Thursday, December 10, 2020

"The Mischief Mystery"

 Okay, here's this--finally we're getting to the actual Duck-Album-style stories.

Before we get to the story itself, let's take a moment to think about what the purpose is of using this format. Maybe it's obvious, but I don't think it's a bad idea to articulate it. So basically, if not for the introductory panels, these would be indistinguishable from other stories. But they give us contextless images from the stories, along with a small (very small) bit of commentary from the characters. Ideally, this would get us excited to read the story and find out what the deal is with the image. "Why would Grandma possibly, er, spank her piggie?!? I must know!"

Notice that this description says nothing about photographs. Obviously, that's the most natural vehicle for this kind of story (I suppose oil paintings would be a bit of a stretch), but you can't really say that they're "about" the photos. As I've noted before, the supposed photos in this story would never actually have been taken. It's a convenient way to frame them, but that's all.

Is there anything wrong with this, really? Well...I guess not. I know that I enjoyed the format when I was small, so clearly it worked as in intended. And yet, I can't help but be a bit irritated by it these days. Western may not have really cared about the photos qua photos, but the fact remains, they're still there! That's how the books are marketed! And I feel that they would be a lot more interesting if the writers had taken the trouble to come up with stories where the photography aspect is salient. I don't think Western would've had to fundamentally change for this to happen--I'm not asking for massive narrative sophistication here--but, they didn't. Nor is it the writers' fault--Barks might've been driven to do better than he had to out of sheer artistic drive, but he was obviously the exception, and I am absolutely certain that their writers were not being paid enough to make it feel worthwhile for most of them. I know this is a pipe dream, but imagine if the editors had held their creators to a higher standard while simultaneously paying them, like, 1.5 times more per page. I think the Western landscape would look veeeery different than it does! Sure, you say, they never would have, they didn't have any incentive to. And that's true. But come on, people, dare to imagine a better world!

Anyway, that's not a criticism of this story in particular; it's just general musing. And on an unrelated note--just look at how they're holding that huge book up! Unless it's meant to be a very slim, magazine-like volume, that would seem to be physically impossible.

Lockman wrote those Grandma Duck's Farm Friends stories that Barks drew, and this is much of a muchness with those. It really isn't a bad story, but it definitely doesn't start off on the right foot with me: good lord does the dialogue in that second panel there ever set my teeth on edge. Gah!

You see a lot of these sort of incidental little bits of wordplay of which Lockman is so enamored. I dunno. I sometimes modestly enjoy these things, but, like, this one here: "somebody is playing practical yokes!" Like, is Donald genuinely upset, or isn't he? Because I think he is, and I think in that case he would not be indulging in this kind of weak wordplay. Fercryinoutloud, Lockman, if you're going to detach the story from a realistic mimesis like this, it better be because you have a really good joke. Stuff like this will not cut it!

Me...carry a pig? How would I live down the shame! Honestly, man, if someone offered me a pig-carrying job, I would jump at the opportunity. Pigs are cool.

These pranks are getting more dastardly by the minute! Well, he's right, you know--probably more right than Lockman was intending. I am not an expert in farming. I do not have a degree from an agricultural college. But I have gotta think that flooding a whole durn farm, even in the dead of winter, is not going to be good for the crops. You've sabotaged her entire livelihood, you unknown prankster!

This certainly isn't the first time Lockman's done duck/wolf crossover, but I have to say, it fills me with ontological uncertainty.  So the wolf took the pie.  And he's clearly, like a person because he can talk and all.  And yet, the way he's being treated here is as it he were just some sort of barnyard pest.  I dunno; maybe it's just me.  But I find it hell of weird!

Okay, fair's fair. I've criticized things about this story. But I do have to give huge credit to what I think is an unequivocally great thing here: the horse's total failure to rescue the pie. I don't know whether this was Lockman's direction or whether Strobl just improvised it, but Donald holding the destroyed pie in the bottom left there is just super hilarious to me.  Some hero indeed, Donald.  Some hero indeed.

Hmm. Is that what happened? Okay.

Well, in fairness, there's no indication that the pig failed. He probably succeeded in his goal of being clean. But otherwise, Donald's pretty bang-on. Your animals are dumb, Grandma! And you can take all the umbrage you want about your beloved Betsy, but she's flooding your farm out of some inchoate notion that farms need water and so the more the merrier. If she were just an ordinary animal, the fact that she was even able to have that thought process at all would be impressive, but since she and the other animals are supposed to have's pretty dumb. And Dobbin was not a "real help," unless you get that much satisfaction out of knowing that Zeke didn't get to eat a pie. Mind you, I'm not saying any of this by way of criticism: Grandma's usually portrayed as this font of homespun, common-sense wisdom, which can be a little insufferable at times, so it's fun to see her acting a bit dim.

Also, just to nitpick, let me point out that the things the pig and chicken were doing--staying clean and laying eggs--were actually related to characteristics (or perceived characteristics) of the animals in question, whereas the cow's not.

I mean, I like them all in the sleigh there, for sure. Such that I won't even point out how incredibly ineffective this plan would actually be, particularly the chickens. Note the goat (noat the gote), who did not appear previous, possibly because Lockman couldn't think of anything for a goat to do to try to be helpful. What do farm goats do, anyway? I guess provide dairy products, and probably meat, but we don't think about that too hard in comics like this. Eat tin cans? I dimly remember I had some children's book where that was a thing (FUCK YES!  Gregory the Terrible Eater! I can't believe I was able to dredge that up from the ol' memory banks. I hadn't thought of it in, I don't know, thirty years?). Well anyway, apparently it was felt--again, by Strobl or Lockman, who can say--that there was need of another animal for sleigh-pulling purposes, so here we are!

Anyway. It may not be a story I'm likely to return to on the regular, but 'salright. Certainly better than most of those Western Christmas stories I wrote about a few years back.

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Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Grandma Duck is rad!

December 10, 2020 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

She has her moments!

December 10, 2020 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I've got to say I really like the punchline here. The animals all trying and failing to be helpful is this sort of sweetly whimsical idea that I think Grandma Duck's farm, as a setting, is really well-suited to. And this particular premise seems like it could have worked quite nicely as a Marcel Aymé story. (…I've no idea if that reference makes sense to you as a non-Frenchman, sorry.)

Yeah, seeing Grandma Duck talking about "the Bad Wolf" like this is very jarring. I don't mind interaction between the Wolves and the Ducks per se, especially in the countryside setting of yer Grandma Duck tales; there, the shadow of the 1930s and 1940s comics, with their slightly more animalistic Ducks and Mice, looms large enough that it doesn't jar too much, for me at any rate. But that only works if Zeke and Grandma are treated as equivalent for the purposes of the story — if it is the Ducks who are suddenly slightly more birdish, rather than the opposite. The Ducks remaining functionally-humans while Zeke remains a-wolf-who-talks simply doesn't work.

December 10, 2020 at 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly don't really see the issue with Zeke being treated as a wolf that can talk rather than a wolf-type human when these Grandma stories have treated Gus and Jaq as mice that can talk rather than mice-type humans since forever.

December 10, 2020 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

You do have to wonder if Lockman was thinking of the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" when he wrote "Who's afraid of a big dumb horse?"
These Grandma Duck stories are cute, but even the ones Carl Barks got stuck drawing do seem to be aimed at a much younger reader than your average Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge story (or perhaps I've been spoiled by the Geoffery Blum/David Gerstein helmed stories that gave their readers more credit (or knew that by then, more adults were reading these than kids).

December 11, 2020 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

You might be right. It does seem like there's something about a farm setting that makes that happen, intentionally or not. And I'm quite certain that he's intentionally referring to that song.

December 11, 2020 at 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I would contend that Dobbin has done something beyond not-saving the pie, as Grandma observes that BW won't try any more pranks.

There has been *much* discussion on Feathery about MEAS levels--level of anthropomorphism and how to define the levels and where which characters land. The farm stories, throwing together characters from various fictional worlds, have the highest degree of confusion on this front. Why do the Cinderella mice talk to Grandma but her beloved horse does not? Because the horse grew up on the farm, while the mice immigrated from an animated feature. Other stories also had some confusion of levels, though--such as the stories where Chip and Dale interact with the Ducks. C&D live in the woods and don't wear clothes or hold down jobs, but they can talk in Chipmunk-English and be understood by the fully anthropomorphized Ducks.

December 11, 2020 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

I think that there is not a big problem with Zeke - my idea is that in the stories with Zeke and Grandma Duck, Zeke could be perfectly considered as a kind of small thief, not an wild animal; sometimes Grandma pursues him with the shotgun, but even that could considered a kind of "self-defense against criminals" - and in these story he even steal something that I suppose is not typical "wolf meal".

December 13, 2020 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Miguel says "Zeke could be perfectly considered as a kind of small[-time] thief": That's right.

Zeke Wolf in these Grandma stories is often described as if he's a wild animal, or at least an ill-behaved one ("the Bad Wolf," in Lockman), but he plays the role of the thieving hillbilly/tramp, stereotypically fond of robbing henhouses and stealing pies and roasts off windowsills in early 20th century pop culture. As such, the thief often meets the business end of a farmer's shotgun or broom.

I think the only real oddity is characters referring to him like an animal; the role itself doesn't strike me as less than humanized.

See, for example, the post-Disney Oswald Rabbit cartoon Weary Willies (1929), in which Oswald and Pegleg Pete are tramps trying to get past a bulldog to reach a roast on a windowsill. The specific type of thievery might also be suitable for a wild animal (and was, in the later Yogi Bear remake Pie-Pirates, 1958); but there is nothing exclusively animal about it.

December 14, 2020 at 2:13 AM  

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