Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A sampling of Gladstone's original run: Donald Duck #269 (Oct. 1988; cover date Jan. 1989)

Last Wednesday night, at my favorite restaurant, I joined my family to celebrate my 32nd birthday. Gifts included several articles of clothing and a new pair of shoes for the job that I'm starting next week, a Batman logo t-shirt from my sister, and, from my grandmother, a copy of Gladstone's Donald Duck #269. (She said that she asked at the comic shop for "the oldest Disney comic they have", and this is what they produced. At the time of my seventh birthday, it would've been one of the newest.)

Juxtaposed in this issue are two ten-pagers each built around Donald competing against Gladstone to win a contest: best apples at the county fair in Barks' "Red Apple Sap" from Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #205 (Oct. 1957); and best photograph of a buffalo -- the prize being a much-hyped new car -- in the Daniel Branca-penciled "Eyes on the Bison (its native Danish title being "Dream Car", per Inducks), originally published in 1980. 

A particularly entertaining angle in "Sap" is that Gladstone isn't even trying to harvest apples, and is only peripherally aware of the budding apple tree in his yard. He does give passing thought to the fact, given his luck, his apples' success come the fall harvest is a sure bet, but from what Barks shows us, from spring to fall, Gladstone never leaves the lounge chair beneath said apple tree. Donald, meanwhile, tries desperately, all season long, to tend his apples to perfection, and is dismayed to to see, again and again, every effort he make turn in Gladstone's favor. On the other side of the fence -- Gladstone, not Jones, is the next-door foe this time around  -- Gladstone's involvement never goes further than wondering what his cousin is throwing a fit about this time.

As you'd expect from the man who invented and perfected the character of Gladstone and the Donald-Gladstone rivalry, they're in quintessential form here. Not only that, but it's a unique and ingenious variation of the formula, achieving a near-fable-like perfection in its simplicity. Barks typically wrote Gladstone in ative competition with his cousin; here, Gladstone repeatedly foils Donald without even willing or trying, his mere existence the catalyst for the obstructing and thwarting of Donald's efforts. 

Better yet, the funny, ironic premise culminates in Donald's victory. On the first page, it isn't a mistake that the narration and dialogue repeatedly emphasizes that in harvest season, those who've worked hard since spring "reap what they have sown". Barks echoes said phrase on the final page, as the plot twist allowing Donald to earn the prize he'd sought and deserved plays out. This is one of those cases where one gets the feeling that the writer cheated a little to work their way around Gladstone's luck. What makes it work, overall, is that Gladstone's luck prevailed as always in the sense that he never lost what he most desired: peace, quiet, and freedom from physically or mentally exerting himself. 

Still, an argument could be made that in entertaining and favoring the notion of winning the contest, Gladstone should have kept his idleness and won best-in-show. If that's true, it would follow that given the lesser prize that he is awarded at story's end, his luck's been diminished a bit. I cannot stress enough, however, that I am quibbling over the technicalities of Gladstone's luck here. The evident pleasure that Gladstone takes in his "special" honor results from his preoccupation with "the easy life", keeping the whole unified. The farming subject matter hinting at his youth, the story's "hard work and perseverance" values are purely Barksian. Nonetheless, he didn't that often end one of his stories on a cut-and-dry "And so, the person who worked hard and persevered, naturally, won out in the end" note. However, that unambiguousness is counterblanaced by the irony and disgruntledness that runs throughout the story, with Barks' curmudgeon nature in full gear. So, why complain when Donald's, for once, given a break? I, for one, was happy from him!


On the other hand, in "Eyes on the Bison", the world is as harsh and unfair to Donald as it usually is, when up against his good-fortuned cousin. In this case, Gladstone indeed intends and seeks to come in first place ... and, naturally (a term that can be taken very literally where Gladstone's concerned), he does, while the great lengths Doanld goes to and the pain he endures (nearly being mauled to death by a raging wild buffalo) is all for naught. There's no moral here: it's your standard Donald-vs.-Gladstone affair, replete with the expected, inevitable outcome. And it's a completely adequate application of said formula. Of course, the Branca art Geoffrey Blum script, both exquisite, enliven and add much flare to the proceedings.


William Van Horn, in his brisk, punchy, brimming-with-outlandish-cartoonish-action five-page "The Bright Side", shows Donald being rash, egotistic, bullheaded, and stubborn ... and then punishes him for it, ending on a hospitalized Donald in a full-body cast. I was rooting for Donald to pull off what he boasted he could, but I guess I can't fault anyone for saying -- or the thrust of the narrative for being -- "He asked for it!" Either way, the story's a fun ride ... and, with its sequence of Donald and the nephews sledding on trash can lids down a mountainside covered with a few feet of fresh snow, it looks like a fun ride. 

The three Taliaferro dailies included in this issue each employ the same basic "boom, bam, done" structure: Donald is presented in a situation in which he's being a jerk and/or impatient and testy, and then "karma" suddenly bites him in the ass. If you, like me, find Taliaferro's renderings charming and rich, and his expressions, pacing, and action to be quite fine cartooning, then you'll appreciate these. 

I noticed that the author of one of this issue's letter lived (kind of) near where I live (and pretty much always have). I decided to Google his name, and found his Amazon! Wish List. Its contents -- numerous `40's-`60's western and adventure films and comedy TV series -- indicates a "boomer", which is consistent with the letter, as it was certainly written by no child (but by an adult with learned and rather picky taste).

Anyway, gee, thanks, Grandma!

-- Ryan

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