Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Three Un-Ducks"

Sometimes you encounter a story that you have trouble thematizing in a coherent way, but is just odd enough to warrant mention. Hence: "Three Un-Ducks," from 1956. It's a virtual rewrite of 1944's "Three Dirty Little Ducks" (which was notable for being Barks' first story to feature four rather than three rows of panels), but it's more interesting to me: it contains what appears to be both Cold War and Holocaust subtexts--hey, it's not like I'm SEARCHING for these things; they kind of jump out at me. I don't think Barks was trying to construct the story to create such an impression, but it may to some extent indicate what was going on in his unconscious at the time.

So HDL make a Terrible Vow that they are never again going to bathe.

This seems to explicitly position them as--oh no, there is NO WAY you are going to get me to use the word "subaltern" in one of these reviews. DOES kinda fit. By this negation, they are placed outside society and all its rules and sanctions--not unlike the victims of the Nazis. You think that's a pretty wild interpretive leap? Well, maybe; I'm not saying any of this is beyond dispute.


It happens to be Christmas Eve, and Donald wants the kids to be clean when Grandma comes over for dinner. So he runs them a bath--a scented bath, "so they'll even smell clean." To which HDL's reaction is:

*Shrug* I don't know. I'm just noting that, while gassing doesn't come exclusively with Holocaust connotations, it sure carries pretty strong semiotic significance in that direction. As does this:

Hey, it's...Bernie? What happened to Bolivar? In any case, tracking victims down with dogs sure contributes to my interpretation of the matter. But then it just gets weird:

Um. I know Barks used geiger counters elsewhere (I learned what they were from him!), even if I can't quite unearth examples right now. But I THINK that those other examples actually made some sort of sense. Hint: if you're able to track the kids with one, you should probably get them to a doctor rather than sticking them in a bath. This probably does connote some sort of sublimated nuclear anxiety, however, which at least sort of goes along with the World War II theme.

In any case, Donald is pissed off, so he prepares his secret weapon: a little "present" for the boys:

It may be a piñata, but it sure has a weaponish look to it. And indeed:

CHEMICAL WARFARE! Naturally, this ends their rebellion, and they're all sparkly-clean for Grandma. I don't, for the record, believe that Barks was trying to make this one weird and allegorical--I think if he'd been trying, such allegory as there is would have been more thematically coherent--but it sure seems like something is up here. You don't write anything without revealing at least a piece of yourself, however imperfectly.



Anonymous PL9 said...

What, no one commented on this? Well, I'm here to fix that, albeit seven years late. Anyway, another Barks story that used a geiger counter (I think, though Barks calls it a “scintillator”) was in WDC&S #191 (also from 1956). Donald was using it to track Huey, Dewey and Louie so they wouldn't get lost in the woods during a camping trip. And how does he do that? “I fastened little uranium buttons to the tops of their caps!” Yikes. Even when I read that story as a kid back in 1974 (via a reprint), I knew about the dangers of nuclear radiation, and couldn't help thinking that the nephews would end up getting cancer! Thanks, Unca Donald!

April 16, 2016 at 12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that story, too. Pretty unsettling!

August 24, 2016 at 3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys are appparently younger than I am! In the early 50s, radiation was often considered just another useful aid to modern life! e.g. Department stores had these feet-irradiating devices that were used to help measure your shoe size! When my mum took me to get new shoes [age 6], I remember looking into the viewer of one of these machines, and clearly seeing the bones in my feet! How nifty, I thought. [see]
re Geiger counter:
As a scientist, I once used a Geiger counter to look for concentrations of heavy metals in natural settings. So, Barks claim that he could track HDL if they were covered in dirt is not entirely baseless. But it would depend on their neighbourhood resting on some rather unusual rock strata! And them being VERY dirty. In either case though, they would not need to be hospitalised.
Even so, Bark's idea of a "scintillator gun", and uranium buttons, was new to me. Times have certainly changed.
Thanks for your web page. Love your commentary. Barks is the greatest!
ps I am now old & retired, and havent yet got any cancers.

September 12, 2018 at 10:22 PM  

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