Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Grandma Duck, Homespun Detective"

They call it "instant justice" when it's past the legal limit…

And now, we turn our attention away from Italian silliness for a while to spotlight some good, old-fashioned American silliness.  This story was done as a Wheaties giveaway in 1950; I got a copy from ebay and scanned it.  You can download it here if you want, but don't say I didn't warn you.

This was drawn by Riley Thomson, a lesser-known artist who did a number of duck stories, often featuring Grandma.  He's also credited as an animator on a number of Disney movies, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia.  Ultimately, he seems to have focused all his attention on the Br'er Rabbit Sunday strip, before unfortunately dying in 1960 at the age of forty-seven (internet doesn't seem to say how).  The Disney-comics world didn't lose an all-time great talent or anything, but as we'll see, it certainly lost a distinctive one.  Let's be clear: this is a terrible story--but in really bizarre ways that make it worth looking at.

When I read these promo comics booklets, I often ask myself how well the writers are making use of the space available to them.  Because when you have all of thirty three-panel strips to work with, it's not so easy to come up with something particularly involved.  A few of them do an okay job of it, but most of them…do not.  Well might one ask our writer here: "Why the hell do you spend the first ten pages of this thing on this beyond-lame set-up where Gus is trying to avoid Grandma for some reason before telling her she won the thing and gets the trip to the dude ranch?  If you cut that shit down, you would actually be able to develop the "detective" business more meaningfully.  What's the deal?"  One might well ask, but that question would not register, because the point here is not to tell a great story; the point is to fill up them pages.  And if you can get a third of the way there with this pointless throat-clearing…fuckin' score.

But yeah, the art--as I said, definitely distinctive.  Most Western duck artists were more or less following the Barks template, so it's kind of surprising to see one who most definitely is not (along with Al Hubbard a bit later, of course).

Our writer's characterization of Grandma is, as we will see, somewhat bizarre--less "homespun" than "very probably senile."  But hey--that "stagecoach" shit?  Semi-canonical!

(And to free-associate for a moment, I'd like to note that, after writing that Marco Polo entry, I went ahead and saw the John Ford movie Stagecoach--pretty solid.  Holds up well, uncomfortable Indian-battle notwithstanding.)

So what do you do when Gus is laughing at you 'cause he doesn't believe you REALLY murdered a bunch of Native Americans with your bare hands?

…aren't you glad you asked?  Clearly, she brought along this costume, scavenged from one of her many victims, in the event of JUST SUCH AN OCCASION.

That first image of Grandma there does…not suggest a high level of artistic competence (I mean, if anything else here did).  And then that bottom right bit of dialogue suggests that the writer had some dim notion of how a "grandma" was meant to sound, and boy oh boy do we ever wish he (just assuming here!) didn't.

But I mainly show the above panels to demonstrate that the "dress in Indian regalia" business is not a one-and-done gag; it goes on for a while.  You would think, therefore, that it would have some relation to the case of mistaken identity that she later undergoes.  But you would be totally wrong.  It actually has nothing to do with anything.  It's just there, begging everyone to notice how goddamn strange it is, and then it goes away, and that's that.  I mean okay, if you really want to press the point, you could argue that her being mad at Gus is her impetus for both dressing up and sitting next to this dude, who turns out to be the detective and who accidentally gets off the flight at its stopover and leaves his bag, causing the crooks to think she's him…but really, now.  Why are you so desperate to defend this nonsense?

"Dudey slickers."  Boy oh BOY is it hard to resist the urge to make a five-year-old's joke here.  Note that this is the last we see of Gus; he just vanishes after this panel.

And here's the other WTF moment in the story: she's so enraged by the dirty window that she smashes it with her umbrella.  Pretty clear that our writer here hadn't the faintest idea of how to characterize Grandma.  And don't you like the way the manager just pops up out of nowhere in that bottom panel, looking like some kind of acid casualty with his spiral-y green eyes?  This shit is bonkers.

Also: obese, disturbingly buxom Clara Cluck.  I thought you'd want to see that (no, the character isn't specifically identified as Clara, but the inspiration, if that's the word you want to use, seems obvious).

Anyway, the desperate bandits appear and do their desperate(?) thing.  You rarely see a gun being shoved against a character's head quite so hard.  Note that their contempt at the idea that she's good at making pancakes is even more inexplicable than Gus's incredulity at her Injun-fightin' stories.

…and then, realizing to his great relief that he'd finally managed to run out the clock, our intrepid writer brings this thing to a merciful close.  Note detective brandishing tommy gun, 'cause why not?  And, finally, note that at no point in the story entitled "Grandma Duck, Homespun Detective" does Grandma Duck do anything remotely approaching detective work.

It's kind of amazing that Disney comics turned out to be as enduring as they did, given that there were way more people turning out hackwork like this than there were Barkses or Gottfredsons.  Still, I enjoy nonsense like this; it's part of the ol' history, and I will do my best to keep it alive, even if I couldn't exactly recommend it to anyone.  Cheers.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that I read this and think "Man, if I were writing this story today, I would do it as a defacto Life and Times of Grandma Duck side chapter"? Give me half a chance and I'll write the story right now, Disney! I can make it a not-rehash of The Life and Times of Scrooge!

The story is ridiculous, but a kind of quaint fun from what I can see. I appreciate that he's trying to do something interesting with the dialogue though, it was pretty rare back in those days to have unique speech patterns.

One thing where I know the art's being screwed up is that this is a guy who did not really 'get' how comics worked. He uses a lot of squash-and-stretch, which works a lot better in animation than in comics. If you try to see the motions that would lead to these expressions, with the same fluidity, it actually would be a very solid sequence with Disney principles. Do that in comics though, and everything looks painfully off-model.

March 6, 2013 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Regular Geo:

I would figure that a giveaway like this would employ lesser talents than something a publisher would actually expect you to pay for – much less return to purchase on a regular basis.

But, yeah… this is BAD! Riley Thomson seemed to draw those dreadful flat, elongated and squared-off beaks that Kay Wright would later draw 1969-on. He sure did die young, alas.

The incidental characters weren’t even consistent with one another. The Manager appears as if he was (badly) inspired by a Tex Avery Wolf cartoon, and the two crooks look as if they’ve stepped out of two completely different strips.

I am glad that you enjoyed “Stagecoach”. It was THE film that lifted the Western out of “B-Picture” status. One day, when I finally publish my DVD review of the film, I’ll cite the many unfortunate parallels to the social and political attitudes of today.

March 6, 2013 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

…Oh, and the “Bar X-Pensive” Dude Ranch WAS a nice piece of writing!

At least *I* think so!

March 6, 2013 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I would figure that a giveaway like this would employ lesser talents than something a publisher would actually expect you to pay for – much less return to purchase on a regular basis.

Well, remember that "Maharajah Donald" and "Donald Duck's Atom Bomb" (not to mention "Donald Duck Tells About Kites" OH YEAH) were all originally giveaways. 'Course, the fact that those were the ONLY ones Barks did (and early in his career at that) may bolster your point, but beyond that, if you browse through these things on inducks, you see the usual familiar names: Strobl, Murry, DeLara, Fallberg, and so on.

March 6, 2013 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

That is my point exactly, Geo…

Once Barks’ value to WDC&S and UNCLE SCROOGE was firmly noted by his editors and publishers, he no longer spent his time on giveaways.

I’d also go as far as to say that there may have been different tiers of quality – even within giveaways. The March of Comics line, which included “Maharajah Donald” and “Darkest Africa”, and plenty of work by the usual suspects: Strobl on other Disney, DeLara on WB, Harvey Eisenberg on Hanna-Barbera, Bud Sagendorf on Popeye, etc., was crafted to best reflect the Dell and/or Gold Key comics you found on the stands. Earlier ones were even comic book sized, but with fewer pages.

I don’t have any of them but, based on the few that I’ve seen at shows, the cereal giveaways looked as if they were designed to be lesser products than March of Comics.

March 6, 2013 at 12:51 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

The 1950 Wheaties giveaways were, IMHO, easily the worst-written and least logical of all Western Publishing Disney comics. I'd immediately guess that they were written largely by talents new to the field, or at least the characters.
Gil Turner drew a few Wolf stories for the series, but it's painfully obvious he didn't write them—the pacing and characterization are all over the map. (Zeke and Brer Bear decide—in dead earnest—that Li'l Wolf should be forest fire chief, and somehow have the power to make it so. I can't even count how many things are wrong with this premise.)

March 6, 2013 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

They actualy got villians to go "Curses foiled agian"!? O_o

March 6, 2013 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Richie said...

Tell me I'm not the only one who sees the animated Donald in drag all through these images. Sure, the face template applies for plenty of the Ducks, but here it's literally cartoon!Donald with Grandma's hairstyle shoehorned in; it's especially noticeable in those Indian regalia panels.

I do admit I laughed at Grandma's reaction after having a gun forced against her head. "Gulp". No exclamation mark = Funnéh.

March 6, 2013 at 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Unca Paspasu said...

GeoX said: I went ahead and saw the John Ford movie Stagecoach--pretty solid. Holds up well, uncomfortable Indian-battle notwithstanding.

But did you find the connection with Scarpa's "Marco Polo"?

The Indian-battle is the best scene in my opinion. Ford's movies excel in horse action. I guess you cannot use animals in that way nowadays, but besides that, I don't think it's a problematic scene. The Indians are the heroes' opponents not because of their evil nature, but because there's a war on. Still there is the stereotype of the Indian our enemy, in times of institutional discrimination of Natives. The same goes for this comic. And what about "Argo"!

While Ford's "The Seekers" shows a worse image of the Comanche, it also questions the white men's viewpoint, and "Cheyenne Autumn" is a very pro-Native movie, although full of stereotypes.

@ Joe: I'd be happy to read your comments on Stagecoach! To be honest, I think it's more interesting than "Grandma Duck, Homespun Detective", but I think you already noticed.

March 7, 2013 at 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I myself bought this for cheap on eBay, and was bummed that Grandma didn't actually get to play detective! False advertising! The only stupid scene I will partially defend is the smashing-the-dirty-window one, and I defend it only because it does set up the denouement, where she knows the manager will bring the cops if she breaks another window. And I do actually like the way she breaks the window with a pancake (also like her dialogue, there). What did she put in that pancake, anyway?

Review or Die, I'd truly love to read your Life & Times of Grandma Duck. Two stories that *have* to be included in the Grandma Duck continuity: Bananas (Paul Halas & Dave Angus/Branca), and On the Run (Glen Garner/Vicar). The problem with writing a L&T of GD, though, is that some Europeans would want her to raise Donny Duckling, with Della relegated to being Donald's cousin...whereas I and others (incl. Rosa, I'm sure) would want Donald to be raised along with his sister Della by Hortense and Quackmore, who should survive until D&D are in their teens or early twenties. I'd prefer H&Q to actually have the chance to see the infant HD&L before they shuffle off this mortal coil.

March 7, 2013 at 1:01 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Unca Paspasu:

While Grandma Duck (or Young Life-and-Times Scrooge, for that matter) might have made for interesting passengers on that Overland Stage Line from Tonto to Lordsburg, “Stagecoach” was (and IS) a great film for any era, just as it is!

The way things work for me, alas, is that it will probably be quite some time before I’m able to put my long review of the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray of “Stagecoach” up at my Blog. It’s already been written quite a while ago. Other things are scheduled before it, and it’s going to be a great effort to format and illustrate it for posting. That’s why I keep putting it off.

I do expect to see it sometime in 2013. If you’re really interested in when its coming, you can go to my Blog (click the link on my name) and send me your e-mail address in a comment – which I will not publish – and I’ll let you know. Don’t expect it soon, though….

Sorry to hijack Geo’s thread.

…And yeah, where did “Marco Polo” parallel “Stagecoach”?

March 7, 2013 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


I seem to recall, with much certainty, that the Dell comic book adaptation of “This is Your Life, Donald Duck!” showed Li’l Donny as being reared by Grandma.

And, in a Paul Murry Mickey serial, her name was revealed as “Abigail”. Not “Elvira”.

So, Grandma could be an interesting project for someone with both time and fortitude.

March 7, 2013 at 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Joe, I have no problem ignoring the random "facts" provided by cartoons! And Mickey comics stories have no business including any Ducks at all, to my mind. Mouseton and Duckburg are *not* on the same map.

But of course your point rightly expands on the difficulty of writing a L&T of GD. You don't have to go to Europe to get the alternative worldview in which GD raises Donny (with no Della in sight). I'd still love to see stories of GD's life which accord with Rosa's storyline and which portray Della as Donald's sister (as Barks thought), so that HD&L can be his actual nephews and not his first cousins once removed. Obviously a full L&T of GD could never be published, because it couldn't possibly avoid accounting for the deaths/disappearances of Hortense, Quackmore, Della and her husband. Disney comics publishers may have gone along with Fergus's death, but they would never stand for all those untimely deaths. But if there were an American publisher (sigh) so that Review or Die could write stories not bound to the Donny Duckling view, there could at least be individual stories of GD's earlier life, as well as stories of Donald's childhood with sister Della in Hortense & Quackmore's house (appearances by Grandma Duck and aunt Matilda, prior to her move back to Scotland). Lots of opportunities there to work with female characers.

March 7, 2013 at 3:07 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Thomson did several backup stories to Barks tales in FOUR COLOR COMICS at about this same time. I recall reading them when I finally got a chance to look at the original comics. It was literally as if an alien had suddenly seized control of the comic book! The contrast with what Barks was doing circa 1950 was positively mind-blowing.

I imagine that Thomson was one of a number of creators who got the chance to craft Disney comics at a time when the number of Dell releases was increasing rapidly. (Recall that Barks' work on the FOUR COLORS and other giant sized issues obliged him to stop doing the lead story in WDC&S for a time.)
It must really have been a case of the need for quantity trumping the desire for quality. And for a "minor" release such as a cereal giveaway... well, the standards must have been even lower.


March 7, 2013 at 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for your comment. :) I certainly couldn't and wouldn't imitate the way that Rosa told the Life and Times proper, for reasons mentioned here and other considerations. I would see no reason not to use the framing device that Rosa employed for the companion chapters, and Barks for The Fantastic River Race, to tell individual stories like that.

Duck 'canon' is very much dependent on the author, very pick-and-choose. Heck, it's like that for the fans. So I don't see it being much of a problem for one person to use Rosa's continuity (which I know I'd set any story I wrote in), someone else to set things in the modern day, and a reprint from the 70s to all exist in the same issue. As long as it's a good story, it can and should be published.

March 7, 2013 at 8:32 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Oh, I totally agree on the "let a thousand duckworlds bloom" theory. One of the reasons I greatly respect Rosa is that he also holds that it's just fine for different creators to work out of different continuities or lack-of-continuities. I hope I've made clear that I enjoy and re-read a lot of stories that do not fit into the mostly-aligned-with-Rosa Duckburg I personally "believe in." That even includes two stories that explicitly assume that li'l Donald (unaccompanied by Della) was brought up by Grandma Duck...though it is for *other* aspects of the stories in question that I like them! So yes, I agree that there is nothing to prevent a creator from writing new stories using Rosa's continuity, and having those published alongside other stories which give the Ducks cell phones, or make Della Donald's cousin, or whatever.

March 8, 2013 at 1:28 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

The joke about Grandma fighting Indians was adapted from this Taliaferro gag: http://coa.inducks.org/story.php?c=YD+43-12-11

March 16, 2013 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

Based on the excerpts shown, this actually reminds me of a very erratic John Stanley. (Surprised no one else has made the comparison, unless I missed it.)

I'm curious about those first 10 pages of Gus avoiding Grandma so as not to break the news to her about her prize, for a totally inexplicit reason. Given the tension in the art shown, an extended paranoia-ridden sequence seems fitting. I can see Stanley doing such a thing, but it'd probably be better developed and have more purpose in its non-literallness.

-- Ryan

March 19, 2013 at 2:37 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

So I finally found time to read this story (THANK YOU FOR PUTTING IT THERE TO DOWNOAD!!!) and I actually enjoyed how goofy it was and how insane they made Grandma by modern contrast. Like the desing of the pretty stewardess btw. ;)

"And, finally, note that at no point in the story entitled "Grandma Duck, Homespun Detective" does Grandma Duck do anything remotely approaching detective work."

...so smashing windows with flapjacks isn't part of detectives work? Jeez! No wonder they didn't hire me at that agency! :(

September 28, 2014 at 6:54 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

"…Europeans would want her to raise Donny Duckling, with Della relegated to being Donald's cousin...whereas I and others (incl. Rosa, I'm sure) would want Donald to be raised along with his sister Della by Hortense and Quackmore"… Where's the inconsistency ? The way I always saw it, Quackmore and Hortense lived with Grandma at the farm at the time they were educating young Donald and young Della, brother and sister. The stories where Grandma is seen taking care of Donald are because Hortense and Quackmore have to work, dammit, they can't stay at home all day to take care of Donald. While a retired Grandma Duck can. Della Duck is rarely seen as the cousin, though it is the version displayed in the Taliaferro strip, because she is Don's sister in the cartoon (though there she's named Dumbella, for some reason).

(Also, this "semi-canon" Barks story. I was always puzzled as to when it is supposed to take place. Is it supposed to be a "Life and Times"-esque flashback to how Elvire and Scrooge first arrived to Duckburg, in which case it may well be where the "grandma Duck as Scrooge's sister" business debuted ? Or is it a present-day story, but then for what weird reason were Scrooge and Grandma in that caravan anyway ?)

February 25, 2016 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well...it IS (probably) Vic Lockman. I can't imagine that he put too much thought into fitting it into any kind of coherent continuity.

February 25, 2016 at 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the exact publication date of this story? Inducks says the year is 1950, but no month is given. I would like to know if this story was published before or after "Donald's Grandma Duck" (July 1950) by Craig and Barks, which is generally regared as the story that defined Grandma Duck's world.

April 1, 2016 at 12:32 PM  

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