Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Wailing Whalers"

Ah yes...Moby Duck. How could any character who was invented solely to make a bad pun out of his name fail? And yet…here he is: the answer to the Duckiverse (at least, the American duckiverse)'s ultimate trivia question. Actually, that's not true; that would be "Dimwitty Duck" (how many contentious staff meetings did it take to hammer that one out, I wonder?), Moby's assistant in later stories. But still. "Moby Duck?" Who? Why? WTF?

Yes, the sixties was a time of great gimmickry in Duckdom. First, there was Ludwig Von Drake, eccentric genius (and later, unofficially, Matilda McDuck's husband in the Don Rosa continuity). Then, there was Fethry Duck, Donald's insane beatnik cousin. Then, last and very definitely least…Moby Duck. A whaler with a vaguely pirate-ish accent as inconsistent as Kevin Costner's in Robin Hood.

Now…admittedly, my viewpoint here is probably skewed by my cultural upbringing--I grew up with Greenpeace, and I knew from a very early age that whaling was an extremely bad thing. Most people my age or younger did, I think. Thirty years earlier, maybe we wouldn't have. I don't know. But the fact remains, all I can think when faced with such a character is: who in God's blasted, disease-ravaged creation thought trying to make a motherfucking WHALER into a sympathetic character in the duckiverse was a good idea?!? JESUS CHRIST. What makes this especially bizarre is that that he has a porpoise sidekick, the cleverly-named "Porpy." Seriously, that would be like Tarzan going around murdering chimpanzees. No, we never (as far as I know) actually see him killing whales (suggesting that, consciously or not, the writers had an inkling that there was something deeply wrong with this whole venture)--his stories generally degenerate into run-of-the-mill treasure hunts and escort missions and like that--but he certainly obsesses over his desire to to so often enough, and I cannot tell you how deeply unpleasant this makes them to read.

Fuck you, Moby Duck!

And yet, SOMEBODY thought this was a good idea, and so the character existed. He had his own comic book that ran thirty issues--pretty impressive, for such a strange, superfluous character. Ludwig--who these days has a hell of a lot more cultural capital--only managed four. He (Moby) continued to appear in occasional Donald and Scrooge stories after his own book folded, but when Gold Key/Whitman lost the Disney license, he completely disappeared from the US--you see, Gladstone (and later Gemstone) had a very different publishing philosophy than their predecessors. They weren't fixated on creating and maintaining their own lines of stories and characters; creators were pretty much free to do what they wanted, and that--combined with the fact that foreign language stories were, for the first time, being localized--made for an artistic free-for-all. So...lacking any corporate backing, Moby was gone. He still appears occasionally in European stories (much less frequently than Ludwig or Fethry, however); according to Wikipedia, he's been reimagined as a whale conservationist, which is as it should be. I'm ninety-nine percent sure he's never been seen on US shores since 1984, though. It would, I suppose, be sort of interesting to see what some of his more recent appearances look like (some of them HAVE been published in France, so I could use my dubious French to check some of them out, but notice that I only said reading them would be sort of interesting), but I can't imagine anyone seeing the disappearance of Moby Duck as any great loss.

Anyway, whales. "Wailing Whalers." Right. Carl Barks wasn't totally inactive during the seventies; he wrote (but did not draw) a handful of Donald stories (the mediocre "Pawns of the Loup Garou," eg), as well as twenty-odd Junior Woodchucks stories of wildly varying quality. The art was mostly handled by Tony Strobl, but in recent years Dutch artist Daan Jippes has taken up the task of redrawing them, and these remakes are being reprinted as the definitive versions. I'm not sure I approve of this--Strobl's (or Kay Wright's, in this case) art may not be super ultra transcendent, but it's certainly not an abomination before the LORD or anything, and it frankly strikes me as kind of disrespectful to shove them aside so cavalierly. And in any case, I think it's open to question whether Jippes' art is actually an improvement. That's neither here nor there, really; I just wanted to state my grievance.

A lot of these stories had environmental themes, and they tended to be...not subtle. And this one is no exception. Barks certainly deserves some credit for doing a "save the whales" story at this early date, but the fact remains, the result is not particularly...readable? Good?

To be clear, there is no Moby Duck in this story. As you would expect, the Woodchucks are trying to save whales.

Yeah! How do you think THEY feel?!?

And who is the antagonist in this tale?

Um. Never mind the general heavy-handedness; this is really the story's main problem. Turning Scrooge into a Captain Planet villain was, I have to say, ill-advised. The results are jarring to say the least (but is there another way to think about this? Read on).

In any case, it's not really worth going over the story in any detail: they're attacked by pirates, Scrooge learns not to be such a big fat JERK, and that's that. The real reason I wanted to bring it to your attention was to float a probably-implausible theory that would go a long way towards redeeming the whole thing, and actually making it kind of badass: "Wailing Whalers" was first published in 1971. The Moby Duck comic began in 1967 and ended in 1978. Is there any chance the former was meant as an explicit response to the latter? Because that would have taken a great deal of chutzpah, especially given how savage the whole thing is. Barks wouldn't have been able to actually use Moby as the villain here, since Gold Key would not have wanted the brand to be sullied, but he was the creator and definitive definer of Scrooge, so who was gonna tell him no to that? And if anyone questioned him, he would certainly have been able to claim plausible deniability. I have to say, if that's the case, then I guess I actually kind of approve of Scrooge being used in such a way. That's some majorly subversive shit. As I said--it's just a theory. I have no idea if it's at all plausible; who knows if Barks was even paying attention to marginal junk like Moby Duck? But wouldn't it be cool if it were?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent comments! This is why I could not allow myself to use established Disney comics character elements, or even several BARKS elements, due to my own philosophies. To thine own self be true. "My" $crooge would not have needed any lessons -- he would have been the lesson-teacher. But that's just my interpretation, based on my own personal reading of my favorite comics.

March 20, 2010 at 5:13 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

That you, Don? (-:

Geox, it's interesting to note that Barks used Scrooge not just once as the Woodchucks' villainous whaler opponent, but twice. "Whaling Whalers," with its happy ending for all including Scrooge, was number two; the earlier "Whale of a Good Deed" in HDLJW 7 (1970) ended with the whale saved but Scrooge unreformed as of yet.

As far as Jippes' redraws, what makes them more valid for some is that Strobl (and the other Western Publishing Woodchuck artists), after being given Barks' very detailed rough scribbles for the pages, often disregarded them, radically restaging the action and changing characters' expressions from what Barks intended. (To be entirely fair, Barks' and the artists' editors may have asked the artists to make these changes, so I'm not saying the artists were to blame—or even that blame need be apportioned.)
Jippes' redraws, apart from using Barks' designs for the characters, also remain very true to Barks' layouts, and thus his intent.

I have no problem with Tony Strobl's work on any other stories—as Archival Editor at Gemstone, I was pleased to publish some that had never appeared in the USA before.

As far as Moby Duck... if you drop the whaling completely, Moby as cantankerous, tough old sailor-adventurer seems to me perfectly capable of starring in fine stories—imagine E. C. Segar warped through a Duck comics lens. It fills a wonderful niche (wild sea epics) that we don't get much of with the Ducks. And who says we can't do it right just because Western sometimes did it wrong?
I don't have to like their Moby Duck stories to know there's a lot of untapped potential in a rowdy old salt with an attack porpoise.

March 22, 2010 at 4:24 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Good god--could that actually be Don Rosa? Sweartagod, if I found out he reads this blog, I would literally--LITERALLY, I tell you!--DIE OF HAPPINESS. It would be a gruesome spectacle.

Re Strobl/Wright vs. Jippes, my main point of comparison is the "Daan Jippes Collection" (was this the last thing Gemstone ever published?), which includes for the purpose of comparison a page as drawn by Wright and one as drawn by Jippes. Looking at them--shrug--I could see why SOME might prefer Jippes, but hardly inarguable, and the difference certainly wasn't like night and day. Given that I made the assumption that Gemstone would have chosen a page that demonstrates the difference in a dramatic way, so I was left assuming that the differences were severely overstated. I certainly have no problem with Jippes' art; the whole project just seemed…unnecessary.

I guess I'm sold on your conception of Moby Duck--the ducks have had plenty of seafaring exploits, but sure, an old salt type could open up some interesting possibilities--should Boom! or anyone else ever publish such a thing, I will endeavor to read without prejudice.

I haven't read the other whaling story (my Barks collection is pretty good, but far from complete); that's really interesting. Barks clearly had whales on the brain, for whatever reason.

March 22, 2010 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

I hate Moby Duck too. I have only read one issue (The Ducks and Moby fight Smee and Captain sounds cooler than it is) and never went back for another.

March 30, 2010 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Man, some of those Disney crossovers are seriously bizarre. Moby Duck vs. Captain Hook makes sense in a certain light, I suppose, but, then, for instance, you have the Beagle Boys teaming up with...Mad Madame Mim? WHAT?

March 30, 2010 at 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not dis Fethry, he's pretty cool - when he and Donald are paired together, Donald turns into a perfect straight man - while still being Donald.

July 16, 2010 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, David Gerstein (ramapith) agrees with you, so you're definitely in good company.

Actually, I don't have all that much against the character per se; it's more the implementation that I generally find problematic.

July 16, 2010 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Chabacano said...

Hi. Well, Moby wasn't created to be a model duck and this is quite clear in his first meeting with Donald, who thought he was in trouble with a shark and was forced to accept Moby's purpose. "I will help you but you will have to help me to hunt whales.". But the shark was just Porpy pretending to be a shark to help his owner to get a new helper. That's terrible indeed! But the Duckiverse is full of controversial characters, who do questionable things once in a while. To hunt whales is something cruel, but despite this I like Moby. He has his qualities too and some really good stories.

December 5, 2010 at 11:28 PM  
Blogger tymime said...

I recently discovered Moby far off in the background of a House of Mouse episode.
I was floored.

May 1, 2011 at 2:44 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

He's everywhere!

May 1, 2011 at 2:52 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

In many of the Barks-written JW stories, Scrooge is the rape-the-environment bad guy, and the JWs are defenders of the environment. Lots of duck fans dislike these stories because of how Scrooge is cast. I figure, if Barks created Scrooge, he had the right to use him as a bad guy (and source of conflict) for comics starring the kids. But my favorite of these stories is the Vitamin Zee story, and that's because the kids discover at the end that they themselves are implicated in Scrooge's environmental degradation, because they use and even advertised the vitamin he manufactures. This complication makes the story rise above a bad guy/good guys melodrama.

August 3, 2011 at 12:03 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Moby Duck? More like Moby Dick!

August 26, 2012 at 3:40 PM  

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