Monday, February 10, 2014

"Back to School"

So I was reading some old Western comics, as one does, and I came upon this Strobl-drawn 1960 story written by the well-regarded ?.  And I thought, huh. This seems...better than your average non-Barks Western- produced duck story. Good show. And then, I looked again and realized that there's a very good reason for that feeling. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

(I don't know that it's actually called "Back to School"--that's what appears on the title page, sure, but the same seems to be the case with the first story in all of these "Back to School" Dell Giants. It could just be referring to the book itself. It's certainly not the world's most relevant name.)

Okay, so it starts about like this.  You'd think that under the circumstances, the other kids would be suspect nepotism, but whatever.  Tonally, it's not too unusual, as far as non-Barks Western stuff goes.  Nothing that's going to make you raise your eyebrows.

However, it does seem like the story's going to be a fairly interesting treasure hunt; this isn't the kind of thing you normally see in stories like this.  A little more "realistic," less silliness, "Kracken-Blowa" notwithstanding.  So that's fine.  


Oh, just come out and say it: all the flimsy, silly stuff is ?'s own; all the GOOD stuff is shamelessly plagiarized from Barks' "Seven Cities of Cibola."  Like:




Sheesh, dude.  The thing is, you don't necessarily notice all this pilfering at first, because the story's context is so different…

…but then you get to the part where the solid emerald idol is preventing the gold city from collapsing, and you can't HELP seeing what's going on.  Pah!  And it's not even always clear why our writer bothers; you wouldn't think, for instance, that the image of two nephews banging their heads together would seem consequential enough to steal.  And yet, here we are.

You also wonder whether, with effort, ? couldn't have done better, because, in the midst of all the lameness, there's the above, which is quite cool and (notwithstanding the river crossing in "Cibola") as far as I can tell basically original.  That's about all, though.  Seems like there might actually be a glimmer of lost potential here.

I distinctly remember when, as a graduate student teaching composition to hapless college freshmen, I first came across an instance of student plagiarism.  I was filled with a sort of rage that, in retrospect, is hard to fathom.  I felt insulted and betrayed, and I was all for kicking this poor kid out of school entirely (a power which, fortuitously, I did not possess).  Pretty quickly, though, I became totally blasé about it--nothing more than a rolled eye and an irritated sigh.  Obviously it's unfortunate that the practice is so widespread that you get that way, but you'd die of a rage aneurysm if you didn't.

So how big a deal ought we to consider this kind of plagiarism?  Well, first we should acknowledge that this is a long-forgotten story that nobody today would know anything about if some asshole blogger hadn't dredged it up for his own inscrutable reasons.  So in that sense, it's not any kind of deal at all.  It's about as nothing as things get.  And from ?'s perspective…well, all these stories were being published anonymously, so there probably wasn't much of a sense of ownership (especially among the lesser writers; ie, most of them).  Also, he no doubt assumed, probably quite rightly, that very few people reading "his" story would be familiar with the original, which was, after all, six years old--a veritable eternity for a little kid.  Hell, maybe he even saw some of Barks' own self-borrowings and assumed it was A-okay.

Counterpoint: it's spectacularly lame, and in the unlikely event that ? lives on, I hope he's heartily ashamed.  Is plagiarism common in old Western comics?  I've never encountered it before, but that proves little.



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I recall there is an Mickey Mouse story (I think it was by Paul Murry) that for most part is also frame by frame replica of Barks story only replace Mickey with Donald.I don't recall the title...

Any way. Interesting stuff...
You know, there is this Polish comcic book writer/artist Christa who (while stil a great author on his own) created this comic book series "Kajko i Kokosz" which copies a lot from the Asterix series. Not entire plots like in example you gave but various gags, characters, scenes etc. (you can find few examples on pictures here betwen pages 2 and 11 : )

99% of the fan's didn't know about this for years. Asterix (created in 1959) wasn't publish in Poland until early 90's while "Kajko..." strips where made betwen late 60s and 80's. Obviously after whole thing was revield some fans turn their backs on the guy, while other chose to ignor the plagiarism defending this as "inspiration".

I once read an article about Christa (talking not only about his Asterix-plagiarism but also about some re-used idea's from his old stories) thats mentioned how back there mentality around comic strips was very difrent. The idea of comic books story beng re-printed a decade leyter was something very rare at the time, s the artists would asume that something made 10 years ago is now a well forgoten trivia so they would re-use the idea etc.

While it's no justification for such plagiarism I can see why Tony Strobls (or Christa) would think that people at this point won't be reminded of "that oher story" so they asume they don't have to worry that even if few people will notice it, it won't spread around fans and they will be "safe"(there was no internet back there) After all Barks story wasen't reprinted in the USA until 1967.

As for Donalds being HD&L tracher... You know, my aunt who is a teacher and she once told me that the moment she learned her douther will be in her class she ask the schol board to move her to a difrent class as for her idea of being a teacher in class where your own children are learning is "unethical". So shame on you Donald... SHAME ON YOU!!!!

P.S. The link isn't workin.

February 10, 2014 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Sidious said...

Interesting case you bring here, Pan Miluś. It seems that it was fairly common to plagiarize renowned Franco-Belgian comics before there were known in some countries. Another examplary case is Franquin's Gaston Lagaffe (briefly known as Gomer Goof in English): the Spanish author Francisco Ibañez shamelessly and repeatedly plagiarized Franquin in two of his series, "El botones Sacarino" and "Mortadelo y Filémon." At the time (in the seventies), most Spaniards knew nothing of the Franco-Belgian school of comics, which ended up becoming THE standard in Europe. (If you're curious, see here: It's in French, but shows many comparative images.)

February 10, 2014 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Interesting stuff, you two. Thinking about it, I feel like I'd be less irritated if it was just a direct, start-to-finish copy. Then at least you could semi-plausibly argue that it was meant to be some sort of "tribute." But just taking bits and pieces and reconfiguring them; then you're out of excuses.

February 10, 2014 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Wow! Thanks Sidious.
I did read and like some of "Mortadelo y Filemon" stories so It's sad to see that their creator was so shameless in riping off of Gastone (which I like as well)

February 10, 2014 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


What we, in the more-fannish generations, fail to take into consideration is that, once Western paid Carl Barks for the “Cibola” script, it became their (or, perhaps, maybe Disney’s) property – and was theirs to do whatever they choose with it.

That’s why there were so many iterations of “Pirate Gold”, with even Woody Woodpecker eventually meeting Yellow Beak. Same for “The Gilded Man”, and same for this.

It was very likely assigned by an editor to a writer who (as was typical of “that pre-fannish generation”) was “just doing a job”.

It’s very easy, today, to say someone ripped-off and/or “tributed” something or someone – and today, with “everyone knowing everything about everything”, it would probably be so. But, back then for most working in the industry, “a story was just a story, and a job was just a job”. Enough of them have told me so, in days gone by. Even if they loved their work, for most of them it was still just a job.

Honestly, I’m glad it’s different today!

February 11, 2014 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well...I know that Western didn't exactly trade in art for art's sake, but this seems to go a bit further than usual. It's one thing to reuse a concept; it's quite another to exactly copy dialogue and layouts. One might be able to find other examples of this, but it sure wasn't common. I have my grave doubts that an editor said anything to the effect of "hey, we need something for our Back to School giant! Why don't you rip off bits and pieces of this old story in a completely different context?" If that was the kind of thing that was going on, you'd really think you'd see more of it.

Of course, the absolute truth is unknown and, alas, unknowable.

February 11, 2014 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

But, Geo… How else would you explain the literal similarities between “Peter Pan Treasure Chest” (AKA “Captain Hook and the Buried Treasure”) and “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold”? No one could plagiarize to that extent without editorial direction and approval.

Or, “The Gilded Man” and Paul Murry’s lead story in MICKEY MOUSE # 74? Or the stories you discuss here?

It could be something as simple as a tight deadline necessity. The way Western worked (sometimes up to two years in advance), tight deadlines probably didn’t occur often, but I’m sure they did occasionally occur.

There were also a few out-and-out remakes of ‘60s era stories in the Whitman days, but please don’t ask me to go look THOSE up. :-) 

As I said, it’s easy to say “ripping off” from today’s perspective, but back then it was far more likely editorial prerogative or direction than anything more nefarious. And the shred of that vast “unknowable truth” that I still possess, from writing to and speaking with a number of those guys when they were alive, is what tells me so.

The really sad thing is that, there was a time I could have ASKED Mr. Strobl this question, and gotten the definitive answer! Alas…

February 11, 2014 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, I don't know. All I'm saying is, this story is uniquely bizarre in my experience. Sure, shot-for-shot remakes, that's just business-as-usual, but to take bits at pieces of a story seemingly at random and shove them into a completely different kind of story? That's weird, and I can't very well fathom what would've prompted it.

And for what it's worth, I'd call it "ripping off" whether it was a writer OR an editor who made it happen. Sure, it's not *illegal* or anything, and "nefarious" would be pushing it, but it remains PRETTY LAME!

February 11, 2014 at 9:55 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


"Sure, shot-for-shot remakes, that's just business-as-usual, but to take bits at pieces of a story seemingly at random and shove them into a completely different kind of story? That's weird, and I can't very well fathom what would've prompted it."

This issue is very much on my mind at present as I prepare to (finally) post the DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE on "Liquid Assets." Swiping from "Only a Poor Old Man" AND a fairly obscure Barks filler story in the same episode... I would love to know how that came about. Even appealing to Jymn Magon's love of Barks' work doesn't seem to be a sufficient explanation.


February 12, 2014 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


"As I said, it’s easy to say “ripping off” from today’s perspective, but back then it was far more likely editorial prerogative or direction than anything more nefarious."

Also consider the sheer VOLUME of material that Western was churning out at that time -- special giant issues and such, in addition to the standard titles. "BTS" came out in the same era in which Barks provided "art-only" for GYRO GEARLOOSE and GRANDMA DUCK releases and (as Geo noted) began recycling a number of his old plots in WDC&S. The pressure for material (and at the most "reasonable" cost possible) must have been immense.


February 12, 2014 at 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

And, speaking of borrowing stuff from other (uncredited) sources....I just happened to read (in Picsou 172) "A Book of Value" D 7074, plot by Joel Katz in 1982, and it seems pretty clear to me that the plot of this story was based upon my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey short story, "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head," written by Dorothy L. Sayers in 1928. It's not an exact recasting of the story, but several very distinctive elements of the Sayers story appear in the Mouse story, including the solution to the mystery of the treasure map. I guess I don't really mind the borrowing here, though it would have been civil for the authors to have included some sort of nod to Sayers--for instance, by showing Minnie or Mickey reading a Lord Peter mystery on the first page.

February 26, 2014 at 10:25 PM  

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