Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Rattled Railroader"

Eid Mubarak Said, ev'ryone! Are there any Eid-themed Disney comics? I have my doubts.

Well anyway, things have been quiet around here because I've been busy relocating. I recall I suggested some time ago that I was planning on writing about some old non-Barks Western stories in the Spring. Clearly, that did not happen, and I'll tell you why: because it was predicated on the idea that I would have returned to Indonesia by that point; without immediate access to the latest IDW comics, I figured it would be a good opportunity. But...then my return was delayed. And delayed. Boy, you don't even want to KNOW the stress and frustration I was experiencing. Finally, however, I'm back in Jakarta, and as such, it's time to pay old debts. For starters, here is "Rattled Railroader," a 1958 story by Tony Strobl and Carl Fallberg. Please enjoy it!

We open with Scrooge strolling in as HDL gorge themselves on jam--as you do. Imagine a full-grown duck etc! You would be able to tell this was written by Carl Fallberg even if inducks didn't tell you so, given the fixation with railroads (in fact, is it possible that the only reason inducks is willing to attribute this to Fallberg is for that reason?). As you may have inferred from subtle little comments I've made here and there, I'm not a fan of the endless Fallberg/Murry MM serials, but Fallberg does okay here (and come to think of it, Murry also worked on a few duck stories that I like--is it just that Mickey presented different challenges that neither of them was quite up to?).

Probably the most entertaining thing in this story is Fallberg's light self-deprecation as he shows Donald geeking out about trains. NOT A TOY. GRAPHIC NOVEL NOT COMIC. VIDEOGAMES ARE TOO ART. This is one of those things that non-Barks writers sometimes did that admittedly looks a little odd. Donald, as we've frequently noted, contains multitudes, but fixating on a hobby like this seems more Fethry-esque. Of course, this story was pre-Fethry, so maybe it makes sense that a trait that in latter days might be off-loaded to another character should be attributed to Donald himself. These stories may not always--or often--be good, exactly, but there's an element of unpredictability to them that keeps them interesting. Well, okay, plenty of them aren't at all interesting. But you never know what you're going to get, is the point, and on occasion, what you get kinda works out on its own modest terms.

That right there's my favorite bit. GET IT RIGHT, DAMMIT!

The usual sort of thing. Barksian enough, though it's surprising at such a late date that Strobl wouldn't have depicted him sitting in money while doing these accounts.

Here's another thing that relates to what I was talking about re unpredictability. Scrooge, on occasion, is surprisingly generous in these stories. Not that he shouldn't pay all expenses given that his nephews are doing him a favor, but in Rosa--say--there would inevitably be some element of them getting shafted. Of course, in others of these stories, he's just unbearably dickish, so, you know. Six of one half-dozen of the other.

And fair's fair, Strobl and Fallberg are never going to be as evocative as Barks, but the little isolated ghost town is pretty well-depicted here. I like.

I'm not a fanatic about trains like Fallberg, but I can appreciate their romance, and as such, I like this. More generally, I just like this kind of enthusiasm over somewhat esoteric subjects. As far as I'm concerned, Fallberg can write as many stories about trains as he likes--though if they're Mickey stories with Murry, please forgive me if I doze off halfway through.

Then there are these guys, Jeb'n'Zeb. Jebediah and Zebulon! Now those are some serious nineteenth-century-frontiersman names for you! They're kind of endearing. There may not be that much to them, but they add some simple human interest to the story, and perhaps elevate it a bit over others of its type. As you know, one-shot secondary characters in Disney comics rarely make that much of an impression, and even more rarely in old Western stories like this, so let's give some credit.

Hey, okay, so I may just be a big ol' sentimentalist, but I think that's nice.

The canoe guy strands them because they took longer than five minutes. Seems like it would be difficult to explain that to the guy who hired him to ferry them, but WHAT DO I KNOW?!? There's something about that "silence" that always strikes me. It's goofy for sure, but also kind of ominous and enigmatic, not that it means much for the story as a whole. "terrific" can the scenery possibly be if the whole forest has been clear-cut? In general, you should try not to contradict yourself in the space of one panel. That's my opinion, anyway! I feel like it's a bit of a failure on Fallberg's part to really conceptualize the setting. He's just running through "possible commercial uses for Alaskan wilderness" and didn't stop to think that these might not necessarily all go together. The environmental devastation that most of these plans would involve is of course not even hinted at.

I like these bears and their berries! I don't know; I guess they're just regular ol' bears, but they're okay with me. Think how cool it would be if you were just hanging out in a berry field and, bam, BEARS, just slurping down berries! Certainly they're better than that the ones in that dire Country Bears story that IDW recently reprinted! And I like the sense of plenitude with the berries.

Okay, I know there's really no point in asking "how could anyone possibly even know if the train didn't make a round trip?" It's hard not to, though. And, I mean, is everyone really just taking it on faith that, of course, it must've never missed a day over the course of sixty years! That just seems implausible on the face of it, Zeb'n'Jeb's persistence notwithstanding.

Donald's train fandom doesn't really play into the story very much after the beginning, but here's this. So does his enthusiasm allow him to actually run the train like a pro? What do you think?

...not that the story does anything with his incompetence, or makes it into any sort of character arc. You would likely have seen something a bit more sophisticated in that regard from Barks. Still, at least he knew he was supposed to do SOMETHING with the overdeterminedly-phallically-named Johnson bar!

Here's my question: has anyone ever actually seen a handcar in real life? I mean, I'm sure they're a real thing, but it's a concept that I am familiar with exclusively through Disney comics. If you ever saw them, you sure don't nowadays. It looks like it would be kinda fun to ride one, albeit exhausting if you're doing it for any length of time.

Blah blah, day saved, etc.

...well hey, even Barks himself often struggled with providing satisfying endings, so I guess there's little point in caviling that, thematically, this has little to do with anything. Especially because, all things considered, YOU WOULD BE FORTUNATE if this was the issue of Donald Duck that you happened to pick up in 1958. Sure, the story has its rough spots, but it could have been--and often was--so much worse. It's definitely a good choice for anyone curious about these old obscurities, and I will go so far as to say that I would not mind seeing it reprinted. So there!

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Blogger Achille Talon said...

Glad to see you back!

About the "terrific scenery" inconsistency… I don't know, but trees or no trees, you've got some beautiful mountains.

July 6, 2016 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

What Murry Duck stories do you like?

July 6, 2016 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger tymime said...

Country Bears comic? This thing maybe?:
Sounds dreadful.

July 6, 2016 at 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

This is one of my favorite old-time Carl Fallberg Duck stories...along with "The Loch Eerie Monster" and "The Lighthouse at Wreckers' Reef" (about which I must say that I am highly amused by the English summary on Inducks, which has the seals playing cricket rather than baseball!). Once again, I think it's the effect of having identical twins in the family. I love Zeb and Jeb, and I appreciate how their dedication to their work and love of their train is so admired by the Ducks. I love how they switch off the various train-related jobs. They're odd, I guess, but the story never makes fun of them. There's a nobility to their dedication to railroading for its own sake, their faithfulness in keeping up the daily schedule when it serves no ulterior purpose.

I also like the blueberry bounty, and the bears, as well as the old-fashioned train itself and the ghost town. I pretty much like everything about the story, except for the Indian ferryman, who might be OK if there were other Indians in the story.

I wonder whether Miss Huntenpeck appears in any other Fallberg story, or whether she was just a temp? Apparently Miss Quackfaster was not clearly established in everyone's mind as the secretary of record.

It's fine that there's a happy ending for Scrooge, but mostly I'm glad that things work out well for Jeb and Zeb. It *is* seldom that the one-shot secondary characters take emotional center stage in that way.

July 7, 2016 at 1:23 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Huh, no, tymine, I don't think it's this thing. The story in question also features Mickey Mouse; it's a crossover of sorts. I didn't think it was all that bad, actually.

July 7, 2016 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

@Achille Talon Your mileage may vary, but as majestic as the proud majestic mountains may be, if they've been entirely clear-cut, I don't think most people are going to get much out of them.

@Clapton All (well, some) will be revealed sooner rather than later!

@tymime It's this. Don't listen to Achille Talon! It really is that bad! Note that it's never been reprinted in Europe (unless we count the UK, and given Brexit, it seems to be a real question whether we should)--and for good reason.

@Elaine Seldom indeed for secondary characters to take center stage! That's why "Old California" is so striking; it's the ONE time Barks tries it. I think this story does it in a fairly limited way, but it's definitely still a cut above the norm and helps contribute to the story's relative success.

July 7, 2016 at 4:42 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

"Note that it's never been reprinted in Europe (unless we count the UK, and given Brexit, it seems to be a real question whether we should)--and for good reason."

I think there is a good reason, but one that is unrelated to the story's qualities (or lack thereof): there is no Country Bears Jamboree in Disneyland Paris, leading to European readers not being familiar with the characters, while American readers are expected to recognize them.

July 7, 2016 at 7:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Fair enough, though I think it's expecting a bit much for even American readers to recognize them. *I* certainly had no particular clue who any of of these creatures were meant to be when I read it.

July 7, 2016 at 7:10 AM  
Anonymous PL9 said...

Finally I get to make a more-or-less contemporary post here. This story was reprinted in 1979, and I still have that comic, DD #208. I enjoyed it back then, and rereading it today, it’s still not bad at all for a non-Barks duck comic. I mostly agree with your comments, except I think the ending, with Donald being chased by bears, is pretty funny. It’s even foreshadowed when one of the Clinkers says the bears won’t care if the ducks take “a few” blueberries. Apparently if you try to take them all, they DO care – a lot.
Don’t know if you’re taking suggestions, but another good story from this era is “One for the Whammy,” by Strobl and Bob Gregory (DD #65). Some relative of Scrooge’s from Scotland, named Angus, comes to visit Duckburg, and he’s an athletic champion back in the old country. Somehow, he ends up staying with Donald and the kids. Soon, Angus and Donald can’t fucking stand each other, leading to Donald stupidly challenging Angus to an athletic competition. You can guess the results. Well, anyway, I liked it.

July 7, 2016 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The ending's okay in and of itself; it just seems a bit arbitrary to me. We need an here's a joke for an ending. I'm certainly being too picky here.

I do remember "One for the Whammy," though I haven't read it in years. We'll see what happens.

July 8, 2016 at 1:01 AM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 9, 2016 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Sidious said...

Funnily enough, Donald's passion for elaborate model train kits reminds me of the classic Chip 'n' Dale short "Out of Scale" (1951)! I wonder if the connection was intentional.

July 11, 2016 at 5:56 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Let's not forget that Carl Fallberg was also a big train fan! That may be more directly relevant.

July 11, 2016 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Er, sorry for accidentally deleting your comment, Debbie Anne. I think I somehow thought it was a double comment and then it wasn't. For the record, it said:

In both cases, Donald's model train obsession may very well come from Walt Disney's own love of model railroading.

July 11, 2016 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Huwey said...

Fallberg was a train fan? That's telling me much!
And you're living in Jakarta, Indonesia? Why that?

July 23, 2016 at 5:32 PM  

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