Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Ducky Date"

One strange phenomenon resulting from Western's creative flailing around in their latter years is the Crossover Story, featuring ducks (or mice) and characters from completely different comic worlds or, often, from movies. In a way, this is a bit full-circle-y, harkening back to a time early in Disney's history when these distinctions were not at all clearly-defined, as evinced by all the comic-book Merrie Melodies adaptations and whatnot (and, of course, check out David's exhaustive compilation of cartoon adaptations that appeared in Good Housekeeping). Also, remember that those horrible mice from Cinderella were originally meant to be living on Grandma's farm, for some quite unjustifiable reason. Still, the later situation--which produced such signs and wonders as April May June/Scamp, Moby Duck/Big Bad Wolf, and Grandma Duck/Dumbo (would it cause your monocle to pop out in shock if I told you that Vic Lockman was responsible for most of this?)--wasn't really analogous: it was clearly all about novelty, novelty, novelty!

Anyway, the most enduring such paring was the super-bizarre (actually, I suppose pretty much par-for-the-course bizarre as far as these things go, but somehow it always strikes me especially) Beagle Boys/Mad Madam Mim. Well, why not? I suppose--Mim is certainly the most fun thing about The Sword in the Stone, and this pairing actually sorta kinda worked out more often than you'd expect it to.

Today's story doesn't featuring the Beagles, of course, but here's Mim, in an effort that pretty clearly indicates that nobody at Western had any goddamn clue what to do with Fethry, and so just decided to devote themselves to flaking out as intensely as they could. I don't know if the character's speedy disappearance was based on reader input or marketing numbers or the powers that be just not liking him or what, but if this was the best way the character could be supported, it's kinda no wonder that he vanished.

Not to say that this is a terrible story! Not to say that it's a great story, either, or even a particularly good one, and it's pretty darned troubling from an even mildly feminist perspective, but it is amusingly goofy-as-hell, and at three pages it never gets the chance to wear out its welcome.

So we open with Mim being unable to get a date, 'cause she's HIDEOUS no one would EVER want to date her ("date," of course, being a polite euphemism for "fuck") lmao, and I believe I've
previously had occasion to note how much I like this joke (SPOILER: it needs to die in a fire).

Anyway, Fethry is doing his beatnik thing ('cause that's WACKY! and Fethry is WACKY!), annoying Donald. It should be clear where this is going.

Makes sense you'd wanna be a glamour duck. Listen, I know Mim is just a goofy cartoon character, and there's definitely a danger of me getting overbearingly humorless about this, but I just plain don't like the way she's basically used as an object here, to be used in Donald's attempt to fuck with his cousin. Her feelings? Her excitement about going out? Not really relevant. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, as I probably read someone say in a Discworld novel or something.

Another thing you notice reading this is that, apart from the beginning, Fethry himself is wholly incidental to the story. The whole thing would've made a lot more sense with Donald trying to fuck over a down-on-his-luck Gladstone. That would be a context in which his malevolent glee here would actually make sense, and be somewhat forgivable. You can understand why he would want to get rid of Fethry, but his desire for vengeance over something as malice-less as his bongo-playing just seems kind of psychopathic.

Whatever else this story has or doesn't have going for it, there's this image of Fethry and morphed-Mim getting down, which is certainly worth the price of admission.

And, in the end, Donald steals her--which, again would make more sense with Gladstone: he obviously wouldn't acquiesce the way Fethry does, and after Donald had wrested her away, he'd think, dammit, what's wrong with my luck? and then she'd change back into her old self and he'd think HA! My luck HASN'T deserted me. Not that that would be a great story, but it would be more robust and character-grounded than this.

So there you have it: "Ducky Date." In the spirit of the sixties, Western seems to have gotten into some bad acid, of which stories like these provide ample evidence.



Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I TOLD ya it was a classic!

Strobl really sells the final gag with Mim’s sweeping / slapping gesture, in the reveal of the “lady” Don deservedly gets stuck with!

Something this bizarre AND funny (if one chooses to regard it that way) from Western would be inconceivable a mere 2-3 years from that point. Just bizarre? Yes. Especially so as fillers in Walt Disney Comics Digest. But bizarre AND funny? Never again. Indeed, some of your hypothetical “bad acid” could have only helped the likes of the near-future’s “Bird Bothered Hero”, and other stories in that vein!

And, just think… From the moment Donald cut in on that long ago dance, Fethry faded away (for us American readers whose parents didn’t go to the right gas station) for decades!

…And, for all we know, perhaps BONGO DRUMS were Fethry’s fad of the week!

September 10, 2011 at 1:55 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"You can understand why [Donald] would want to get rid of Fethry, but his desire for vengeance over something as malice-less as his bongo-playing just seems kind of psychopathic."

Theory: The mid-1960s Western writers were likely given Dick Kinney stories to look at. They understood that Fethry was supposed to be annoying to Donald, but—none of them being as "dark-minded" as either late-'40s Barks or current Dick Kinney—the Western writers couldn't find it in them to make Fethry anywhere near as frustrating to Donald as Kinney made him, so Donald appears to be overreacting.

Joe points out that bongo-playing could have been Fethry's fad of the week in "Ducky Date"; just as authentic regional food could have been his fad in "Donald's Buzzin' Cousin." Another theory: I bet the writers had exactly that in mind when they came to these stories.
The problem is that in execution, Fethry's not as creative or as single-minded as he should be for the hobbies to feel like obsessions. Instead, they're just interests that float amid a sea of other "wacky" behavior—behavior that could have been treated as the side effects of an obsession, but essentially isn't.

Trivia: The Dutch, who still use Mad Madam Mim with the Ducks today, grafted a remake of this plot onto a Donald and Jones story several years ago. Where you suggest "...the whole thing would've made a lot more sense with Donald trying to fuck over a down-on-his-luck Gladstone," what we got was exactly that interpretation, but with Jones (and a longer introductory sequence to set everything up).

September 10, 2011 at 3:56 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Ah, the storyline would work *much* better with Donald vs. Jones (for the very reasons Geo suggests).

As some of you know, I'm a fan of Madam Mim. Her role in "Secret of the Sphinx" in Beagle Boys 1 was the closest I found in childhood to a female's having a lead role in a Disney comic adventure. But then, in that same issue, she gets dragged by her hair by a caveman! Sigh. Anyway, as a feminist I don't mind Mim's being lovelorn or boy-crazy, as long as she isn't down on herself. She should be, as I've heard David say, proud of who she is, with a complete disregard for others' standards of beauty, wealth, etc. I also don't mind her being linked with the Beagle Boys, as long as she isn't depicted as their fall guy; she can be clueless about their motives, but not dumb, and she should sail through the encounter with her self-esteem intact. (This is the case in "Secret of the Sphinx"; there's even a visual joke about the BBs finding her ugly in comparison to her Egyptian princess avatar, but there's no sense that she cares about this at all.) For me the most successful melding of Mim into the Duckburg universe comes in "The Den Mother" (WDCS 291), wherein she is rescued by HDL-as-JWs from the Beagle Boys. In my own personal "continuity," I like to believe that after the events of that story she wised up and no longer hung out with the BBs. But it's that story that causes me to believe that Mim's house is somewhere in Duckburg's Black Forest.

September 10, 2011 at 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

....that is: the story would make more emotional sense as a Donald vs. Jones story, assuming that ducks date dognoses. (Whether Mim morphed into a glamorous dognose or a glamorous duck, one of the two guys would be cross-dating.) Do we have any evidence on this question, O Ye Gods of the Disney Comic Archives? It's clear that dognosed humans and duckiform humans mix in Duckburg with no societal distinctions, but do they, um, mix? I am reminded of GeoX's comments re: the unaccountably dognosed grandparents of the female duck love interest in Rota's "Night of the Saracen." (Of course, dognoses and ducks could date even if they never marry, but this brings up many thorny questions! The suggestion made in a comment that perhaps the grandparents adopted one of her parents is an indication that fans believe the two groups are different species. One could handle this the way Muppet Christmas Carol handled the cross-species marriage of Kermit and Miss Piggy, by having their offspring be female pigs and male frogs....)

September 10, 2011 at 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Clarification: I am of course using "duck" as a shorthand for "fowl," including loons, grebes, geese, etc.

September 10, 2011 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

I've never been a fan of Mim's intrusion into the Duck comics universe, but this is a cute story with a funny and pretty imaginative use of both Fethry and Mim. I do think that Donald's scheming would have gone down better had Fethry been around longer in American comics and more definitively established himself as an all-around pain. Geo's point about using Gladstone as opposed to Fethry is well-taken.


September 10, 2011 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Isn’t it obvious that Gladstone would NEVER NEED Donald to find him a date. And, even if Donald offered the prospect of a date completely unsolicited, Gladstone would smell a rat!

Jones might have made an interesting victim for this plot, save for two things. (1) Western was not using him at this time. Barks revived him in two 1964-era stories, but no one else picked up on it. (2) Either Jones OR Donald would have been depicted as “dating out of species” for the gag to work! Can’t speak for everyone, but the idea of dogs dating ducks (and vice-versa) never worked for me.

Fethry, despite his then-limited exposure, was just right for this scenario.

September 10, 2011 at 3:52 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The idea would be that Gladstone was feeling down-on-his-luck/depressed, as is known to happen from time to time. It's something that a good writer could pull off, and then Donald's behavior would make more sense.

I am curious as to how the story David mentions dealt with the interspecies thing.

September 10, 2011 at 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Richie said...

Mim is sad 'cause her appearance doesn't win her any dates...yet, when Donald finds her one, she completely changes her looks for it.

I know it avoided an awkward cross-dating scenario, but still...Huh.

September 10, 2011 at 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just wanted to mention that mim falls head over heels for the phantom blot and has many stories of her chasing him down like the old pepe le pew cartoons...

September 13, 2011 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That sounds fascinating and awful. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

September 13, 2011 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

I look at "Mim Le Pew" like this:

As an inherently powerful witch, Mad Madam Mim doesn't have to be ugly, and she doesn't have to be weird. With her magic she could permanently take one of any more conventionally appealing forms, and have almost any handsome hunk she wanted.

But Mim is also selfish, egotistical, and (in her best stories) confident. She's the marvelous Mad Madam Mim, dammit! She's proud of her natural shape and habits: proud to be ugly; proud to be eccentric. So she's determined not only to land the guy of her dreams, but to make him eat "toad knuckles smothered in bat wing soup" (WDC 313).

She wouldn't be lonely if she was willing to give an inch. But Mim likes everything her way—which should ideally make her pursuit of romance amusing, not pathetic.

September 14, 2011 at 12:58 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

(I should add, by the way, that "Ducky Date" breaks my rules by making Mim both underconfident, and seemingly uncomprehending of her witchy look—which for me is a little out of character.)

September 14, 2011 at 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Do Ducks date dognoses? In-deed dey do!

Donna Duck was engaged to a dognosed Manuel Gonzales in a Taliaferro newspaper gag. In Barks' "The Old Castle's Secret", dognose Diamond Dick's "third wife was a McDuck on her great grandfather's side!"

September 17, 2011 at 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks, Thomas, for the Barksian example of a "cross-species" marriage (though he didn't have to draw it!). I just happened to run across an Egmont story ("The Butler Did It" in Gemstone's DDA 46, originally Danish) where the dognosed Lord Glossop, who employs Donald as his butler, makes a move on Daisy (not realizing she is Donald's girlfriend). It's clear he is strongly attracted to her at first sight.

September 24, 2011 at 9:43 PM  

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