Dec 10, 2015

Lamenting the Lack of Landmark Looney

Man, I sure have been writing about Disney Ducks a lot in the last few years. Donald, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Uncle Scrooge... I seem to be able to talk about them a lot, especially if it's the works of Carl Barks or Don Rosa. In fact, this post about Della Duck from January of 2014 is one of the Cube columns that is constantly getting hits. Donald Duck is a great character. Scrooge McDuck is a great character.

Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck are not my favorite funny animals. Not even close. That honor is reserved for one rabbit, and one rabbit only.

Yes, that rabbit.

Bugs Bunny cartoons were some of my favorite cartoons growing up and were some of the first voices I ever started trying to imitate. I watched a bunch of those cartoons a number of times, and to this day, I can still sing pretty much the entirety of "What's Opera, Doc?"

I didn't mean to memorize that entire thing. I just watched it so much and it just imprinted itself in my brain. Beyond that, there's the Duck Season/Rabbit Season trilogy, the Rabbit of Seville, the ones with Marvin the Martian, and a whole host of others, and that's not even counting the ones that don't star Bugs (my favorite of which stars Michigan J. Frog).

Now Looney Tunes has had its share of comics over the last half-decade and more, and there are some websites that put up scans of them. They've been filled with fun moments, like this one:

And even some funny moments they didn't intend, like this one:

And there have been some really great talent that's worked on these comics. Hell, Dan Slott was one, and he's in the middle of writing what is probably my favorite Spider-Man run of all time. For one story in 1944, Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny got the king of funny animals working on them: Carl Barks.

Despite the sheer volume and talent though, I find it weird that Looney Tunes are rarely, if ever, talked about in the "greatest comics ever" conversations. There does seem to be a lack of landmark Looney Tunes comics, especially when you consider that the Disney Ducks are not only among the greatest comics of all time but also the biggest sellers in certain sections of the world, and I'm wondering really why that is. I've racked my brain for reasons, and I can only think of three.

Reason #1: Carl Barks and the Disney Ducks were a lightning strike

When Disney's comics people handed the pen and paper over to Barks, they gave him what was essentially free rein (or as such that passes for Disney) to do what he did. Barks, realizing that there was absolutely no way to replicate Donald's voice, also realized what a blank slate he was essentially working with. So he turned Donald into a regular working-class Joe (who happened to be an anthropomorphized duck) and had him take odd jobs that led him to adventures. And when Barks created Donald's Uncle Scrooge McDuck and cousin Gladstone Gander, the ball really started rolling. Those characters took on lives of their own, even if it did take a while for Barks to perfect them.

Dan Slott has said that when he was working on Looney Tunes, he actually got a lot of latitude, but it would take just the right eye to see how a character such as Bugs Bunny or even Daffy Duck could expand in the role given to them. Barks himself didn't figure it out in the one story he did, and really, as much as Barks' work on Barney Bear is pretty and entertaining, it's not as praised as the Duck books either.

Carl Barks and Donald Duck were a perfect match. Barks gave Donald Duck a life of his own, and so Donald Duck for the most part in the comics is a vastly different character from the cartoon Donald Duck. That was the right twist and it may not have worked with any other creator or with any other character. To hold the funny animal genre to that standard, which I am now doing because I am unreasonable, is to hope for a very specific lightning strike of creative freedom, the right creator, and the right character.

Reason #2: There is a distinct lack of promotion

Supposedly the Looney Tunes comics do well enough overseas, but there just seems to be a lack of knowledge of the existence of these comics. No trade paperbacks are in print, and hell, the DC series just came out with their 227th issue this month, and the general comics fan seems to be unaware or uncaring about the existence of the series. I'm not saying that the lack of landmark Looney Tunes comics is a direct consequence of the lack of promotion, but the lack of such recognition may also come with a lack of incentive to create beyond the box.

Reason #3: Mel Blanc is irreplicable and irreplaceable

Before I start this paragraph, can I just say how dumb it is that "irreplicable" isn't actually a word? That's really dumb.

Anyway, Mel Blanc, whom I believe is widely recognized even within the voice acting industry as the greatest voice actor of all time, gave a bunch of Looney Tunes characters, including Bugs and Daffy Duck, their voices. Their voices are a huge part of their personality, and they're not really easily rendered in written dialogue. Barks did away with the voice altogether, but aside from having a quick temper, Donald's generally a blank slate. With the Looney Tunes characters, their voices are their personality.

Could the right creator discard those voices altogether and come up with the right twists? Maybe. But I'm not holding my breath. The chances of someone really doing to Bugs Bunny and company what Barks did with Donald Duck are incredibly small, especially when you consider the fact that what Barks and Donald Duck was a match made in heaven to begin with.

But while not the same, the current Looney Tunes series is still entertaining. I was also a big fan of The Looney Tunes Show, as well. And it's nice to see things like DC doing a variant cover theme month integrating their characters with the Merrie Melodies characters. So I may as well close with this cover by Terry and Rachel Dodson, featuring Wonder Woman and Elmer Fudd.

"Oh Diana, yo' so wuvwy."
"Yes, I know it. I can't help it."

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