Saturday, September 3, 2011

"The Health Nut"

Hey, kids, welcome to Fethry Week (disclaimer: may last more or less than a week. May not be particularly Fethry-centric. Void where prohibited; prohibited where void.)

Really, I don't know quite what the extent of this will be, but I plan on covering at least a few stories, starting, natch, at the beginning.

Fethry's sort of the ultimate test of duck fandom, in the US at least. Most people are probably at least peripherally aware of most Barksian characters--if only via Ducktales--but Fethry…well, if you're familiar with him, then I think we can safely say you're a fan.

But just because you know Fethry, do you like him? When I first rekindled my love affair with Disney comics, I started with Gladstone's Comic Albums, which left me in safely Barksian territory. So when I started buying issues of Gemstone's comics, I was assaulted with all manner of strange, unfamiliar, and terrifying things. I think I can be forgiven for taking so long to cotton to a wider variety of Disney comics, given that it was all so sudden, and some of that stuff was just plain WEIRD-LOOKING to someone not used to it. Or, perhaps, is just weird-looking, objectively. So anyway, when I first encountered Fethry--my amazon history suggests that that would most likely have been here--my reaction was something along the lines of ARGH--WHAT HATH YOU DEGENERATE EUROPEANS WROUGHT?!? Not realizing that Fethry was an American creation, of course. He does have rather a European look to him--more sort of loose and "wacky" than we associate with most American Disney characters.

Obviously, I've calmed down a bit, though I can't claim Fethry has ever been exactly a favorite of mine. But who knows--maybe that'll change as we embark on this magical tour of discovery. Is it necessary to provide background here? Probably not, but: Fethry Duck was created by artist Al Hubbard and writer Dick Kinney for the Disney Studio Program, an in-house organ devoted to producing comic stories exclusively for foreign audiences. The idea with Fethry is that he gloms onto some fad or other--generally something vaguely hippie-ish/new-agey--and bothers Donald about it for a while. Hubbard and Kinney were quite prolific, producing--if my inducks count is correct--a total of fifty-five Fethry stories throughout the sixties (then, there are a bunch more by Kinney and other artists). Only thirteen of these have been published in the US, which is actually more than I would've guessed, though some of those only appeared in these obscure, late-sixties giveaway things.

The character in some ways is like Gyro: a guy created specifically because he was the sort for whom it was easy to come up with scenarios to slot him into. Gyro has some sort of invention-related issue; Fethry has the fad of the week. Not a bad idea in theory--as opposed to a weirdly specific character like Moby Duck, who was clearly only created because someone wanted to use the obvious pun--but how does it work in practice? Let's look, shall we?

The problem I run into with the original stories is that--there's no way around it--Hubbard's duck art is disconcerting. He's fine when he's drawing Scamp, but with the ducks, it always looks like he's trying to do "realistic" renderings of cartoon waterfowl, which is just…weird. I don't want to overstate things; it's something you sort of get used to and then it's not a HUGE problem, but the fact remains--and it's especially the case the way he draws Fethry, with all that shading and stuff.

Note that HDL don't appear to exist in Fethry-world, or at least the Hubbard/Kinney version thereof.

Still, his matter-of-fact eccentricity can be amusing, as here.

It's entertainingly macabre that the doctor is deceased--from following his own program, presumably. It makes you think of Dr. Atkins, who apparently didn't actually die from his infamous diet, but isn't it pretty to think so? Certainly, it's the case that that's the exact kind of flash-in-the-pan thing that Fethry gets into. Seriously, remember how, five or six years ago, shit labeling itself as "low-carb" was everywhere? And then, seemingly overnight, the market completely collapsed? Let that be a lesson for all of us.

I think that bit of him making his soybean and seaweed thing may be the platonic ideal of the character. The idea of people eating soybeans probably would've seemed much more outre in 1964 than it does now. I also want to note how odd Donald looks in the lotus position.

"'Eat' is psychologically a good word." Definitely some decent writing on display here.

Hey, it's Tabby! That, obviously, is Donald's cat, who features in a lot of Fethry stories. In later stories, he has think-bubbles, mainly expressing dismay and terror at Fethry's latest craze. Kind of interesting that Fethry would spawn a character completely unrelated to Fethry himself. Inducks credits this as Tabby's first appearance. And yet...

That's from Barks' 1946 story "Joe from Singapore." No, the character doesn't play a major role, and no, he doesn't "think," as in Fethry stories. BUT. Here he is. This is clearly where Hubbard and Kinney got the name. And anyway, it is often the case that a character's initial appearance has little to do with later ones.

I think Barks has to get the credit here, if we're going to give him credit for other one-shot characters who were picked up on by others, like Rockerduck and April May & June.

The "realistic" art proves to be a problem here--it makes Fethry's anger and Donald's psychological abuse look more real, and therefore more disturbing, than I think they're meant to.

The story has a cool denouement, though, featuring an unexpected appearance by Ludwig, who is such a badass scholar that he's able to write and publish a book over the course of one night.

Ludwig's well in-character, which is always entertaining. And so, we learn the ephemeral nature of Fethry's obsessions.

I actually kinda warmed to this story as I chose panels and wrote about them. My heart really belongs to the classic, Fethry-free Barks (and Barks-ish) conception of the ducks, but I think it's fair to say that there's also room for Fethry in this world. I realize this is entirely a pipe dream, but I think what would be great would be if whoever the next Disney publisher is would put out a trade paperback featuring, oh, say, a dozen or so of what are judged to be the best of the unseen-in-the-US Hubbard/Kinney stories. It would definitely fill a gap; I can't help feeling sort of resentful of Europeans for getting American stories that we didn't. Maybe it would be okay if the opposite were also true, but...

Fethry Week continues probably sometime comparatively soon.

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Anonymous Richie said...

Never thought about the art style being too realistic. If anything, I thought it was sort of cutesy; it reminded me of a classic children's book...And I mean that in a flattering way! It is true that the gags may work better with a more cartoony approach, yet I find Hubbard's Duck work simply delightful.

Ludwig's presence steals the show. It cracks me up how chock-full of himself he is. "Classic...He's a genius...Hang onto every word!" (And that just from one panel!)

As for Fethry...I haven't read many stories with the character to make a fair judgement of him, but what I have seen I like, and I would love to read more. Seems to me like his stories are more sitcomish in tone than the average Duck story, a take on Duckburg that we don't see often. Plus, his dynamic with Donald shows great promise, and again, stands as unique in the Duckverse; annoying his cousin to death, while being one of the few who truly respects and thinks the world of him? Bring it on.

I'll be here to see if the Fethry Week lives up to his name. Hope it does! :)

September 4, 2011 at 1:03 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“Tabby” is a name for a CAT, just as “Fido” is a name for a DOG!

Coincidence, nothing more!

September 4, 2011 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

In fact, I might add, “Tabby” is quite a lazy and unoriginal name for a cat! Particularly, given the great creative effort that appears to have gone into crafting this story!

For Barks in the ‘40s, it was an understandable example of “throwaway shorthand” in service of a gag panel or two – but when creating a continuing character for the series? SOMETHING better should have been developed!

September 4, 2011 at 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a look at this error report which I just solved:

September 4, 2011 at 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I agree with you on Hubbard's duck art; I think his Fethry looks downright creepy (not just his face/hair, but also his elongated fingers). I like the flyaway look of the European Fethry better. And look at Donald in the second panel of the last half-page you show! Seems to have emerged from a pod in the basement.

It *is* Ludwig who really makes this story.

Joe's right about "Tabby" being a stock name for a cat, though personally I would reserve its use for a tabby cat (with tabby stripes/marbling, which neither of these has). Still, I'm delighted to learn from you that Barks had already given Donald a cat named Tabby.

September 4, 2011 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I'm going to stick to my guns regarding Tabby--no, it's not the all-time most original cat name, but I don't feel like it signifies "generic cat name" in quite the same way that "Fido" does for dogs. I found this extremely scientific list of the top cat names as determined by the users of, which doesn't list it. I'm not saying there's absolutely NO WAY that it's a coincidence, but really, if you knew there was Barksian precedent, why WOULDN'T you use the name?

I think Tabby should team up with Clementine, Scrooge's rarely-seen cat.

September 4, 2011 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo writes:

“I'm not saying there's absolutely NO WAY that it's a coincidence, but really, if you knew there was Barksian precedent, why WOULDN'T you use the name?”

Because, back in those days, there wasn’t any communication between creators of these comics to speak of. I ought to know because, 30 years ago, I was corresponding with a number of them.

More often than not, the creators never met or spoke with one another. They were not fans of one another’s work. Most likely, they rarely even SAW (or paid attention to) the work of others!

Don Rosa, as a disciple of Barks, could not have existed much earlier than he did. He was a product of a fandom that was not there at the time the Fethry story was created.

Nowadays, it’s very easy for someone like me to come along and tribute Barks, Rosa, Lockman, Evanier, and the dialoguing styles of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Freakazoid! in every story he works on. Or Jonathan Gray to tribute Gottfredson, and the incomparable David Gerstein to draw from ALL segments of comics lore and pop culture.

I would use the “Barksian president” every time… because I KNOW it exists – or I’d have David to catch it and remind me!

Not so in 1964. They were not FANS back then. They were workers!

I’d be willing to bet that David, Jonathan, and I have probably talked more in a single day than Carl Fallberg and Paul Murry did in their entire lives.

It’s a great tribute to Barks that the characters he created for the Duck Universe made such an impression on the editors that they encouraged other creators to use them in original stories. That’s how “Barksian precedents” were set. Not by others peeking in on (or obsessively following) what Barks did.

There was the extra layer of separation in that Barks worked for Western Publishing and Kinney and Hubbard worked for the Disney Studio Program – different editorial structures – that also works against any possibility beyond a pure coincidence.

September 4, 2011 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Here's an off-the-wall thought; what if QUACK PACK had included Fethry as a cast member? He would seem to be a natural foil for Don in a setting in which the Nephews have "moved on age-wise" and are more a source of frustration to Don than anything else. Fethry could preserve his respect for Don while still annoying him, and he could have sucked Daisy and her TV crew into any number of strange schemes or "reports on strange phenomena." Could've worked... of course, improving QUACK PACK in any manner is not exactly an onerous task.


September 4, 2011 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"I’d be willing to bet that David, Jonathan, and I have probably talked more in a single day than Carl Fallberg and Paul Murry did in their entire lives."

You BET we have! ...Oh, you mean to EACH OTHER? Yeah, that too.

September 4, 2011 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Hmph—and after encouraging you in this project, I forgot to link you to my old Kinney scribble-sketches for the story:

September 4, 2011 at 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Scrooge's cat Clementine? Enlighten me! INDUCKS' only listing for a "Clementine" references the Danish name of Scrooge's mother, Downy O'Drake.

September 4, 2011 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Hey Elaine,

Geoff already wrote about Clementine's two appearances here:

There's also a Scarpa story where—thanks to me, for better or worse—Scrooge has a pet bird whose name is also Clementine:

Had I remembered the Barks story, I'd have likely called this "mop-topped sandpiper" something else (Scarpa's name, "Kaibi," could have become Katie).

September 4, 2011 at 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks, David! I haven't quite made it through all the GeoX archives yet, so I hadn't read this entry. (The archives are conveniently filling in the void in my reading life created by the lack of new American Disney comics.) Funny, that you coincidentally picked the same name for Scrooge's pet bird. Way more of a coincidence than two writers calling a cat "Tabby"! Perhaps you did have some source-not-accessible-to-consciousness linkage in your memory synapses connecting "Scrooge's pet" and "Clementine"...

September 4, 2011 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Joe: I acknowledge that you know more about Disney-comic history than almost anyone, and you could be right. Still, the fact remains: April May & June; Aunt Tessie. By which I mean to say, it wasn't unprecedented for one-shot characters to lay fallow for years and then be dredged up for whatever reason by other people. Is it really so inconceivable that Dick Kinney was idly flipping through old comics in search of inspiration and came across ol' Tabby?

September 4, 2011 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Nothing is ever truly inconceivable, under the right circumstances. I just maintain it is unlikely, and made a case for why – unlike “April, May, and June”, which is a more unique gag than naming a cat “Tabby”, with which Elaine concurs. Thanks, E.! But, why split (cat) hairs… Let it be!

September 4, 2011 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I should say *I'LL* let it be!

September 4, 2011 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Here's an interesting point: in the English language stats for the earliest Fethry stories (and other S-coded stories), Kinney calls Duckburg "Duckville," which suggests a very minimal knowledge of Barks.
Letterers (myself included) have actually been "fixing" this for English printings since the 1960s.

In 1965, Kinney began to use Barks characters more often, so he starts getting the city's name right too—clearly, he'd educated himself somewhat on what Barks was up to. But this was long after Tabby was introduced.

Another interesting point: in the source materials (but almost never in print), Tabby is written as female in the first couple of stories. One gets the impression that after Hubbard drew an obvious tomcat, Kinney attempted to retcon—but the texts for the first couple of stories had already been sent out.

September 4, 2011 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger Francoisw said...


Just a short note about the way we list characters in Inducks. The general rule is that we list characters consistently with their look, not their names. Characters may have different names in different prints. In problematic cases, the question of wether two characters appearing in two stories are the same can not be answered by just "yes" or "no". Sometimes the writer intended a character to be the same as another one, but the artist didn't follow. Sometimes a writer would borrow some elements of a character and made it unclear (including to himself) if the character is "new" or not.

In this case, the mouth of Tabby and that of Barks' character are completely different. So as per Inducks rules they're not the same character (in the Inducks sense). The question of wether one inspired the other is an entirely different one, not answered.

>Is it really so inconceivable that Dick Kinney was
>idly flipping through old comics in search of
>inspiration and came across ol' Tabby?

>I found this extremely scientific list of the top
>cat names as determined by the users of

It's a nice try, but in comics you may prefer to name cats differently than you would do in real life. "Tabby" seems to be highly recognized as a cat name, see e.g.:

September 5, 2011 at 3:16 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I so totally don't want to continue this argument, but I have to note that that wikipedia page is about the kind of cat known as a tabby and says nothing about the word's use as a proper name.

September 5, 2011 at 3:30 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Elaine: Maybe. All I can recollect is liking the idea that this little pipsqueak of a bird should have a BIG old-fashioned-sounding name.
"Clementine" also gave me the opportunity to riff on the folk song, a la Huckleberry Hound...

September 5, 2011 at 3:33 AM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

I just wanted to give an info on how we list appearances in Inducks (since you are sometimes referring to it). The criterion for a character is wether he "looks the same" in "at least two stories".

For instance "young Donald Duck" is not the same as "Donald Duck" even though both are obviously the same character! Or "Paperinik"/"Donald Duck", or "Goofy"/"Super Goofy" etc.

Now I hope the meaning of some appearances lists will be less obscure to you and other users! (if they're useful is another story).

In the end, I don't know wether Barks' cat was Kinney's inspiration or not, and all Inducks is saying is "they're physically different".

September 5, 2011 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I’ve been “out” of this argument since my last post… but I find it very amusing that more has probably been written about the unimportant character of “Tabby” over this weekend, than in the last 40-plus years!

That Darn Cat (to borrow a phrase) has hijacked poor Fethry’s special week!

Bring on the great Fethry classic: “Ducky Date”!

September 5, 2011 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Don't worry, Joe. Fethry tells me he's immensely pleased to see the attention given to dear, fuzzy-wuzzy Tabby—the cuddliest cat in all the world!

(Tabby thinks: Which planet did he come from, and how can I destroy it?)

September 5, 2011 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

Joe, we've had 45 error reports sent by various people about Tabby. Granted, not all are mainly about him, but they all mention it, and some contain elaborate replies about Tabby appearances.

This link provide a few

I won't reread them all but one pretends that Tabby appear 42 times in

September 5, 2011 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

One final thought on coincidence that has nothing to do with Tabby.

In my first script for Gemstone, Super Goof: “Now Museum, Now You Don’t” (2006), I referred to the omnipresent coffee establishment in the greater Duckburg-Mouseton Metro Area as “Starducks”. “The coffee so strong it puts feathers on a hairy chest!”

I liken getting to use a gag like that to “finding a 50 dollar bill lying on the ground”. You’re glad YOU picked it up, and wonder why no one else got to it first.

Anyone who has read Boom!’s Darkwing Duck comic will know that “Starducks” was also the omnipresent coffee establishment in St. Canard. Ian Brill, Aaron Sparrow, or whoever wrote that first arc did not borrow that from me… it was a coincidence!

Though, ironically, in the very unlikely event that “Now Museum, Now You Don’t” ever gets reprinted, folks will probably think I borrowed it from THEM. (If, indeed, they remember “Starducks” at all!)

“Starducks”, like “Tabby” was a very likely name to use in a particular situation.

I have ANOTHER such “50 dollar bill find” in an unpublished UNCLE SCROOGE script that I completed just as Boom! decided to cancel the title.

It’s another “one of those things” that’s so good and so obvious, that you wonder why no one’s beaten you to it. David and Chris B. know what it is… please don’t spoil it!

So, now I’m hoping that someone soon picks up the license to publish UNCLE SCROOGE – and decides to run that story – before another writer “beats me to it”, who really may not have done so at all!

And, if it should happen, I will be unhappy, but I’ll know it was a coincidence.

September 6, 2011 at 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Speaking of the names of pet cats in Donald's household...David: I bought the German Big Black Book of Magica DeSpell stories (having found out about it from your webpage; German is the only one of the languages it's printed in that I can halfway read). In the story where HD&L's cat saves the No. 1 Dime from MDS-as-raven, in German the cat is named "Moritz." What was it named (and what was its gender) in the English version? (printed in UK's Disney Magazine)

September 7, 2011 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

I don't have the UK version accessible—but having worked on the book, I've got the original English dialogue on hand.

The cat is the "Billyum" of the title, and he's a tomcat. He's presented as the nephews' new pet; the writers of the 1980s Egmont Duck stories were often unaware of the S-coded material, so it's unlikely the talents here knew of Tabby.

">Groan!< I'll never mix prawn curries and banana splits again!" (foof-bombed Donald, late in the story)

September 8, 2011 at 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks! I should have figured out that "Billyum" was the cat's name. An unfortunate name, in my opinion; makes me think of "bilious", and combining that with "yum(my)" just makes it *worse*. So I will continue to think of that cat as Moritz, even though that makes me think of Morris the Cat (until I run across the story in some other language where the translators made a better choice). No, I didn't expect it to have been named "Tabby" in English--obviously a different character, even had the creators known of the Fethry stories' Tabby. A new pet, as you say, and also clearly HD&L's pet, not Donald's.

And thanks loads for your work on the BBBs! I'm enjoying the range of stories in the MDS volume. And if I had had the labeled picture of MDS's house when I was nine years old, it would have been one of my favorite things in the world. I'm quite fond of it, even now.

September 8, 2011 at 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Zwarte Capihoorn said...

I like the artwork from Al HUbbard and I like Fethry to. But here, in the Netherlands, Fethry is banned. He only appears in the imported pocketbooks.

September 22, 2011 at 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Finnish, so I'm very familiar with Fethry... I always hated him and thought he was copied from Gaston Lagaffe, a famous Franco-Belgian character, and I just couldn't help seeing him and the Donald/Fethry dynamic as an inferior copy of Gaston/Fantasio and Prunelle...

Of course Gaston Lagaffe has far more consistntly better writing with brilliant Andre Franquin.

And I have somewhat warmed to Fethry and recognize he is sometimes used better. Too often it's just Donald being annoyed and tortured and Fethry is just a sociopath.

October 14, 2015 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I'd like to mention that "Tabby" is known in French as Catmembert, a much more remarkable and funny name.

January 8, 2017 at 2:21 PM  

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