Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Kakimaw Country"

How long has it been since I've written about a Barks story?  Time to get back to the basics!  For a moment, at least.  You know, when I started doing this, it was with the sort of vague idea of choosing representative Barks stories and saying "here! Look! See what this says about X!"  But that sort of thing can get awfully repetitive, and at a certain point you have to branch out and/or change your approach to stories ("You've changed, man--I remember when it used to be all about the ducks, with none of this other bullshit").  That's what I worry about sometimes when I return to the classics: will I just be repeating myself? Will it be super-boring?  Nonetheless, there are a few aspects of this 1957 story that I think are well worth highlighting.

The story pretty obviously was inspired by some factoid that Barks read in NatGeo or summers.  Certainly a thin conceit, but perfectly adequate when you're just talking about a ten-pager.

I really, really like this happy scene, too.  With slight modification, Gladstone used it as the cover for one of their albums, to very good effect.

Maybe this is the sort of thing that you only start appreciating when you're really, really familiar with/appreciative of these characters, but this scene--climbing a fence to go for a swim in a lush countryside--is the sort of thing I live for.  So bucolic.  It's not a huge part of the story or anything, but I think it's one of those things that just sort of registers with you, consciously or not, and increases your enjoyment of the whole.

So the idea is that Scrooge needs rain for his crops, and Donald comes up with this idea.  Where does this rate on the ol' Duck-Morality-O-Meter?  Well, there's certainly deception involved, and Scrooge's best interests are not his number one concern.  Fact remains, though, he does believe that this rainmaking magic will work--he has to know that the costs aren't gonna be paid otherwise.  Self-interested it may be, but it's still going to benefit everyone if it works, so I'd call it a wash at worst.

And here we have one of my favorite panels in all of Barks; it never fails to make me laugh.  Donald's nonsensical reply coupled with his wide smile--I feel like this is an appealing but almost totally neglected aspect of Donald's character.  See also his hobo disguise in "The Golden River."

I suppose if this story's notable for one thing, it has to be this guy, surely the most realistically-depicted native American in Barks' oeuvre.  It may not be a fair comparison, though: I've probably noted in the past the seeming contradiction of people--in Disney comics and elsewhere--who are totally progressive on racial issues in real life but who nonetheless have no problem with presenting gruesome caricatures of "savages" in their work.  I think what's happening is that they're seeing the cannibals or what have you as broad cartoon types who really have nothing to do with actual black people or American Indians in real life. 

But there's no need for that here, so you have the unexpected intrusion of a more realistic mode into the story--though I suppose it's also, inevitably, necessary to connect this on some level with the world seeming less hospitable to the unabashedly colonialist globetrotting adventures of yore.  So no more medicine men; just guys amused at the naïveté of goofy white people.  Of course, there's also the danger of shoving aside the "native" stuff too violently; I don't think Barks has that problem here, but if you're not careful you can get into "HELL NO THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN THIS IDIOTIC BULLSHIT! THEY'RE JUST LIKE WHITE PEOPLE!  LOOK HOW NON-RACIST WE ARE!" territory--if you watched the old BBC Jeeves & Wooster adaptations with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, you know exactly what I'm specifically thinking about here.

I find it quite interesting the way Donald, in spite of having his illusions shattered, is nonetheless perfectly capable of making use of this Little-Hiawatha-type idiom.  No surprise that Scrooge, being of the older generation, buys it so easily.  I really do find this reminder of the absurdity of this depiction quite interesting: we're accustomed to highly dubious, problematic portrayals of indigenous peoples, so for the story to go to such lengths to remind us, no, that's not really how it is--it creates an unusual dissonance, like the part in "The Gilded Man" where our heroes find themselves presented with actual, non-anthropomorphized taxidermic ducks.  Have I belabored this point sufficiently, d'ja think?

On another note, I like how the kids aren't taken in here.  It makes sense that they would recognize Donald's mannerisms better than Scrooge would, given that they actually live with him.

…and Donald can and does make it rain, it turns out, sort of.  This probably doesn't bear too much thinking about, but there you go.  According to the inevitable wikipedia article on "rainmaking," "the practice was depicted in the 1956 film The Rainmaker."  Coincidence?  The dates certainly line up.

I hate to admit it, but Scrooge kinda has a point.  The initial deception may have been in good faith (in the sense that Donald really thought there was a secret Indian rainmaking technique), but when that didn't pan out, he had no choice but to become increasingly dishonest.  Always the danger, I suppose.

But then positive karma asserts itself!  As with a lot of these later stories, it's difficult to discern much of a moral here, but the day is saved.  Benign intentions seem to have counted for something--and I really like Scrooge's spasm of generosity.  You see this kind of thing on occasion in Barks, and--as I'm sure I've noted more than once in the past--it's necessary for his character to maintain that vital dynamism.

It goes without saying that Barks is always a pleasure.  More later!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read this story (and quickly rectified that!) but I really like this.

I get the feeling that more than a bit of research went in to this tale, though the science may be dated. Who knows, I'm no scientist. But I'd bet that rainmaking conditions were researched heavily, some meteorology, climatology, etc.

I was pretty baffled looking at this, but then I realized what was happening... it felt like a Rosa story, which is pretty damn weird to say considering. Rosa's storytelling style appears to be "Let's take a concept and see what ridiculousness can happen with it... WITH HISTORY AND SCIENCE!" And that's pretty much what happened here.

Only difference is that here it lacks that sometimes intrusive feeling. It's filled with little character moments that I like a lot, very little exposition, and leaves you with a sort of feeling of... good-natured smilingness.

And once again you see Barks' absolute love of drawing water. I truly believe that Barks' artwork is never more lavish than when he draws water, even if it is just a 10-page gag story.

I don't often pay attention to his ten-pagers, but there is so much charm to him that you can't help but love it.

May 20, 2012 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

When you reference "Jeeves and Wooster," I presume you're thinking of this:
and not this:

May 20, 2012 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Great story, and a great point you make about it being "Rosa-like," in the sense that Barks builds off of a "real legend" and puts it in a new context in an entertaining way. The main difference here is that Barks handles the relating of the legend with a far lighter touch (as he should in a short story).


May 20, 2012 at 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I myself have decided on a new expression to use to kick off extended celebrations: "We're gonna fish till the barley's ripe!"

May 20, 2012 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Given that Barks was born into rural Northwestern farming country – at the turn of the last century, no less, -- it certainly adds that this particular “Real Legend” would have crossed his path.

Nice points about both the “joy” of certain panels, and HD&L being better able to see through Don’s disguise.

Oh, and thanks for spotlighting a story I can actually read! :-)

May 21, 2012 at 9:40 AM  

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