Monday, May 28, 2012

"Dirty Work at the Crossroads"

Hey, let's look at an old non-Barks story from 1954 of which I have fond memories, shall we?  I will freely grant that Dick Moores' artwork is, er, not so great, but I think there's still quite a bit to recommend here.

As you can see, I've given the story my own title.  The inducks entry simply dubs it "Harry's Revenge," but that's a mistake; pretty clearly, it's just the title of the movie they were watching.  In fact, looking down the page, I see that in some countries it's been given its own separate title; in French it's called "Donald, King of Actors."

The question of how it is that the kids were apparently watching some sort of twenties-era silent melodrama remains.  It's part of this story's slightly disorienting feel, which to me adds to the appeal.  Note also the marquee names: I'm not saying they're deathless works of genius or anything, but they're not half bad either.  As we'll see, the writing in this story is a notch or two above the norm for the era.  I'd love to know the writer's identity.

Also, note that Moores appears to be significantly better at drawing semi-realistic people than he is duck characters.  Granted, that's a bit of a problem in a duck comic…

Just look at those bizarre proportions on Donald in those bottom panels--that's the stuffa nightmares.  Someone didn't quite understand how perspective works.  The idea, lest you missed it, is that the kids, inspired by this movie, want to put on their own show, and Donald is behaving in a goofy fashion.

this whole "who gets to be the 'hero?'" business is padding, and kind of pointless--though I do kinda like HDL getting in a fist-fight like that.  Has anything like that ever happened in Barks?  I feel like it must have, but nothing immediately comes to mind.  They're pretty consistently in accord there.  They're definitely pitched a bit more juvenile here than they are in the work of the master.

Yeah, yeah, more nonsense--I would tell Donald to fuck off, were I them.  We'll figure this shit out on our own!  We don't need your interference!  This "contest" stuff goes on for a few pages, and it's pretty weak sauce--more obvious gear-grinding.

And there's this weirdness also.  Why would Donald just pull "Li'l Nell" out of a hat like that?  It makes no sense!  Okay, so maybe they described the plot of their play to him sometime off-camera, but it just feels bizarre.  Dewey playing "villain" there is kinda priceless, though.  This is so obvious an observation that it's almost not worth making, but you can see here that nephew name/color standardization had not taken place when this was published.

Now let me tell you: this is the part that I really liked about this story when I was small.  The idea that the kids alone could do all this work and put on a real, credible show really spoke to me.  My favorite was Dewey on a bicycle, there.

Ooh, I also like this.  Now, when I was in elementary school, we would put on plays every year (including both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth*), and I could--and still can, to an extent--very strongly identify with backstage nervousness of this sort.

When Donald sees that there's a crowd, he naturally decides to take over.  "Grandpappy?"  What the hell?  Now you're just inventing parts on the spot?  Also, just making up lines?  The edifice here seems very unstable.  And why is the "hero" dressed like a used-car salesman, anyway?  The mystery thickens.

The best part of the story is clearly the play itself, though.  I love Donald's nonsensically beatific smile in the first panel.  Likewise the "villain"'s too-long coat.  Also, the mental image of Nell getting thrown out but making do thanks to a pair of skis--it seems so perfect in its simultaneous ridiculousness and perfect childish logic.

Can I make a confession?  I have this sort of problem, I guess, where I don't get things--etymologies, wordplay, what have you--for an embarrassingly long time.  Example: one of my favorite albums ever is Sparks' Kimono My House.  But I didn't even think about the title for a very, very long time, just sort of implicitly assuming it was completely nonsensical, before I finally realized it was a play on Rosemary Clooney's crazy proto-psychedelic hit "Come on-a My House."  That's just the way it goes for me.  Which is to say, long story short: I totally failed to get the punning here until I reread the story to write this entry.  It seems extraordinary, but there you go.  Oh, I recognized that it was playing on the distinction between "handle bars" as a noun and a verb phrase, but that's as far as it went.  The b'ars/bars business completely went over my head.  Sheesh. 

It's great though, isn't it?  That level of sophistication is certainly not common in this sort of thing.  Pretty fantastic if you ask me.  And please don't tell me that this specific joke was in fact stolen from a more well-known source.  That would make me sad.

FINIS.  It kinda seems like there ought to be another page for some sort of coda, but no, this is all we get.  Which, I suppose, is okay; even Barks often had trouble ending stories in particularly memorable fashion.

So here it is: a non-Barks ten-pager.  A bit wobbly in places, but still, for my money, a lot of fun.  I think this would've been a great choice for Gemstone to reprint as the opening story in some issue of WDC or other, as a break from the Van Horn and Jippes/Milton.  Alas!  It's bound to be just another one on the scrap heap, completely forgotten by everyone but weird obsessives like me.

*Substantially abridged, obviously, but still with quite credibly Shakespearean dialogue.  And to answer your question: Oberon and "First Murderer," respectively--it is left as an exercise to the reader to decide which of these roles is more of a stretch for me.

**Does this actually have anything to do with Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop? Unlikely.  It could just as easily some sort of admixture of different aspects of Eva and Eliza from Uncle Tom's Cabin--actually, that's probably exactly what the writer was thinking of, given the "villain" on the marquee's resemblance to Simon Legree.



Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Moores is said to have written some of his own stuff, but who will EVER really know about the writers of this period. Such a shame this information is lost to us.

He probably drew larger heads to make the nephews cuter (an old artist’s trick), but should NOT have applied it to Donald. Fighting among themselves also made them more realistic as children.

I liked both the drawings of the cast of the old film – AND their names! Again, we’ll never know if Moores drew them to match scripter-supplied names, or named them himself after their design attributes.

…And I like the “Handle Bars” gag so much, I wish *I* had done it!

May 29, 2012 at 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Re: "Little Nell"--I'm no expert on this, but I believe that "Little Nell" or "Li'l Nell" became a shorthand reference to the heroine-in-danger in silent movie melodramas. Perhaps this came from the 1911 film "Little Nell's Tobacco," starring Mary Pickford, for which I cannot find a plot summary online. But if you google "little nell silent movie" you will get such things as a piano piece titled "Little Nell and the Train Tracks". (Joe, is this why Dudley Do-Right's sweetheart was named "Nell"?)

May 29, 2012 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

You're probably right. I'd be interested to know how this initially became a "thing."

I'd also be very interested in knowing how the non-English editions dealt with "handle bars."

May 29, 2012 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Re "Little Nell," I think that truthfully THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP is the ultimate Ur-source of that particular reference. Jokes about Nell's goodness and the manner of her death became so widespread that "Nell" probably leached into the wider language as a shorthand name for any young female caught in a melodramatic situation.

I always wondered how Dewey suddenly produced the whiskers for that mustache...


May 29, 2012 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine: I’m certain you’re correct on this. “Nell” functions as writer’s shorthand, not unlike “Pauline” (She of the many Perils!) would be in a similar sense. And, of course Jay Ward figured this into “Dudley Do-Right” – because many of the episodes even had mock silent film-style “role credits” for the “actors” at their beginnings.

Another mind-blowing thing to consider is that, at the time that story was done, THAT era of filmmaking was as far away from “The Then-Present” as the era of MAD MEN is from “Our Present”!

…Meaning it was as “fresh” for the forty/fifty-ish folks of “then”, as the sixties are for the boomers of “now”.

So, I’m certain Dick Moores (and/or the unknown writer?) were drawing upon that! It was something they very likely knew – first (or, at worst, second) hand.

Geo: “Handle Bars” could only have been a “Write-Your-Own-Joke-Here” situation for foreign scripters. I wouldn’t be surprised if something completely generic ended up in that spot, more often than not.

There was an early-seventies Super Goof where the Beagle Boys escape prison disguised as three visiting congressmen on a fact-finding tour of the facility. On their way out, one threatened to “…tell Spirio” of the shoddy conditions.

Then Vice President Agnew was all the rage as a media joke at the time – even having “Mickey Mouse-style Watches” made in his image. But, a joke like that (…particularly of an unexpected political nature for Western Pub.) surely never got beyond our shores.

It probably ended up as a generic too!

Chris: RE: The Moustache. …Clearly, you can do some damned amazing things with feathers!

I think Moores deserves a special shout-out for that! Has anyone done it before or since?

May 29, 2012 at 6:07 PM  
Anonymous Louis said...

It seems (correct me if I’m wrong) that Donald’s role and actions fits the story very well: the close relative that, by hook or by crook, has been involved in the play and gradually becomes enthusiastic about that, even showing “a childish attitude”.

June 7, 2012 at 4:01 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

So, on reading this post I realized that my family had owned this comic (DD 34) in my childhood, and that I, too, had liked this story (it was Huey-as-Nell declaiming the handlebars pun that brought it back to me). Then someone listed an inexpensive copy on eBay right after GeoX's post, so I went ahead and bought it. And I found that I also remembered-on-re-reading the first story in that comic, also drawn by Dick Moores and written by ?, where Donald and the boys try to arrange a birthday party for Scrooge and are pursued by a floogle-bird, an escapee from the zoo. Liked that story as a child, still like it now! Glad to rediscover both of these stories.

June 7, 2012 at 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

About the "handle bars" joke in foreign translations: I have the Dutch translation from 1957 here. In this version, the villain's dastardly scheme is to put her on a boat... WITHOUT A RUDDER! And she will have to drift about steerless! But don't worry. Nell learned on a bicycle... *crashes bicycle* to drift about steerless! *holds up steer* "Curses! Foiled again!"

August 4, 2012 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thank you! That's very interesting.

August 4, 2012 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

In the European Portuguese version (1988, surely adapted or copied from some previous Brazilian translation):

"Villain": "Eu a levarei para bem longe para que não possa voltar a esta casa" ("I will take her far away, that she could not come back to this house"
"Girl" (crashing the bicycle): "Não faz mal! Eu volto de bicicleta" ("No problem! I will come back by bicycle")
"Girl" (after the crash): "O-oh-oh! Ao menos salvei uma parte da minha bicicleta" ("Oh-oh-oh. At least I saved a piece of my bicycle")

[This is perhaps a bit weird - making comments in posts from 4 years ago...]

October 19, 2016 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Not weird at all; I appreciate it, though admittedly I'm probably the only one who sees these old comments. Doesn't sound to me like a great translation.

October 19, 2016 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger Sidious said...

Aaaand... TERRIBLY long after you asked, I give you the French version of the pun… and let me warn you, it's really lame. In fact, it's no pun at all.

"Je conduis la petite Lili au-delà de la montagne... où vivent les ours sauvages... Vous comprenez ! Ha, ha, ha !" ("I'm taking little Lili beyond the mountain… where the wild bears live… You know what I mean! Ha, ha, ha!")
"Qu'importe ? Je ferai la route à bicyclette !" ("Never mind! I'll be riding my bicyle!")
"Qui me sauvera ? Qui ?" ("Who'll rescue me? Who?")
"Sûrement pas lui !" ("Certainly not him!")

Now, to be perfectly honest, I don't know what I would have done in the translator's place. The French word for "handlebar" is "guidon," and while this word does have other meanings, they're a bit too specialized and/or obscure to work. Maybe some kind of pun on "guidon" and "Guidons !" ("Let's guide!")? I dunno, really.

January 26, 2020 at 7:01 AM  
Blogger Sidious said...

STOP THE PRESSES : there's a followup!
As I was copying the words of the French translation for you, I was thinking: "How weird. The wording is not how I vividly remembered it AT ALL." And then I remembered that the version of this story I read when I was a kid was, in fact, the BELGIAN French version. So, for exhaustivity's sake, here it is — even though it's really no better than the other one.

"Je conduirai la petite Nelly dans les montagnes ! Et il y a des ours là-bas ! Hé ! Hé !" ("I'll take little Nelly to the mountains! And there are bears over there! Ha! Ha!")
"ça m'est égal ! Moi, j'ai mon vélo…" ("I don't mind! I've got my bike...")
"Je n'ai pas peur des ours !" ("I'm not afraid of bears!")
"Elle n'a pas peur ! C'est raté !" ("She's not afraid! Didn't work!")

January 26, 2020 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger Editor Weems said...

Good get, GeoX.
this story is fondly remembered from my childhood too. And I still have the comic! The general jollity of HDL's stage production is so endearing.
Cant say the same for Moores' drawings -they were generally awful!! Proportions often go badly awry, especially for Donald himself [eg pic you show of DD ranting outside the barn].
I thought so as a child too, eg the Floogle bird [mentioned above] was meant to be some ridiculous creature. But with Moores' poor skills, it reminded me more of Donald in disguise!

February 21, 2020 at 9:20 PM  
Anonymous Adamant said...

8 years late, here's the Norwegian translation:

Villain: Jeg tar lille Nelly med ut i de ville fjellene hvor alle giftslangene holder til. (I'm taking Little Nelly up into the wild mountains where all the poisonous snakes (giftslanger) are.)
Nelly: Blås i det! Jeg har slanger selv... (I don't mind, I've got snakes (slanger) of my own)
Nelly: Sykkel-slanger! (Bicycle inner tubes (sykkel-slanger), that is!)
Villain: Hun er for smart! (She's too smart!)

It's very clevely done, I'm impressed.

March 29, 2020 at 2:23 PM  

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