"Want to Buy an Island?"
When I wrote about the story entitled "Why All the Crabby Ducks?" I completely forgot that we already had a much better-known story with a question for a title. From 1960, it's "Want to Buy an Island?!" A less-funny one, granted, but still! Do you want to buy an island? Do you want to build a snowman? Do you want to be a spaceman? These are all valid questions.
This opening seems perfectly unobjectionable, but it's actually quite fraught to a certain kind of continuity-obsessed person, since it claims that HDL are in kindergarten. Now granted, there's certainly evidence in support of this, like the occasional bits in old Barks stories where they throw tantrums:
...still, it has to be admitted that those do look kind of weird, at least to my sensibilities. You've gotta figure the Junior-Woodchucks-type HDL are more like precocious ten-year-olds. BUT NO! THEY'RE IN KINDERGARTEN! IT SEZ SO RIGHT THE HECK HERE! Actually, though--this is quite interesting--look what someone did when the story was reprinted:
Huh. Doubly interesting is the fact that that ain't Gladstone; it's Whitman. It is...kind of difficult to believe that anyone at Western--in its late, decadent days, especially--would have any concerns about continuity or general consistency--and yet, there you are. Still, the shaky attempt to imitate the original font certainly demonstrates a Whitmanian sort of incompetence.
I must ask, also: how come no girls in HDL's class?
Yeah, it is NEVER too early to indoctrinate kids into a capitalist Weltanschauung. Presumably, if no one had volunteered, the teacher would've ORDERED some hapless kid to sell some other hapless kid something, and so the cycle would continue. Whee!
Damn, Teach--sick burn. But how do you know he's never seen it? He seems pretty familiar with it, knowing exactly what it's called and where it is, and given that the seller is a duke--the highest rank short of king!--presumably he's not some suspicious complete unknown. LOUIE DID NOT EARN THE HALLOWED NAME OF FATWALLET BY MAKING BAD BUSINESS DECISIONS, DAMMIT!
(I feel the need to say this somewhere, so I'm saying it here: Ooooh, you gonna buy an isle tonight?/Ooooh, down beside that red firelight?/Ooooh, you gonna let it all hang out, fatwallet lords you make the rockin world go round)
YOU WILL BECOME BUSINESSMEN! DO NOT DENY YOUR DESTINY! GIVE IN TO THE DARK SIDE!
Gosh I'm cynical tonight! Seems like "caveat emptor" is an odd lesson to be drilling into five-year-olds' heads, but what do I know? I was not chosen as an educator by the Central Committee.
As you likely know, this story is actual a remake of Barks' 1947 story that we usually call "Donald Mines His Own Business" (according to inducks we also sometimes call it "Treasure Map Sap," but that's less charming and much dumber-sounding). In that story, the kids make a fake treasure map on a lark, and Donald finds it when they get sick of it; it takes the Ducks to the American Southwest instead of some far-flung island. Both stories are good. If I like the later one better, that may be at least in part because of nostalgia, having read it when small. But AT ANY RATE, the biggest difference between them--which really shows how Barks' concerns and his conception of the character had grown in the interim--is the depiction of Donald: in the earlier story, he was just going along, doing his thing, then OH BOY OH BOY A MAP TREASURE! There's none of the existential malaise that we see here. Not that the story develops this to any great extent--a tall order for ten pages--but I think it really does deepen and enrich the context for all this zaniness.
It's a rather poignant image, I think. A desire for transcendence that we can all relate to, maybe. Even if his plan is not terribly well-thought-out, the impulse behind it seems kinda noble.
Call me Lord Fathead if you will, but I kind of agree with Donald here. I would pay ten dollars for an island, sight unseen. I would even pay ten dollars adjusted for inflation ($80.45, according to the helpful US Inflation Calculator). The issue here is that the arguments here don't really match up with the original "don't buy an island without seeing it" principle. I'd pay ten dollars for an island--but only if I was sure that the island existed, and that the seller actually owned it. I would not buy it from some random sketchy dude who, contrary to all appearances, is allegedly some kind of nobility. So HDL are also right, sort of, but they're only right because the whole transaction was suspicious, not because of the principle they learned in school. Everyone is both right and wrong here.
OH WELL THEN IF YOU LEARNED IT IN KINDERGARTEN, LET US ALL BOW TO THE INFALLIBLE GREATNESS OF YOUR ERUDITION. LET'S ELECT A FIVE-YEAR-OLD PRESIDENT.
...I really am feeling punchy right now, it seems. For the curious, the Whitman reprint predictably changes "Kindergarten" to, simply, "school."
The stuff on the actual island is predictably less interesting, though it's kind of amusing to see Donald's imagination run wild. I must admit, his justification for leaving HDL in the dark--he's annoyed that they pooh-pooh'd his purchase--is much less colorful than it is in "Mines His Own Business:"
TEN THOUSAND! That's...quite a pathology you've got there.
"He's a duck." Somehow that always makes me laugh. Can you imagine the equivalent in a non-duck world? "Did you see our uncle? He's a human!" Hard to imagine a less helpful description, though in the equivalent panel in the earlier story, they instead say "he's a little guy," which is probably equally useless, given that all adult ducks in the duckiverse are exactly the same size.
I don't know; this whole thing is vaguely ominous. This was, after all, the height of the Cold War; you can't see something like that and not suspect some kind of nuclear test.
...even if it does turn out to be more benign.
Say what you will, that's a pretty impressive SPLOOK. Some good artistic ambition, even in just some random, late-period ten-pager.
...but once again, this doesn't really work: there was no indication in the original lesson that the reason you shouldn't buy land from strangers sight unseen was that they might be frauds who didn't even own the land. "Be wary of island-owning tramps" seems like the real lesson--more to-the-point but much less widely-applicable. In "Mines His Own Business," Donald actually does find gold; of course, that doesn't have the whole "business tips" aspect that this does, but it definitely seems to be saying "following random treasure maps on wild goose chases is a great idea!" Kinda the opposite message from the one we get here.
Mind you, apart from mildly reflecting his generally skeptical nature, I don't think this story presents any deeply-held Barksian principle. It's just common practice to structure a story around a "lesson," and the content of said lesson is less important than its load-bearing capacity. In that sense, this one actually does work okay.
Labels: Carl Barks