Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"The Loony Lunar Gold Rush"

"The Loony Lunar Gold Rush" (1964) is a pretty funny story because it's so transparently obvious that Barks was taking an "ah, fuck it" attitude. Anything for a laff. It is "loony," after all. Continuity is dubious, characters behave really bizarrely, and the ultimate message is highly questionable. In spite of and because of these things, however, I like it a lot.

The story opens with Scrooge lecturing a Junior Woodchucks troop on the inadvisability of participating in gold rushes, which seems like a surprisingly specific thing to be concerned about. It's just not something that comes up that often, you know? You might think this was meant to be emblematic of the inadvisability of any kind of get-rich-quick scheme, but no--I'm pretty sure he's just talking about gold rushes. He remains pretty monomaniacally focused on their dangers (this in spite of his having started his fortune with gold from the Klondike) throughout. His tales of gold-rush-related woe go on for quite a while, and they're actually pretty significant, since they were the impetus for the Transvaal and Australian chapters in The Life & Times.

Anyway, as you have probably gathered, all this anti-gold-rushery is pushed so hard so that there can be Irony™ when astronauts return from the Moon with tales of gold and Scrooge, the Junior Woodchucks official, and everyone else instantly goes insane. And I mean "insane" in a pretty close to literal sense here, as in:

I find the WTF-ness of this pretty hilarious, I have to say. And it's only the first in a series of panels where people try to launch themselves into space in very low-tech ways. You could, I suppose, read this as some sort of indictment of people's behavior when big money is at stake, but given the tenor of the whole comic, I kind of doubt it, and anyway, that's not as fun as the idea that the characters are just acting like lunatics for no reason.

So all sorts of people are commissioning rockets to get to the Moon, but it turns out that even for the richest duck in the world, it's not so easy. Fortunately, the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook comes to the rescue. Apparently, it contains detailed rocket blueprints that anyone can follow at home. It must be emphasized that there is NO transition between this:

and THIS:

Seriously, the second panel comes RIGHT AFTER the first. That is some seriously impressive rocketry!

Scrooge, being a canny sort, opens a store on the moon for the miners. But oh no! The Dangerous Dan McShrew--he's a humanoid shrew, you see--comes up with a devious plan to get all the ducks out of the store so he can take it over! This works for a while, but naturally, they ultimately make it back, and in another moment of awesomely goofy whimsicality, presumably referencing the Robert Service poem, we get several panels of rhyming:

Uncommon as they are, I love things like this for the way they subvert the more or less realistic world (okay, you know what I mean) that Barks has created.

Naturally, he doesn't get shot in this version, but he DOES have to pay a five-dollar fine back on Earth (seriously--that's his punishment). And what lesson do we take from all this? Remember at the beginning of the story where Scrooge was saying gold rushes were bad? Turns out they're AWESOME:

As I may have noted earlier, a lot of Barks' later Scrooge stories feel a little tired to me (still good, but definitely flagging a bit), but this one is an exception. Sure, it's goofy, which might bother purists, but it also feels creatively vital. Better that he should strike out in new directions than that he should just go through the motions.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are lots of treats in the language in this one. I loved Daisy's comment when Donald lands in her garden after another abortive attempt to shoot the moon - from memory "You're in my buttercups, begone you moonstruck sourdough!"

June 4, 2010 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Oh, absolutely--one thing I've noticed is that when Barks got slightly flaky in terms of plots in the early sixties, the language tended to get looser, goofier, and generally funnier. I think there's definitely something to be said for seeing this as a gradual shading of modernism into postmodernism. But I've probably already belabored such points too much.

June 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

What struck me on first reading is that, at the exact time and very near where astronauts are returning from the first voyage to the Moon, the Junior Woodchucks organization--which you'd assume would be interested in something like the marvels of space travel--has decided to schedule a talk about the dangers of participating in gold rushes.

April 9, 2014 at 2:54 AM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

Why did the Junior Woodchucks schedule a speaker to address the dangers of participating in gold rushes at the exact same time and in the same city where astronauts are returning from the first-ever trip to the Moon?

April 9, 2014 at 2:57 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That's a very good--and funny--point. Thanks.

April 9, 2014 at 3:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Barks equivalent of The Taming of the Shrew -- good story with excellent comedy, but most of the fun is in trying to determine what's meant to be sincere and what's meant to be sarcastic.

February 25, 2016 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger TC said...

Well, the Junior Woodchucks scheduled a lecture at the same time the lunar expedition was returning so that Scrooge could preach about the folly of gold rushes, then get caught up in a gold rush one minute later. Even when I was six, I appreciated the irony.

This story is a personal favorite, if only for nostalgia's sake. At the time, the "Shooting of Dan McGrew" parody went over my head, but the story is entertaining enough on its own, even if you don't get all of the allusions.

June 3, 2016 at 11:46 PM  

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