Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Just for Laughs"

Here's a li'l Van Horn joint which I am presenting as an antidote of sorts to the last story. Donald is totally out of his mind throughout the entire thing, but nobody could possibly be disturbed by this.
It's actually a little bit difficult to write cogently about Van Horn, or at least I have found it to be so. Most of his stories are nothing more than extended, goofy riffs, and while you can certainly isolate thematic concerns if you try hard enough, the stories are--or seem to me to be--resistant to much in the way of deep analysis. This isn't a bad thing. It, like the stories themselves, is what it is. Onward.

Actually, "Just for Laughs" might be the quintessential Van Horn story. There is no plot to speak of; we just get ten pages of concentrated, Donaldic wackiness. As we open, our hero is angry at milk for getting his cereal soggy.

Then, he's angry at the comics for not being funny.

'Twasn't always thus, but it's hard to argue with his assessment in this day and age. Okay, Zits is funny sometimes. And Doonesbury. But where are the Calvins and Hobbes of yesteryear? Alas, they have vanished like the snow.

Actually, even though Donald's behavior is meant to be absurd, I can't help but take the above to be representative of Van Horn's general attitude towards contemporary popular culture, which has always struck me as somewhat dyspeptic.

Did I mention that this story is goddamned hilarious? Because it is. Judging by their relative scarcity, it's not too easy to produce an actual, honest-to-god laugh-out-loud duck story, but this is definitely in the top-tier of that rarified group (along with this other Van Horn offering).

Anyway, midway through, Donald gets hit with industrial-strength laughing gas, which precipitates a change in his behavior.

This is where things get really manic. I am vaguely reminded of the slapsticky set-pieces you sometimes see in Pynchon.

I would argue that there's something of the carnivalesque in this. The social order is inverted. Donald can laugh hysterically and with impunity at a cop who's just gotten biffed. Normal rules do not apply.

And then, the climax: a good, old-fashioned pie fight:

Pft. "Sobriety Society." As if they'd have any chance of living up to their name, under the circumstances. Dig Donald as the gleefully anarchistic instigator.

I wouldn't want every story to be like a Van Horn story, but this level of energy is a key element that is severely lacking in a lot of your more enervating duck stories. I don't think it would be a bad idea to mandate that every creator do the occasional balls-to-the-wall, super-high-energy bit of anarchy like this. It might help to keep everyone's priorities balanced. Even Don Rosa occasionally took a break from the meticulously-detailed epics to throw off the odd bit of throwaway comedy (meticulously-detailed throwaway comedy, but still). It's just fun stuff.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really amazing how much it takes to realize that it a talking duck wearing no pants can be a character in a pure slapstick cartoon comedy.

August 18, 2010 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

That story is great. I love Hard-Boiled Duck too.

August 19, 2010 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I think Bill would scoff at the very idea of "thematic concerns" in his work. His best stories always have that slightly off-kilter helping of zaniness for zaniness' sake; this one just amps it up a few fold and becomes a complete slapstick comedy.

And yes, Bill is pretty much of a curmudgeon when it comes to pop culture. (Remember the story you commented on earlier with the digs at rap music and hip hop.)


August 19, 2010 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, yeah, I think it's abundantly clear that you're absolutely right. But that's the thing--even when you're not TRYING to present any kind of subtext or theme, there's always going to be SOME sort of grounding to what you write. I try to avoid subjecting texts to parodic levels of over-analysis to make them mean things that they don't (or only do via an extremely tendentious reading), but I am also of the opinion that there's no such thing as a text that is entirely politically neutral.

August 19, 2010 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Susan D-L said...

"Most of his stories are nothing more than extended, goofy riffs, and while you can certainly isolate thematic concerns if you try hard enough, the stories are--or seem to me to be--resistant to much in the way of deep analysis. "

I think that sums up Bill's storytelling style in a nutshell. Or a duck egg. Especially with his ten-pagers (the bulk of his Duck output) I always got the impression that what Bill really loved was the gag, especially the visual gag. Lots of silent film comedy influence (I could be wrong.) The means being more important than the end, or something something.

And as always, a great deal of fun to colorize.

September 1, 2010 at 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Richie said...

This "just for fun" philosophy can really give the fan a breath of fresh air, not only regarding Duck comics, but practically in every franchise that tends to take itself sorta-seriously. I really love the concept of sending expectations to screw themselves in favor of pure, concentrated comedy.

Also...Any chance of other LOL-tastic stories being featured on the blog? Hard-Boiled Duck seems like a no-brainer, yet for variety's sake, it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to bring up a non-Horn story which fits in the "lulzy" category. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease, with many "e"s!

December 22, 2010 at 1:27 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Sure. I'll keep my eyes open for likely candidates, and if you have something specific in mind, don't be shy about it.

December 22, 2010 at 1:34 AM  
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