Friday, April 7, 2023

"Inventor of Anything" and "The Cat Box"

 I think it makes sense to talk about these two stories--Barks' second and third Gyro four-pagers--in tandem.  Actually, it might've made sense to include the first one as well, but that ship has sailed.  

Actually, I don't think "Inventor of Anything" is really all that interesting.  Fight me.  I mean, it's pleasant enough; how could it not be?  But I'm not sure that at this point Barks had much of a vision for how these were going to go.  I do like crik niggles and upp snuffles, however.  Is there some cipher there that I'm missing?  I feel like there ought to be.

Yeah, okay, there IS "Speedy."  How much is there to say about Speedy that's different than what one would say about Mortie and Ferdie in "Trapped Lighting?"  I wonder.

So here he is: a weird little homunculus.  He does provide an object lesson in the different proportions of ducks and humans, and how they're not interchangeable.  And also: Gyro's neighbor, who is pure unfathomable, Iago-like malice.

BUT: I've been sharing the URL for this site fairly promiscuously lately, so there might be a few new readers who aren't really down with the whole story here.  So let's sum up what we know: the Gyro four-pagers ran in the back of the Uncle $crooge comic book.  They were introduced because of a quirk in USPS shipping prices, under which magazines were cheaper to ship than books, and to be categorized as the former rather than the latter, they had to feature stories with at least two wholly disparate casts (did superhero comics ever do something like Western did?  It's an interesting question).  Barks had used Gyro in a number of previous stories, but this is where the character really came into his own.  At first, Barks didn't quite understand the "wholly disparate casts" thing, and tried to feature HDL and Donald respectively in his first and second stories, but then when he learned he couldn't, replaced them with other characters--Mickey's nephews Mortie and Ferdie in the one, and this random "Speedy" dude in the other.

So Barks couldn't use his main characters in these Gyro shorts.  But could he have used secondary characters who rarely if ever appeared in his U$ adventures?  Gladstone, Daisy, Grandma, Gus, April May and June?  Probably; Grandma was permitted to remain in "Trapped Lightning."  But he didn't, presumably out of a preference for safety over sorrow.

What I feel like we haven't adequately noted is that this whole thing is really dumb.  Because notwithstanding the word "book" in the name, a comic book is obviously, for all intents and purposes, a magazine.  It has the same format, it's distributed and sold in the same way, and it's found in the magazine section of a store.  The fact that this was apparently an argument is incredibly bizarre to me.  I'm picturing postal officials combing through comics to determine the character content of the stories.  It's silly.  And under this system, is an anthology of unrelated short stories now a magazine, or what?  SO WEIRD.

At any rate, this kind of a fun invention, if much less baroque than what Gyro would get up to later.

And I do like imagining Donald beating the hell out of Bad Neighbor (any relation to Jones?).

BIFF BAM SOCK OW CLONK.  That is a pretty fun collection of sound effects, I must say, though I can't decide whether it would've been MORE fun to actually see the fight.  But will "that man" (should Gyro know his name, maybe?) really still be running in ten minutes?  Where's he trying to get to, exactly? 

Oh, is THAT what it goes to show?  All right.  It would be pointless to complain about the dubious physics here, so...I shan't.  Whoa!  How's THAT for a twist?

Anyway, let's return to postal regulations for a moment--the kids love 'em!  But the thing to be noted is that, as nonsensical as they may have been, they were, at least in this case, actually extremely good.  No doubt the Gyro shorts would've turned out fun in any case.  Why wouldn't they have?  Barks is Barks.  But the fact that he was working under this oulipo-like constraint gives them a singular tone that we don't really see elsewhere in his work.  I've struggled to articulate the distinction, but you know I'm right.  Admit it!  This informs Gyro's entire character, and it's and unique.

And that is not to even SPEAK of the other, related Barksian innovation that would not exist if not for these weird rules.  I refer, of course, to Helper here, who was introduced right here in the third Gyro short.  Clearly, Barks realized that if he was going to write stories with JUST Gyro, it would be needful to have some other regular character, so he's not totally isolated.  But (this is just me extrapolating, but it certainly seems plausible) the problem is that these are very short stories, and a whole new regular duck (or dogface) character could make them overcrowded.  The solution?  This little guy, who never talks and who doesn't have to play a big role in the story (though he does a few times), but nonetheless is there and makes Gyro seem a bit less alone.  How smart is that?

Of course, in later stories, Helper starts (brilliantly) having whole parallel stories; that's not the case here, where he doesn't really do much.  But Barks got there soon enough!

Anyway, as for the plot of the story: is it really worth thinking about?  Not too much.  "Hot ice for hot iced tea" is fun, though.  Also, shouldn't you need to, like, input some linguistic data if you're going to invent a translator?  In fairness, that was never an issue in Star Trek either.

Okay, we DO have to give out some plaudits for the hep cat patter, which is very superior.  Nobody else could've done this!  Well...Bob Gregory on a good day might've come close.  But Barks' supremacy is indisputable.  

A real song!  I don't if there was a particular popular version of it at the time that Barks would've known.  Also, I'm not sure why it needs to be translated to be an effective deterrent.  Still, I like the image of him singing, and I like that he's shorted out his Helper.  That guy has to put up with some weird stuff.

So "Inventor of Everything" and "The Cat Box."  There you have them!



Anonymous Elaine said...

If as you argue the weird postal regulations were responsible for the creation of Helper, then in my opinion their existence and all the problems they wrought are eternally justified. Because Helper rules. A Duckburg without Helper is a greatly diminished Duckburg. And a Gyro without Helper is...captive to sinister frogmen? smashed by a giant robot? frozen under an overabundance of ice cream? Or perhaps, in that sad alternate Duckiverse, Gyro would simply have given up on inventing the first time he got himself into serious trouble and Helper wasn't there to rescue him.

April 7, 2023 at 9:22 PM  
Anonymous Achille Talon said...

Indeed. Love Helper, whatever name he goes by! (I remain partial to his French name of “Filament", as in a filament bulb, although it doesn't come off as well in English as it does in French.)

Something that does have to be said re: “The Cat Box” is something which I have thought before, but never shared with anybody: I'm curious if anyone agrees or if it's just me;

…Barks wasn't very good at drawing cats, was he?

Heaven knows the man had more than earned one (1) thing he wasn't very good at drawing. But his cats are *weird*. They look more like weird canines. It's something about the noses and the eyes, I think. You can more or less tell that they're meant to be cats, but there's something distinctly un-feline about them.

April 7, 2023 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Come to think of it, the one in the "If I can translate what he is saying..." panel IS pretty strange-looking. There's something about the way his mouth is gaping that looks almost Lovecraftian. I don't have a big problem with the other pictures, though there seems to be a contrast between the way they're drawn and the other characters that is--notable. In the sense that it is here noted.

April 8, 2023 at 6:22 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

They definitely got the wrong eyes! Drawing cartoon animals rarely has anything to do with how animals look in real life. It's more about conveying the idea of animal. An artist tries to deceive the audience into accepting their inept approximations of reality for the real thing. The felines that Barks drew are not bad, they're just too close in appearance to the "human" characters to pass for an animal.

April 8, 2023 at 6:25 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

In Polish translation the Helper has an actual cute name: Wolframik. I belive it was aslo used in the dubb of new DuckTales (where - say all you want but he had more of a role then on the old show where he only appear three times with very small role)

April 8, 2023 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The Speedy thing always wird me out (the Mickey nephews as well) but at the same time I belive I learn this trivia BEFORE I read the story. I wonder how I would react to the story if I didn't know about Barks changing the characters.

I do wonder if Mortie and Fredie didn't appear in any magazines at the time since they where ok - or maybe their apperance was at the time consider obscure. I don't think I fully comprehand the "magazine rules".

For me the two Barks stories where Gyro had Gladstone Gander as a foil where good teaup that did play on character contrast in the nice way and there was potential for more.

April 8, 2023 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Loke said...

I don't think Barks was that great at drawing non-anthro animals in general tbh.

April 8, 2023 at 6:45 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

As far as the USPS and superhero comics, I've heard a different but similar story--that they included two-page text stories because having at least two pages of text would allow them to be classified as magazines (as opposed to what, I'm not sure; were comics their own category?) for cheap shipping.

April 9, 2023 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Superhero "books" is what they would be if they weren't magazines.

April 9, 2023 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

In his internal documents and scripts, Barks' proper name for Helper was Little Bulbhead, capitalized as such and often shortened to Bulby. For whatever reason, he never used it in a story.

DuckTales' proper name for him, Little Bulb, is similar (to a point where I have to wonder if there was a direct influence—though I can't actually imagine how).

My own favorite proper name for Helper is one that I only learned recently: his vintage British name, Ziz! (And as a comment on that blogpost, I recently left some of the same rambling as I posted above...)

April 9, 2023 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That is incredibly interesting, as is that text adaptation of "That Small Feeling." It just goes to show that the medium really is the message to a large extent. Because the Barks story is good, but even though the plot is the same, qua story, that adaptation is lame as heck (in the same way as the stories in that book I wrote about a while back). But still super-interesting, culturally! British Disney comics-dom seems understudied.

April 10, 2023 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...


April 10, 2023 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

"In his internal documents and scripts, Barks' proper name for Helper was Little Bulbhead, capitalized as such and often shortened to Bulby. For whatever reason, he never used it in a story.

DuckTales' proper name for him, Little Bulb, is similar (to a point where I have to wonder if there was a direct influence—though I can't actually imagine how)."

The Brazilian/Portuguese name for him ("Lampadinha") means exactly that (of course, is a very intuitive name for Helper).

Btw, I wonder if the Brazilian stories (or adaptations) had some influence in DuckTales - Flintheart Glomgold being Scottish (or Scotiish-descendent) also happened in Brazilian translation (where he is named "Pão-Duro MacMonei") before DuckTales

April 12, 2023 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

Speedy is a weird little fellow, and I doubt that anyone missed him after this one appearance (unless he had been revived by either the Disney Studio comics program or one of the various licensees). The other weird thing I noticed is that in that story, Gyro's hat and hair colors have been switched.

April 14, 2023 at 12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fun blog full of fun articles. DUCK RULES!

April 16, 2023 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Writers think Flintheart Glomgold is Scottish due to him wearing a bonnet and being similar to $crooge McDuck. It's so pervasive that we should accept it as canon. Moreover, in some stories, Flintheart and $crooge are related and fight over an inheritance. So I think Flintheart's Scottish ancestry is now an established fact.

April 17, 2023 at 4:56 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I don't really care about "canon," but my preference is for Glomgold to be South African just because it's more interesting. Two separate Scottish jillionaires seems cartoony in a dumb way to me.

April 18, 2023 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

¿Por qué no los dos? To me, he's an Afrikaander of Scottish extraction or descent. I'm not sure if I care for canon, but some things are hard to ignore or present differently.

April 18, 2023 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

That Glomgold always thinks he is SO rich >:( but Uncle Scrooge always puts him in his place!

April 18, 2023 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

But they *are* equally rich! The only difference being a piece of string, which is not a real difference. In fact, John D. Rockerduck is even richer than both of them, since Rockerduck tends to splurge on his schemes, while $crooge is a skinflint.

April 19, 2023 at 5:29 AM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

"The only difference being a piece of string, which is not a real difference"

Well, now the only difference is a can of money (who probably has more value than a small piece of string)

April 19, 2023 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I think Pan Miluś (aka Maciek Kur; buy his comics) was joking there, in his deadpan way.

April 19, 2023 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

That might been deadPAN but I just screamed with full-blown joy that you mentioned my comics like this!!! Yaaaaaay!

April 19, 2023 at 11:17 PM  

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