Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Trick or Treat"

I have good news for you for those of you like my stuff and bad news for those of you hate it but for some masochistic reason feel compelled to read it anyway (fifty-fifty split, I'm guessing?): I've got three Halloween entries planned for this year.  We kick off our mini-marathon by finally tackling 1952's "Trick or Treat," long a major lacuna of this blog.

But what to say about "Trick or Treat"--or, more specifically, what to say about it that Geoffrey Blum didn't already say in his exhaustive article?  Well, let's see, shall we?

So as you all are no doubt aware, this story is based on a cartoon, making it unique in Barks' oeuvre (also, since said cartoon was directed by Jack Hannah, we can sorta kinda see the comic version as a second Barks/Hannah collaboration, after "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold").  The cartoon is jazzy fun, but I think most people would agree that Barks substantially one-ups his source material.  It's only natural: the cartoon doesn't exactly have a lot of plot, and it would've been awfully hard to parlay it into a thirty-two page story, let alone a readable thirty-two page story.  And when Barks is at the helm, it's no surprise that any extra material should add a lot to the experience.  Let's dwell on a few details, and I'll try not to echo Blum too much, though at certain points it may be unavoidable.

As we all know, however, not everyone was so keen on Barks' embellishments to the story, and the original publication was heavily redacted; the full, original version wasn't published until 1978.  The most inexplicable change that was mandated to the story was clearly this opening: in the uncensored version, it's basically the same as the cartoon, with Witch Hazel swooping around and playing tricks.  WHICH SEEMS TO ME TO MAKE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF SENSE.  But Barks was ordered to change it, without even the rationale that he was deviating too much from the cartoon.  As Blum notes, altering the opening like this obliterates the highly effective way that Barks originally framed the story, in which the spooky opening splash panel contrasts with the closing splash panel in which spookiness is fading away, like so:

Pretty effective, no?  It very effectively underscores the transient, carnivalesque nature of Halloween Night, right?  Cutting the opening part was a bit of a philistine act, yeah?

Well, yeah.  Of course.  Still, on its own terms, there IS a thing or two to recommend about the replacement version: first, that opening with the kids painting the window and ghosts'n'goblins cavorting around is just cool.  Second--and perhaps more valuably--Donald's line there helps to flesh out his character in the story: by claiming that he's going to both "play the tricks" and "eat the candy" all by himself, he is denying the communal nature of the festival: instead of being about a community, in which some people play tricks and some people give candy and some people eat candy but it's all inter-related, it's all about him, in isolation.  Thus, we see the way he's setting himself up for a fall.  He's going to have to be taught, via hijinx, that there's more to the season than just him and his comfort.

We'll get back to the cut material, but as long as we're talking about Donald's character, note also this bit here.  Now, in the cartoon, Donald has no motivation for being a giant dick except that that's pretty much what he does.  But here, we see at least a hint of the more comics-typical trope that he just doesn't like to be bothered; he wants peace and quiet, but the outside world keeps intruding.  This doesn't make him a sympathetic character here, exactly, but it helps at least to provide sympathetic overtones.  This is certainly not Barks' most psychologically complex story, but it really is notable how, even when dealing with rather slight material that wasn't even his own, he just couldn't help himself from imbuing it with quite a bit of depth.

Here's the goat part, a bit of Barksian ad-libbing that was allowed to stay in the original printing…and no doubt about it: it's the most superfluous part of the entire story.  I mean jeez, not that I approve of cutting anything, but there's something decidedly perverse about the sensibility that decides that this is okay, but a substantial part of the guts of the story have to be ripped out, so as not, I suppose, to defile the cartoon's SACRED PURITY.

So!  I think I'm on record as a fan of Susan Daigle-Leach's coloring work, but right here, I have to ask: What's Wrong With This Picture?

Here's an interesting part: in the cartoon, there's no indication that Donald thinks anything was "fake;" he's just mad at being called a "pushover," and this overrides his fear.  We see here a clear intent on Barks' part to rationalize aspects of the story that the cartoon glided over; see also the way he gives Hazel a motivation to be doing what she's doing,

as opposed to being there just 'cause.  I think the original motivation is valid, but this one is good inasmuch as it sets up Donald's initial assumption that Smorgasbord is a big fake; it also helps to emphasize that unreal nature of all this Halloween phantasy.

And now, the cut section--a full nine pages of killer material gone, just like that.  Barks is quoted as recalling that "Alice Cobb deleted the extra business and didn't pay me for the unwanted pages.  She was that mad."  Serious dick move, Cobb.  Obviously, editors can both help and hurt the stuff they're editing, but given everything you hear about the way Barks' work was treated--stories rejected, cut, censored--it's hard not to get the impression that the people overseeing him were a buncha bumbling fools.  Perhaps they were more useful when working with other, non-genius-level writers.

First, there's the sequence where Hazel makes herself into a glamor-duck to seduce the candy out of Donald (okay, that sounded way more euphemistic than I had intended).  Certainly one of Barks' sexiest ducks, and Donald's naked lust is always funny to see.  I don't know if this was the case, but I suppose if an editor were really hypersensitive, she might object to this--it is pretty blatantly sexual.  It's not as though Barks pioneered this aspect of Donald's character, though--watched The Three Caballeros lately?  Anyway, this is another example of the unstable, mutable atmosphere of the story and of Halloween more generally.

But of course, the big cut was Smorgie here.  Yup--this iconic character was simply removed from the story.  We must thank whatever gods and/or vagaries of history we believe in that the censored material was not lost.

In fairness, sort of, this bit is pretty macabre; I can see it giving a little kid nightmares.  Still, cutting it out was a barbaric act.  Grrr!  Men Of Genius!™  Sniveling, mediocre bureaucrats…oh, great, now I'm turning into Ayn Rand.  Somebody stab me if I start to deliver an eight-hour radio address.

Anyway.  Returning to the non-cut parts, here we see another embellishment from Barks, small but effective: in the cartoon, there's just one shot of a cactus in a pot.  Hazel never animates it, and it never emerges from the pot and starts dancing.  A great addition to the story, I think we can all agree.

And one more addition: now, as you know, this is the part where Hazel tries to open the closet where the candy's hidden by ramming Donald against the door.  In the cartoon, when this doesn't work, she just makes him back up farther before trying again, and this time, paydirt.  This is a little anticlimactic, and doesn't even necessarily make sense.  Whereas here, Barks has decided--sensibly--that the real problem is that Donald is too light, and thus takes steps to remedy the situation, as opposed to just doing the same thing, only harder.  Where did she get a suit of armor?  Well, as it happens, it originally belonged to Donald's ancestor, with whom she tangled back in the day.  It all becomes clear now!

And, of course, Donald learning the True Meaning of Halloween is another Barksian addition, and a welcome one too.  The original story is good, but Barks really takes it to another level, making changes and additions both large and small that smooth out plot details, humanize the characters, and add immeasurably to the spooky atmosphere.  An evergreen classic, and one that deserves to be returned to every year.



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Messing with Carl Barks scripts? NOW THAT'S SPOOKY!!!!

Happy Halloween :)

October 30, 2012 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Don't worry... I think that your take on the story complements Blum's quite nicely.


October 30, 2012 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thank you!

October 30, 2012 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

Great job, Geo. Especially your acute reading of Barks' Donald m.o. in this story.

Is this the only Barks' 20-page-plus Donald Duck story in which Donald and the nephews stay at home for its entirety?

-- Ryan

P.S. I'm partway through Rand's The Fountainhead. Really enjoying, appreciating, and admiring it. ;) :P

October 31, 2012 at 2:35 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks. I think Barks' other closest-to-home long-form Donald stories are generally Christmas things (more seasonal stuff!), but none of them leave him completely at home, per se.

And as for Rand, she's no doubt an appropriate subject for a Halloween post--after all, I find her sadistic murder fantasies more terrifying than anything I could write here, particular given that I'm exactly the sort of person she wished would die horribly. Jason Vorhees has nothin' on that woman.

October 31, 2012 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

Ah, of course -- the stories Barks did for Christmas Parade; specifically, "A Letter to Santa" and "You Can't Guess". Didn't think of those. Good call.

I haven't read Atlas Shrugged, so having just now skimmed the passage that you linked to, it's premature for me to have processed it enough to be in a position to make any sort of an assessment. But I gather that it's considered offensive because it's read as reveling in people who work for the government being killed? I know those who don't like her accuse her of fascism and Nietzche-esque "Might Is Right" ideology, but I think that might just be due to a human tendency to see the worst in one's ideological opponents. (I know, because -- I'll admit -- I've succumbed to it.) But I would keep my distance from her if I discovered/felt that she truly was advocating the murder of people she didn't like or disagreed with, rest assured.

But, again, I can't make any conclusion about that passage, as I haven't closely read it, nevermind having never read Atlas Shrugged. Based on what I've read of The Fountainhead, so far, I like her writing, her sense of humor, and her denunciatory portrayl of people's vapidity and shallowness in being consumed by status, prestige, and popularity. But I'm not versed enough in Rand to defend her (or not) as a whole -- can't even comment on Fountainhead alone as a whole, as I'm only a quarter of the way through it.

-- Ryan

October 31, 2012 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, no sense continuing this and causing pointless animosity. There's nothing that I could say here that wouldn't sound A) hostile; or B) condescending, and neither of those are any good.

October 31, 2012 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

LOL, but saying that comes in itself comes off as hostile and condescending. Hope I'm taking it the wrong way. :(

October 31, 2012 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

That I am, rather.

October 31, 2012 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, if that is the case, I apologize.

October 31, 2012 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

It's cool. I already knew we differ politically anyway (but, damn, do you have good taste in comics!) Just wanted to assure you that I would be opposed to someone who wanted to kill you. (Haha, sounds over-the-top phrased that way, but it's the case!)

October 31, 2012 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Richie said...

Long Donald stories where he stays at Duckburg....Big-Top Bedlam, anyone?

November 1, 2012 at 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Very nice review, Geo--at least for the next few years, I anticipate that I'll re-read it every Halloween, along with "Trick or Treat". One of the 15 or so duck stories I re-read every year around this time (this year, I had to add "Old Froggie Catapult" to that list, a story to read by flashlight when Sandy turned out the lights!)...five stories set at Halloween, and ten of my favorite ghost stories, plus one monster story.

November 2, 2012 at 12:22 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I like a lot your theory about the suit of armor being Dr Donaldus's. Just the thing Don Rosa would have done if his eastereggs had been about EVERY old duck stories and not only Barks's, I think.

August 19, 2015 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I must say rewatching the cartoon today... Dewey's costume (I asume it's Dewey cose he is dress in blue and all in the cartoon) is pretty piss-poor compering to his brothers.

One has pretty awsome and spooky ghost costume and the devil one is preaty neat, but his is like... heres a crappy tiny hat and a broom, BANG! Your a witch, I guess, Happy Halloween. At least Barks version the hat and cloths look slightly cooler and didn't make you feel like he got short end of the stick.

Heck, for some time I didn't realise he is ment to be a witch (warlock?) and asumed it's some pilgrim.

October 23, 2021 at 6:39 AM  

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