Thursday, December 25, 2014

"New Toys"

Merry Christmas!  I got you some “New Toys!”  And doesn’t that blandly descriptive title sound like a placeholder that someone forgot to switch out for something more evocative?

The thing about this story is, it displays a level of sophistication that the other four never came close to.  We’ve only got eight pages, but Barks uses this space with consummate skill to tell a relatively complex story with a lot more thematic resonance than he’d displayed previously.

‘Course, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised—this is, after all, the same year that he wrote the masterful “Letter to Santa.”  And that’s apparent in this way, too: as in that story, here we see the really strange notion that Santa exists, but that “using” him is somehow optional.  Well…I guess I can’t say that definitively; Donald could just be playing along with the kids here.  In fact, that might possibly be the more rational explanation.  But given that that was DEFINITELY the case in “A Letter to Santa,” it seems plausible, or if not, TOO BAD, because I'm GOING with it.  Also, I'll CAPITALIZE ALL THE WORDS I WANT.  ANYWAY.

What I like most about this story is the way it deals with HDL’s Christmas wishes.  On the one hand, yes, wanting new things when the old ones are perfectly good does seem kind of obliviously greedy (though you’d think that, if they’re really limited to one thing each, they’d go for something new, rather than just a reprise of what they already have).

Barks is very good at making them seem unsympathetic in this regard.

…but it’s totally realistic, too, and, as Donald acknowledges, kids (and people in general, for that matter) want new things.  It’s just their nature, and it’s not helpful to pull the “starving kids in India” routine, because people’s desires are calibrated based on their circumstances.  Yes, we should try to have perspective—and HDL’s willful lack thereof isn’t exactly admirable—but it’s really not a sin, as long as it it's not taken to extremes.  As in “Three Good Little Ducks,” Donald comes across here as admirably reasonable.  Nice product placement, too.  Firestone certainly got their money’s worth with this one.

The printing I’m using here comes from a Gemstone issue of Donald Duck; I was about to write “if Gladstone had printed it, they probably would’ve changed the name of the toy store.”  Then I thought: wait—did Gladstone print it?  I should check.  So I did, and they did, and I was right:

(They also printed it in album form with the other Firestone stories; I’m pretty sure that preserves the original, but I don’t have it on-hand to check.)

Go me!  I suppose it doesn’t matter much, but even beyond the pure principle of the thing, I think it’s a lot more interesting to preserve the story’s original context.  And it's just kind of tiresome the way Gladstone habitually felt the need to do "updates" like this.

Again with the moppets!  I feel like they’re sort of a blunt instrument in Barks’ Christmas stories.  You WILL (WHAM) have (BONK) perspective (SMASH), dammit!

Said perspective with which the poor kids abruptly endow HDL isn’t contrived, though.  It’s an authentic and valid reaction, and in Barks’ hands, it comes through quite vividly.

This idea of Donald as enthusiastic amateur machinist, though, I dunno—I mean, obviously, I DO know: he got the tools so the Christmas story could resolve, so in that sense it’s really pretty elegant, and certainly his intense passing fancies have been the subject of many a subsequent story, but seriously, what’s he going to do with those tools that’s so fun?

While the way the narrative resolves itself is pretty great, that last panel is the one part, for my money, where Barks slips up a little—we get the picture; you don’t need to jam it down our throats quite that hard.

Still, in all the story’s a winner, and in relation to its predecessors, it bears real witness to Barks’ artistic growth.  Happy Holidays to all.



Blogger Chris Barat said...


I know lots of people who like tinkering with tools and regard such work as fun. If Donald and the boys don't put on protective eye wear and gloves (work gloves, not the Disney variety), they may find that the fun has a stinger in it.

This is my second fave of the Firestones, next to the first one.


December 25, 2014 at 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Chris Chan said...

I like Donald's comment about needing new toys "like I need brass earrings." Of all the objects in the world he could have mentioned, why those? It's funny, but it makes you wonder how he thought of it.

December 28, 2014 at 2:36 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"What’s he going to do with those tools that’s so fun?"

When I was a kid, I insisted on having a worktable in my parents' garage where I could slam stuff together with hammer and nails. I built a crude deck that fit onto the branches of my mom's big tree, so I could use it as a fort. I built wooden display figures of cartoon characters. And I built a crude scooter to ride to school, held together with hinges so I could fold it up and stow it under my desk in class. (I'm sure this last contraption was inspired by Gyro types of gadgets...)

Where I'm going with this is—there was a time in my childhood life when building things was super-exciting. I first read Barks' story when I was in that phase, and it seemed totally natural to me...

December 29, 2014 at 8:01 PM  

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