"The Stone Money Mystery"
My place in the Sun: I got an email the other day informing me that Duck Comics Revue is the internet's fifty-ninth-best comics blog. I am humbled and honored by this, uh, honor. They gave me one of those tacky little gifs of a medal to put up, but I must humbly decline on the basis that coming in fifty-ninth isn't actually very impressive, and also on the basis that feedspot is just a skeevy spam/email harvesting operation. Still, it was an honor to be nominated, or something.
Anyway, if I want to continue to be used by questionable dudes to get strangers' emails, I should probably update more often, shouldn't I? According to that list, "it is a blog on wonderful comic stories about Donald Duck." Well...from time to time. Let's see if this, a 1960 story drawn by the indefatigable Tony Strobl, counts as "wonderful." At any rate, it's currently the fifteenth-highest-ranked Strobl story on inducks. Those are some heady heights!
We open in the Duckburg Museum. I've always liked museums, and therefore I like this. It's a nice vibe; I really do dig the fact that the duck family is into learning cool shit. Mind you, it's hard to be TOO impressed by the curators: "Sea shells used as money by island natives." Yeah, that's some impressive anthropological rigor, guys. Still, even if there's not that much to it, and even though the depictions of actual cultures can be problematic, I think--from my own personal experience--that things like this can actually be helpful in widening children's minds and increasing their curiosity, perhaps--showing them that there are whole other worlds and culture out there. Take that, Dorfman and Mattelart!
(Yes! First How to Read Donald Duck reference of the year!)
This Yap Island money business is a totally fascinating thing, and a natural subject for a Disney comic, though unsurprisingly, it's been a bit squashed and mutated in the retelling. It probably goes without saying that it was not actually moved around like kids with old-timey sticks and hoops. Still fun, though!
(I will pass over Donald's "if stuff like that could be used today" comment in silence because it is really not clear to me whether this is Donald's fatuousness, or the author just has a really shaky understanding of economics. Could go either way! Also, what do you mean, "you're not passing it over in silence; you're writing this paragraph?" Can't you see it's in parentheses? So it doesn't count! Jeez!)
Unsurprisingly, the stone gets loose, and I cannot not laugh at such dopey slapstick as this. Hooray!
And now, we get a recurring motif in these old non-Barks stories: writers not being clear on what sort of rich guy Scrooge is supposed to be--what with the limousine and driver and all. You'd think by 1960, people would've had a better handle on the issue. Oh well! I DO like his rare bit of generosity to Donald here: as I think I've suggested elsewhere there HAVE to be times, off-panel, when he's not a total dick to his nephews; otherwise, it would be really pushing it to imagine they'd keep hanging around him. I especially like it here because of these non-Barks Western writers' proclivity for having him engage in incredible, gratuitous, Guido-Martina-esque sadism. And, as we'll see, it's balanced out rather effectively in the end. I don't think the writer was aiming at this; I think it just happened for plot-expediency reasons.
(And man, sometimes I step back and realize: what I'm writing here would be total gibberish to anyone not marinated in duck comics. Questions might include: What does "what sort of rich guy Scrooge is supposed to be" mean, and what do the limo and driver have to do with anything? What does 1960 have to do with it? Why are you referring to comic authors as "Western writers?" Who the hell is "Guido Martina?" Sometimes I worry that this all may be a bit too insular.)
Ha ha, Scrooge sucks compared to "the museum!" I like seeing Donald and HDL needling him like that. Also, what's this "outside of some historical value, that rock is worthless in terms of money" nonsense? MOST old money is "worthless in terms of money!" Historical value is, like, the main thing! Do you really just measure value in terms of what something would be worth if you melted it down and sold it? Don't be daft. Though I suppose this is an implicit theme that you see even in Barks: he may not want to sell Genghis Khan's crown, but he wouldn't want it if it weren't made of valuable materials either. WHATEVER, DUDE.
This story isn't a heartbreaking work of staggering genius or anything, but I must say, for a story of its type, it does amazingly well in setting up a real-world setting and mystery. Okay, that's grading on a substantial curve, but most stories don't even try. Look at that thing with the wheel having left mysterious sigils in the concrete. There's never anything more to it than the above, but it's STILL quite impressive. For what it is. As I keep feeling the need to qualify my praise. BUT I LIKE IT, OKAY?
And, I mean, look at this stuff! It's totally trying to be Barks. If more of these stories would do that, we would be happier.
Seriously, it's like a dry run for Don Rosa. Only not as good-looking. Or well-written. Or interesting...okay, I should stop damning this with faint praise, because I mean it for serious: this is substantially, noticeably better than the norm. Hooray for a writer whose name has been lost in time! Don Christensen, maybe? That'd be my guess. The timing is good, and he also wrote another of my non-Barks Western (there's gotta be a more concise way to say that) favorites.
It's...difficult to say what to make of this. The natives are properly civilized, but then when this one subject is brought up, they regress to their savage ways okay it's not THAT difficult to say what to make of this. Still...we've seen worse. And better! But worse is more likely.
Unfortunately, the story fails to live up to the potential that the surprisingly decent set-up suggested. The mystery is never addressed in any interesting way, let alone solved. WHY exactly is gold now forbidden, and terrifying to everyone? This question is not even nodded at. It just...is what it is.
Donald finds da cartwheelz! Bully for him. I mean, the image is all right. But the question remains: why? Why why why?
Pretty silly--I think it's safe to say that CROCODILES DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT--but I've always liked the visual.
So there you go. The idea that Scrooge is going to row all the way home seems...unrealistic, somehow. But as stinginess goes, it's less unreasonable than some depictions you'll see. Anyway, let's face it, at some point, he's gonna get tired out; there's no getting around it. And then Donald can make some of that money back.
The one thing that always REALLY, REALLY bothered me about this as a kid was the fact that Scrooge ONLY takes a gold wheel. THERE ARE TWO UNIQUE PIECES OF CURRENCY YOU NEED FOR YOUR COLLECTION AND YOU ONLY TOOK ONE OF THEM JEEZ.
But what the hey! I like the story enough that I will generously donate my Top 75 Comics Blog medal to it:
Labels: Tony Strobl