. This is one of those things that non-Barks writers sometimes did that admittedly looks a little odd. Donald, as we've frequently noted, contains multitudes, but fixating on a hobby like this seems more Fethry-esque. Of course, this story was pre-Fethry, so maybe it makes sense that a trait that in latter days might be off-loaded to another character should be attributed to Donald himself. These stories may not always--or often--be good, exactly, but there's an element of unpredictability to them that keeps them interesting. Well, okay, plenty of them aren't at all interesting. But you never know what you're going to get, is the point, and on occasion, what you get kinda works out on its own modest terms.
That right there's my favorite bit. GET IT RIGHT, DAMMIT!
The usual sort of thing. Barksian enough, though it's surprising at such a late date that Strobl wouldn't have depicted him sitting in money while doing these accounts.
Here's another thing that relates to what I was talking about re unpredictability. Scrooge, on occasion, is surprisingly generous in these stories. Not that he shouldn't pay all expenses given that his nephews are doing him a favor, but in Rosa--say--there would inevitably be some element of them getting shafted. Of course, in others of these stories, he's just unbearably dickish, so, you know. Six of one half-dozen of the other.
And fair's fair, Strobl and Fallberg are never going to be as evocative as Barks, but the little isolated ghost town is pretty well-depicted here. I like.
I'm not a fanatic about trains like Fallberg, but I can appreciate their romance, and as such, I like this. More generally, I just like this kind of enthusiasm over somewhat esoteric subjects. As far as I'm concerned, Fallberg can write as many stories about trains as he likes--though if they're Mickey stories with Murry, please forgive me if I doze off halfway through.
Then there are these guys, Jeb'n'Zeb. Jebediah and Zebulon! Now those are some serious nineteenth-century-frontiersman names for you! They're kind of endearing. There may not be that much to them, but they add some simple human interest to the story, and perhaps elevate it a bit over others of its type. As you know, one-shot secondary characters in Disney comics rarely make that much of an impression, and even more rarely in old Western stories like this, so let's give some credit.
Hey, okay, so I may just be a big ol' sentimentalist, but I think that's nice.
The canoe guy strands them because they took longer than five minutes. Seems like it would be difficult to explain that to the guy who hired him to ferry them, but WHAT DO I KNOW?!? There's something about that "silence" that always strikes me. It's goofy for sure, but also kind of ominous and enigmatic, not that it means much for the story as a whole.
...how "terrific" can the scenery possibly be if the whole forest has been clear-cut? In general, you should try not to contradict yourself in the space of one panel. That's my opinion, anyway! I feel like it's a bit of a failure on Fallberg's part to really conceptualize the setting. He's just running through "possible commercial uses for Alaskan wilderness" and didn't stop to think that these might not necessarily all go together. The environmental devastation that most of these plans would involve is of course not even hinted at.
I like these bears and their berries! I don't know; I guess they're just regular ol' bears, but they're okay with me. Think how cool it would be if you were just hanging out in a berry field and, bam, BEARS, just slurping down berries! Certainly they're better than that the ones in that dire Country Bears story that IDW recently reprinted! And I like the sense of plenitude with the berries.
Okay, I know there's really no point in asking "how could anyone possibly even know if the train didn't make a round trip?" It's hard not to, though. And, I mean, is everyone really just taking it on faith that, of course, it must've never missed a day over the course of sixty years! That just seems implausible on the face of it, Zeb'n'Jeb's persistence notwithstanding.
Donald's train fandom doesn't really play into the story very much after the beginning, but here's this. So does his enthusiasm allow him to actually run the train like a pro? What do you think?
...not that the story does anything with his incompetence, or makes it into any sort of character arc. You would likely have seen something a bit more sophisticated in that regard from Barks. Still, at least he knew he was supposed to do SOMETHING with the overdeterminedly-phallically-named Johnson bar!
Here's my question: has anyone ever actually seen a handcar in real life? I mean, I'm sure they're a real thing, but it's a concept that I am familiar with exclusively through Disney comics. If you ever saw them, you sure don't nowadays. It looks like it would be kinda fun to ride one, albeit exhausting if you're doing it for any length of time.
Blah blah, day saved, etc.
...well hey, even Barks himself often struggled with providing satisfying endings, so I guess there's little point in caviling that, thematically, this has little to do with anything. Especially because, all things considered, YOU WOULD BE FORTUNATE if this was the issue of Donald Duck that you happened to pick up in 1958. Sure, the story has its rough spots, but it could have been--and often was--so much worse. It's definitely a good choice for anyone curious about these old obscurities, and I will go so far as to say that I would not mind seeing it reprinted. So there!