Saturday, December 2, 2023

"The Snow Princess"

Ah yes, the holiday season!  And if you thought I wasn't going to have some Christmas gifts, then you, sir or madame, are a first-class chump.  Assuming I'm able to get my shit together, I should have something extremely interesting to share with y'all on or about Christmas.  But in the meantime, let's enjoy some vaguely Christmas-ish stories, to keep the momentum going.  And let's start with some Barks, since--as incredible as it may sound--I suspect some of you aren't as obsessed with mediocre Western also-rans as I am. 

We can call this "The Snow Princess."  That's fine.  The other title that inducks gives--I think the one that was decided on by whoever at Another Rainbow or whatever--is "Statues of Limitations," which I'd give a C-, maybe.  On the plus side, it IS a pun.  You cannot take that away from it.  On the minus side, "statues" for "statutes?"  In addition to having nothing to do with the story, that is the most boring pun in the world.  I do not approve.  Anyway.  Fifty dollars!  With inflation, that'd be five hundred-some, which is okay, I wouldn't refuse it, but still, it's not as high-stakes as you might think, given what people are willing to do for it.

Also, from now on I'm going to try to connect every entry here to an opera, just for the heck of it.  Today, we have The Snow Maiden by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  I'm a huge NRK fan, and I definitely recommend it to all.

I have to say, the inherent cockiness in "we might have taken the prize away from a lot of people who worked hard and long to win it" is a bit hard to take.  You're implying that you might have won in spite of NOT working hard and long?  Pull the other one.  Anyway, let's learn about the Widow Umble.

Is this the last time that Barks used Adorable Moppets to try to tug at the heartstrings?  Maybe.  And a good thing, too.  The transparent insincerity is kind of funny, but still...yeesh.

Though really now, HDL's attitude here seems unwarranted.  "Oh no, their shitty-ass statue will NEVER win!"  Really?  It doesn't actually seem any less accomplished than a lot of the other ones we see!  And this "we will definitely win if we enter" attitude remains eye-rolling.

Sure, okay.  Questions abound.  Such as, how do you know this about the mayor?  And if it's true, aren't Cornelius Coot statues going to proliferate, making for a pretty boring contest?  Also--this isn't a question--that one of the tumblers is cool.  If technical skill has any relevance here, it ought to be a competitor.

My socialist leanings do come out a bit here, because I keep thinking, yeah, it'd be great for them to win fifty dollars, I guess, but there mom getting a new coat will do nothing to obviate their socioeconomic status.  It would be way better for Duckburg or Calisota to institute aggressive social safety nets that would raise them out of poverty.  Or possibly just nationalize the means of production, if that's not radical enough.  You could level a similar criticism at "Christmas for Shacktown," but in that story the ducks got so much money for the Shacktowners that it's possible to imagine that they ended up with more than just a Christmas party.

It's quite a thing, I have to say, for Donald to get indignant about his nephews' actions.  He doesn't even know if they actually saw the dang Umble kids!  You might at least say something to them before immediately leaping to sneaky sabotage!  But I guess the fact that said sabotage is such a standard Disney-comic trope means that it was the first thing to come to mind.

I have zero idea what this whole "General Crow" business is, and google is not helping.  Is it a cultural allusion that's lost on me?  Let me know in the comments.

Say what you want about this story, but the images of the statues being destroyed are pretty dang funny.  We must give it that.

Another interesting thing to point out: both Donald and HDL want to help the kids.  They're on the same page even if they don't know it.  And yet, the story still falls into the familiar groove of Donald being the underhanded one.  Even in a situation where, by all rights, there shouldn't be any conflict, we get this.  Don't you have the sense that the nephews didn't cheat not just because they didn't need to, but because their role--generally--is to not cheat, or at least not if not provoked?  Well, I think it's interesting.

And I also think THIS is interesting.  Here we see the spectre of Modern Art, which it is a la mode to hate.  Well, for Barks, Scarpa, and Van Horn, anyway.  I don't know about Rosa.  He might be cool.  But be that as it may, here in the top right, we see clear evidence of Barks' awareness that there are factors other than how representative it may be that impact people's appreciation of art.  And yet, one panel later, we get "this is hideous because it's not clear what it is."  What the heck are you driving at, Carl?

Look!  Donald is "dishonest!"  Even if his motives are laudable, he's still cheating.  And...does that count against him, karmically?  Not entirely clear.

This image really does crack me up.  I love the way the statue's expanding seems to match the mayor's pomposity.

As does this one.  Duckburg has a "Hall of Infamy."  Make a note of it.

So...yes.  Though again, I want to note that the mayor could do A LOT more to help these kids than giving them a prize from some random contest.  ADMIT IT: this is more about making himself feel good than anything else.  

Well...maybe he could do something else for them.  I actually have no idea how much power a municipal leader in Duckburg has!  It is very unclear!  Someone write a story clarifying this extremely important question. that the lesson?  That we should stay out of other people's affairs?  Is that the takeaway here?  I get that that's a typically Barksian sentiment, but does it actually have anything to do with the action of the story?

The argument, I suppose, would be that uncle and nephews were all jockeying to win, but as it turns out, the Umble kids won anyway, so they could've just minded their own dang business and this entire story could have been avoided.

But I don't think that's true at all.  It seems extremely likely that if the mayor hadn't gotten soaked by Donald's statue, he wouldn't have been in the kind of bad mood that was soothed by seeing the snow princess.  And there's textual evidence for this, too: "it's an honest little statue that wasn't built to kid somebody."  Comparing it to Donald's, of course.  So in conclusion, I disagree that they need lessons on how to keep their noses out of other people's business.  And even if I didn't, I'm not sure where they'd get such lessons.  Check Duckburg Community College's curriculum, I guess.

Also, I do have to point out how friggin' weird Donald's head looks in that top right panel.  Why is it so flat?

Okay, this was short but fun.  What will be next?  Who know?  Seriously, as I write this, I have no idea, so stay tuned.



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

As most Barks 10 pagers Iread this one back in the 90s but for whatever reason this one made me extra nostalgic. All the statues look cool and creative when I was a kid (especialy all the fun ways Coot Statue change shape) and there is something... poetic? Not sure how to call it about the childreen making the Snow Princess out of the dirty snow. It's actualy very pretty looking snow scolpture. And heck impressive given childreen made it. I think it sticks with you since as a kid you don't question some logistic all of this felt plasuble to made with snow.

As for Rosa and modern art - the closes thing that comes to mind is all the Dali homages in first version of his second "Black Knight" story where Scrooge was shown to love an paitings of an abstract arist (which I prefer over later swhich to Barks). Of course at the time Rosa made the story Dali was a very old classic far from "modern art" but it still represents abstract/surreal art and Scrooge showing appriciation for this type of art might be sign of Rosa's personal feelings - even if one can argue Scrooge only like them for being cash-theme.

Donald smile looks tad sadistic as he go toward HD&L to beat them up with a stick... a practice he don't do in modern comics for good reason.

December 2, 2023 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Your right; those last panels of Donald are ore than a bit disturbing. It's a tribute to Barks' artistic skills that he's able convey that...but should he have done?

December 3, 2023 at 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Achille Talon said...

Ahoy, you've got several empty "[image]" sots there…

December 3, 2023 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Fixed at pretty much the exact moment you were leaving that comment. :p

December 3, 2023 at 10:24 AM  
Anonymous DJ said...

This is a fun story, but I feel like the setup (Donald and the Nephews both trying to one-up each other for the good motive of winning for the Umble kids) is unnecessarily contrived due to Barks' awareness that his editors now frowned on the old no-holds-barred Donald versus Nephews battles of his early ten-pagers, where Don and the boys are battling each other out of sheer ego, with no higher motives than, say, making each other wash dishes for a month. The "Ice Taxis" story, one of Barks' last straight Donald-vs-Nephews ten-pagers was published the year before this one, and, even though it's quite tame in comparison to the early ten-pager it reworks ("Rival Boatmen") it drew a concerned letter from a mother in response to Donald's telling the boys to "shut up", and Barks' editors passed this absurd complaint on to him. I can't help but think that the "let's help the Umble kids" story element in the Snow Princess story is Barks' attempt to forestall similar complaints by allowing him to point and say "see, Donald and HD&L aren't competing out of greed or malice, they're trying to do good and just misunderstanding each other's motives."

As an addendum, I'm surprised you didn't mention that this story was a minor but noticeable influence on Rosa (he's mentioned it as one of his favorites as a kid); not only did he borrow the basic holiday-competition plot idea for his early story "Fit to be Pied", but he also directly lifted a few lines of dialogue from "Princess" for "Pied" (in the opening scene where the Nephews are looking at the contending sculptures). More significantly, note that the Mayor in this story became Rosa's default Mayor of Duckburg (most noticeable in "His Majesty McDuck" and "A Little Something Special"), rather than the porcine Mayors whom Barks and most other Duck creators have used as their go-to template. Rosa admitted as much on the DCML (i.e., that he more or less "imprinted" on the moustached dog-nosed Mayor), and said he'd have to give the pig Mayor an appearance some time, but I don't believe he ever did.

December 3, 2023 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I remember some person ask him about never using Pig mayor and he reply something among the lines "I didn't used him in A little something special since I already has another pignose character in that one [Glomgold in discussed] but the next time I will need a mayor I will be happy to elect a pigface". But as you said it was around the time he was doing his last stories so this never came to be.

December 3, 2023 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...


(Stupid autocorrect)

December 3, 2023 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

(Ack! Fair enough.)

I see DJ's point, but honestly while the pearl-clutching was silly I think necessity was the mother of invention in this case. It is more fun to have the characters start out with parallel benevolent goals, only to get drawn into the usual petty Looney Tunes shenanigans, than to have an umpteenth overt battle of the ego. Though I agree with GeoX's point that the resolution somewhat misses the mark on selling the idea that the one-upmanship was ultimately *bad*. It might make more sense if their nonsense wound up endangering the Umbles' chances until a last-minute reversa and/or Deus Ex Machina, methinks.

Regarding HDL's unshakable certainty that they'd win if they entered the competition… I dunno, I think it's funny! By that point Barks's nephews had settled into being Very Gifted Kids, and it going to their head a little (in a fashion with overt classist undertones at that) is I think an interesting wrinkle that helps ground their genuine wunderkind aspects into something earnestly childlike, a little human, a little flawed. Keeps them from becoming overly Mary-Sueish, for lack of a better terms. Barks draws the Princess as pretty enough that I don't think it's supposed to be a twist that it wins on its own terms. HDL's patronizing way of turning their beaks up at it and tutting sadly *is* meant to ring as subtly wrong from the start.

I think that's why this story endures — and imprinted on Rosa among others: it's Barks playing with his own tropes and subverting them. It's not quite the usual contest… The Nephews are neither the hellions of old *nor* quite the ever-reliable writer's-pets you might have grown to assume… And the ending where Donald realises he really *shouldn't* chase the nephews into the sunset with a switch in hand is the cherry on the cake, even if the trope it's subverting is one we usually wish had never been a thing in the first place.

December 3, 2023 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And this "we will definitely win if we enter" attitude remains eye-rolling."

They still ARE kids after all.

December 4, 2023 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Just so.

December 4, 2023 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I mean, yes, they're kids, but does the story present them that way? In early Barks stories, you had those occasional bits where they'd be lying there sobbing, but those feel kind of weird in retrospect, don't they? You can't just generalize about kids; you have to zoom in to THESE kids, who are frequently presented as more mature than their uncle.

December 4, 2023 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Yes, but there is a middle-ground between "they're perfect paragons in all situation" and the weirdly archaic "writing them like five years old" stuff, and both Anon and I feel like their slightly overdone cockiness is a very deft stroke of writing them as psychologically believable "gifted kids who are really mature for their age and have gotten *used* to being the smartest people in the room, grown-ups included".

December 4, 2023 at 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I'm with Achille Talon here, on the funniness of the basic set-up. I agree that this is a worthy variation on the Donald-vs-Nephews theme--that it's quite funny to have them in an all-out battle when they're both pursuing the same noble goal. It's satisfying that their unacknowledged common goal is achieved both in spite of and (to some extent) because of their accelerating conflict. And as Achille says, the subversion of the "chasing the boys with a switch" ending is a great way to underline the joke of the "fight for no reason" set-up...even though it doesn't quite land in the way Barks intended because we're weirded out by the very idea of the beating and Donald's taking pleasure in it. And I agree with GeoX that the line in the final panel doesn't really fit with the core lessons of the plot.

I'm not surprised that this story was a childhood favorite of Rosa's, for these structural reasons as well as for the wonderful snow-statue visuals. It was and remains a favorite of my friend Lowell Handy, a lifelong Barks fan whose name you have seen in letter columns! He lists it as a favorite Christmas story, though it doesn't explicitly mention Christmas. But it came out in December (cover date January), and the valorization of the poor little tykes is reminiscent of both Shacktown and Dickens.

I do emphatically agree that "Statues of Limitations" is a complete misfire of a title, and I have always thought of this story as "The Snow Princess." I also agree that giving a wad of money to Poor Little Tykes is not a social solution to their plight, and like GeoX, in the case of Shacktown I prefer to imagine that the ladies, after funding the blow-out Christmas party, had enough left over to set up a college fund for all the Shacktown kids. This is assuming that Calisota had as good a system of public university education as California had back in the day. And that's not itself a social solution to poverty, but it's a respectable piece of a solution.

December 4, 2023 at 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Also...I'm glad that DJ describes the ways Rosa's "Fit to Be Pied" echoes this story. I hadn't consciously registered that, though it's quite obvious once it's pointed out! And replacing the "Donald-vs-the-nephews" conflict with "Donald-vs-Neighbor Jones" means Rosa doesn't have to deal with any "Donald-vs-kids" ending.

December 4, 2023 at 10:43 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I like to imagine that the next time we see Shacktown, with no explanation, it's the rich, tech-innovating part of Duckburg (Think Silicon Valley meets Beverly Hills meets Atherton), populated by pretentious hipsters, elitists, and rapper lifestyle enthusiasts, with a hint of an implication that it was that one Christmas event Duckburgians threw that turned things around for them.

Huey: I wish we hadn't taken this way home from school!
Dewey: So do I! The last time we went by, these rich snobs made fun of our clothes...
Louie: Bunch of fat pigs, that's what they are!
Local kid: Yo, everyone! Pool party at Chrip Joe's Chateau!

And to further drive the point in this particular story, have lines like:

Dewey: Oh Unca Donald, do we have to eat at this cheap diner?
Donald: Hush! Don't you talk like some nouveau riche trash from Shacktown!

Scrooge: I was challenged by Rockerduck to a golf tournament at Shacktown's Yacht Club's Caviar Gourmet Annual Get-Together!

Louie: This case is as fake as a nose of a spoiled Shacktown girl!

Merry Christmas!

December 5, 2023 at 2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the same Anon from before.

At first I was puzzled on why this instance of Donald being about to hit the boys disturbed me, even though I don't mind when animated Donald tries to whip them, seeing it as nothing but wacky attempted cartoon violence (now, it WOULD be disturbing if he actually grabbed them and beat them blue onscreen).

Then it struck me, this Donald isn't just exploding in a second like animated Donald would, animated Donald just lacks selfcontrol and does things without thinking. It doesn't make his outbursts any less acceptable but still more understandable. You get the feeling that if animated Donald actually put his hands on the boys and pummeled them he'd feel not bad but outright devastated about his actions later.

This Donald is not acting on basic impulse, he is taking his premeditated time advancing on HDL before hitting them. It almost feels like he's savoring the damage he's going to put on them. Scratch the almost, the goshdarn smile makes it so obvious. That is what makes it so shudder-worthy.

December 5, 2023 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I agree with that. I wonder if it was just a matter of expedience on Barks' part: it's easier to do the concluding dialogue with Donald standing there "calmly" than it would be if he were exploding in rage the whole time. Not that it's an excuse, but it seems plausible. Even Homer nods and all.

December 5, 2023 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Actualy The Simpsons creator actualy talk on DVD commentary how the secret to making Homer strangling Bart 'funny' was to make it as fast reaction as possible, since if it was to slow it would felt 'cold and sadistic'.

December 5, 2023 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

"I suspect some of you aren't as obsessed with mediocre Western also-rans as I am..."

Ain't it the truth? Why not give a swing to "Christmas Clubbing," or "Holiday Hideaway on Bear Mountain," or "Santa's Helpers," or even the Scarpa Mickey "Christmas Tree Crimes"?

I was editor of the US editions, and beyond the great work some localizing colleagues and colorists provided, I saw all kinds of interesting strengths and weaknesses and interesting tangents surrounding them. (Just as I did with "Spaced Out Christmas," which falls right into the same category.)

They're much more interesting to me than just another Carl Fallberg tale...

December 12, 2023 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I'll take a look at those at some point (I can't always remember what I may or may not have read), but I wouldn't bet on ever seeing "Christmas Tree Crimes." What would happen is, I would say, man, this is just "The Phantom Blot" without the ambiance, it's pretty boring, and then someone would say well ACTUALLY, they're both based on Conan Doyle's "Adventure of the Six Napoleons," and then I would say, man, we're seriously doing this? And no one would be edified.

I have only one (1) thing to say about that story, which is that that title--I don't know what it is in Italian--really cracks me up. Because crime in Disney comics always just involve stealing. Maybe some light espionage. But here the non-specificity of "Christmas tree crimes" allows you to imagine some really horrific stuff. Anyway, that's all.

December 12, 2023 at 8:13 PM  

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