Wednesday, March 9, 2022

"Trapped Lightning"

 We'll get back to early Barks stories one of these days, maybe, but now, I want to write about some Gyro Gearloose shorts.  Such is my mercurial whim.  You have problem?

So natch, we start at the beginning.  Well, not Gyro's beginning, but the Gyro four-pager's beginning.  I think we all know the story by now, but it was the weird thing where you got different postal rates if your comic books featured stories with completely discrete casts, which is also why issues of Donald Duck featured Goofy four-pagers for a while.  How long did this system last?  That's not clear to me.  The Goofy ones didn't start appearing until a few years after the Gyro, when you'd think it would've been a no-brainer to institute them both at the same time.  Also, how specifically did it work?  If Barks had contrived to write a U$ story not featuring Donald, could he have then been used in the Gyro short instead, even if he was going to feature in the main story next time?  Ah, the mysteries of life!

One will note that in this early example, the general parameters of Gyro's inventing hadn't been established.  The standard thing is a specialized, fairly impractical device, but this lightning business is much more general.  Sure, a box that stores lightning to dole out later would indeed be an invention, but the story doesn't emphasize that, and there's no individual item you can point to here that would be likely to make kids think "invention."

And, of course, Mortie and Ferdie, looking somewhat gormless.  It's a bit of a shock to see them the first time you read this.  Clearly, there was a failure of communication at some point: for whatever reason, Barks didn't grasp that he wasn't allowed to use his standard characters here; presumably, he turned this and his next story in at around the same time only be told that he had to hurriedly change them, resulting in the mice here and "Speedy" in his next story.  I kind of admire the fact that he made so little pretense that these characters were anything other than reskinned ducks.  He definitely was not paid enough for this nonsense.  Though granted, going above and beyond even when he had no financial incentive is part of what made him the best.

Well, I do like this, and I especially like the goofy rubber boots.  Why boots?  I suppose because there wasn't anything else made of rubber about.

This is not Gyro's first appearance in a story with Grandma, but I don't know how to finish this sentence.  Her homespun common-sense attitude makes a good foil to his whimsical flights of fancy.  

I see this and my brain sort of itches as I think, wait a minute, I just KNOW there's something here that doesn't make sense.  Maybe it's like those vitamin supplements you buy: they may say they contain, like, three thousand percent of your USDA of the vitamin, but that's meaningless, since your body can't process that much and you'll just expel most of it via urine.  I doubt the car manufacturer took into consideration the possibility that someone would use better fuel?  Also, why is lightning "better," anyway?  It's just electricity either way.  Could she have achieved the same effect for her car by just spending longer pumping electricity into it?  Also, are there OTHER gradients of electricity, or is just lightning and everything else?

Also, let's note that Grandma is either way behind or way ahead of her time in having an electric car at all.

I don't know; for whatever reason, they way she ejects herself from the car sort of cracks me up.  I may have my doubts about all of this, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it, in particular "my electric clock gained two years in two minutes!"  What would gaining extra time DO to a clock, anyway?

There's something I appreciate about the lightning bolt reentering the cloud and producing rain.  It's kind of cool.  

Is the lightning bolt intelligent?  It certainly seems like that might be the case.  You may recall, although I doubt it, Skip the sentient ball lightning in Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day.  Is this like that?  Maybe!

So I guess we have to infer that Gyro captures lightning and releases it as needed to summon rain?  That sounds like a very hazardous way to make a living.  Also, is this even legal?  I know ski resorts seed the clouds to create snow, but those are private concerns.  What if people living in the area don't WANT rain?  And what if he has multiple customers?  Does he have a bunch of spare lead cases with lightning bolts in them?

Anyway, obviously that's all so much nitpicking.  There's nothing mind-blowing about this story, but it's a reasonable first attempt, even in this constrained format, with better to come.



Anonymous Elaine said...

Grandma remains quite composed throughout, which I admire. Startled, yet fundamentally unflappable. Also, I like the fact that she says "daren't." It's not only the exclamations she uses through which the dialogue reflects her character.

March 9, 2022 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


You write: “I think we all know the story by now, but it was the weird thing where you got different postal rates if your comic books featured stories with completely discrete casts, which is also why issues of Donald Duck featured Goofy four-pagers for a while. How long did this system last? That's not clear to me. The Goofy ones didn't start appearing until a few years after the Gyro, when you'd think it would've been a no-brainer to institute them both at the same time.”

For Western, it lasted until 1972-73, when they stopped offering mail subscriptions and began moving toward the “Whitman Bag” method of distribution.

However, regarding the Goofy “guest stories” in Donald Duck, they actually began PRIOR TO Gyro’s feature in Uncle Scrooge. Here’s a comparison of several analogous Dell titles, and when their “guest stories” began.

UNCLE SCROOGE #13 (March-May, 1956) Gyro Gearloose.

DONALD DUCK #45 (January-February, 1956) Goofy – and one issue before that, #44 (November-December, 1955) Pluto.
It is worth noting that DONALD DUCK was a bi-monthly while UNCLE SCROOGE was a quarterly and perhaps DD #45 and U$ #13 might have otherwise have fallen more closely together – but DD #44, with its Pluto “guest story”, would still have it beat.

MICKEY MOUSE #45 (December, 1955 – January, 1956) Huey, Dewey, and Louie, followed by Chip ‘n’ Dale, and Li’l Bad Wolf.

BUGS BUNNY #45 (October-November, 1955) Porky Pig, followed by Tweety and Sylvester.

PORKY PIG #42 (September-October, 1955) Tweety and Sylvester, Bugs Bunny in #43, and Daffy Duck in #44.

WOODY WOODPECKER #33 (October-November, 1955) Oswald the Rabbit.

You can see the changes were staggered but, eventually, every title fell in line.

I look at this change with mixed emotion. I liked the appearances by other characters from the same studio, but lamented the loss of future potential 32-page, book-length stories. But, by that time, pretty much the only title doing 32-pagers was Uncle Scrooge – so, while that was indeed a loss, it wasn’t that much of a change overall.

March 9, 2022 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for that. I don't know how I got it into my head that the Gyro ones were earlier--I guess I just sort of somehow got it into my head that they started at the same time the U$ book started, even though I know that isn't true.

March 10, 2022 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Lugija said...

That postal rate thing is mentioned often in collections as the reason these Gyro stories exist, but I haven't yet seen a reason for WHY these postal rates existed? What fiendish plot of the publishers was foiled by making them to have different characters in stories?

March 10, 2022 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

This is the only time I can recall where Grandma's antique car was featured in a gag. BTW, it's a Baker Electric, made in Cleveland, OH. American Greetings card company bought the empty factory in the early 1940s and used it as their creative studios through the '80s.

March 11, 2022 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...


As I understand it, the postal regulations weren't really built with comic books in mind. So, an issue containing a single long narrative would be taxed as "a book", while an issue containing multiple unconnected stories would be counted as "a magazine" (i.e. a publication containing multiple unrelated features…). And mailing "magazines" was cheaper than mailing "books".

March 11, 2022 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I suppose the other question is, just what WAS the differential in price between the two categories? How much was Western saving by doing it as they did?

March 11, 2022 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Lugija said...

Knowing Western, it didn't need to be much.

Thanks Achille Talon, that explains a lot. While that seems like a weird way to divide books and magazines (Is a short story collection a magazine? Is a magazine with every story mentioning person X a book?) I can well believe that someone came up with those rules.

March 14, 2022 at 10:21 AM  

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