Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Volcano Valley"

Here at Duck Comics Revue LLC, we have a credo. That's right, a credo. And our credo is: Carl Barks kicks ass. But wait! Our credo has a SECOND part to it, to wit: nobody is without sin, and by "sin" we mean "risible duck comics that never should have been written." Our goal is to present the master in all his dimensions, including both his glory and his lack thereof. Hence: "Volcano Valley."

Promising title, right? So you might think. But as it turns out, the entire thing is basically one, long "Mexicans are lazy" joke. Yeah, there's a little bit of story beyond that, but it doesn't really make much sense. No, they aren't actually in Mexico, but really, who is fooling whom? I ask you. It's not even bad in an intriguing way. But we'll give it a glance anyway.

So Donald orders a model airplane for HDL, but what he gets instead, for reasons that are unclear, is a fullsize bomber plane, which he then sells to a horrifying little homunculus with a Speedy Gonzalez accent, who hails from the South-of-the-Borderish nation of Volcanovia and who is loitering around the airport for reasons which are again unclear:

A mildly interesting topical detail is the fact that Donald gets tricked into thinking he's getting way more than he actually is due to the badly devalued Volcanovian currency--although the reader can predict that this is going to happen pretty much instantly, of course, so it isn't a too terribly thrilling plot twist. The Volcanovian, whose name is--sigh--Pablo Mañana (the tilde lends his character authenticity!), offers to take them for a ride before leaving, and if nothing else, we get--out of nowhere--a scene of Donald exhibiting sexual jealousy:

Rightio! Due to Pablo's getting lost and falling asleep (Volcanovians need their siestas, you see), the ducks get flown to Volcanovia itself. The place, as you have probably gathered, is lousy with volcanoes. Volcanoes and lazy people:

Two great tastes that taste etc. I dunno, though. Even though I don't think it's the comic's intent, there's something to be said for this attitude as a counterpoint to our work-obsessed culture. And as the Volcanovian President remarks at one point, this is "the most peaceful countree [sic] on Earth." Maybe it's not really such a bad deal.

For reasons that are unclear (I seem to be using that phrase a lot here), visitors are not allowed to leave the country unless they're able to do something to make them "national heroes." Seems impractical, but we must respect the Volcanovian folkways. Anyway, Donald tries several hero-making things. The first one is to teach the people how to milk cows, which is apparently beyond their ken. But oh no!--there's an earthquake as he's demonstrating, and all the milk turns into butter. As someone who, in preschool, was ordered to try to make butter by shaking a jar of milk, allow me to assure you that this would NOT WORK. You'd think that butter would be at least as good as milk, though, for Don's purposes. But no. Then, he accidentally dumps food on the President's head, and instead of a National Hero, he is declared a National Menace and must stand trial.

This is actually one of the most interesting parts of the story: only one juror shows up (yes, laziness, let's not dwell on it)--a guy who happens to be an American expatriate. What's this dude's story? It's a fascinating mystery! Or not! But still! As you might gather, Texas Tex turns out to be a Texan, and we get this bit, which may or may not be a stab at social commentary.

Whatever it is, I find it kind of amusing.

So Donald is found guilty and is going to be sent to work in the mines. Oh no! We DO get this bit, which, for a huge duck comic dork like me, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile:

HORTENSE!!!!! I have to admit, I got WAY more excited about this line than anyone reasonably would, especially given that this was written well before there was any sort of established duck genealogy (Grandma Duck is actually HDL's great-grandmother, for what it's worth). Just goes to show who you're dealing with here. We also get this bit of angst as HDL, having been knocked out by minivolcanoes (it's a bigger problem than you think) fail to rescue him:

Okay, so let's cut this short: he escapes, and tries to become a hero by warning everyone that the big volcano is going to erupt and pwn them all. The ducks and Pablo decide to stop it by dumping barrels of...something in it to block it up. VOLCANOES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY. But here they do, I guess, except that, um, the contents of the barrel turn out to be somewhat suboptimal:

I can only assume that soon after, the country was engulfed in magma. I mean, how is the popcorn going to STOP it? So they leave. And the story ends. And we breathe a sigh of relief.

Actually, I guess it isn't quite as bad as I made it out to be: some maybe-social-commentary, a nationalistic Texan, and HORTENSE!!! What more could you ask for? Well, a great deal, actually. All that is kind of overshadowed by the "lazy Mexicans" business. But at least it's something, and it means that the comic is perhaps not a completely complete loss.



Anonymous Richie said...

As a mexican myself, is it odd that I find this amusing instead of offensive? I haven't read the story yet, but I find this whole deal to be pretty innofensive...

Don's exhibiting random sexual jealousy has been featured more than once on Barks' work. I am reminded of the 1945 story "Eyes in the Dark" (aka "Donald's Radar"), where checking out on Daisy to see if she's "being true" to him is the only other use Don gives to his new device.

To make this comment more worthwhile of its existence, I wonder if you're aware of this wonderful page. Give it a look! :

November 1, 2010 at 5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite stories by Barks from the 40's. Beautifully irrational and beautifully hilarious. A "ten-page style" story extending to a double length, and it works so well! The first part has not a great rhythm, but anyway it has some strikingly funny panels (the ducks finding themselves with a real bombardier, the jealous Donald joke, the ducks actually praying on the plane...). The second part, starting more or less from the moment when Donald is declared a national menace, is an example of pure comic genius. The trial is damn funny. Putting that panel with the depressed Donald behind bars ("nobody loves me anymore"), in the middle of such a comic run, is like a comedian punch in the face to the reader: it almost killed me! (cool, now I can paste&copy this as a comment on inducks...)

Complaining about the "Mexican stereotypes" makes no sense here. If one starts taking that into account when judging (and even before that, when enjoying the first reading of) a funny-animals comic, well maybe then he is not handling the medium quite properly. You cannot entail the judgement "Mexicans are lazy" (and ascribe it to the author) in a comic tale in which, yes, there are anthropomorphic dog people dressed like Mexicans acting extremely lazy as part of a stage where an anthropomorphic duck makes funny faces in a Kafkaesque sequence of events. Seriously, seen from here (a rainy city in old Europe where some people love to kill comic cartoonist), this politically correctness thing going on in the US starts turning bad. :)

August 27, 2015 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Look, either Barks is worth taking seriously, or he isn't. If he isn't, then "dude, it's just a comic, who cares, don't think so hard about it" is a valid line to take. But if you think he IS, then you can't just hand-wave away problematic elements (I'm not saying this story is particularly awful in this regard, but it's not nothing either). Given that I started this blog, it's probably pretty obvious where I fall on this question.

August 27, 2015 at 7:09 PM  
Blogger Monkey_Feyerabend said...

No, wait. You completely misunderstood my comment. Worse than that, in a way you got the opposite idea of what I was trying to say. My bad. Let me try again.
I was not using the argument "dude, it's just a comic, who cares, don't think so hard about it". Not only I would never say that about Barks' comics, but indeed I would never say such a thing about any kind of comic at all.
To make that even more clear, let me point out better my personal case: I am someone who read very few comics before the age of 10, and read no comics at all - not a single damn panel! - from the age of 11 till the age of 22. One could say that I only know reading comics as an adult serious experience. The idea "comics for kids/teens" could not be further from my mind, believe me.

My argument was right the opposite. If you care about comics (in general, and Disney comics in particular), if you take them seriously, then you MUST be able to handle the thing in more than a way, and choose the way that maximize your intellectual experience. In particular, you must be able to completely abstract away from some features of the comic that can compromise the best reception (& enjoyment, & analyze) of other (possibly more significant) aspects. In the case of Volcanoes Valley, as soon as I perceived that the story was partially based on some old racial clichés, I de-activated the part of my brain that pulses when seeing inappropriate racial stuff. So to properly enjoy and SERIOUSLY analyze all the rest that matters more (the art, the composition of the panels in each page, the storytelling, the way the action-to-action completion was handled by the author, the gags & mimics, and you name it...). In my view, THIS is what you do if you take seriously Barks. Then of course you can read again the story with the "racial-capture portion of your brain" active, and find yourself thinking things like "jeez...I am glad I was not born Mexican in the US in the middle of the 20th century!". But is this really important? Are you really respecting the art of the author by letting this kind of thinking pass through your mind while exploring the story for the very first time (the most important time, if like me you are not one taking the first run on the story too quickly)?

Well, hope you get my point. Then read it as you like, of course. But please, do no give me that "dude, it's just a comic" shit never again ;)

August 28, 2015 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

This was one of the first entries I wrote, and looking back on it I can see that I was harder on it than I would be today. Calling it a "risible duck comic that never should have been written?" Okay, that's clearly an extreme statement.

I understand where you're coming from, but when you write something like:

You cannot entail the judgement "Mexicans are lazy" (and ascribe it to the author) in a comic tale in which, yes, there are anthropomorphic dog people dressed like Mexicans acting extremely lazy as part of a stage where an anthropomorphic duck makes funny faces in a Kafkaesque sequence of events.

I don't think you can blame me for interpreting you as saying, in essence, "it's just a goofy story, stop trying to take serious things away from it!"

For me, taking a story seriously doesn't mean switching off part of your brain. I can--or I like to think I can!--accept and appreciate a story for what it is. Do I think Barks has malicious intent here? No, not at all. But I DO think it's fair to say that, even if we don't find it massively offensive, it still draws on some pretty darned lazy stereotypes.

You've got to take a story for what it is, yes, but that "I just turn that part of my brain off" business only goes so far. This stuff is PART of the story, and you're not getting a full picture of it if you pretend it's not. Doesn't mean we have to condemn the story tout court (and, as I said, I think I went too far in that direction in this entry) but we have to acknowledge it if we want to fully understand Barks's times and his work.

August 28, 2015 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Monkey_Feyerabend said...

I was not blaming you for interpreting me in that way. Indeed my first comment was not clear and could be read in that way. My fault :)

August 28, 2015 at 3:31 PM  

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