Friday, April 3, 2020

"The Pirates of Ashcanistran"

I was reading "Sheriff of Bullet Valley" in this Gladstone reprint. So do you get an entry on "Sheriff of Bullet Valley? NO. Instead, you're forced to endure one on the backup story, written and illustrated by Bob Gregory in 1974. Sorry about that.



Gregory was possibly the best Western writer after Barks in his day. Granted, there's a huge gap between the two, but even so...in addition to the good Barks-drawn Christmas stories and Daisy Duck's Diaries, he also wrote such extremely adequate stories as "Secret of the Sargasso Sea" and "The Fabulous Fiddlesticks." So the question is: why is this story such horrendous garbage? Sure, everyone has an off-day now and then, but my God. It's hard to fathom how this can be by the same writer as those. Is it just because at this point he'd kind of lost interest and wasn't even trying? I mean, I guess, but even so...when you're as relatively talented as Gregory, you'd think that there would be a certain baseline that it would be hard to go below unless you were actively trying. Is it just that he wrote to match the quality of the art, and since his own art was...not great, this is the result? That's a weird theory; I doubt that when he was just writing scripts, he even knew who was going to draw them. But...it makes as much sense as anything.

So yeah; this is going to be one of THOSE entries. "A worthy cause." I feel like a better story would have been more specific than that. Obviously, the contest is just meant to push the plot, such as it is, along, but it could and should feel more natural.

Just look at that stilted dialogue. And why do two out of the three nephews apparently think borrowing money from Scrooge is a great idea that will definitely work? The grasp of character here is extremely lacking in a way that you wouldn't expect from such an old hand as Gregory.


And now, allow Gregory to barf up the exposition at you. If Scrooge "can't trust anyone," why is he telling all of the details to this doctor?


Okay! And now he's telling him exactly why he wants the seals and showing him where he's going on a map! It is extremely difficult to imagine how he could've ever succeeded at anything that requires secrecy if he's this bad at it.

Also, why is the name a play on Afghanistan when it's just some island somewhere?  There is absolutely nothing remotely Afghan about it.  Really now.


I find that first panel there absolutely mind-blowing, because HOW do you get that so bass-ackwards? It's "I must select a crew and con, er, I mean, appoint Donald." Not to over-explain the obvious, but the point of this trope is that you're convincing yourself, or at least jokingly pretending to convince yourself, that you're not doing anything wrong. Why would you want to convince yourself instead that you ARE doing something wrong? It's like Gregory had the general idea of how this trope works--"I need to trick, er, persuade him"--and somehow didn't realize that "trick" and "persuade" are not interchangeable. It's just so bizarrely sloppy and careless. I'm actually sort of surprised Gladstone didn't do him a favor and make a tiny correction here.


And now, THIS. So go ahead, tell me: why does it work better if it's "raffle" backwards as opposed to any other random gibberish? This whole thing is just so unbearably childish. Did I ever tell you the story of when I was, at a guess, seven years old, and we were having a talent show at my school? I came up with this brilliant idea that I got my friend to help me with: a mind-reading act. The way it worked was, I would barrage him with a series of questions in the form of "are you thinking of [X]?" and he would answer in the affirmative to each of them. Magic! You can imagine how riveting the audience must have found this. We coulda been on Penn and Teller Fool Us. Anyway, to my mind, this is about on that level, except it ACTUALLY FOOLS THE ADULTS. Come on, Gregory.


Mm. Yes. Okay. I feel like this is one of those things that separates a good writer from a...less-good writer. Okay, yes, that "fancy vessel picture" (oh, Scrooge, you DO have a way with words) gives him an idea. What does he have a "fancy vessel picture" for in the first place? Irrelevant, because Gregory is not thinking in terms of building a coherent world, but just getting from point A to point B. It's fine in Barks stories when there are random weird pictures in the background of the Duck residence (that's why I'm not caviling about that picture of Scrooge on the cabinet, though maybe I should), but if he actually called attention to them, that would require some kind of explanation.

Anyway, it's a good thing he has a separate piece of furniture to hold his "ice bag," spray can, and small box. You never know when you'll need them!


This is supposed to be one of those specious situations where, in the logic of the story, he gets away with lying because he didn't technically lie, but...I mean, come on. He lies here. Any jury in the land would convict him. Fercrissake.

I do like that Donald refers to this trip as a "junket."


This may make you think of Barks' "Menehune Mystery," which on the one hand isn't one of my favorite Barks stories but which on the other hand is still substantially more legit than this. Recall that there he doesn't actually lie to his nephew or otherwise act under false pretenses.


Heh! Heh! So is this actually supposed to be Scrooge's yacht, or is he just using someone else's ship for his deception? And if it is his, what does he actually use it for, if not for treasure hunts? Are we supposed to think he just takes it on pleasure cruises? That seems unlikely. Whatever. I know it's really my fault for thinking about it even a little bit.


Note that Donald did not sign anything. He has absolutely no obligation to go along with this. What do you MEAN "Forget it! He tricked us again?" This "trick" would absolutely NOT WORK if you weren't, for no apparent reason, just letting it work. I dunno. I mean, I don't like rich people getting things over on the poor under the best of circumstances, but when it's so obvious that it's only happening by authorial fiat--Gregory is forcing me to accept this even though it's a goddamn stupid thing to accept--it rubs me very hard the wrong way.

Also, there seems to be this idea that, well, it sucks, but now that we've started, we have to go along with it! You guys are the only ones on the ship. You could EASILY overpower Scrooge and return to the dock. This entire story should NOT be happening, at least not in this way. And come to think of it, is there any PURPOSE to it happening this way? There is not. This shit about Scrooge having tricked them and how mad they are about it takes up a lot of space, but it is totally superfluous. Just strip it all out, having them do the usual thing of working reluctantly but willingly enough for thirty cents an hour, and I wouldn't be writing this. Win-win! But I guess that wouldn't have filled up the page count. Gregory needs to get paid!


Yes! It did! You have accurately stated the case! Scrooge could and should face criminal charges of kidnapping, and even taking into account the fact that the law doesn't generally apply to the rich, it would be an open-and-shut case! I know we've seen things like this in other stories--probably even Barks!--but never so egregiously, I don't think.


Anyway. These scans come from the original 1974 printing of this story, which is interspersed with ads. So let's look at some of them! You've probably seen this sea monkey ad before; it's pretty famous. I like how dumb--or, let's say, credulous--kids are: we can just buy eggs that grow into intelligent undersea creatures that proceed to start their own monarchical city-state? Sure, sounds legit. When I was in graduate school (for the first time), we had our own little computer lab, and one of the students got some of these to grow down there, just to see what it was like. Less than edifying, is what it was like. These tiny little things you could barely see that just hung there and did nothing except for one that was probably in some way diseased or something and grew slightly bigger and grosser. And then I accidentally knocked the dish over, and that was the end of that.

Hey, look at that patent number! You probably wouldn't have known what to do with it at the time, but nowadays it's trivially easy to find:


...okay. That turned out to be extremely boring. Though compare and contrast the patent with the ad copy: "a method and materials used to . . . give the appearance of instantaneous hatching" becomes "our astounding discovery of the formula for making INSTANT LIFE." Surely SOMETHING here must violate some sort of truth-in-advertising law, mustn't it?

Anyway, we reluctantly return to our story:


...you're only working for free because you decided you would. There is no good reason for this. Even if it looks sort of weird and out-of-character, you deserve to get kicked like that.


Isn't it kinda weird to replace the skull from the skull-and-crossbones with an actual face? Well, that is the least of our concerns here.

Actually, returning to the story was a bad idea. Let's look at some more ads instead.


Here's one for incense that--apparently--is used for seduction. Who do you people think is reading this comic, exactly? Aside from weirdos like me? Let me ask you: imagine? What you would have to pay? If you bought all these fragrances separately? Actually...I have zero conception of what I would pay. But I feel like it would make my house smell like a serial killer's lair, and you can't put a price on that.


Here's an exciting story. It's entitled "Margie Gets Free Gifts for the Whole Family." That title seems a bit wordy, somehow. Margie's favorite magazine seems to be entitled "Love: Romance," only the way it's written, "Romance" is apparently drooping down the cover. Also, it might be some sort of manga, given that that title looks like it's actually written on the back cover. But really, I want you to appreciate the text in that last thought-bubble. LOOK HOW UNGAINLY IT IS. It appears to be written in at least three different fonts, and it's just crammed in there in the most awkward way possible, with blank spaces left for no apparent reason...based on the quality of this thing, I am not anticipating much, free-gifts-wise.


I've gotta say...this is the most unbelievably hideous art I have ever seen. I mean, maybe that's obvious, but I'm pretty sure the seventies actually looked like this. That's why I can never get into nostalgia for the decade. Anyway, everyone gets a whole lot of garbage, and JUST LOOK at that bizarre, non-Euclidean shit Margie is somehow holding. You know, Lovecraft always writes about terrifying, abnormal geometry, but my brother the math professor says, no, geometry is actually super-boring and extremely non-terrifying. I think this picture proves him wrong.


Anyway, everyone is excited about all the horrible trash they've ordered, and we see that this is actually a story about redemption: even a sinner as blackhearted and seemingly beyond salvation as Billy can still order junk from the Consumer Gazette. Beautiful.

(For the record, if they're suggesting that one of the things Margie got was that stylish (by this comic's standards) jean jacket, I don't believe it for half a second.)

I don't know if this was exactly the same thing or not, but I remember when I was small I would get these "get free stuff" books. What did I get from them? I literally cannot recall a single thing, so they can't have been super-exciting. I think it was mostly, like, allegedly-educational government pamphlets and souvenirs from state tourism departments and stuff. When you're a kid, the idea of free stuff has a very strong allure, even if none of it turns out to be worth anything. But you always had to send in a self-addressed stamped envelope, and given how incredibly slowly I handwrote back in the day, that was an almost insurmountable challenge. Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this pointless anecdote.


In what possible sense is Scrooge a "quick thinker?" In no sense, apparently, since he didn't stop them from getting locked up. But by the standards of this story, yes, that probably really is clever, so I don't even know.


Nothing much to say about this except that the art style makes it look like those are taxidermied Beagle heads--a disturbing concept, but one which would make this story more interesting, anyway.


So at first I thought, holy crud, did those Beagles actually slaughter and skin some seals to make those costumes? But then I realized no; they definitely wouldn't have had time to do that. So instead, apparently we're supposed to assume that they just had some seal costumes on hand, which is less grisly but considerably weirder. I feel like kids probably just accept these things without thinking about them, but they should really feel insulted when the people writing stories putatively for them so obviously do not care.


I do find the talking seals, who do not look remotely like people in seal costumes, fairly amusing.


Why the hell is he carrying Scrooge's--oh, right, because the author does not care. I had forgotten, or at least pretended I'd forgotten for the sake of that sentence.


I find this part highly disturbing. "Why don't we just wring their necks and get it over with?" Why don't you just murder them all in their sleep? Was that always part of the plan? I mean, seriously? The Beagles are obviously depicted with a wide variety of levels of villainy, but rarely if ever just as casual murderers, and certainly not in this story. What are you going to get by killing them? I feel like this is just another turn of phrase that Gregory stuck in there without thinking about what it really meant.


Yes, right, let's turn on a little music. What do you think Donald is actually doing with that compass? Sailor Things, no doubt.


GODDAMNIT. You were really receiving terrestrial radio stations out here? And why are some dopey travel agency's contests results worthy of a special announcement? I can't, as they say, even.

"Never heard of an elffar, but I mustn't display my ignorance!" I swear, it must be impossible for characters with such abnormal psychology to function in everyday society.


...yes, we heard you the first time. But thanks for reinforcing the message.

And now, CHECK THIS SHIT OUT:


"I'm an alcoholic. In case of emergency, get me a drink." Sooooo...the joke is that you're an alcoholic. In addition to whatever else, the sheer tone-deafness here is pretty shocking. People in the seventies sucked. I'll grant that the "feed me a hero" one is dopey enough to be sort of funny in spite of itself, in a manner reminiscent of GARFIELD®©™℠. But "I'M A SEX MANIAC?" SERIOUSLY? I suppose we're all grateful that the punchline is only "kiss," as opposed to...other things it could be, but STILL. Shouldn't SOMEONE have been vetting this stuff? I guess the advertisers were just firebombing all the comic books with no consideration of age appropriateness, but you'd think the Disney Company might have something to say about this!

I'm not sure what "I care why don't you" was meant to mean at the time, but I'll grant you that it's a good riposte to Melania T****'s "I really don't care do U" jacket. Sorry for making you think of that sociopath.


If you don't mind, I'm just going to gloss over the stuff with the Beagles getting captured on account of it's too tedious to even think about and go straight to the ending, which is well...it's also too tedious to think about, but I guess I feel some sense of obligation.

YOU didn't win anything, Scrooge you dickhead. No one's taking YOUR sorry ass back to the straits! And with your absence, that place could actually be super-interesting. You'll notice we never actually SEE any of these alleged super-intelligent seals. Could be fun, especially for some Woodchucks.

Anyway, I apologize for harping on this bad story. I just read it and it annoyed me so I wanted to write about it, but I recognize that this doesn't tell you anything meaningfully new: wow, there were bad Disney comics being written during the seventies? Who knew? I suppose if anything, it might have made you appreciate Gregory a little less, in which case there are no positive aspects to this entry. Unless there were bits that you found funny in spite of everything! That's the main thing, innit? Let's all stay safe and healthy out there, eh?

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18 Comments:

Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I remember reading this in the Gladstone comic linked here. This was around the time they started filling pages with Tony Strobl stories, those Mickey and the Sleuth and Goofy history stories by the Disney Studio comics program and new stories by Vic Lockman that weren't very good. Apparently, Gladstone lowered their standards during their second run.

April 3, 2020 at 2:44 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I will continue to honor Bob Gregory for my two favorite Daisy's Diary stories, The Double Date and Daringly Different. Daringly Different was my favorite Daisy story in childhood *and* in adulthood, until it was only recently edged out by a couple of contemporary Egmont stories and a few older Brazilian stories I finally got to see.

Plus, in The Birthday Booby Trap, Gregory included a female duck in the party scene which a number of people have decided could be Daisy's sister (AMJ's mother), so there's that!

And even though this story manifestly sucks, it created the opportunity for you to share with us the story of seven-year-old you as The Amazing Mind-Reader, which makes me very happy.

I do like the visual of the non-taxidermied Beagle heads, stuck through the porthole openings for No Good Reason Whatsoever, except to make a memorable sight.

April 3, 2020 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Aw, I really like the Goofy history stories.

April 3, 2020 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Hey, Geo, ol’ pally:

Quit musclin’ in on me territory, an’ knock-off th’ skewering of 1970s comic book ads!

Either that, or dump all the “duck stuff”, an’ go whole hog wit’ it like yer’s truly… HERE an’ HERE, fer instance!

Better yet, you stop woikin’ my side o’ th’ street, or I’ll give you a run fer yer money an’ start writin’ snarky reviews of old comics that some’ o’ us might have a soft-spot fer!

An’ lay off that Margie chick an’ her free-stuff catalogs … She’s like me liddle sister, if ya knows wot I mean! ...An’ ya don’t wanna be messing wit me liddle sister, if ya knows wot’s good fer ya!

…We gotta deal?

April 3, 2020 at 6:03 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I think Joe Torcivia has been cooped up so long (as most of us have) that he’s starting to think he’s Peg-Leg Pete...

April 5, 2020 at 3:22 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Ah, the good-old GeoX/Joe Torciva mortal archrivaly! I will never get tired of this classic trope! Stuff of legends, realy...

April 5, 2020 at 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scrooge looks really weird in this story. It looks like Gregory can't draw his whiskers quite right so they just look really long and saggy.

April 5, 2020 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

If this entry was more digressive and flaky than usual, there were definitely reasons for that. :p Stay safe, all.

April 5, 2020 at 8:07 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

I think we're all a little flaky now.

April 5, 2020 at 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked into that Consumer Gazette thing, and apparently it was this monthly (?) publication that contained rebate coupons and free sample offers. It was legit enough I guess, but as you said, you typically needed to mail them a self-addressed and stamped envelope... so that's what, 20 cent in stamps to get a tiny sample of a product worth maybe a dollar. Sure, it's a nice way to test out a product you're interested in, but you're not going to send for any random stuff just because it's "free", and the stuff you got were samples, not sizable amounts of the product in question.

April 6, 2020 at 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also note that the ad talks about "over 100 items" and "over $30's worth of free gifts" - it spells out pretty clearly that you're paying $1 for a list of free samples valued at an average of 30 cent each. A lot of which you have to pay shipping for to get.

April 6, 2020 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

Sounds like the "free stuff for kids" books I got were actually a better deal.

April 7, 2020 at 12:24 AM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 8, 2020 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

A perhaps off-topic comment - I think that the only time that I saw an advert for the "Kikos Marinhos" (the Brazilian name for the Sea Monkey) was in the issue of "Tio Patinhas" were I read the previous story ("The Prize of Pizarro").

April 8, 2020 at 5:30 PM  
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