Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Dinner at Grandma's"

And now, this, from 1955's CP 7.  You know, the thing is, I actually wrote this entry as well as the next few before doing those damn Connell stories, and now that I've done them, I'm actually feeling significantly more charitable about these.  Not that I think my criticisms don't hold, but CRIKEY, sure, they were written by people wanting paychecks with no thought of l'art pour l'art, but they at least make an effort, sort of, and the characters, as dumb as they can be, don't generally seem like bizarre space aliens.  They're more or less earning that paycheck.  So good job, Lockman et al!  Please read this entry in that spirit.

To start, let me say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE this opening splash panel.  Nice work, Strobl!  He may not have been a virtuoso, but the general competence of his artwork is a nice contrast with a lot of the previous stuff we've seen.

One thing I'll say about this: more often than not, you look at a Disney story's title, and you get at least a kind of general idea of what the story's going to be about. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing when this isn't the case--you're looking at a guy who enjoyed a novel entitled Caliban's Filibuster--but it is a little comical here just how willfully this one not only doesn't tell you anything, but actively misleads you.  Because that right there is a pretty promising title; you'd expect, probably, some fairly low-key, character-based hijinks ultimately relating to this dinner.  But...well.  Let us see.

Pretty funky font ya got there, I must say.  Also, kind of terrifying faces on the nephews there in the second panel.  So it goes.  Inducks says Lockman is the writer, which I can buy.  It doesn't have much if any of what we think of as characteristically Lockmanian wordplay (which if I'm not mistaken didn't really start manifesting until later in his career)--this is about as close as you'll get--but the plot certainly calls him to mind.  OH MY GOSH, SO MUCH FORESHADOWING!

Well, here's the initial set-up, such as it is: Donald doesn't have enough money to buy Scrooge a present, so he needs to get a job at "one of the stores."  Obviously Donald's employment situation is always extremely nebulous, but this just raises the question: so, like, what, he was okay with being habitually unemployed, but now, NOW, a job is necessary?  How did he get money to buy the OTHER gifts?  Is he just habitually in and out of work?  Well...okay, obviously so, I guess.  The way it's presented just feels strange.  Probably just the execution, really.

Well you might wonder: whence this shit about hummingbird-powered chariots?  Is this a Christmas thing?  It doesn't FEEL very seasonal.  What's going on here, anyway?

...yeah.  I'm fairly sure this would be an excellent way for Mr. McDuck to never be able to hire anyone and quickly go out of business.  I feel like Lockman took the notion that Scrooge is obsessive (true) and warped that into "...so he's obsessive about everything, even when it contradicts who he's supposed to be!"  And to be fair, that's not just Lockman; that's Barks too on occasion.  As with Donald and his employment or lack thereof, it's all down to execution.

I do find the use of the word "devilment" here funny, though.

Yeah, okay.  Pretty sure the application form would've been upfront about that, but WHATEVER. This is all pretty trivial stuff.  What I'm really concerned with is that sales chart.  You'll note that they're all real cities, until you get down to sixth from the bottom, and...there's a city called "Stoney."  I'm really at a loss here, honestly.  All I can find is Stoney Creek, Ontario, which wasn't even a city when this was written.  I've got nothing.  It's the most incredibly trivial thing ever, but it will haunt my dreams.

I guess at this point, if you have ANY sense of what these things are like, you're getting a dim idea of where this is going.  I like (for some value of "like") "Outer Congolia."  It's just so indiscriminate in its Orientalism: yeah, Africa, Asia, what's the difference, let's just mash them both together.  Well done, Victor.

And, you know, as unexpected as it is, it's not necessarily a bad idea to divert a Christmas story into some kinda weird globetrotting thing.  It's just...man.  You just know what these things are like, and you know it's not going to be any good, don't you?  Harsh but fair.  Alas.

Donald's extremely reasonable reaction to all this.  How long ya think that's gonna last? Yeah yeah, I know that's the norm, it's just...well, obviously I've hit on a recurring theme in my reactions to this story.  But it's no joke; it really is almost entirely in the execution.

Well...it's more than thirty cents an hour.  Presumably.  Or at least, so you might think if you had never ever read a Disney comic before and had no idea who these characters were.  And if that's the case, hey, welcome to the blog, Erin Brady!  But the rest of us are just left vaguely wondering what the catch is gonna be.

(And now, we must take a brief time-out to rush that burn to the emergency room, as it is very, very sick.)

RIGHT.  One last reminder of Christmas cheer before we get going to--sigh--Outer Congolia.  Not a bad image, even if like me you have some general consumerism-related qualms.

Oh GAWD.  We needed this in our Christmas story?  To be fair, the natives don't talk in pidgin throughout the story, but they remain childlike, superstitious, and basically exactly how a white American with massive unexamined assumptions would portray them.  Yeehaw.

Okay.  I suppose we can read this as making a broader point about exploitation and this king attempting to eliminate the numinous quality of the holiday because he sees it, even in its weakness, as a threat to his power the blood of the lamb and all that...

...or, we can just read it as a childish, dumb story where he literally orders everyone to give him their Christmas money.  Really...who can say which is wrong and which is right (Donald and Lydia made love that night)?

I don't know why I'm bothering to follow this in the amount of detail I am; it's really not worth it. Just because it's unlikely that most of you have ever actually read this, I guess.

Yes, well.  Barksian precedent and all, but, as you may have gathered, this is no "Golden Helmet."

You might think Lockman would've tried to salvage some holiday festivity here by having Donald reconsider his megalomaniacal plans on account of something something Spirit of Christmas, but no.  It's just 'cause the king's required to eat Gross Shit.  We are simply having a wonderful Christmas time.

Yay. The idea that succession would work this way...well, actually, you think back to all those Borgias and Medicis and their Renaissance popes and you realize, eh--maybe not all that  implausible.  It's all good!

HOH!  Look who's here!  The convolutions of this story are whiplash-inducing, but fuckin' eh, man--Santa!  Finally, at least the chance for a little Christmas-yness, so I WILL TAKE IT.






Just try to tell me that didn't give some poor kid nightmares.

Still an' all though, I do kinda like this "helping Santa Claus" stuff.  Kinda charming. Expanded upon, it would probably have made for a more interesting story than the one we got, even with Lockman's somewhat limited talent.

...surprise.  Yeah.  Okay.  But wait!


"I happen to be a rare coin authority?"  This is certainly one of the more egregious example of the old trope you'd see from your more hackish Western authors (or, was it always Lockman all the time?) where a main character suddenly has a really idiosyncratic character trait for this story only. Well...maybe they're all equally egregious.  Regardless, it remains...something.

It occurs to me, actually, that the "rare coin authority" thing would be fine as the premise of one of Barks' mastery stories.  It's just when you jam it in all of a sudden for no reason other than to serve a tiny plot point that it becomes...dumb.

Anyway, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS. Apologies for the obviousness of that link, but really.  Ain't exactly a 1916 quarter, is it?

Yeah..."they'd have more fun." I mean, sure, "Scrooge is secretly generous sometimes" is a thing, but please consult the above panels and notice that he's really just being the world's biggest asshole about having fucked over his relatives, and then consider that this "fun" they're having is vindictive glee at having fucked him back harder, and I forget, is this the True Meaning of Christmas?  Yeesh.

Sure, I like the tableau in that bottom panel, kind of, sparse as it is; I'm on the record as being an easy tableau lay.  But as for the rest of it...jeez.

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Blogger Achille Talon said...

Well you might wonder: whence this shit about hummingbird-powered chariots? Is this a Christmas thing?

Well, "chariot" isn't the usual word used, and one would be thinking more of reindeer than horses pulling it, but flying beast-of-burden-drawn wooden cars aren't exactly foreign to Christmasness. Santa cough sleigh cough. So I imagine that's where the inspiration sprang from. The rest being Lockman's… Lockmism.

December 11, 2018 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Also, "Scrooge has a policy of not hiring relatives" may be the single stupidest counterbarksian canon-breaking statement Lockman has ever made. Go home, Tommy Mocassin.

December 11, 2018 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Oh, and finally, for the record, I think that ending trick is perfectly in-character for Scrooge, really. Whether in Barks or Lockman, Scrooge always seems extremely proud of himself whenever he's outwitted his opponents, and, of course, that goes double if the outwitting earns him money. So his Christmas present is to try to make Donald feel that same thrill he likes so much.

Notice also (though of course, Lockman couldn't have thought of that yet) that the situation is kind of a reverse-Lucky-Dime thing: in both cases a single coin pays for hard work and there's an unexpected reveal about its value, except that in Scrooge's case it was worthless whereas in Donald's it's worth much more.

Long story short I fully think this is absolutely something Scrooge would do. How much this accuracy is serendipitous depends on how much benefit of the doubt you wanna give Lockman, but a fact's a fact.

December 11, 2018 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I would sorta-kinda defend Lockman on that "not hiring relatives" thing. I think it's plausible that there's a distinction between hiring them to clean coins, accompany him on treasure hunts, and general dogsbody stuff on the one hand; and his stores as institutions hiring him. Mind you, as I said, it's still super-dumb, I don't see what benefit there's supposed to be to this policy, and it should have been trivially easy for Lockman to come up with a more plausible reason for Donald not being hired--but its dumbness didn't quite strike me so much in the way you mean.

December 11, 2018 at 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I'm from a very anti-practical-joke family, so the whole fake gift thing is very sour to me, too. I even lean towards faulting not only Scrooge, but the others for not warning Donald, since Scrooge pulled the same thing on them. But Daisy even chuckles over it! Gah. I do realize that in some families this type of thing is seen as enjoyable. It's worse for Donald, of course, because he went through so much for the sake of the fake gift. Scrooge didn't lead the others on with the promise of riches to come.

I do wonder how it worked for Scrooge to do the same fake gift thing to all the others: did he get them to all open their presents from him at the same time?

In the penultimate panel, Scrooge actually winks at the reader while he thinks to himself. So he breaks the fourth wall--though it's just the artist who made that happen. Pretty uncommon in Disney Duck comics.

December 11, 2018 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...


Hm, I see what you mean, I guess, but still. On the face of it that sentence was so counterintuitive, even if it can, in some fashion, make sense.

What do you make of my position on Scrooge's final joke, though?


Concerning how Scrooge made it work: well, yeah, that or they arrived one by one and each took the joke in good enough spirit that they agree not to tell the next person.

December 11, 2018 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I mean, I see what you mean. It may well be that--as in so many other aspects--it's more a matter of execution than anything else. I think the characterizations in these things are generally bad enough that I'm not willing to give them benefit of the doubt. But eh, it's certainly not the story's worst sin. The fact that it goes along with the "rare coin authority" thing makes it seem muddled and dumb, maybe more so than it is. Man, once again, giving Vic friggin Lockman the benefit of the doubt. Now THAT is true Christmas Spirit!

December 11, 2018 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 11, 2018 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

I'd be willing to bet that "Stoney" stemmed from lettering artist's misreading of a scribbled "Sydney."

December 11, 2018 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

You know...you're probably right about that. I'm ever-more staggered by the comprehensive incompetence of Western's editorial team. Certainly, anything of value they ever published isn't due to anything that they did.

December 12, 2018 at 1:01 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Good call, Jeffyo! If "Sydney" were scribbled in all caps, it would be easy to misread it as "Stoney."

Despite my anti-practical-joke comment above, I should say that I kind of like the idea of Scrooge being secretly generous with his family by giving them silver dollars he knows to be unusually valuable (and then fake-fainting when their value is discovered, as he knows it will be). That's actually a cute hack. It could have been done without the whole sack-of-dough practical joke...that was only necessary in this plot to lead Donald on.

December 13, 2018 at 9:48 AM  
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Blogger Smartiperson said...

Having managed to obtain the complete story reprint in the 1973 comic “Donald and Mickey”, set out in 4-parts across issues 91-94, I thought I’d add the UK point-of-view, given that these stories are given slightly amended regional variations.
The main thing I’ve noted from the excerpts posted in this blog is that the British ‘version’ has, as well as some minor language tweaks, had some frames omitted completely. The main sequence to note is when Donald summons the (old) king to explain about the food. Also, just before that, I see in the original Huey, Duey and Louie suggest they will take the chariot home without him, and Donald forbids it. This exchange is omitted. Then, in the original, the King beggs for another chance and shows contrition, and Donald makes him King again. Whereas the British version removes that part, which results in a slightly disjointed story flow. The king just explains he wanted the money so he could flee and eat what he wanted, and Donald then just makes him king again. Almost as if the king can do what he wants and Donald never thought about reminding king.
In the final scenes of the story, Donald and the others think they’ve found a 50p piece in their ‘dough’ (a very new thing for 1973) which seems odd to confuse with a rare coin worth £100. The original ‘silver dollar’ works better; notably the currency changes in the British version from $100 to pounds.
THere are probably a number of other changes between versions (and no doubt, similar edits in the other international languages), but I don’t have access to the complete original sotry.

October 20, 2021 at 8:17 AM  

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