Thursday, December 15, 2022

"The Junior Woodchucks and the Rabbit's Foot"

I briefly considered doing this one in 2018 when I was binging on old Western stuff, but the schedule was already overstuffed and I wasn't able to fit it in.  There you go: a fascinating look behind the scenes at Duck Comics Revue.  Well, anyway, time to fill a much-needed gap, I suppose.

Got some Al Hubbard art going on here.  It's weird that Hubbard apparently isn't prominent enough to warrant a wikipedia page.  The likes of Murry and Strobl are.  I've probably mentioned this elsewhere, but it's interesting how different Hubbard's ducks are from the norm.  Obviously there's individual variation among Western artists, and some are better than others, but they all more or less feel like they're working from the same style sheet.  Hubbard seems somehow categorically different to me.  Weird.  His art isn't my favorite, but it IS sort of interesting for that reason.

"At today's prices that wouldn't buy peanuts."  What the hell do kids know about "today's prices?"  Really, now.  A child might say that, but only because they're parroting something they heard from an adult.  So this isn't exactly unrealistic, but I don't think Hubbard (or whoever; if there's no writer specified, I always just assume it's the same as the artist) meant it to be read like that.  So, anyway.

Bertie and Egghead, those old fan faves.  Mister Edgey, that other fan fave, is sure going to be surprised!

Ha ha, Mister Edgey sucks.  I like how the nephew is still confident about being paid even after this bit of slapstick.

I mean...I'll grant you that sometimes snow can allow you to get some traction on ice.  But sometimes it can also just conceal the ice, causing you to fall on your ass.  I'm not sure, but I feel like Edgey is playing with fire here.  Or ice, as the case may be.  Also, for one-shot characters, I feel like Edgey's name is too close to "Egghead."  Let's be serious.

Here is Gladstone.  In fairness, this seems like a pretty accurate depiction of Gladstone's luck.  Sort of Shacktown-esque.

ooooor...maybe not.

Yup, so here our lucky gander is just a two-bit conman.  

Now, let's think for a moment about the idea of "canon" in these stories: where does it come from?  There's no handbook that lays down commandments about how characters should be portrayed.  I think if we had to formulate a definition it would be something like, how Barks does it, basically, with the proviso that we can edit out those instances when he depicts characters in ways that seem to contradict his fundamental ideas about them, with a certain amount of wiggle room.  It's loose but it works; it seems fine to me.  Still, we do have to allow that there's no particular reason some random, anonymous writer in the fifties should feel constrained.  They can do what they want.  We can not like what they do, but there's nothing fundamental, objectively wrong about them taking characters in directions that seem inappropriate to us.

That said...this is pretty silly even without regard to anything anyone else has written.  These people have presumably known Gladstone for all or most of his life, and they're still falling for his tricks (not that them falling for something this transparent even if they don't know him REALLY flies)?  He's never tried this before?  This would have to be a singular incident that would permanently change their feelings about him, and obviously that's not the case.

Then again, it does have to be allowed that there's actually no indication within this story that the writer is aware that Gladstone is meant to be related to the other ducks.  No one refers to him as "cousin" or anything.  So hell, maybe he's just supposed to be some random mountebank!  Who can say?!?  

Anyway, dumb as it may be, it's always interesting to see people depicting the characters in weird ways, so I guess it's okay.

There's a part almost exactly like this in Scarpa's Donald of the Woods, a story I love, so I guess I shouldn't complain, but for someone who doesn't like to work, Gladstone is going to have to do A LOT of acting if we wants to convince a jury that a car driving near him has caused massive psychological harm.  And come on, man, even if he IS, surely that's a personal problem that no one else could reasonably held accountable for?  At least in the Scarpa story, his foot was actually run over.

I always find Sobbing Nephews to be an unappealing sight, but this version seems particularly yikes.  Also note "that Gladstone;" it's subtle, but to me that suggests a more distant relationship, lending credence to my notion that they're not meant to be related here.

Heh, heh indeed (that missing 'H' is clearly just a printing error).  As is so oft the case, our problem is solved in a rushed way, like a fast-talking snake oil salesman who gets your money and disappears before you can say wait, what?  A customer is willing to pay four times that for his personal "lucky" rabbit's foot.  This may raise questions.  Please don't ask them.  No answers will be forthcoming.  That is final.

Oh ARE they now?  I have some Shacktonians who would like a word with you RIGHT HERE.  Grump grumble.  HDL are rather unseemly in their willingness to buy into this self-serving narrative, I must say.

But, I mean, fair's fair.  You can't expect economic realism from a story like this.  It's meant to appeal to kids and, yeah, I think this would do that: just being able to bust into a toy store and take what you want.  I think I'd likely have very fond memories of this if I'd read it at the appropriate age.  The whole "let us know when we've used it up"--treating it like a bar tab--is kind of funny.

But we have a problem.  Obviously, this blog entry immediately becomes one of the definitive scholarly works on this particular story.  But the fact is, it opens with a lie: this story isn't called "The Junior Woodchucks and the Rabbit's Foot;" it doesn't HAVE a title.  The one I've given it is just an approximation of the various foreign titles, none of which are very inspired.  So how is anyone who wants further information on the story going to find this entry?  Specifically, if someone is writing their own analysis, possibly as part of their doctoral research, what will they do?  It's a real quandry.  How about I include a bunch of keywords in an effort to allow interested parties to find it?

huey dewey and louie, junior woodchucks, troop two, destitute, today's prices, wouldn't buy peanuts, ten dollars, four dollars and eighty-two cents, huey standing on a box with a gavel, bertie and egghead, random dognose woodchucks, mister edgey, falls on his ass, likes ice to be hidden under snow, gladstone gander, swindler, conman, thief, should be arrested for defrauding his family, threatens to sue a guy for getting close to him, lucky rabbit's foot, personal lucky rabbit's foot, what does that even mean, twenty-five dollars, no discernible gritty social realism, cowboy hat, lariat, boxing gloves, archery set, roller skates

Look, what more do you want from me?  I am but one man.



Blogger Achille Talon said...

Another very fun entry!

I don't find Gladstone in this story as strikingly non-Barksian as you seem to. Gladstone *did* engage in conmanship on multiple occasions (the infamous brownface disguise in “Trail of the Unicorn”, for one). Indeed, you'll recall that Barks introduced Gladstone as a smarmy betting-man a couple of stories before he properly thought up the luck gimmick.

December 15, 2022 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I'll have to agree with. Mr. Talon.

1. It is a very fun entry. A typical Geox!

2. If some one would cherry pick some more early interpretation of Gladston, then yeah, you can find stories like mentioned "Trail of the Unicorn" where he feels much more sleezy or "Rival Beachcombers" where he is down right asshole being ok with his family being trown into prison.

Also, let's face it - some writers may simply have a much more zero-one/black&white view of these characters psychology. Either someone is good or bad and nothing in between, so the moment someone is label a bad guy there is no limit to how low he can go, and it's easy to view Gladstone as a villain in context of Donald stories.

Luckly for Gladstone Barks developed him into something more complex, giving him a nice side in "Christmas for Shacktown" and in stories like "Gladstone Terrible secret", "Gladstone's Usual good year" or "Gemstone huters" where while you can argue Gladstone has his jerky moments, Donald is shown to be more in the wrong, being obessed with trying to pull one over Gladstone (especialy in "Terrible secret" my sympathy is with Gladstone since he is just miding his own buisness while Donald is looking for way to humiliate him) They both flawed for difrent reason, no one is 100% perfect here.

But at the same time... let's say you would have scenario when Gladstone witness the Beagle Boys robing Scrooge's money bin (Yayks! Just realise in Barks Gladstone and the Beagles never meet) Today obviously any writers first instinct would be to Gladstone to react "Oh, no! I must call the police!/Duck Avanger", while I can see why early writers who only have Barks stories to bounce of would not have a problem with giving Gladstone reaction "Hey thugs, I can call the police any moment, so what's in this for me?" and join in on the crime.

I think we are looking at the character from point of view of knowing his legacy and having decades of stories to look back and analise, while back when more "fresh" it felt more flexible.
But that's just me playing the devils advocate.

December 15, 2022 at 10:33 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

There's also Gladstone selling "gold" bricks and the "Brooklyn Bridge" in the Barks ten-pager that's been titled "Gladstone Returns" and "Swami Swindle" on different occasions. He's definitely a con-man there--but the thing is, that was before his luck was introduced. The later, disgustingly lucky Gladstone shouldn't have to go to the effort of conning people, and I think that's why his behavior in the "Rabbit's Foot" story feels a bit off; his luck is acknowledged, but he's still shown as the scam artist he was sometimes in his pre-luck days.

December 15, 2022 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, this is why I wrote "with the proviso that we can edit out those instances when he depicts characters in ways that seem to contradict his fundamental ideas about them, with a certain amount of wiggle room." If you decide that a character has to be defined by every single way Barks ever wrote that character, this are going to get pretty incoherent.

December 16, 2022 at 4:07 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Sure — my point is more that even if this depiction jars today, we shouldn't give Hubbard *flak* for a portrayal which seemingly just did its best to synthesize what Barks had written up to that point, when the conman characterization had yet to clearly be left behind. It's a very different matter from the way some contemporary writers just *didn't* get what Barks was doing or otherwise missed the mark — e.g. some overly villainous, or overly "generic rich guy",-ish portrayals of Scrooge.

December 16, 2022 at 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Evelyn said...

If I'd been called to the bar, I'd say:
In England, it *used* to be impossible to sue over a car that barely misses you. Then a drunken driver crashed a horsedrawn carriage through the front of a pub, stopping it within inches of the pregnant bartender, who suffered a shock-induced miscarriage. It is now legal to sue over a car that barely misses you. (Terms and conditions apply: for example, you must suffer a diagnosable psychiatric condition, not mere distress.)

December 16, 2022 at 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Is the question about how you can help future researchers find this story at all serious, or just a springboard for a funny list of keywords? Because if it's a serious question: couldn't you provide the Inducks link (as you once said you were going to do in these posts) or identify one issue in which the story appears?

I don't know how old I was when I first read this story, but I've always disliked it. I enjoy stories where HDL are just troublemakers out to protect their own interest, no problem with that dimension of their personality. But a story that begins with their noble intention to help the less fortunate should *end* with their helping the less fortunate, dammit. Not with a self-centered shopping spree. Or at least, it should end with the less fortunate being helped by someone, as in The Snow Princess/Statues of Limitations. It would even be okay if they got a reward at the end from an anonymous source for helping the less fortunate, but their noble goal needs to be fulfilled for the story to be satisfying. And having read Shacktown and The Snow Princess, not to mention, having lived in the real world, I refuse(d) to believe that there's no one in Duckburg less fortunate than HDL and their fellow JWs.

In the matter of random unimportant details which defy the creation of uniform Duckverse canon: Troop *Two*?

December 21, 2022 at 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elaine, I'm going to guess you were probably a bit older than the intended target audience when you first read this. I think there's a lot of truth in what Geox says about this appealing to kids - young kids are, and especially WERE at the time this was written, fed an extremely heavy diet of stories that push morals of generousity and the value of giving to the point it looks less like morals and more like some sort of law of fiction; Fictional children are SUPPOSED to want to spend their time and money on others and this is SUPPOSED to make them happier than they would've been had they spent them on toys. It's the law of fiction.

There's nothing wrong with teaching these values to children, of course, but it just isn't how children actually think. Children are ultimately pretty materialistic and selfish at heart and tend to need a bit of guilt-prodding from adults to reach conclusions like "we should give our money/toys to someone worse off than ourselves". That's why so much fiction for children tries to prod like that, reminding the readers/viewers that there are needy people out there and that it's a good thing to help them.

So this story has the kids act like "the law of fiction", as far as a child understands it, are supposed to act. "We need to give toys to the most needy people because that's just what you do". And the story ends with them discovering that THEY are the most needy, so THEY get all the toys.
Of course this is complete nonsense. Not only is it completely impossible that there's nobody worse off than the members of a childrens' scouting troop in the entire city, they were also supposed to want to be GENEROUS, so they should've logically bought gifts to the supposedly "second most needy". But that's not how a child will see it. A child will see this as the kids acting like "the law" says fictional children should, but also ended up with a lot of toys. They didn't "spend the money on themselves" (which would've been bad), nor did they "game the system" (which would've been even worse), they played it entirely fair: They wanted to give money to the officially most needy (which is good), set out to find out who this was (which is playing fair and makes it clear they didn't know) and then spent the money on themselves when they figured out the officially most needy were them (which is "what the rules says" and thus both good and fair).

An adult reader is going to see it as extremely flimsy justification for pretending to be charitable despite not actually being so. A child reader is going to see it as playing by the book and still getting toys. And the writer totally knew that - this is the kind of story made to give the readers what they want to read rather than what non-readers want the readers to read. And those can be pretty cathartic reads sometimes.

January 5, 2023 at 1:00 PM  

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