Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Bobo the Elephant"

(This being part four of a nine-part series covering the stories in Volume Three of Fantagraphics' Floyd Gottfredson Library.)

It's interesting: this story is comparable in length to the others around it, but it has almost no plot.  Here, let me sum it up: "Eli Squinch claims ownership of a baby elephant that Mickey accidentally purchased, but then he agrees to sell it to a circus so it can be with its mother."  Yup, that's about it.  This is more a gag story than a plot-based one.  It is, however, endlessly charming.

Is this the first time the hoary old "accidental auction purchase" contrivance ever appeared in a Disney comic?  Probably--and not the last by a long shot!

Look, no sense trying to build suspense.  We all know it's an elephant.  And a damnably cute one, at that.  I saw baby elephants in Zambia ("oh, Mr. Big-Shot, one damn safari trip and suddenly he's some sort of hifalutin expert"), and I can verify that they are indeed extremely cute (although it's generally hard to get a good look, since they stick very closely with their mothers).  And boy oh boy is Gottfredson's rendition ever cute too.  Gonna skip over a lot here, though, because the bulk of it's just "elephant causes chaos" jokes.  Amusing, but a bit repetitive to try to gloss.

One interesting thing is the fact that the future Goofy is just a goddamn fucking asshole in this story.  Wow, you modified the horn so it wouldn't make noise.  What a genius joke, jack-off.  From this, it's really, really hard to believe that the character would ever become widely beloved.  At least as payoff, we get to see Bobo inflicting damage on him.  I'm a big fan of his enraged expression there in the last panel.

Interesting thing in some of these early comics: the other characters don't even seem to particularly like Dippy.  You may remember at the beginning of "The Lair of Wolf Barker," he's treated like a somewhat dimwitted subordinate; certainly not someone you would actually take along on an adventure.  Of course, he redeems himself in that story, but there still seems to be an extent to which he's still being written as that sort of character.  That was changing, though, as he played a large role in "The Crazy Crime Wave" and would again in "The Sacred Jewel."  Me, I'm very firmly on Team Horace; I don't hate Goofy, but I do keenly regret the fact that he edged out the other guy as Mickey's de facto partner.

INTRODUCING: ELI SQUINCH!  Per the book, he's supposed to be using a stereotypical New England dialect; I would not have guessed this on my own, but I can buy it.  Good ol' Eli.  Well, "good" might be pushing it.  But, as has been widely pointed out, he's generally more small-time than Pete, making him not just an unusual Mickey villain, but an unusual Disney villain period.  Possibly a unique one--though he's not devoid of menace, as he attempts to poison Mickey and Horace in "Race for Riches."  I enjoy his cantankerous demeanor.  Obviously, I'd be anyway, but I'm especially looking forward to volume four of this series for "In Search of Jungle Treasure," the character's third and final Gottfredson outting.

Horace is awesome in this story.  I love the way he's able to get shit done, figuring out what's what.  In later years, I feel like he was unfairly pigeonholed as "practical joke guy" and nothing more.  But here, he just rocks.

"Just the kind o' night elephant thieves like best!"  Love that line, though as we'll see, this plotline turns to be a bit of a cul-de-sac.

The idea, of course, is that Horace commandeers Bobo so as to hide him from Squinch.  "You don't look exactly like a woman" is a funny line, which is just as well, since the actual punchline here is pretty feeble.

But see, then the "hide Bobo" business goes nowhere, as Mickey decides, welp, better give him up!  I would've hoped for an involved tale of subterfuge and legerdemain as Mickey and Horace try to keep him hidden, but no such luck.  You can see why they didn't go in that direction, though; it's hard to know where this would lead if there's no endgame; no way that they can legitimately (and, being a Mickey Mouse, it would have to be legitimate) way to keep him away from Squinch.  It certainly indicates the limitations of Mickey's ethical system: do any of us really believe that using trickery to keep Bobo away from Squinch would be a dishonorable thing?  Betcha Donald wouldn't have such qualms.  I would say some rewriting might have been in order, but Gottfredson and his associates did have a tight schedule to meet...

Floyd turns the adorable up to eleven.  Probably pretty realistically, too, as elephants, per my understanding, really do have strong familial bonds.  Was this story an inspiration for Dumbo?  Well, it should've been.

(Yes, I know Dumbo was based on a 1939 book--but you tellin' me that couldn't have been influenced by this?  Well I never!)

So Squinch ultimately sells the little guy--but for less than he wanted!  Pwned!  A small-time comeuppance for a small-time crook.  Actually, I guess he's not even a "crook," per se, in this story, unless lying about how much he paid is a crime.  Don't know why he couldn't just ask more money regardless of how much he himself paid, though.

A lightweight story no doubt, but still lots o' fun.  Next time we get controversial, maybe, with the one story here that Gladstone couldn't print!  Ooh!



Blogger ramapith said...

Just the Kind of Night Elephant Thieves Like Best: the original title of FGL Vol 3, until High Noon at Inferno Gulch beat it out. True story.

The Bobo tale may be "lightweight," but look at the extra features in the back of the book—Disney absolutely loved it and planned a ton of spin-offs (even years after Dumbo), though most didn't happen. Some people thought this character had to go big...

"In later years, I feel like [Horace] was unfairly pigeonholed as 'practical joke guy' and nothing more."

(Should I tell him?) Yeah—that side of Horace really started in the Mickey Sunday pages in 1933, and there's an awful lot. Better start bracing yourself.

July 17, 2012 at 11:54 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Oh man, that would've been a GREAT title.

Horace-as-joker is fine as long as that's not *all* he is. That's why I dig stuff like this so much.

July 18, 2012 at 12:08 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Horace being just a practical joker gets old fast. But when the jokes are creative and he occasionally takes the attitude that he's the master of an unappreciated art, it can be really funny once in awhile...

July 18, 2012 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Apropos of nothing much, but Floyd seems to have had an occasional problem with getting "cute animal character voices" just right. "Hoinck" I can see working for an elephant, but "Garfle"? Isn't that an annoying cartoon cat, or something? Also, in the Sunday story "Hoppy the Kangaroo," Floyd had Hoppy "Honking" all over the place, which I don't think kangaroos can actually do.

Actually, the theme of "Dippy/Goofy pestering an animal, with the animal takes violent revenge in response" shows up later in "Oscar the Ostrich." By that time, of course, Dippy had "metamorphosed" into Goofy, but it's interesting how Floyd reached back to the days when The Goof was a much cruder, and, as you correctly note, an often frankly unlikable character.


July 18, 2012 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

I love Floyd's animal noises (both cute and otherwise). They're unmatched by anyone else in comics.

Hoppy's honking seems to have reflected a general studio understanding of kangaroos. Even on-screen, in the cartoon Mickey's Kangaroo, Hoppy honks pretty much like a car.

July 18, 2012 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Advance apologies for hijacking your Comments Section but, because I’ve never established a way of contacting you privately (my bad), I want to let you know about the 50th Anniversary Tribute to Gold Key Comics, that I’ll be posting on my Blog on Friday.

You once said I should write the book on that. Not gonna happen, but this is as close to that request as I’ll ever come. Enough plugging, but please visit and enjoy. I owe you a plug in my Comments Section. :-)


PS: Horace rules, and Dippy was a di(you-know-what)! That’s why he had to change his name to “Goofy” – image rehabilitation!

July 19, 2012 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

If you want to send me an email, just click on my profile, but hijacking comments is also fine. Looking forward to your article!

July 19, 2012 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks, Geo!

And, Horace still rules!

July 19, 2012 at 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but isn't Oscar the Ostrich more or less a remake of Bobo the Elephant with animal racing (as previously seen in His Horse Tanglefoot and Pluto the Racer) added? It's almost a completely recycled plot! I like Bobo better than Oscar, who lacks charm in my opinion. And Bobo has Eli Squinch!

July 21, 2012 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I think you're right, though I haven't read "Oscar" in a long time, so I couldn't say for sure. Certainly, the "Mickey gets an animal" business was a standard sort of plot.

July 21, 2012 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

That's right. I wrote a bit about the development of that trope/formula in the article that went with "Bobo" in Vol 3. I can't really call "Oscar" a remake just because it features a troublesome critter...

July 22, 2012 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

When I was yong I've seen some other story that used Eli Squinch as a villian and the story refrence him as an long-time villian of Mickey... but since I never seen "Bobo the elephant" he was new to me and I didn't found him one bit interesting. This story presents him however as much more interesting character

August 5, 2012 at 4:20 PM  

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