Monday, April 26, 2021

"Lifeguard Daze"

There are some interesting firsts in this story, and it has a deceptive depth to it--you can see a lot of themes in utero that would be more fully explored in Barks' later work.  So let's jump in.

Right at the beginning, we see a first: Donald's first job in a Barks story.  Sure, fine, he was some sorta tavernkeeper in "Pirate Gold," but that had nothing to do with Barks.  Obviously in the future he'd get a shit-ton of mileage out of ping-ponging his hero from one employment to another.

It's interesting to note the way Donald's shark encounters are portrayed here: we see him vacillate between bravery, cowardice, and plain ol' self-interest.  It's not anything super-fancy, but we can probably see in utero how Barks would develop the character beyond other writers.

Oh, and just look at that last panel there. with him threatening to punch the shark: is that iconic, or what?

He brained himself!  He's dead!  It may be a kind of alien-seeming creature, but still, that's kind of jarring.  I mean, talking about death at all might be a little dicey, but for a character you've humanized sufficiently to give a gender to?  Gawrsh.

AND LOOK!  A PRETTY GIRL!  In this story we see Barks' first stab at romance among characters, and also--perhaps more to the point--his first duck characters other than Donald and HDL.  This kind of thing wasn't ever exactly Barks' forte, and accordingly, this is on the clumsy side.  The way this woman is portrayed is pretty heavy on the clumsily excessive signifiers of femininity.  Ironically (is this ironic? you decide), she sort of reminds me of the Western-mandated makeover Barks gave Daisy in "The Beauty Business."  But while I persist in believing that that was an intentional fuck-you to his employers, here I think it's just clumsiness.

I'm a much bigger fan of Minnie Mudhen here, notwithstanding the way she misspells her own name on her sign--you'd think that might've been fixed in the reprint.  But I find her saturnine countenance entertaining.  Do you think she's related to the legendary Mehitabel Mudhen?  If so, then hey, here's another Duck family relative!

Note also her "Synthetic Hamburgers pork and beans" sign: Barks doesn't have much interest in bringing up the War, but this is clearly an allusion to the rationing of the time.

That picture of Donald trying to be heroic cracks me up like anything, but it's also a sort of style that Barks would move away from in later years, as the character became more..."realistic?"  Is that the word?

It would be remiss of me not to point out how, let's say, crude this view of gender relations is: the girl will go with him if he can beat up a shark, and she won't if he doesn't, and that is the entirety of what it is.

So that's not great, but we DO see the sometimes elusive way that karma works in Barks stories: yeah, he may not technically have beaten up a shark, but he thought he did, so it counts for purpose of getting the girl.  I'll also note incidentally that this seems to be the most dangerous beach ever if huge attack-sharks are just a normal ol' everyday occurrence.  I would give it a poor Yelp review.

Anything else of note in this issue of WDC?

Well, there's some extremely terrible parenting.

And...did Donald go so far as to purchase a fire truck just so he could be a dick to his girlfriend?  I'm not sure about the long-term prospects of this relationship.

Not a comic strip, obviously, but I was surprised to see Bolivar starring in a non-duck story.  Not a very interesting story, the thing goes on for four dang pages and is most notable for the poor decision to include these characters who speak in some approximation of African American vernacular, but still: a thing I was unaware of.  Whaddaya know?



Anonymous Elaine said...

I have no access to the full story--so, what happens between Donald and Minnie Mudhen?

As for the "putting her in her place!" only makes me feel grateful for the fact that there has indeed been significant social progress on the gender equity front. The strip is bad enough, but the unironic title...!

April 26, 2021 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

Donald tries to fake-save her but clonks into a pole and stuns himself. The girl says she's going out to rescue Minnie herself, implicitly emasculating him, but we never see her more.

April 26, 2021 at 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's rather notable how much like a cartoon this story feels. Chop down the dialogue a bit and this could very easily work as a storyboard for a Donald short.

April 26, 2021 at 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was duck cleavage retouched at Western's insistence, you might want to mention that.

April 29, 2021 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

Interesting. You would be referring to this. It makes sense that at this stage Barks would be experimenting a little with the ground rules and what he could and could not get away with. I will say that the fact that the girl has all of these other overt signifiers of femininity make the fact that she's completely flat-chested stand out more than it would otherwise. Compare and contrast, of course, with how Rosa liked to drawn the lady ducks. Standards clearly were softened in some regards.

April 29, 2021 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I always thought the nameless beach beauty was reminiscent of Donna Duck, although I don't think she's meant to be Donna, outright.

At any rate, I agree with everyone about liking Minnie Mudhen. For a three-panel character she's quite memorable — the Droopy Dog-esque demeanour coupled with surprising helpfulness is what does it, beyond having a design that isn't just "an existing Duck character, but with a female haircut and eyelashes". Plus, anyone who is a friend of HDL sounds alright in my book.

May 2, 2021 at 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Through a rather startling coincidence, I *just* received in the mail an issue of Picsou (550) which includes this story! I bought the issue only for the trading cards within it; this issue has cards for Matilda and Hortense, yay! Not to mention Barko.

Anyway, I was particularly pleased by the French version of Donald's "Yaas, Miss" speech. "Ouais, Mam'zelle! Je viens de l'achever après un combat de titans!" Now that's translation!

May 6, 2021 at 10:12 PM  

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