Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Poorest Duck in Duckburg"

Hey, guess what, Dark-Ladies and Gentlemaniacs, it's time for your annual Halloween Tale of Terror! This time, it's Pat Block's and Ron Fernandez's final collaboration.

When I wrote about their previous "Too Late for Christmas" last year, I may have claimed that all of the stories the two of them collaborated on were "stunningly, unbelievably good." Unfortunately…well, as I realized when I reread this particular story to write this entry, there may have been a certain boyish overenthusiasm in that statement. It is absolutely the case that those superlatives apply to "Too Late for Christmas" and "The Secret of the Dragon's Den," and even if "The Mystery of Widow's Gap" isn't quite on that level, it's still pretty good, and shows a lot of potential. But this one…well, dammit all, it pains me to admit it, but it's pretty substantially flawed, both in terms of art and story. If you wanted to read between the lines, you could argue that it reveals something about the deteriorating nature of their working relationship. Who knows?

One thing that's a bit problematic is the art, as the above examples indicate. It's not bad for the most part, but there are distracting problems, as in the above examples. In the first panel, Donald is oddly squashed, and it looks very much as if he's just been copy and pasted in. In the second one, due to perspective issues, it looks as though he's lifting off the ground. Hmm.

The idea is that Scrooge HATES Halloween, 'cause all the kids are going to come to his awesome new money bin and trick-or-treat him blind--so he wants to get rid of it (though you'd kinda think his landmines and barbed wire would do the trick as far as keeping kids away goes--otherwise, I see a very expensive lawsuit in his future). This is a reasonable basis for a story (though in that first panel, you can see another example of Donald looking weird). Why would "shopkeepers" object to Halloween, though? They don't like selling costumes and candy...?

Also, we have Witch Hazel, and continuity with "Too Late for Christmas." Kinda nutty, but I like the idea that Block and Fernandez are making this concerted effort to make Hazel into a regular character--an' this crazy witch-country, too! That's not something I have an objection to.

...and also, for some reason, there's this leprechaun-witch. I feel like this must be some sort of reference that I'm missing. In any case, they end up assigning her to give Duckburg the most spooktacular Halloween ever. But without her magic.

...meanwhile, back in Duckburg...look, I think we all feel a little thrill at seeing Lawyer Sharky (from Barks' "Golden Helmet," obviously--I never know whether I should spell things like that out; whether I should assume there are any neophytes in the audience or not). But, sad to say, this is also where Block and Fernandez really drop the ball. If you were gonna involve Sharky here, you'd want to have him come up with some arcane legal way to ban the holiday, and then the nephews would have to scramble to figure out some way to counter it with Hazel's help and it would all be crazy fun. Right? But…the "plan," as it turns out, is just to buy up all Halloween-related things in the city. First: why exactly do you need a lawyer for that? Second: it defies belief that Scrooge would be dumb enough to think that was a good idea--that buying up everything would be a cheaper alternative to giving out candy and possibly enduring some minor vandalism. If it was a one-time investment that was gonna wipe the holiday out for good, sure, but presumably he'd just have to repeat the process every year. It's just dumb, is what it is. And terribly unimaginative.

To stay a little positive, though, I'll note that there are some good moments scattered here and there--like (Scrooge having retired to Grandma's farm to await the results of his scheme) in this vista of pumpkins, telling tales to the placidly-accepting Gus (who has almost certainly heard this many times before).

...but what happens, alas, is that ALL his money gets spent buying up Halloween paraphernalia. Not realistic, exactly, but still--a twist, I would say, in the Barksian spirit.

...oh, and there's this rather pointless cameo from the Beagles, looking a bit malformed. And really, "that old miser won't miss three sacksfull [sic]?" That's not the Beagle MO. I mean okay sure, in "The Doom Diamond" we see them nickel-and-diming Scrooge, but that is entirely uncharacteristic. They're not content to be invisible parasites--they want it ALL! This, I would merely characterize as sloppy writing.

And now...we move on to the nonsensical climax of this tale, where the kids subject him to a haunted house experience so that mumblemumble.

This is another area where the art does not serve the story well: Scrooge's facial expressions are such that it's impossible to tell what he's actually thinking about all of this.

Angry, happy, intimidated, suspicious--who can say? Best guess is that he's supposed to be just indulging the kids' whims, but why would he just instantaneously go from depression about his sudden brokeness to happily playing along with this game? The whole thing makes no sense.

...and then he learns the True Meaning of Halloween, which for some reason completely turns him around. Why? And why was all that previous rigamarole an essential part of it, given that he didn't react to any of it in a notably Halloween-y way?

And why, in that upper-left panel, does he have that squinty-eyed look that generally connotes deviousness? Ach…so many questions. Though that "where would I keep my new quarter?" is kind of charming.

Hazel sold back all the Halloween stuff to restore Scrooge's fortune. As one does. The resemblance to Barks' "Financial Fable" is clear.

I'll grant that these last few pages do a decent job creating a Halloween tableau--it's just that nothing in the story really justifies this conclusion. Is that the same wolf from Barks' "Think-Box Bollix?" Sure, why not?

(don't worry; Hazel gets her powers back and all is forgiven hurrah)

...and the last thing we see is Sharky, who, it must be admitted, looks pretty darned adorable in his clown costume (and with

It's not so easy to craft a duck story that really catches that Halloween spirit--that combination of fun, spooky, and anarchic. Obviously, Barks' "Trick or Treat" is the ur-text in that regard; Rota's "Halloween Huckster" also does the trick. This one, not so much--though I hasten to add that I nonetheless would've loved beyond all reckoning to see more Block/Fernandez material. I suppose I ought to just write an entry about "Trick or Treat" already, ferfuckssake, but I thought a more obscure story like this one would provide better value for money.

Have a mind-bendingly terrifying Halloween, everyone!

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Anonymous Elaine said...

I agree. "Dragon's Den" was really good.

And I think I would love to read a story based on your alternative plot idea, with U$ hiring Sharkey to get rid of Halloween, Sharkey coming up with a faux-legal way to outlaw it, and HD&L saving the day. Though it's true that U$ is more likely to appreciate Halloween as a consumerist bonanza than he is to resent it as an excuse for children to extort candy from him. As you say, how would they get to the door of the money bin? And don't the parents of Duckburg know Scrooge's attitude towards those looking for handouts? Perhaps one could have Scrooge decide that Halloween is destroying the moral fabric of his future work force, by convincing them that they can get something for nothing....

October 31, 2011 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Did this occur during that horrendous “Paper-Cover Comics” period of Gladstone II?

If so, that might be why I don’t remember it. This seeming clinker notwithstanding, it remains a shame that Fernandez and Block did not enjoy a longer and more fruitful collaboration.

Hit or miss, there was an “expansive”, unrushed quality to their tales, best exemplified by “Too Late for Christmas”, where there was “room” to allow different things to happen.

We don’t see that in your average 10-12 page Egmont story, and the longer Italian stories ramble too much. Having written scripts for both types of story – and trying to “rush” and “stretch” things respectively – I can really appreciate the pace they tried to set in their work.

It’s one of those things you don’t notice… until you do!

October 31, 2011 at 9:40 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I definitely agree with you about that intangible quality of these stories, which makes it a big shame that no more came out of the collaboration. And yes, alas, this appeared in one of those hideous-quality books. I think that's why some of my scans came out a bit poorly.

October 31, 2011 at 10:14 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Hey, fellas—it's Sharky, not Sharkey.

"Vowelus, foulus, scowlus!" Which means: "Misspellings merit a sound thrashing!"

November 1, 2011 at 2:53 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Misspellings? Perish the thought! Surely you are imagining things, sir!

November 1, 2011 at 3:02 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

If the spelling was REALLY bad, would the term have been: “Vowelus, foulus, bowel-movementus!”?

And (…he says, coming back for still more), if you wished to punish the letterer for his or her misdeeds, would the term have been: “Vowelus, foulus, disembowel-mentus!”?

Or, is this simply the reason I flunked out of law school?

November 1, 2011 at 7:17 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

"Graphus laugh-us erroritis" Which means: Acknowledge with self-mocking chagrin that one does not know how the spell the names of Barksian minor characters (though GeoX does!). But hey, it's an honor to be edited by David Gerstein!

November 1, 2011 at 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Gregory said...

All I can think after reading that is that there's no reason for Sharky to catch Donald's attention like he does in the last scan. In fact, since he's running away, it seems sort of counterproductive.

Maybe that's a weird thing to get hung up on.

November 1, 2011 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

No, I think you're right about that. This is just an excuse to shoehorn Sharky in again. Not that they COULDN'T have come up with a justifiable reason for this, but, well...they didn't. Kinda representative of the slipshod nature of the whole affair.

November 1, 2011 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine writes:

“But hey, it's an honor to be edited by David Gerstein!”

It is, indeed! And, even more fun than that are the sessions that surround each “editing”.

The discussions, the brainstorming, even the semi-arguments that get us to the final printed page! I can’t imagine Vic Lockman having this kind of fun with Chase Craig!

We can all only hope that any future incarnation of these comics include David in an editorial capacity.

November 1, 2011 at 6:17 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

The introduction of Sharkey actually is an inventive and effective way of dealing with a Disney villain, and is a refreshing change from the old "push them off a high cliff to their presumed demise" trope in most of the movies. How do you deal with a lawyer who might help take over North America? Put him on Scrooge's payroll! By receiving Scrooge's cases and retainers, he'll be too busy and prosperous to get into mischief.

November 1, 2011 at 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen the character design for the head witch during Hazel's trial before. Maybe as one of HD&L's teachers in a Barks story. Any ideas?

November 9, 2011 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Well, I think her face, especially in the left corner panel of the third picture of the post, is a rip off from Azure Blue from "The Golden Helmet"… In a different outfit of course.

June 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Also: it's not supposed to be a basketball, it's a mistake to color it orange. The french version gives it back the rainbow colors it should have to resemble one of these clownish, circus big balls used by acrobats, you know, like this one:

December 11, 2015 at 5:15 PM  

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