Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"The Christmas Cha Cha"

Welcome to day two of A VERY BOB GREGORY CHRISTMAS.  It's time for "The Christmas Cha Cha," which somehow was one of the last (possibly the last?) long Barks (or half-Barks, anyway) stories I ever read.  Possibly for that reason, or possibly because, unlike most Barks Christmas stories, Gemstone never reprinted it (I have to think it would've been the marquee story in a hypothetical Christmas Parade 6), I've always gotten the impression--possible false!--that it's a rather obscure story.

The thing is, I wish I didn't have to say, this, but it's kinda sorta not all that good.  Which is not to say that I don't like it, kind of, but it really doesn't hold together as well as it should.  There are all these proliferating subplots (Cha Cha Contest! Selling Christmas cards! Decorating storefronts! Setting up a tree! Donald stressing out! Billionaires worrying about their image! Scrooge and the cha cha teacher!), and while they do all turn out to be interrelated to one extent or another, it just feels overstuffed, and not all that coherent.  Which isn't to say that there aren't things I like about it!  Still, I think this entry is going to largely consist of me kvetching about things.

Well, the central "cha cha contest" idea is fine, and Donald busting some moves is fun.  It's a good, and kind of unusual, premise for a Christmas story.

The off-ness starts right up with this whole "poetry Christmas cards" thing.  I don't get it.  Cards with doggerel in them?  How is that different than any ol' card you can buy in a store, and certainly could in 1959 as well?  The story acts like this is some awesome new concept, but…it's not.  Now, if Ajax would directly mail the cards to all your desired recipients, that would be one thing--very convenient.  But it's not; the story actually takes great pains to make it clear that the cards are sent to you, and you still have to send them.  What's the point?

Oh ho!  But THESE card greetings are composed by A FAMOUS POET (Ezra Pound?)!  That's gotta be worth something, right?  But NO--as we later see, they're actually just the usual thing.  Was the idea of rhyming cards AT ALL so novel in 1959 that that alone would just knock people out?  Well, no:

The long and short of it is, I don't get it.  I know I'm belaboring the point far past any likely interest, but it really does interfere with my enjoyment of the story--my brain just can't help getting caught up in the question of what all this means.

…though granted, "I guess most folks are still pretty relaxed at 6:30 am!" is funny.

Donald has to help Daisy erect a Christmas tree!  The kids have to decorate store windows (is that really a Woodchuck-type thing to do?  I, again, don't get it)!  One's head starts to spin, a little bit.

Meanwhile, we have this thing with Scrooge being very concerned that plutocrats are not seen as Men Of The People.  Even granting that the portrayal of Scrooge can vary from story to story, this just rings false to me.  I don't know about his billionaire pals, but in what possible world does Scrooge want people to think he's just reg'ler folks?  His whole thing is that he's the Richest Duck in the World, and NOT like everyone else.  Even Barks' "Status Seekers," in which he becomes determined to break into high society, seems a bit questionable to me, but this is substantially worse.

And then we get this out-of-nowhere bit where Donald is on the verge of a nervous breakdown because women who've bought cards from him keep asking when they'll be delivered.  Overstuffed, dammit.

If nothing else, at least the story has Rosita, from whom Scrooge has to learn the cha cha to win the contest to win the prize that he himself was compelled to donate.  She doesn't get all that much screen time or, let's be honest, personality, but I can't help liking any unique character type drawn by Barks, especially if it's a woman (see also: Katie Mallard and Ducky Bird).

That "I'll make you think you have two left feet" is the most characterization she gets, but I like it, and I like the idea of her teaming up with Scrooge.

Good character moment, there.  "I-I guess I'm even that grateful!"  What's that one Barks story where Donald gets good at dancing, but then it turns out to be the wrong kind of dancing, and he loses?  Good contrast to that.  If nothing else, this is certainly an amiable story.

Also, we get Barks' self-portrait, which is unexpected and amusing.  Of course. there's the one Olympic ten-pager in which he wrote himself in as the javelin-thrower with allergies, but this seems a bit more blatant as self-insertions go.

And then there's this simply-bizarre resolution to the problem of the kids having  forgotten to send out Donald's card orders (another echo of "Letter to Santa?").  What?  No, what?  The cards weren't sent, but that's okay, because the would-have-been recipients (who all live right here in Duckburg, I guess?) might just wander by this storefront and see them?  Um…no.  Just no, man.  The whole "Woodchucks decorate store window" business was included just for this purpose, and boy, it wasn't worth it!

So wait…this means that Donald doesn't, in this case, get paid for his work?  Hardly seems like a great solution, then--much less one that he would be so excited about.

And jeez louise, there is just no excuse for the ineffable lameness of this denouement.  Poison oak, indeed.  I tell you, I would really loved to have seen a sweet dance-off between Donald/Daisy and Scrooge/Rosita.  But no.  Poison oak.  Poison oak!  I guess I can't deny that their gyrations are pretty visually amusing, but it just isn't worth it.  Aaaah!

As I suspected would happen, this entry makes it sound like I hate this story a lot more than I do.  As noted above, I actually kind of like it, just lettin' it wash over me.  But there's no denying: it's a bit of a mess.  Still would've liked to see more Barks/Gregory Christmas collaborations, however, not least because it would've allowed me to extend this series.  Well, have a merry Christmas, or War on Christmas, whichever you prefer.  I have nothing but goodwill towards all of you.

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Blogger Chris Barat said...


To be honest, I'd much rather read a story in which TOO MUCH is happening than a story in which nothing much happens.

Actual VERSES (unless they be Biblical quotations or something similar) in Christmas cards are relatively rare; at least such has been my experience. I think that you're more likely to see them in Valentine's Day cards, birthday cards, and anniversary cards.

The DONALD dancing story you were trying to recall is probably the one from the late 40s ("The Waltz King", I think it's unofficially titled) in which Don has to learn Strauss waltzes. It was just recently reprinted in one of the Fantagraphics Barks volumes.

I seem to recall that Scrooge is seen opening THE DOOR TO HIS HOUSE in this story. No Mansion, no Duckworth, indeed, no Money Bin -- just a plain door.

Happy holidays,

December 24, 2013 at 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yeah, while I'm mildly fond of "Christmas in Duckburg," this one never worked for me. We had it in the 1959 (Dell Giant 26) Christmas Parade when I was a wee tyke, and even as a young child, I thought the cards-in-the-store-window solution made no sense and would never have satisfied the women who had ordered the cards from Donald.

December 24, 2013 at 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Swamp Adder said...

For all this one’s faults, I did enjoy Donald talking in rhyme to his customers.

December 25, 2013 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Another Barks story I never seen... Thanks for the Alter GeoX!

December 25, 2013 at 12:26 PM  

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