Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gladstone Gander

Sometimes I realize I should provide small bits of context on the off-chance that there are people reading this who aren't big duck fans already. I honestly don't know whether that last sentence was meant to be sarcastic or not. But so: Gladstone Gander, of course, is Donald's disgustingly lucky cousin (genealogy: Donald's father Quackmore is Gladstone's mother Daphne's brother). In his first few appearances, Gladstone was just a kind of generic braggart meant to be a foil and mirror image for Donald.

Later, Barks added the luck factor as a way of giving the character a more defined role and making him "lastingly obnoxious." And obnoxious he is--he never, ever works for anything; exactly what he needs or wants falls into his hands, and boy is he ever cocky about it. He rarely comes out on top in his conflicts with Donald; occasionally he wins when Donald behaves in an unusually dishonest manner, but more often either Donald will manage a win or things will end in a draw, with the both of them losing.

There is potential--potential that, given the nature of these things, is naturally never realized in any serious way--for Gladstone to be a tragic character. Everything comes to him, and so he never strives for anything.

Not knowing what it means to work for anything, he is completely passive. There's obviously a kind of implicit spiritual void here; his existence is ultimately a hollow one, his luck more a curse than a blessing, even if Donald, naturally, is unable to see this and desperately wishes for a comparable existence. On some level, however, he and the other protagonists do realize this--take Barks' "Gladstone's Terrible Secret"--they think they're getting to the bottom of why Gladstone is so lucky, but what they end up learning is much more shocking:

The only way they can deal with this perversion of "pride" is with silence--they recognize that there's something deeply warped here.

Donald's bad luck is ultimately a much better deal than Gladstone's good. What he perceives as "bad luck" is in fact merely the condition of existence in a modernist milieu. He has to constantly be striving, and sometimes this involves working himself half to death, but it is in this way that he grows to be a stronger and better person. Gladstone is stuck in a static realm: nothing ever changes; he's never tested in any meaningful way.

Although the parallel is far from exact, I read Sinclair Lewis's great novel Babbitt recently, and I would like to put forth the comparison. In the novel, Babbitt is ensconced in his cozy little bourgeois existence, cheerfully hypocritical, careful never to take on an opinion that deviates even slightly from corporatist conventional wisdom. What makes him interesting is that that's not quite all there is to him: he has occasional intimations that there might be something missing; something hollow at the center of his life. His tragedy stems from the timidity and lack of self-awareness that prevent him acting on this in an effective, lasting way.

Gladstone has as little self-knowledge as Babbitt, and this could easily be taken advantage of to make him into a more interesting, multi-faceted character than he's normally given credit for being. Although it pains me to recommend--even advisedly--a story by the relentlessly uninteresting Pat and Carol McGreal, credit where credit is due: their story "A Gal for Gladstone," published in the US in US374, is the only thing I've ever read that makes any sort of gesture in this direction. The premise is gimmicky, yes, but at the same time it's so compelling that you can't help but read on: Gladstone becomes romantically involved with Magica. An opportunity to invest not one but TWO unidimensional characters with greater depth? Sign me up! And I will say this for it: there is at least some effort at including Pathos. The specifics of the plot are not award-winning: Scrooge favors Donald over Gladstone because Donald has Family Values, what with three kids and a girlfriend (of sorts). Ratface (Magica's raven, DUH! Don't you know ANYTHING?) reports this back to the boss, and Magica comes up with the idea that if she were to become Gladstone's girlfriend he would get into Scrooge's confidence and then she could nab the Number One Dime bwahahahahaha. So she disguises herself and the game's afoot.

No point in going through the story: it's dumb. But the point is: at the end, when the truth is revealed and the affair ends, Gladstone says--and I've never seen anyone else get at this in this way, so maybe I should apologize for calling the McGreals uninteresting, even though everything I've ever read of theirs, is, um...well ANYWAY, he says--"There's nothing like being a fancy-free friend of fortune without a care in the world!" But...

Yes! This is what I'm talking about. Okay, okay--I apologize for calling you uninteresting. Magica is all upset also. Mind you, this would be a lot more effective if their relationship had been previously developed...well, at all, really. It's the thought that counts, however. I guess.

Not to sound like a total fanboy--even though I AM one--but I feel like Don Rosa could have done a smashing job with this same general premise. Still, it shows that there is indeed potential for the character to be more than what he is.


Blogger ramapith said...

Just finding this blog months after overlooking it (somehow!). Sorry to be late.
If you liked at least the idea of Pat McGreal's Magica/Gladstone relationship, you might also like Kari Korhonen's Magica/*Donald* in UNCLE SCROOGE 350. I'd be very curious to see you re-evaluate a couple of other creators whose work I value highly (of course, I worked with Gemstone, so I may simply have more of a tolerance for the modern creators than you do).

February 28, 2010 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Wow--it's super-cool to have Disney publishing people reading this blog. Now I'll have to hold myself to a higher standard. I will definitely check out that story (odds are I have US350 filed away somewhere around here).

I still have my favorites, but I think I've become somewhat more open-minded in recent months. If there are any particular creators you think I should check out, by all means let me know.

February 28, 2010 at 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a child,GG (We call him Gontran Bonheur in FRench) was my favorite character,still is!

May 5, 2013 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Would you like to expand on why that is? I am genuinely curious.

May 5, 2013 at 9:30 PM  
Anonymous Didier said...

all right!first time I heard of Gladstone (and Scrooge) was in a non-Barks story (probably Italian)called "Donald De Monte Cristo" based on Dumas' famous novel .Gladstone and Scrooge at their nastiest wanted to build a railroad track which went thru Donald' s house and as Duck did not want to sell it ,they had him arrested and sent to a prison on an island ....The rest followed the novel with the revenge .

Do not get me wrong,GG is my favorite among Ducksburg's characters only of course!his pairing with DD is s stroke of genius and I love almost all the stories he appears in .His stories were less frequent than those of the others ,that's why I value them:my favorites are "the secret of hondorica" and "dramatic Donald" in which the two "actors" turn Daisy's drama into a splapstick farce .

I know Barks did not like GG ,but ,in "Xmas in shacktown" he showed he was able to lend a helping hand ;but in 90% of Barks' stories,the gander is hateful ;The Italians even made him another villain in "la bataille des heros" (battle of the heroes?) which is a precise spoof on Homer's Iliade .

I think we all know a GG .Think of the Kinks' song "David Watts" ,the guy who has all the luck,all the success ,all the girls.And meeting a GG is NOT nice;I'm grateful to Barks for his character ,cause,being myself more Donald Duck-like ,I was able to have a good laugh about something not that much funny!

bonjour de France

May 6, 2013 at 5:58 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for the reply. That's very interesting. I do think Gladstone can be a compelling character, even if I want to punch him in the throat more often than not. I also like it when writers humanize him at least a little.

As it happens, I've read both the stories you mention--the Monte Cristo and Iliad take-offs (the latter I almost certainly read in the same edition you did, even), and I didn't care for either of them, in no small part because it seemed so wildly out-of-character for Gladstone to be villainous in those ways. Sure, he's a dick, but he's just not that active about his dickishness. I think that in both cases, even if he was amenable to such behavior, he would ultimately decide that, if nothing else, it was just too much work to bother with.

May 6, 2013 at 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Didier said...

I second that!GG is,par excellence,lazy and he has not to make the slightest effort to succeed,that was Don Rosa says!People who comment on "Monte Cristo" and "heroes" wrote that it was not the real him!
GG is himself in " a financial fable" ,a capitalism parable in which he is well cast as the parasite (an equivalent of the shareholder in real life maybe ,or of the idle heir)whereas DD is the rebel,but a rebel without a cause,not an activist trying to change the rules of the game,but a lazy prole eager to imitate his lucky cousin.

May 7, 2013 at 2:11 AM  
Anonymous Didier said...

by the way....
it was the same edition indeed!!!
parlez-vous français?

May 7, 2013 at 2:15 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Pas très couramment, mais assez pour lire des BD. (je lis mieux que je parle). Si vous regardez certains postes plus tard, vous verrez que j'écris des histoires italiennes à partir de leurs versions françaises assez fréquemment. J'ai même fait quelques traductions amateurs. :)

May 7, 2013 at 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Didier said...

Votre français est parfait et Gontran Bonheur vous comprendrait parfaitement !

May 7, 2013 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Merci! C'est bon ça!

May 7, 2013 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

For the life of me I can't remember where, but I distinctly remember it being said by Someone Who'd Know that Gladstone's appearance (specifically, his hair) and early mannerisms ("Old boy, old boy") were meant to mock Frank Sinatra.

April 10, 2014 at 12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't know if you'll be reading this comment, but what the hey. There is actually a story from a while ago which depicts Gladstone as more tragic as I have ever seen. It starts off with Gladstone unhappy because everyone in town despises him, and then he talks about his angst about having so much luxuary in his home. I don't remember the rest of the story, but if you find it, you may find that it contains the kind of beats you're talking about wanting to read about him.

August 16, 2017 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for the tip! That does sound interesting; I'll try to check it out.

August 16, 2017 at 6:42 PM  
Blogger Isadorable said...

If he was talking to Fethry it might be Tiro Fortunato (Paperoga).

It's short, but you get the impression that Gladstone is awake through the spell of not getting to be the architect of his own existence & as self-aware as someone in his unique position can be (whether he wants to be is another question). It's not alot, but it's something.

I think part of the issue with Gladstone is that he was introduced in the "wrong era". It was a good period in American history, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't a time in which complex, grey characters enjoyed splendid popularity. We took things at their face value in the middle of the last century. The audience was a bit more gullible. I feel like now there is definitely more of an audience for flawed characters like him.

I hope you revisit this topic especially given the new comic and Ducktales reboot. He's always been a fan favourite, but episode 7 hasn't even debuted and already he's got a fairly sizable fanbase (whom I affectionately refer to as his muther luckers). It's a relief to see it, really. Cause Carl Barks don't make no mistakes.

September 1, 2017 at 6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some years later, but I found out that there's an English scanlation of the story I mentioned:

This may or may not be off-topic, but it's a real shame that there are so many good Disney comics that haven't been published in English, and right now there's only the Disney Masters series, and even then there's many artists not published there (including Ferioli, Vicar, Branca and Colomer, the last of whom drew that Gladstone story). Fortunately I've also found links for Disney comics in other languages, French, German, Italian and Vietnamese respectively, and even if one doesn't know the languages the stories are still easy to understand, and the Vietnamese books do have English text as well as Vietnamese, and the art is always good to look at in all Disney books:

September 11, 2021 at 2:35 PM  

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