Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Halloween Huckster"

MWAHAHA! Greetings, boys and girls, and welcome to a SPOOKTACULAR edition of…
…okay, I'm going to wear out pretty quickly if I try to keep THAT up for long. But as frustratingly busy as I am, I would be remiss if I did not do a quick Halloween entry here. Of course, the quintessential duck story for the season would be Barks' own "Trick or Treat," an adaption of the cartoon that beats out the source material by a country mile. But let's go for something a little more obscure this time, shall we?

So for four years, from 2005 to 2008, Gemstone released these "Donald Duck Ashcan" mini-comics (10-12 pages) every Halloween (the all-knowing Wikipedia sez that "ashcan comics" were originally books produced for copyright reasons that weren't meant to actually be released, but clearly there has been some slippage there). I don't know how they were distributed, but I gather they were meant to be handed out to trick or treaters. A nice promotional idea--better than Chick tracts any day of the week--though not, obviously, nice enough to keep the company afloat. Alack!

The first three just reprinted widely-available Barks and Rosa material that, except for Rosa's pumpkin-carving story, was only very tenuously connected to Halloween. Number four is much more interesting, however, for featuring the only US printing of a Marco Rota story, making it something of a collector's item (not that it's hard to find or expensive when you do).

I didn't necessarily expect a lot from "Halloween Huckster"--I generally find that I prefer Rota's longer-form stories, and the title and inducks-stated premise--"Donald meets a door salesman who sells Halloween gear"--didn't make it sound like much, at least to me.

But sometimes we are pleasantly surprised! "Huckster" turns out to be a pretty great little tale that does a good job at capturing the Halloween spirit! Wooooo!

So Donald's at home, feeling jaundiced about Halloween, when this guy comes calling:

See, you don't feel too hopeful at this point, because you get the impression that the story is just gonna be one long gag about how annoying and persistent the salesman is. You're wrong, though--after only a small amount of jiggery-pokery, Donald is sold.

The above might remind you a bit of the quick-change artist in "Big-Top Bedlam"--a comparison that will gain significantly more currency as the story progresses.

Anyway, that's when it really starts to get interesting.

Donald and the salesman end up teaming up for some All-Hallows'-Eve mischief--and they make a good team, too. Stories where Donald actually teams up with another character on an equal basis are always appealing, because it isn't very common. But it happens here, and it works very well.

(And isn't Donald just so gosh-darn cute in his witch hat and vampire fangs?)

See? They KILL a guy! Or so I assume. That's what the bulk of the comic consists of--not much in the way of plot; just a lot of dashing around and inflicting all kinds of havoc. As it should be!

Those Beagle-Boy masks really get at the carnivalesque, up-is-down nature of the holiday. And Scrooge, who usually wins out against Donald, is reduced to helpless terror.

This is another good one. That would be frightening by any standard.

(Though is there really any tradition of Gyro--or anyone--referring to his "robot helper" as opposed to plain ol' Little Helper?)

They end up--as they bloody well should--at a spooky old mansion. OoOoOoO!!!

There are ghostly shenanigans also, but they turn out not to amount to much:

SPOILER ALERT! It's really just HDL playing tricks. Though who exactly they expected to actually visit this haunted mansion is a mystery.

So it's all over. Except…wait! What's this?!?


What a great, and genuinely spooky, conclusion!




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some comments on the art-

1. I really like the scared expressions of the characters in this story, particularly Scrooge, and Donald and the boys when the "salesman" reveals himself.

2. Rota (or whoever did the art) seems to like drawing model vehicles. Donald has a model train, there's a model steamshovel when Donald is talking to the salesman, Scrooge has a model boat..I'm sure it all makes sense in context, but it's interesting to see.

3. The sexy woman seems to be a regular person, as opposed to the usual Barks style dognose, probably because it's hard to make a dognose character overly attractive.

October 31, 2010 at 3:44 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Much as I applaud the concept of “Halloween Ashcan Giveaways”, it’s a huge shame that Gemstone didn’t give this story the greater exposure it deserved in one of its regular line comics!

October 31, 2010 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I agree with Joe. This one was plenty good enough to appear in a standard Halloween-themed comic.

Nicky and I gave this one away, and we're continuing the "read-comics-rather-than-munch-candy" tradition this year, albeit with TOY STORY rather than the Ducks/Mice.


October 31, 2010 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Excellent, Chris! Who WOULDN'T want to stop at your house?

@anonymous--in a panel I almost reproduced at the beginning panel in which Donald is grousing about adults acting like kids while he plays with his remote-controlled cars and trains. It's pretty funny/charming. As for Scrooge, as you'd predict, he's sailing his toy sailboat in his money. There's a certain appealing whimsicality here that I think might be characteristically European.

(Another thing that I didn't mention until now because I didn't actually NOTICE until now: in the opening splash panel you can see Magica in the very background holding a pumpkin--she may or may not be charging at some other dude also armed with a pumpkin.)

I never thought the fact that the story was published in this format was meant to imply anything about its quality. Certainly it could have been published in a regular book. Still, if it had been, something else would have had to go, and the more the merrier (or spookier!), I say.

October 31, 2010 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

These "ashcans" were sold through comic shops in atypically huge numbers, thanks to a cooperative bundling deal with Diamond and other comic companies.

Given the wide distribution, I figured I'd use the 2008 issue as a means of pushing back against the (false) conventional wisdom that our comics usually featured nothing but reprints. The earlier ashcan issues, which WERE all-reprint, might even have contributed to that perception. So: all-new exclusive-to-the-ashcan story? Yeah! By one of our most popular talents? Full speed ahead!

I also felt the ashcan was a natural place to snare new readers, which made "The Halloween Huckster" an extra-good fit plot-wise: it functioned as a great introduction to the Duck family one by one for any kid who might not know them all. (And that's why my dialogue atypically explained who and what Helper was.)

Grabbing new readers was also why John and I put our web address on the covers of these ashcans.

November 1, 2010 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Very noble of you and John, David! And I mean that completely without sarcasm. But, when I speak of the “greater exposure it deserved in one of its regular line comics”, I meant that, if you didn’t give one to me, I would never have had one!

Maybe, in total, more of these were moved than “regular issues”, but I’m not certain that they always got into the hands of your “regular readers” – while reaching out to a new audience.

This, too, was okay, when it was a reprint – that your regular readers would already have had – and in larger form to boot. But here was a true, unique delight that I might very likely have missed due to the unusual (…though again, “noble”) way it was published and distributed.

November 2, 2010 at 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Johnson said...


One interesting thing about a comic like this is its commitment to being genuinely creepy, especially towards the end. Most children's entertainment has been shying away from any layer of horror - even thin ones like this - in order to focus on topics like "safety" and "health" during the holiday.

Good stuff.

November 3, 2010 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Safety and health are noble goals, and I'm all for laws enforcing safety and health standards. But does a transparently safety- and health-based Halloween comic really appeal to a kid?

Nobody was killed or even hurt in "The Halloween Huckster" (the scared passerby who hollered "my life is ending" was just being overdramatic because it was funny!). Even our genuine ghost only had no more disturbing goal than scaring the bejeepers out of our heroes.

But hey—Rota was that tame, and yet effectively scary at the same time! That's good comics storytelling!

November 3, 2010 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

My comic shop guys gave me this book last Free Comic Book Day and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Halloween ashcans rule

November 3, 2010 at 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rita Repulsa? Donald does not seem like Power Rangers fan.

November 14, 2010 at 4:46 PM  

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