Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Voodoo Hoodoo"

You know why I love Geoffrey Blum? As a somewhat fanatical purist (although I AM trying to be more open-minded these days!), his actual duck comics tend to do little for me--the idea that Scrooge&Co would benefit by being dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century is not one I agree with. No--I love him for the introductory mini-essays he wrote for Gladstone's jumbo Comic Album Series, which are generally very smart and in which, let me tell you, he is NOT AFRAID to toss around the theory. In this volume, he references Leslie Fiedler and uses the phrase "dialectic of power and submission." Yeah, that's the stuff. Unfortunately, he also kind of drops the ball in this edition, as we shall see.

This was the 1940s, okay? In that time, it was unavoidable: your pop culture artifacts were gonna feature a lot of "Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo" you type stuff, only without Vachel Lindsay's verbal facility. So here's the story: it turns out there's a zombie wandering around town for reasons unclear. A zombie known as Bombie the Zombie. Yup. It turns out he's looking for Scrooge, but he finds Donald instead, and, mistaking the two, gives him a voodoo doll which pricks him with a poison needle. Oh no! Now he's been cursed, allegedly--a curse which will make him shrink! Gotta go to Africa and find the responsible witch doctor and get him to remove the curse! So, all that is accomplished. And that's that.

"Wait a minute," you say. "Why was this zombie after Scrooge, exactly?" I'm glad you asked, imaginary interlocutor. Because that brings us to the VERY problematic aspect of this comic. All is revealed in the following panels:

Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. Franz Fanon would have a field day. Look how absolutely delighted Scrooge is with this little story. Now, it's true that this is an early story in which Scrooge's character hadn't really been established--at this point he was mainly just playing the occasional secondary role in Donald stories (you can tell this because he doesn't look much like the more established version of the character). But unlike in "A Christmas for Shacktown," there's just no way to think that this is an intentional rhetorical move: none of the other characters express any kind of dismay at Scrooge's behavior. Look how amused HDL--normally reliably bleeding-heart--look in the above panels. They and everyone else are just upset at the possible repercussions for Donald.

And this is where, in my view, Blum fails: he tries to dismiss this with a kind of moral equivalency: the witch doctor, Foola Zoola, also raids towns and things; therefore, while Scrooge may be bad, the two of them are basically the same. No need to get bent out of shape. Needless to say, that dog will obstinately refuse to hunt. Scrooge is a dick, and everyone else's cavalier acceptance of his dickishness is kind of appalling.

Don Rosa, in this instance, was more clear-sighted than Blum; as I believe I mentioned in my review of the brilliant Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, he makes a valiant effort to deal with this by making Scrooge's seizing of native land emblematic of his moral downfall. Good for him! But, as I also must have noted in the review, that dog ain't too keen on hunting either. It's probably the best anyone could do under the circumstances, but the fact remains, in Rosa's version, Scrooge is meant to have repented of his imperialistic ways by the time we reach this "present" version, whereas here he's quite obviously quite unrepentant. One of the many, MANY sad things about Rosa's semi-forced retirement is that now we'll never get to see a present-day story with Foola Zoola. We might never have anyway, but then again, we might. I can easily picture it, and it woulda been sweet.

So anyway, thematically speaking, this is not one of Barks' finer moments. He was capable of portraying indigenous people sympathetically (for example, in "Land of the Pygmy Indians," conveniently available as a double feature with Rosa's great sequel). But here...well, it's not that the depiction of the actual natives is all that bad, as these things go--and ol' Bombie himself is not unsympathetic, in his mute, shambling way--but the impetus for the whole story tends to overshadow that.

It's not an all-time favorite of mine, then. But that's not to say that there's nothing to recommend it! Take, for instance, the surreal part where Bombie accidentally becomes a contestant on a quiz show--"The Perky Peanut Quiz Show," to be specific--and accidentally wins a wheelbarrow o' cash. Bizarre in a fun way. And take also this panel, where Donald is bemoaning what he believes to be his miniaturized fate:

O the pathos! It's touches like these that render a problematic story kind of enjoyable in spite of everything. What can I say? Barks was a genius.



Blogger Natteravn said...

Personally, I've always thought that while Scrooge *did* change way back then, the Major change happened because of the influence Donald and the nephews eventually had on him. And, consider, he stayed a recluse for a LOOONG time, and you tend to forgive yourself for past sins more and more the older you get, so this scene works for me as sort of showing Scrooge in his "transitionary period".

August 20, 2014 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

The Don Rosa version in which Scrooge's action is undoubtedly evil doesn't work for another reason that you overlooked: as Blum seems to point out too, Foola Zoola is an evil, sadistic sorcerer who notably put an awful curse on Bombie just because he needed a free slave. In the Don Rosa story, when Scrooge disguises himself and tricks Foola Zoola into signing that damned contract, we're meant to resent Scrooge and sympathize with Zoola… But (at least for me) you just can't overlook that this is the same guy who enslaved poor crying ol'Bombie.

In fact, something that would go along the Blum interpretation ("just like Scrooge") is the fact that Foola Zoola tricks the Ducks into paying him a high price for, as it turns out, nothing… much like, I think, Scrooge cheated Zoola in the Rosa story.

December 30, 2015 at 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rosa's portrayal of the deed as heinous and unjustifiable and Blum's interpretation of Zoola as equally evil aren't necessarily incompatible -- even if we aren't supposed to sympathize with Zoola, we should still sympathize with the myriad unnamed, innocent villagers who lost their homes.

February 21, 2016 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Barks orginal cathprase for Scrooge was going to be "Let's colonialise the shit out of some natives!" but one day he realise it's to long for a t-shirt so he drop that angle of the character and went with Smarter then the Smarties and all that jazz.

October 7, 2022 at 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only recently stumbled across the Life of Scrooge comics, never read the og comics, but I have to say, reading the bonus comics, Scrooge puts on a tough guy (perhaps you'd say dickish) facade to hide his emotions and out of fear others will lose respect for him. I'd say that panel is in line with the rest of that series.

Not sure why Scrooge being a dick is somehow more appalling though?

February 21, 2024 at 9:59 PM  

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