Friday, December 25, 2009

"The Black Pearls of Tabu Yama"

Naturally, Barks did quite a number of Christmas stories over the years. The general consensus opinion would be that "A Christmas for Shacktown" tops them all, and I don't think I could really argue against that in good faith, though one cannot understate the importance of "Christmas on Bear Mountain," in which, in a fatal instance of fateful fate, Barks decided that Donald should have a rich uncle.

However! Let us consider a story that not many people would be likely to think about in this context but which is nonetheless decidedly a Christmas story. Yes! It's 1957's "Black Pearls of Tabu Yama," which was originally published in the first Christmas in Disneyland special, in which, as I understand it, various artists did stories that were meant to dovetail with various Disneyland attractions while also having a Christmas theme. Pretty specific set of instructions there. Barks was meant to do an Adventureland (ie, African) story, presumably because he was accustomed to sending his ducks far afield, but, being a rebel at the gates of Hell, he decided to set his story in the South Seas instead. Pwned!

The resulting story may not be his all-time greatest, but I like it because it's unusual in several respects.

Reason one: because this may well be the ONLY story Barks ever did--certainly no others come readily to mind--which features *only* Scrooge and company--by which I mean, no minor, incidental characters, no villains, no ancient ruins, no supernatural stuff, nothing--it's just the ducks on this uninhabited island, and that's it. As you will have gathered, Scrooge is there to look for the pearls in question.

Reason two: because although Barks had previously used exactly this concept--the kids are bummed because they're missing Christmas on one of Scrooge's jaunts (but don't be surprised if there's a heartwarming resolution!)--in a story called "Search for the Cuspidoria," this is nonetheless one of very few Barks Christmas stories that actually take the characters away from Duckburg. Home is where the heart is, I guess, but you have to ask: what the hell kind of self-respecting Junior Woodchucks would not be thrilled to get to go on a sweet tropical journey for the holiday? Hmph! Still, as we'll see, the holiday aspect is handled rather gracefully here.

Reason three: because it may well be the most low-key adventure story Barks ever wrote. They've gotten themselves stuck on the island, but there are no villains and no real sense that they're in danger, per se--this might get old fast if there were a lot of stories like this, but there aren't, so it's a refreshing change of pace. I like it when, at the periphery of a Barks story, you can catch glimpses of what the characters are doing when they don't have anything going on--when they're just chillin.' Without a 'g.' Droppin' the 'g' is what all the rad young dudes are doin' these days. Obviously, the circumstances here are far from normal, but I still get that sense a little bit from the above panel, and I like it a lot.

The solution to the problem: SCIENCE! No need to go through all the details, but the basic idea is to plug up the volcano to dislodge the boat. It sort of creates the impression of an educational film strip, which, to repeat myself, would undoubtedly get old if Barks did it all the time, but he didn't, so it's charming. Or I find it so, anyway.

So anyway, back on topic:

BAM! Christmas is saved! And Scrooge, secret sweetheart that he is, has gifts for all. So we end with a hella heartwarming scene:

There's something about this--not too schmaltzy, but resonant, I think--effective. In the spirit of the season, I'm not even going to kvetch about the giant freaking Santa head that appears in the bottom right of the original version of the story and would have to have been something of a buzzkill for readers at the time, you kind of have to think. Instead, I will simply wish all the best to you and yours, and a sincere, if perhaps quixotic, hope that this country and the world can get better. Merry Christmas.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The tone here is full of Christmas cheer.

January 1, 2010 at 1:11 AM  

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