Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Westward Whoa"

Okay, no need to spend too much time on this Paul Murry effort from 1953, as it's kind of a nothing story, but I did want to look at it briefly, because has a few moments of (entirely unintentional) hilarity, and because it really crystalizes just how entirely clueless many of Western's writers were about women.

Actually, as it happens, the story's frontloaded: the best part is right smack dab in the opening panel. It's all downhill from there:

"We'll be ready as soon as we put on our lipstick." Now, if this lipstick was somehow a part of the story's plot, that would be one thing. But it's totally not; it never comes up again in any way. "Crud," thought the writer. "Minnie and Clarabelle are girls. What do girls like? Wait--I've got it! Makeup! Oh man, I am so great at characterization!" A pretty close equivalent to this would be if they were Jewish and they said "we'll be ready as soon as we eat our bagels!" It's actually hard not to be at least a little bit charmed by the sheer ineptitude here. The writer meant well! Probably. But this is still one of the silliest things I've ever seen. I suppose in theory it was an interesting idea to team up Mickey with these two instead of the usual Goofy, but in practice…well, it's certainly not interesting in any intentional way.

Continuing on that theme, we have this. We all know what girls are like: they just wanna hug you an' kiss you an' get cooties all over you an' then you hafta get a cootie shot. You know what I'm talking about, right fellas? Seriously, I feel like this comic was written by a six-year-old.

And…it also causes me to realize that this is pretty much exactly how Don Rosa portrays Scrooge's sisters. You don't notice it so much because the art and writing are both so much more sophisticated, but it seems undeniable.

I suppose I should go for the trifecta by noting the usual "women are temperamental" business, but you see that kind of thing everywhere; it's no big surprise.

The plot here concerns Pete's fiendish new plan to surreptitiously put up signs declaring new zoning ordinances and making people pay fines. Riveting! And to think, this is the same guy who ruled over a giant flying city. Quite a fall.

It also has this here narrative dead-end: you think Pete's going to use this planted badge to…frame Mickey for impersonating a sheriff? Or something? But he totally doesn't; this is immediately completely forgotten about.

…there's also some mild, pointless slapstick of the this-comic-needs-more-panels variety…

…and then Pete is foiled by contrived and convoluted means. Ya know, Pete, yer not surrounded here; you don't have to go directly backwards. I daresay the real Pete would not go down so easily. But I suppose that if Mickey is watered-down in these Murry stories, it's only fair that his opponents be too. Gemstone reprinted this story in an issue of Mickey Mouse & Friends. Was it because they, like me, were amused by the ridiculous treatment of gender? Because otherwise, really now--I'm no big Murry fan, but if you were of a mind to reprint something of his, surely you could've done better than this…



Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo writes:

“…because it really crystalizes just how entirely clueless many of Western's writers were about women.”

Were they? Or was it just a combination of the attitudes of the times – and the usual “writers’ shorthand” that I’ve described elsewhere. You watch MAD MEN… back that less-enlightened period up another decade – and this is what you get.

“Kiss-crazy, ugly gals” were all over theatrical cartoons of the period, so one wouldn’t seem all that out of place here. Yes, the comics Pete was more sinister --but all of the above adds up to this one being writing by a moonlighting CARTOON WRITER, rather than one of Western’s regulars. One NOT steeped in Gottfredson (…and even prior Murry) lore! But, more of the Pete as a “mean railroad conductor” school.

I’m not saying I agree with any of this. Not now, and not even when I first read it as a reprint about 1970/71. But, it’s more a case of “That’s the way it WAS!”. And, it’s still better than “Harry Potter Mickey” and “Ultraheroes”.

April 20, 2012 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

But "as soon as we put on our lipstick" business doesn't look to me like merely a falling back on tired gender tropes per se, but more like a guy desperately combing through his memory banks trying to find some way to characterize these alien creatures that he's only familiar with through ancient myth and song. The other stuff is more standard, but to me it adds up to to an impressive degree of cluelessness, even taking into account pervading cultural factors.

April 20, 2012 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


To be somewhat charitable to this tale's unknown writer... go back to "The Bar-None Ranch" and you'll see that Clarabelle's rep as a "kiss-crazy, ugly gal" was, at least in part, established by Gottfredson himself.


April 21, 2012 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Wotta world. In 2005, had lots of letters asking for Murry, and very few of his serials in hand in complete form (yet).
I had to choose the best of a middling bunch. I chose this story, which for me had at least the saving grace of energetic, early art; Mickey using Fifi to bait the lion; and Pete using his stomach to bop Mickey on the head.

Pete pulling off this particularly crude scam is still better than Blacksnake McQuirt doing it.
But then, Gottfredson, Scarpa, Byron, and Casty are still leagues better than "Westward Whoa."

Otherwise: "Dames... de joy-killers!" Joe's right about one thing: the "kiss-crazy, ugly gal" was common in that era's cartoons. If Clarabelle put on a false mustache and changed nothing else, Famous Studios' Possum Pearl would chase her. "Ooh, a MAY-yan!"
On the other hand—just because it was common, is it sexist? As a kid, I watched this type of behavior among cartoon women and perceived it as simply the female equivalent of Pepe Le Pew and Bluto: kiss-crazy, unpleasant guys. The "annoying lover" is actually sort of egalitarian; it just often gets lumped together with other female-specific stereotypes because... well, because we're all good at generalizing. :innocent:

[Rewritten slightly for clarity: I myself have written stories with kiss-crazy characters of both genders, so I stand to bury myself if I can't make my point right!]

April 21, 2012 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, for me the main thing is the lipstick business, which I found and continue to find hilarious; after that, I moved on to the rest of the story, and while the bits with Clarabelle and Minnie alone are more or less the usual stuff, I just felt like together, they created sort of a perfect storm of gender-related silliness. It's certainly too low-key and harmless to be offended by, but seeing all this stuff in one neat little package really seemed to me to crystalize the way these things manifest themselves even when there's no malign intent.

April 21, 2012 at 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I can deal with a particular trope like the ugly, kiss-crazy girl by itself (especially when it is balanced by matching male figures of ridicule). The problem is (was) when female characters were nothing but a patchwork of such tropes. Minnie here is not likeable; how could you like someone who says "do something, or else" with no suggestion about what to do and no offer to join in the action? Why does Mickey even like her? (I'm glad to hear that Minnie is more likeable and active in Gottfredson.) All too often in Disney comics, the reader wouldn't want to be any of the female characters. I am continually amazed by the treatment of girl characters in the Disney comics of the 60's and 70's. Didn't it ever occur to anyone that girls might be reading these comics?

Yes, this was a widespread problem in the popular culture of the time. It still amazes me, in retrospect.

I love the duck comics, and loved them in childhood, and this was largely because I had learned (as girls had to) to identify with male characters. I think that "Daringly Different" was the *only* time I identified with Daisy. And in some stories I could identify positively with Madam Mim. Mostly I identified with HD&L--to the extent that the appearance of girls in a story with HD&L actually disrupted my ability to enter into the story, because it forced me to realize that the world of this story would *not* admit the female me as a full-fledged character, but only as a set of female stereotypes.

The saving grace for many girls in that era was that there were children's books with strong, likeable female characters. Seldom in books read by both girls and boys, though.

It's hard to say how "clueless" the male artists/writers/creators who perpetuated the sexist stereotypes actually were. I think I'd say that many men of that era had a kind of default setting of sexist assumptions, which they did not abandon even if they knew and appreciated particular women as real, whole, likeable, admirable human beings. It's the "this particular Jewish friend of mine is A-OK, but I still think Jews in general are *insert antisemitic stereotype here*" syndrome.

And David, I'll be fine with your use of the "ugly, kiss-crazy girl" because you *do* also have the male equivalent, and because your female characters are not just stitched-together stereotypical tropes, and because you fought in Egmont for the restoration of a Mim who is proud of who she is.

April 21, 2012 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I think Elaine “hits it”, when she writes:

“It's hard to say how "clueless" the male artists/writers/creators who perpetuated the sexist stereotypes actually were. I think I'd say that many men of that era had a kind of default setting of sexist assumptions, which they did not abandon even if they knew and appreciated particular women as real, whole, likeable, admirable human beings.”

Yep! Not to mention Western Publishing is far from the only culprit in this regard.

You saw this throughout the Silver Age in DC comics with Lois Lane, Vicki Vale – and even Iris West (of THE FLASH) was described as a “news-hen”!

Huh? “NEWS-HEN”? Really? Have you ever heard a female reporter described that way? Not me… and I LIVED through the period! At least DC became more enlightened before the end of the decade – even if it was only in response to that “upstart” Stan Lee and his newfangled takes on super hero comics.

Lasting longer than DC in the deficit-department, Archie Comics perpetuated the “Kiss-Crazy, Ugly Gal” (…Might I have coined a phrase, here?) stereotype well past 1970 with the character of “Big Ethel” and her relentless pursuit of Jughead. I stopped reading Archie Comics in 1971, so I don’t know when that might have changed.

And, please correct me if I mis-recall, but didn’t Clarabelle continue to appear in that mode – even in segments of “HOUSE OF MOUSE”?

Certainly by HOM, the attitude was no longer in place – but had devolved into that good old demon “writer’s shorthand”.

Not making excuses by ANY stretch, but could the lipstick comment that Geo (not-wrongly) focuses on have been “writer’s shorthand” to illustrate the “fish-out-of-water” thing, as far as Minnie and Clarabelle camping out west. Taking that beyond any sexist implications, being New York born and bred, *I’d* be a “fish-out-of-water” in such a situation too.

…Though, I’d probably be wondering where the taxis, subways, and restaurants are!

April 22, 2012 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger tymime said...

Ethel was still Jughead's "abhorrent admirer" when I read Archie as a kid in the '90s. I'm willing to bet she still is.

May 3, 2012 at 7:03 PM  

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