Monday, May 8, 2023

"A Spicy Tale"

 Hey, if you want, you can listen to me'n'Mark blathering about "The Twenty-Four Carat Moon."  To commemorate this occasion, I have chosen to write about a wholly unrelated story.  It's been a long time coming, though, as was me appearing on this podcast, so maybe that's a connection?  Well, maybe not.  Don't be mean to me.

It's actually quite surprising that it's taken me so long to get to this, which might possibly (the memory is a little hazy) have been my first duck story.  One of the first few, at any rate.  And I have to say, I still think it's a pretty darn solid story, especially for the time period (1962), problematic aspects notwithstanding.  So let's get into it, dangit!

The first thing to be noted is that Scrooge is apparently in the habit of counting coins for twenty-four straight hours.  Okay.  I will say that I find this somehow emblematic of late-stage capitalism: you have all this money, so what do you do?  You spend one hundred percent of your time wallowing in that money.  What does it signify?  Nothing, really, except for the bare fact that you have it.  We are very far from the idea that every coin has some specific meaning. nutmeg tea, is the lesson here.  And right at the start, we get to the problematic aspect.  You get the impression here that Barks wasn't quite sure how much he wanted the, hum, natives to speak in pidgin, as it kind of wavers back and forth.  We will talk more about the natives anon, have no fear.

This isn't as flakey as something like "The Looney Lunar Gold Rush" or "Queen of the Wild Dog Pack," but it's still a BIT flakey, as we can see.  I really love "smooth cookies out of rough rookies."  I didn't really note or appreciate that line when I was small, somehow.  But now that has changed!

Yup, Donald is a Peace Corps volunteer.  One of the first, actually, since the organization had just been founded in 1961.  Barks was on the ball, more or less, although he doesn't appear quite sure what this entails or whether it's a paying position.

Still, it's a noble thing to do.  Well, from my perspective it is; I don't think Barks was thinking along those lines at all, but that's still what I get out of it, regardless of where the story ends up going.  Donald is cool.

Also worth noting that this version of the Peace Corps has absolutely no concern for the safety of its volunteers, apparently.  And good god, look at the jowls on that bottom-left-most nephew.  That hearkens back to Barks's earliest drawing style.

The comic really pushes this idea about how the locals like eating alligator, and how repulsed the ducks are by this concept.  But I don't know; I try to maintain a vegetarian diet, but what is particularly gross about alligator, if you're eating meat?  It probably tastes pretty normal.  Seems like Barks had different sensibilities than I do.  

Elfish Pestly, not to be confused with Shoeless Pashley.  Anyway, I suppose I might as well comment on this aspect of the story.  I know there's been a lot of fustle and bustle lately about Disney deciding they don't want to republish certain stories.  And I hate to get involved in these arguments, because they always seem to devolve from "we shouldn't censor the past" to "old-timey racism was GOOD, actually!"  It rarely seems to bring out the best in people.  But, well, here I am.

My feeling is that this is an impossible question.  I read this story when I was small.  Did it turn me into a racist?  No, but imagining that that's the objection is just childish.  If a parent says "I'd prefer that my child not be exposed to sixty-year-old racist tropes" is extremely hard to argue with that.  And I kind of think that people are mostly fooling themselves when they suggest, oh, well, these books are aimed at adults, so it's different.  Do we really think these hardcovers are read mainly by adults?  I'd love to see some stats on that.  I can more or less buy it for the Gottfredson books, but that's about as far as I'll go.  I love these stories, but is there any justification for reprinting them?  I dunno, man!

But let's look past the controversies and just look at this story qua story.  Think back to something like "Darkest Africa:"

Pretty awful!  

But by the time you get to a story like this we are far, far removed from anything that could be considered representative of what anyone might mistake for anything real.  I know I've probably overused the word "postmodern" in the past, but it seems unavoidable here: these simulacra that dimly reflect half-remembered racist stereotypes, but are so caught up in this fragmentary, pop-culture buzz that it all becomes basically indecipherable.  I mean, it is what it is, and you can take umbrage if you like, but that does seem a bit performative when it comes to something like this.

Did I say that?  Well, I still believe it, and I can argue (accurately, I think) that even this doesn't really mean anything either, but I do have to concede that there will never be a situation where referring to indigenous people as "childlike savages" is okay.

I remember thinking when I read this story as a child--and still thinking now!  How wildly irresponsible Donald's behavior is here.  I mean, in a funny way, but still.  You were sent here to help the people develop sustainable agriculture!  I don't know how well this alternative is going to go down, man (actually, I do, from the end of this story, and the answer is: badly. Fair enough).

I also really like the business of Scrooge being chained up and giving out wholly useless/irrelevant financial advice.

Seeing him screaming about oil wells as he's drowned out by bongos is especially hilarious.  The reductio ad absurdum of capitalism, maybe.

I should probably at least point out this guy, even if I don't really have anything to say about him.  I like how the expressions on his barrel costume thingie change according to his mood.

Anyway, we move onto this business of animals getting giganticized.  It's just fun to see, okay?  Especially when you're a little kid.

Very convenient, I must say, how those animals all appeared at the same time, Three-Musketeers-style.  Still, who can say no to a giant armadillo?  No one, probably!

I do have to admit that the ending is a bit rushed.  You see that in a lot of later Barks stories, no doubt having something to do with page limits.  Still...a giant panther.  Can't complain about that.

So was Donald being paid, or not?  If not, I don't know that "fired" is the right word.  But I dunno; that madness seems like it might have SOME international appeal.  And to end on an incredibly trivial note, here's a Clerkly appearance that is not, as of this writing, inducksed.  Get on that, someone!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the secretary and the implication that she's been around for decades and knows Scrooge's every mood without ever being too impressed.

Also note the stubbornly pedagogic storytelling (very barksian) when we're firmly told about the family relationship. "It's my nephew, Donald Duck!"

You missed the amusing "Scrooge gets the shakes" panel. Nutmeg tea is strong stuff.

Note Garés inking on the panther, Carl would have made a much slicker ink drawing.

Note "Fibber" relettered by the editorial office. I wonder what it said originally?

Did you ever write about that other great "tutor corpsman" story with Gyro? That's superb storytelling.

May 8, 2023 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

One of two times Barks used Quackfaster. I recall she is only in few panels here but that's still way more of her then in her debut story. It's interesting Rosa presented her as much more neurotic while Barks version feels - like Anonymous pointed out - not very impressed by Scrooge's antics.

As for the tribe -- I get it's tricky. I spend two episodes of a podcast with my two friends (also hardcore Disneyfans) talking about it, but sadly it's in Polish. I get why they tropes are problematic, no question but at the same time idea that some of Barks great stories would never see the light of day again or be alter feels like a worse move, and I don't think ALL cases are the same. Some are harsher then others, some are more light (I know it's beating a dead horse but it's like Crows in Dumbo vs. Indians in Peter Pan) I actualy like argument to not reprint them in magazines and only use them in some special collection that are aimed at older fans that have commentary etc. or even some warning. Heck, I woudn't mind if Disney just stick all the problematic comics in one age restricted volume so older fans can appriciate them and kids woudn't see them [In the podcast I joke that they can do that with cartoon on Disney Plus and make a special 18+ section for them called "Disney Ooops!"]

..but I'm some white dude from Europe so maybe I'm missing something and I will agree I'm looking at this from perspective of an older fan who understand it's the product of the time. When I was a kid and Europan Cartoon Network was still showing a lot of Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry that has zero censorship of this kind (including the "All This and Rabbit Stew", a cartoon that is now conisder part of "Censored 11") and while I can't say that they effect me in anyway I didn't realise they where problematic until I was an adult.

May 8, 2023 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Also as an meat eater I will say that - Yes, If I had a chance I would try crocodile meat... but only if I was on vacation in some country where it was a dish made by the locals, but If some of my friends would just randomly both crocodile meat on the black market and got idea to cook it and try it... Um, let's just say I would be more sceptical to try it. With local I would trust more they know how to prepare it in a proper way so it would taste amazing and I woudn't end up with some scale stuck in my throat by acident.

Frankly I always wanted to try locust as I hear stories it's in fact delicious. I maybe a shamless meat eater but I'm eaqal opertunity meat eater.

May 8, 2023 at 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Speaking of the "Scrooge gets the shakes" panel...I get a vibe from the first page that's reminiscent of "Tralla La." Scrooge is wrung out by counting his cash, and DAMMIT HE REALLY NEEDS HIS NUTMEG TEA!! Without it he gets the shakes. His fear that if people find out that he's "such a fanatic" for the tea they will corner the market on the nutmegs and make him pay a premium price...which he will HAVE to pay...also makes clear how dependent he is on his special tea. This is an addiction-level need, and it's a way to soothe the burden of caring for the billions.

All the "savages" talk does keep me from purely enjoying the story. But I'm fond of the nutmeg tea itself, and of the depiction of Miss Quackfaster's character, and of the giant panther. My favorite panel: The last on page 10, where chained Scrooge is yelling about buying low and selling high, and the chicken to his left is saying, "Grawk?"

I am amused by the fact that Barks needed to clothe the women (first panel of page 14) because they couldn't have naked torsos, that they look pretty much like women of Duckburg in their dresses and earrings, and that seeing their clothing there tells us that apparently there are no women in any of the other panels showing villagers!

HD&L don't get to save the day in this one. They do at least have solid ideas about finding a varied diet. But they mostly are warning of danger or looking scared. They don't succeed in chopping down the post Scrooge is chained to...which leads to an unusually heroic moment of self-sacrifice from Scrooge, as he tells the boys, "Leave me here and run for your lives!"

May 8, 2023 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger BrianL said...

What's a panther doing in Amazonia? That's jaguars. Luckily those can also be melanistic and thus black. Nutmeg is not exactly neotropical either though I suppose it could be feral trees descended from imported cultivated stock?
Also, shouldn't the whole area around the giganticizing lake be crowded with giant animals? Surely the drinking trio can't have been the only animals drinking there, even that very day? Also also, what did that mosquito do to deserve that ass-whooping?

I am very fond of Scrooge's depiction here: slightly manic, really worried and apparently addicted to nutmeg tea. A far cry from the borderline superhero Scrooge that Rosa is so fond of. I take it this story was not an inspiration for anything in 'The Life and Times...'.

May 9, 2023 at 6:02 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Good catch on the panther. My assumption re the nutmeg was that it's some super-exotic variety that grow far afield. Not sure about this story in general, but I know nutmeg tea is a thing in Rosa.

May 9, 2023 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Crocodile tails are considered a delicacy and the same goes for alligator tails:

May 9, 2023 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Yeah, the nutmeg tea's become a Known Factoid in excess of how well-remembered this story actually is (including by me: somehow I'd forgotten about the delightful giganticised animals! I have no clue how that happened). It's in Rosa; it's in DuckTales 2017; and I'm fairly sure I've seen it in other non-Barks stories although I'm blanking on a specific example just now.

Crocodile meat prepared in a normal way doesn't seem overly off-putting, but they appear to have put a whole alligator, scales and all, in a big pot. I wouldn't want to eat that either. Who knows where that thing's been.

The wild tropical nutmegs I think can be taken in stride with relative ease, but also, the witch-doctor guy randomly has a (carved!) Halloween pumpkin to hand, it is worth highlighting. Puts things into perspective.

It's a bit hard to make sense of the blocking, but I think that mosquito was sneaking up on Huey. Whacking him seems fair enough.

May 9, 2023 at 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Loke said...

The term "panther" can refer to a melanistic jaguar as well as a leopard.

May 9, 2023 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger Specialist Spectrus said...

@Achille Here's one story that made the nutmeg a plot point, although it's sadly not a good story:

May 13, 2023 at 3:58 AM  
Blogger J. Bencomo said...

"If a parent says "I'd prefer that my child not be exposed to sixty-year-old racist tropes" is extremely hard to argue with that."

Is it, though? What kind of child are you raising if you are forbidding them from having any contact with any sort of work of fiction that conflicts with your own sensibilities? How are you teaching them to discriminate and make their minds up on what's right and what's not? Is it that difficult for any normal child to realize things they read were written in another time by other cultures and that they don't have to follow every manner of behavior seen there?

May 14, 2023 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

...of course, most kids don't engage with retrograde tropes in their popular culture period, not because anyone's stopping them, but because they just aren't interested in pop culture from before they were born. What kind of children are THEIR parents raising? And how will they ever learn "what's right and what's not" if they're not constantly engaging with old-time-y racism? O the humanity.

May 16, 2023 at 2:08 AM  
Anonymous Lugija said...

I enjoyed listening to your guest episodes, hopefully you get to do more of them.

I have eaten crocodile once. It tasted like something between a chicken and a fish, which makes sense considering the animal kingdom tree. I could see myself eating it again if it's the only choice. But it wasn't boiled with skin included like in the comic.

I read this story when I was a kid but it was a long time before I got my hands on it again. In between it got a kinda mythological scale in my mind since the nutmeg tea was referenced in several Rosa stories and I remembered that the story featured Scrooge's addiction and large predator animals. Once I read the story again it was a bit of a disappointment. Large animals, sure, but they didn't do much and the action ends abruptly

May 20, 2023 at 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Lugija said...

Now that I think about it there were several Barks stories that were frequently mentioned in articles and Rosa's commentaries that were surprises when I finally got to read them. Many of these were 60's stories so the difference in Barks' storytelling between those years and the earlier mythology-setting ones explains how they weren't the stories I was expecting. Examples include how North of Yukon had a lot of the story about the press, and Loony Lunar Gold Rush being so... loony.

May 20, 2023 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

By the 1960s, Barks was running on empty, having churned out hundreds of pages of these things, and the public’s taste was leaning towards camp. Many of Barks’ 1960s Scrooge stories have a gaggy, campy feel to them, as if he realized that the old stories weren’t going to fly anymore played straight, either that or the editors wanted more humor in the Disney books, to the detriment of Barks’ storytelling. I can’t say as that I can meaningfully comment on the racist stereotyping in the old stories, but there does seem to be a double standard going on in reprinting them. No one would think twice about not reprinting a Tony Strobl or Paul Murry story with these old stereotypes, but when we get to more significant artists like Barks, Gottfredson and Rosa, who are much more highly regarded, people are going to start squawking about it when stories are “put in the Disney Vault” and withheld from being reprinted. It’s a tough call to make. I certainly don’t agree with rewriting the material, especially when the author is long dead and can’t have any say in how such a rewrite would be handled, but I can also see not wanting such material out there perpetuating harmful stereotypes. (Although as someone here already said, today’s kids aren’t interested in sixty-one year old comic books, especially with the vast array of modern graphic novels written specifically to their interests now available). There’s no easy answer.

May 25, 2023 at 1:27 PM  

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