Saturday, December 1, 2018

"White Christmas"

It's a nice day for a...too obvious? Okay, how about this: Hey Western writer, what have you done?'ve written THIS. "You" apparently being Del Connell and "this" being a 1953 story from CP 5. And this interesting one. Now, I know what you're thinking: "does that mean 'bad?' It sounds like that means 'bad.'" Um...yes. Honestly, I'm starting here so that all the other stories we look at will look better in comparison. So on THAT ominous note, let us begin!

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. You know, I DO tend to like these opening panels, regardless of where the rest of the story goes. HDL's triple "fooey!" sorta takes away some of the festive charm from this one, however.

I kind of like Jack Bradbury's art in theory, sort of. If nothing else it's certainly distinctive, but he has this tendency to make the characters emote in really weird, off-putting ways. This whole thing could have a completely different character to it if they looked different. You really don't need HDL looking quite so woebegone in that top right panel, nor the nephew so angry in the bottom right.

It amuses me to imagine that "snow" and "white stuff" are both euphemisms for cocaine.

This mouse. We'll come back to it. But the idea of Donald bellowing "say, his tail is tied in a knot!" while chasing it is just really strange.

I mean, what I was saying about the way they emote...not just here, but the way characters react to other characters' unspecified great ideas with this indignant "GOD, just say it already, stop acting so damn cheerful!" paints them as really emotionally unstable.

You do have to the larger context of this story, as we'll see, this is just nitpicking I suppose, but how is it possible that there's all this snow at Scrooge's cabin but NONE in town? How far away IS this cabin? Obviously you get more snow at higher elevations, but the idea that it could be all over the place off in the woods but that Duckburg could be absolutely bone-dry seems extremely doubtful.

The mention of "Scrooge's cabin" may cause you to think of "Christmas at Bear Mountain" and get your hopes up a bit. Yes. Tell me how that works out for you.

So early in Scrooge's development, I suppose it's hard to blame Connell for this portrayal of the character, but it sure is weird. And undeniably true that he's an incredibly shitty businessman. I mean, REALLY? You switched your ENTIRE amorphous mass of factories to full-time sled production? How could that POSSIBLY have seemed like a good idea?

I'd also just like to point out what gibberish this whole snowlessness thing is; if it's no biggie for the ducks to drive up into the mountains to access the snow, why can't all these potential toboggan-buyers just do the same? Dammit.

Donald has a great idea! I can't wait to hear it!

...but first, let's just again note the really strange, inhuman character interactions. This will come into MUCH starker contrast later on, but let me ask: was Del Connell in fact an alien? Because this whole thing really does read as though it had been written by space creatures with only the most tenuous understanding of human relations. His best-rated duck stories on inducks are that weird "Southern Hospitality" thing (which, looking back, I see I actually kind of liked for its strangeness), and, uh, this, (WHY???) which I, uh, don't. I guess this kind of outsider-art storytelling can go either way.

It does amuse me, in a dumb way, that Scrooge has an armchair in his Money Bin. Which may not actually BE his Money Bin, come to think of it; he seems to just sort of be leaving his cash to stack up in his office or something.

Anyway, here's the great idea. It's so simple! Just lie to consumers to create a false need! Well, it is Late Capitalism 101 I guess. But seriously, this cheerful amorality presented like it's the most obvious thing in the world is just--JEEZ.

I would just like to point out that you can sing this to the tune of the Pogues song "Streams of Whiskey"--so obviously so, in fact, that I started doubting myself: I thought that was a Pogues original, but could it actually have been a traditional song that Connell author is parodying? But no, it's definitely original. Is Connell's a take on some popular song of the time that I don't know? Very difficult to say.

God, this newsie with his one tooth is freakish-looking. And that's all I have to say about that.

Yup. It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his stupid mountain holiday depends on his not understanding it, as Upton Sinclair so prophetically noted. I believe it's been noted before by others, but that heh, heh! tic really is the worst.  This is the closest the story comes to reckoning with the ethics of this whole thing, and it's not close at all.  I mean, it's clearly meant to be self-serving, but it's as much so for Connell as it is for Donald.  He just doesn't want to deal with the implications of the story that he wrote.

The idea is that the cabin's set up in this Ubik-like manner where you have to pay for everything. Doesn't seem like it would be even a tiny bit appealing for any potential customers, but eh, whatever. That is truly the least of our concerns here.

So...the mouse from earlier is back. And you have to ask: why was he there earlier? The fact that he was originally in the ducks' house and oh look he has this knot in his tail that's how you know just has nothing to do with anything. It feels like it was meant to serve a purpose in some previous draft of this story, but something was cut and now it's still here even though there's no point to it. Ha ha--I joke, of course. As if this story had multiple drafts...

And now, this. Which, I suppose, is okay on its own, but if you're thinking about probable directions this story is likely to take, you may be getting a vague, premonitory chill at this point. Like there's a goose walking over your grave.  You thought my only reason for not liking this story was the above?  HA!  Haw! Haw! Haw!

...and now you're starting to get the picture...

...and at this point you know with grim certainty what's going to happen, as unbelievable as it sounds.

No you are fucking NOT, and the fact that Connell thought this was a normal way for people to act--how the HELL did he ever get a job where he had to simulate at least some approximation of human behavior?

But IN SPITE of the fact that you know it, it's still just FUCKING HORRIFYING.

Here's the thing: I fucking LOVE snow. Can't get enough of it. Yes, I know, it makes things difficult and potentially dangerous for people, but goddamn, if I wake up and discover a foot of snow's fallen overnight, I will be EUPHORIC. But you don't have to appreciate it as much as I do to realize just how transcendentally horrifying it would be to wake up and think, oh boy, SNOW! and then realize, wait a second, what IS this, is this...? You've just casually visited this traumatic environmental NIGHTMARE on the city. It makes me VERY ANGRY at the notion that the useless Connell thought this idiocy was a reasonable idea! Did he never experience snow as a kid, on account of being an alien, or was he perfectly aware of how horrible this whole thing was but thought eh, whatever, it's okay for kids, they're pretty dumb? Neither option showers him in glory.

Yes! I'm getting mad at an obscure fifty-five-year-old comic that no one's read in years! THIS IS EXTREMELY NORMAL BEHAVIOR.

...of course, it would be one thing if the townspeople reacted to this with the horror that anyone would and made the ducks' lives a living hell (I mean, it wouldn't excuse the fact that the author thought this was something they would do in the first place, but at least it would indicate a sensical moral universe). BUT NO! Everyone's cool with it! Again: WRITTEN BY AN ALIEN. It's NOT as good as snow, it's NOT a White Christmas in any meaningful sense, and the kids DON'T FUCKING LOVE IT! What in god's name is wrong with you people? ARGH I WANT TO HIT SOMETHING.

*DEEP SIGH* So whatever, it snows so the soap washes away so they run away but then this happens. I don't have the energy to say any more.

Even a tableau cannot save such a wretched story. And why is Scrooge cheating the vending machines? Is he...not aware that they're his machines? Whatever, a little extra last-minute dumbness, just stack it on top of all the rest.

So as I said in my initial post, even when I criticize a lot of these stories and think they're kinda bad, I nonetheless, perhaps irrationally, sorta-kinda have a certain amount of affection for them regardless. Not so for this one, however. It's just trash with no redeeming traits whatsoever; easily the worst thing I'm going to be writing about. I certainly wouldn't say that the authors of most of the rest of them have much to be proud about, but this is the only one where, on balance, I think he should he actively ashamed. It's...not the last we'll see of Connell in this retrospective, or even the second-last, but fortunately, or unfortunately if you like to watch me get irrationally angry, none of the others can match this level of badness.

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Blogger Achille Talon said...

Eh, I don't find the Donald/Scrooge interaction you point out all that weird. It's awkwardly-told, but it seems like your standard comedy scene of a character buttering up another to cartoonish levels and then suddenly dropping the pretense to question them AND ANSWER ME NOW BUT I SWEAR I LOVE YOU HERE'S A CUPCAKE BUT ANSWER ME NOW.


he seems to just sort of be leaving his cash to stack up in his office or something.

You shouldn't blame Bradbury for this, I think. Barks had him do the same thing in several early stories, such as, IIRC, that somewhat-early short story where Donald's a debt collector for Scrooge.

December 1, 2018 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Two further points:

• Some of the expressions can be weird, and the mouse may not have anything to do with anything, but in this particular case art and plotting come together to yield, if nothing else, one extremely cute mouse. Don't you think so?

• About the "soap flakes as good as snow" thing: take in account the time period, though. This was, A) before ecology was a word of which most people even knew the meaning; and B), at a time when I think artificial snow would still have been this very cool new modern thing out of The Jetsons. If I had never before had an inkling that covering an entire city in ersatz-snow overnight was actually possible, and I didn't know that said ersatz would pollute the heck out of the environment, I might well have been filled with the same cheerful wonder as the townsfolk are here.

December 1, 2018 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, you may be right that some of the larger environmental concerns are anachronistic (though, really, I remain skeptical that people would see no problems with this--there's artificial snow, and then there's *soap*), but really: everyone might find it pretty for a moment, but then they'd realize: we can't make snowmen, have snowball fights, make snow angels (okay, I guess that one might be feasible, if you're okay with getting soap all over your clothes), and--which was the whole point of the thing in the first place--you *sure as hell* can't sled. I think any momentary appreciation would quickly be overwhelmed by crushingly disappointed children.

December 1, 2018 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

On the first day of Christmasas my Geox gave to me... THIIIIIIS.... OOOOONE.... REVIEW!!!


At least the soap is clean. Have you ever did the scientific experiment of puting snow you found on the ground into a glass for a night and then looking into what water it melted into in the morning? This stuff is dirty as hell. Also soap smells better! And you can use it to wash your plates! And slip on it as part of some slapstick antics.

That's it! I'm calling all my friends to give me soap for Christams this year! That's where the real Christmas magic is! It takes aliens like Dell to make us trully undersant the true spirit of the Holiday!

December 2, 2018 at 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Well, in the alternate physics of this comic, the kids apparently *can* make snowmen out of the soap flakes...see the second panel in the "Duckburgians are thrilled" sequence you posted. Not sure exactly how that's supposed to work, but I'm glad the kids aren't totally disappointed!

Another piece of historical context: the practice of putting something on one's Christmas tree to imitate snow, as the mouse is doing. We never did this in my family, but I know it used to be widely practiced. Cotton batting was the old standby for this, but various other methods were developed. Some people still do this: it's called "flocking" or snow spraying the tree, and one of the several substances recommended for this purpose on websites is soap flakes. So Scrooge is just applying this very Christmassy technique to the entire town.

December 2, 2018 at 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

...perhaps the use of soap flakes for flocking a Christmas tree was a newly developed technique when this was written, or one which was just beginning to be spread around in women's magazines or the like, hence Connell's need to introduce it to the reader via the mouse. But the mouse sequence does show that the reader is expected to be familiar with the process of flocking, and the use of cotton for that purpose.

December 2, 2018 at 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...but Disney *does* use massive soap dispersal as a substitute for snow. That's how they get a fake snowfall every December night in Florida.

I have a vivid recollection of spending twenty minutes chasing apparent snowflakes, before I finally caught one on my tongue. The nasty soap taste- well, let's just say it was just as traumatic an experience as you estimated it to be.

Can't fault Connell for prescience, though!

December 8, 2018 at 12:30 AM  

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