Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Having a Panic"

While looking through some scans of old DD comics, I came across this one from 1962, written by Don Christensen and drawn by good ol' Strobl, which seemed kind of banal at first but then turned surprisingly awesome. The title itself is kind of a mystery, unless there's an obvious joke that I'm missing--I mean, sure, Donald panics a few times in the story, but really…? Ya got me. The French title, inducks reveals, is "La chasse aux gastéropodes chiendentophages" ("hunt for the crabgrass-eating gastropods"), which seems rather more to the point.

The story opens with Donald working on Scrooge's lawn to prove himself worthy of greater power and responsibility. It's really odd how much difficulty a lot of writers seem to have had wrapping their brains around the nature of Scrooge's fortune. There's this very strong tendency to view him as just this ordinary rich guy with palatial mansions; massive, rolling grounds that need to be kept; and super-luxurious autos. This would have been understandable earlier in the character's existence, but by 1962...?

Anyway, long story short Scrooge goes on his trip and Donald is left to keep the lawn in good shape; unfortunately, he buys defective plant-food, resulting in a crabgrass infestation. Daisy comes along with her helpful anti-crabgrass tip, leading Donald to make his brilliant observation that they are not in fact in Africa. Never fear, though! Ludwig von Drake will take us to Africa to get some sample snails, what with him being all science-y and all!

Cute dialogue from the kids.

I realize I haven't said much about Ludwig on this blog. I like him. He's a polymath with a very healthily-developed sense of self-regard. He had his own short-lived (four issues) comic that was ongoing as this story was published; he was a new character, having been introduced--in animated form--less than six months prior; Disney was apparently very keen to establish him in the duck canon. At this they were somewhat successful, but it's not surprising that his book folded so quickly: it wasn't very good (not that this was any impediment to all the other spin-off books published from the mid-sixties through the early eighties...). I think the character works better in supporting roles than as a star. Unfortunately, European publishers apparently aren't too keen on him, probably because they're dumb. It might also have something to do with a perception that he's too similar to Gyro, but this isn't true at all: they may both be genius-types, but Gyro is mostly oblivious to his genius, whereas Ludwig revels in his. Also, Ludwig doesn't really seem to do much of anything beyond reveling in how great he is.

His relentless self-aggrandizement is pretty funny, especially when--as Christopher notes in comments--his assurance that "when you got me on your side, your worries are over" is made with his eyes shut and hands off the wheel, leading to this:


For maximum comic effect, it's essential that you imagine all his dialogue with a thick German accent.

I picture Ludwig as one of those intellectuals--like Adorno, Bloch, the Manns, Brecht, and so on--who emigrated to the US when the Nazis were coming to power. I had this alternate idea where he would instead have been one of those German propulsion engineers (like Wernher von Braun) who came to the US after the war and appeared in Disney TV specials (there would have been a certain appropriateness to this, given that he debuted as a TV presenter), but even if you assume he was totally oblivious to everything going on around him, that seemed just too dark--these are fundamentally light comics for kids, fercrissake.

Anyway, after some slapstick, they get their snail, but it turns out these here snails are illegal to import, on account of they quickly get bigger and move on to eating plants other than crabgrass (the question of why they never did so in Africa is never addressed--not that you couldn't come up with a plausible answer, just that the comic never does.) Also, the army has some sort of insane pest-scanner that was conveniently set to detect THESE VERY SNAILS!

...turns out they took more than one, also. This could have a distinct horror tinge to it, except that the snails are just so gosh-darn cuddly-looking--far more so than you would expect from a gastropod.

Anyway, the snails escape, so they go to Gyro for a snail-call (how 'bout the kids just dig out their Junior Woodchucks animal-calling whistles from "The Mines of King Solomon?"). See? Gyro and Ludwig can peacefully coëxist perfectly well.

The great thing about this here moose-call-turned-snail-call is the specificity--that really sells it. I think I've read that about snails somewhere, too! Someone wanna add it to their wikipedia page?

Worst comes to worst, and they accidentally call some moose as well. The terrified snails in flight are great, and "taking care of your lawn isn't easy, you know!" is a great line--one of those things that sort of makes sense if you look at each step individually, but if you just see the end product? Sheer insanity.

…and Ludwig explaining all this is just fucking great, and shows you why he's a good character. His relentless pomposity and extreme self-regard make it seem quite plausible that he'd be able to successfully bullshit his way through a story like this.

Ludwig's wikipedia page features a comically in-depth discussion of how he could be related to the duck family. The Rosa explanation (as most of you probably know) is that he's married to Scrooge's sister Matilda. I like this idea very much, and I will curse to my dying breath the editors who prevented it from being made official. I think they'd make a completely adorable couple. If'n you buy a duck family tree print from Rosa at a convention, you'll see that (unlike the officially-printed version) it does show him as her husband--unfortunately, it's still the young Matilda that's shown, creating a decidedly creepy vibe.

Anyway, as a result of all this, Donald gets a promotion--his methods may be unorthodox, but they DID work!

…okay, not a GREAT promotion, but still--a pleasingly good-natured ending of the sort that you can't at all rely on with this sort of thing. Now I'm going to have to read some more of these old issues, in search of other hidden gems. Attention, Boom people! I demand you reprint this story! I've seized the radio station, and I'm going to broadcast anti-Boom propaganda day and night until you accede to my demands! And so on.



Blogger Chris Barat said...


You make some nice comments about Ludwig. In a sense, the question of whether Ludwig "duplicates" functions already provided by Gyro is a precursor of the debate over what Launchpad brought to the DUCKTALES table vis a vis Donald. I always enjoyed seeing Ludwig in the comics (though a little of him does go a long way, thanks to the oblivious egotism) and felt that he had more potential in the medium than he was ultimately permitted to show. Unlike Gyro, he can believably dip into ANY field and muck it up in his own unique way. Barks was apparently not at all interested in using him, which is a shame.


January 30, 2011 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I like how Ludwig declares that "when you got me on your side your worries are over..." while he's piloting the helicopter WITH BOTH EYES SHUT AND HIS HANDS OFF THE WHEEL. Actually, the inside of the helicopter looks more like a car. Is the vehicle some car/helicopter hybrid, as revealed in the unprinted panels?

January 30, 2011 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

They don't specify anything about the plane, but you DO make me realize that I should've included the panel immediately after that. Will this thing let me put images in comments? We're about to find out:, it won't. Update in the post itself.

January 30, 2011 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

"The other" Christopher,

Many of the Ludwig "facial shots" I've seen in comics either show him with his eyes closed (as he ruminates happily over what a genius he is) or with him giving a snarky, sarcastic stare at someone (see the last panel with Ludwig above). That seems fitting, somehow.


January 30, 2011 at 4:20 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Nice use of Ludwig in this story by Christensen!

My favorite comic book story of all time with Von Drake is “The Planet X Mystery” – written by Bob Ogle and penciled by Tony Strobl, from DONALD DUCK # 102. The same issue, coincidently, that gave us the first appearance of Super Goof.

The reason for this is that it TRULY demonstrates the difference between Ludwig and Gyro – with poor Donald stuck in the middle. Ludwig’s the impulsive, wacked-out expert on everything. Gyro’s the inventor. More logical by comparison, even if he is also gripped by the moment.

Too often in comics, Ludwig is cast in roles that just as easily could have gone to Gyro. Perhaps that was because of his “newness” as a character, and writers didn’t easily get a handle on him. But Ogle sure did in this story. Look this one up.

Can’t say if Boom! will ever run “Having a Panic”, but (barring something unforeseen) there very likely WILL be some Ludwig Von Drake in the near future… I drew upon the influences of both Paul Frees’s Ludwig voice and Bob Ogle’s story to make the characterization one that I hope discerning readers will like. Absent minded, prone to tangents, etc.

January 30, 2011 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Thanks for including the next panel, GeoX! I'm not familiar with this one, so I had no idea.

"The other" Chris, you brought up the whole "Launchpad vs. Donald" on Ducktales debate. Although a great discussion could be held over their respective characterizations, I think we have to remember that Donald has a major difference between his print comic and animated appearances– his trademark speech impediment. We can read his words the same as anyone else's in the comics, but in a TV cartoon show it's much harder to make out some his dialogue, and many of his jokes that work wonderfully in print would fail when they can't be clearly understood when spoken. Launchpad's voice doesn't present this problem.

Although Barks and Rosa have both given "foreigners" clearly accented voices in the comics in the form of phonetically spelled dialogue, I think the closest they've come to noting Donald's unique way of talking is in Rosa's "Life and Times," where the young version of Hortense, Donald's mother, speaks with an incomprehensible impediment as a baby.

Incidentally, in Rosa's "The Old Castle's Other Secret," where Scrooge and Matilda meet again after decades of estrangement, there is no sign of Von Drake. How should we, the fans, interpret this? Did the marriage break up, did Von Drake die, is he just out of town, or has he not married Matilda yet?

January 30, 2011 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Alas, we must interpret it as the dickish editors to whom I referred above not liking the idea and refusing to let Rosa do anything with it. Same reason we've never seen an older version of Hortense.

January 30, 2011 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

...but if we wanted to think about it in story terms nonetheless, I would say that he's probably away on on one of his frequent scientific excursions for the story's duration.

January 30, 2011 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

"Other" Chris,

Of course you are correct... the LP/Don and Ludwig/Gyro comparison is not exact. I was thinking more along the lines of: Some folks took umbrage at the substitution of LP for Donald but did not consider that LP brings his OWN set of values to the table, values that can serve to drive or complement story lines. In a similar manner, Ludwig brings a different set of strengths and weaknesses to the table than Gyro, and it's unfortunate that the comics (as Joe noted) tended to simply use Ludwig as the wacky inventor type.


January 31, 2011 at 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of the reason why Ludwig was not liked in Europe was precisely because he was German.

February 9, 2011 at 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

On where Ludwig is during "The Old Castle's Other Secret": Rosa explained that he was not allowed to include Ludwig.

Originally, he planned to have both Hortense and Matilda at the castle, without Ludwig present because he would be a distraction--Matilda would be visiting Hortense, with "Ludwig staying back at home (working at the University, or whatever it is that he does)"--see DCML archives, April 2002, Don's "DCML digest #892. But Egmont refused to let him use Hortense, since that would necessitate explaining why she had had no apparent contact with her son Donald and her grandchildren HDL all these years (hence, she is assumed to have died some time ago). So then Matilda became the sister in residence at the castle. He was permitted to use Matilda, but was told "this story could not involve her being married to Ludwig Von Drake. I granted that--nothing in my story will prove she is not or was not married to LVD, and LVD would have been in the way in the telling of this tale" (DCML archives, March 2003, "DCML digest #1277). So yes, in Rosa's mind, LVD is off somewhere lecturing or researching or whatever.

August 1, 2011 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

On french website "Picsou Wiki", we had an alternate idea — Matilda left Scotland with Scrooge after "A Letter from Home", and in Duckburg she met Ludwig and married him.

May 27, 2015 at 8:43 AM  

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