Sep 9, 2015

Review: Donald Duck: The Pixilated Parrot

It's taken me a while to get to the review of the next edition in The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library published by Fantagraphics, and that's because I've taken to reading these volumes with my niece. Now I only see her around once a week, and we go through around three stories each time, so it takes us about a month to get through one volume. Regardless, here it is, my review of Donald Duck: The Pixilated Parrot.

In any collection of books that's gonna be this long, there are gonna be peaks, valleys, and a standard in-the-middle level. "The Pixilated Parrot," for me, is one of those peaks. Marked by a clear lack of one-pagers (there's only one, and it's not drawn by Barks), this collection has a lot of longer stories, at least three of which count, for me, as epic.

If you've been reading the Barks volumes, you'll notice Barks revisiting and reusing devices here. "The Magic Hourglass" has a similar ending to "Riches, Riches Everywhere" in Uncle Scrooge: The Seven Cities of Gold, for example. This isn't surprising, since these were created when there was high reader turnover, and most fans who saw that one story probably weren't reading the second. It's like how Archie Comics has some story templates that they just recycle. Find the right spin, and it's still entertaining.

The stories in Donald Duck: The Pixilated Parrot first appeared in Four Color #275, 282, 291, and 356; Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #117; Vacation Parade #1; and Walt Disney's Christmas Parade #2, from May 1950 to November 1951.

Long Stories
  • The Pixilated Parrot. The boys find a parrot that only wants to count. Donald doesn't want it around the house, so he gives it to Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge pretends he doesn't care about it, but of course he does (Scrooge pretending to not be a big softie is one of my favorite pieces of characterization ever.), so he teaches it the combination to his safe. Well, not only do some Beagle Boy wannabes rob him; the parrot ends up escaping to the tropics before he even realizes he's been robbed! Donald, Huey, Dewey, and Louie then go on a wild adventure to get the parrot back for Scrooge all while Scrooge doesn't even know the money is missing. It's such a small twist on what would otherwise be another excuse to send the Ducks around the world, but it works so effectively in setting up the suspense.
  • Ancient Persia. Sadly, this involves one of the racial caricatures as villains that were so prominent at the time, but otherwise, this is another of those magical Duck expeditions where they run into a lot of fantastic stuff. In this case, it's a whole society that turned themselves into dust, ready to be brought back to life when an enterprising mad scientist (who may be a racial caricature) gets to it. A wonderfully Barksian concept, and a great Donald Duck tale.
  • Vacation Time. This is the centerpiece of the collection, and is one of those super classic Barks stories, the kind that I knew about even before I started reading Carl Barks books. It's 33 pages long, it opens with a splash page, and it uses beautiful layouts that deviate just enough from his usual 4-row/2-panel grid that it really does stand out visually among Barks stories. The splash page is below, side by side with an oil painting recreation by Barks.

    Narratively speaking, it also sticks out because it's a rare story where Donald is incredibly brave and competent. He not only gets the boys to their campsite, unafraid of all the dangers (cliffs, wild animals, etc.) and sets up camp perfectly (supposedly, the way he does it is in such a way that actually is how you'd set up camp); he also stands up to a thug who has no regard for forest safety rules and uses his own knowledge of survival to save the boys from a forest fire. Put all that together with his obsession to take a picture of a buck, and you have 33 of the most entertaining pages in comics history.
  • Donald's Grandma Duck.  This story isn't written by Barks, and features Huey, Dewey, and Louie going to live with Grandma Duck for a weekend. It's fun and visually appealing, but nothing really worth writing home about.
  • The Magic Hourglass. Scrooge gets rid of an hourglass that's supposedly magic and is responsible for his wealth (and of course, it's never mentioned again after this story, but run with it) and gives it to the boys. He also gives a broken down boat to Donald. So Donald and the boys go to the Sahara Desert to refill the hourglass with the magic sand, and Scrooge goes after them because he's starting to lose money. Again, a fun story.
  • Big-Top Bedlam. This is one of my favorite stories that feels like a short story (it's actually 18 pages). Donald decides to pawn Daisy's brooch for a while so he can take the kids to the circus, but then he loses Daisy's brooch and ends up at the circus looking for it anyway. The kids get mad at him for going to the circus without him, and the whole time Donald's trying to get the brooch back from the man who has it: Zippo, the world's fastest quick change artist. So Donald has forgotten about the kids and isn't even aware the kids are at the circus and can't figure out how the brooch keeps changing hands, the kids think Donald ditched them, and Zippo thinks Donald's a bill collector and is determined to evade him. It's an incredibly entertaining story where no one has any real idea what's going on.
  • You Can't Guess! The boys want a building set for Christmas, and Donald agrees to get it for them if they guess what he wants for Christmas. So the boys get everyone to help, which leads to everyone getting into the Christmas spirit without even really meaning to. I love this story because it's got two bits of characterization that I love. First, the boys decide they want nothing for Christmas and write a letter to Santa saying to give their share of Christmas presents to less fortunate kids... and then five minutes later see the building set in the window of a toy store and try to get to the mailbox before the mailman takes their letter to Santa. Later on, they ask Uncle Scrooge for help, who characteristically says "If it costs money, I can't afford it." But when Donald's car breaks down with Scrooge in it, Scrooge realizes Donald needs a new car and buys him one. He's grumpy while he's doing it, but it's one of my favorite contradictory bits of characterization that I love about Scrooge.
Short Stories (10 pages or fewer)
  • Wild About Flowers. Whoever pins a daisy on a girl gets to take her to a picnic. So Donald and his cousin, Gladstone Gander, the most annoying man in the world, try to pin a daisy on Daisy Duck. It's not a daisy of a time.
  • Camp Counselor. This story was drawn but not written by Carl Barks. Donald is an incompetent camp counselor (it's weird that this is in the same volume as "Vacation Time," where he is an incredibly competent camper) and he wants to make the kids respect him. So hijinks ensue.
The 1-pagers. There's only one, and it is:
  • Talking Parrot. This story was written but not drawn by Carl Barks. My niece has gotten to the point where she can tell it's not Barks just by looking. It's awesome.
The Pixilated Parrot would be worth getting for "Vacation Time" alone. Add "Ancient Persia" and the titular story and it's a bargain. All the others are a very delicious bonus. Very recommended.


Noah said...

I stumbled upon your website. I don't know exactly who you are/where you're from, but I just want to say THANK YOU for writing all these articles about Barks's and Rosa's Duck stories. I'm an American fan (a very, very, VERY lonely American fan) and all your Duck articles are pretty much everything I've been looking for to supplement my Duck obsession.
Thank you!

Duy Tano said...

My pleasure! Most of my hits come from superhero stuff, but these also have a nice following. Hoping to provide as holistic a view of the medium as I can. :)

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