[personal profile] psychopathicus_rex posting in [community profile] scans_daily
More Ducks! (Don't worry, I'll be taking a break from them after this.)
I'm a little late for Black History Month, but I thought this story would be appropriate for such. I shall proceed to explain why.
As I'm sure you're all aware, racial depictions in comics have had... well, not a very good track record over the years, especially during the first few decades of their history. Carl Barks, overall, was much better about this sort of thing than many of his contemporaries - he wasn't above the occasional stereotype, but they were, as a general rule, very mild and innocuous.
There are exceptions to every rule, though, and this story, 'Voodoo Hoodoo', is one of them. Personally, I think the story as a whole is quite effective - it IS Barks, after all - but there are some elements to it which... well, see for yourself.



(A note before we start - this story has been reprinted over the years with redrawn artwork by Disney staff artists in order to not offend people's sensibilities. Well, first off, I can't show you that, since the scans I have access to are of the original artwork; second, it would somewhat spoil the examination of stereotypes to do so with the stereotypes removed, and third, I don't WANT to do it, because this is BARKS, dammit, and Barks artwork does not deserve to be tampered with, racially insensitive or not. You're gettin' the real deal here.)
10 and 1/4 pages out of 32.
The story begins in the fair city of Duckburg, where a rumor is going around town. Seems people have been seeing... *deep voice* a ZOMBIE!



So, yeah. Here we have Bop-Bop, the first black guy we've ever seen in Duckburg - and yes, he's the 'Yow! Spooks!' variety of Hollywood comedy black guy. As is, you may notice, the guy in the window in the last panel. So that's... not promising.
Still, this isn't really any worse than you could find in your average Charlie Chan movie. Sure, it's not exactly enlightened, but if that was the extent of things, I'd be prepared to give the story a pass. There's more, though - the really iffy stuff comes later, and it's much worse than this.
Anyway - back to the story. As you may have guessed, the guy Donald stumbles over in the last panel is not the local mailman. He is, in fact, the zombie! (You have ten seconds in which to gasp at this shocking revelation.)
So - the zombie. The zombie has a doll that he is carrying. The zombie wants to give Donald the doll. And because the story wouldn't last very long if he didn't, Donald TAKES the doll.



So off he goes home, and shows it to his nephews.



'Ouch'? Oh, dear. 'Ouch' can't be good.
Sure enough, it isn't. Seems there was a thorn inside the doll, and it pricked him, and... he's not feeling at all well...



Like I said - not good.



Enter Scrooge McDuck. He makes a visit to the Duck family home, where Donald is recuperating. He's not feeling well, but, Scrooge assures him, he's not turning to brass. Instead...



Now, you may have noticed that dear old Uncle Scrooge is acting somewhat unwontedly cheerful here. It's not like he's ever been the soul of tact, but informing someone that they're the victim of a voodoo spell with a big grin on his face is... a little much, even for him.
There's a reason for that - this story takes place very early in Scrooge's comics career, and his character was not fully developed yet. 'Only a Poor Old Man', the story that would cement him as a sympathetic protagonist in his own right, was still several years in the future - at this point, Scrooge was more like Gladstone Gander in some ways. He was basically an antagonist of sorts, with his money-grubbing ways as yet unbalanced by his better nature.
Therefore, THIS Scrooge thinks the whole thing is a riot. "Some old enemies of mine wanted to give me the works, but Donald here gets the works instead!" he cackles. "Wow! What a gag! Haw! Haw! Heee!" Sensitivity is not this guy's middle name.
Anyway. After having a good belly-laugh at Donald's expense, Scrooge finally tells the assembled company what's going on. Now here - right here - is where things start to get highly dubious, if not downright offensive:



...yeah. Nice guy, huh?
Now, as for Scrooge himself, such dirty deeds were not, at this point, beyond him. They're a significant stain on his character, but like I said, his character at this point is not the one we will come to know in later years, who prides himself on having 'made it square'. There's still a significant strain of bad guy in him.
There's more to this scene than that, though. Note HD&L's expressions as they're listening. There are no frowns on their faces, no sign that they disapprove of Scrooge's actions. Instead, there are smiles - for them, this is just an interesting story. 'Wow! Tell us again, Uncle Scrooge, how you drove those innocent people from their homes and stole their land!' After all, who cares about them - they're 'savages', right?
To say the least, this wouldn't fly today. It wouldn't even get past editorial.
In Barks' defense, this was still the age of colonialism, and tales of great white hunters and the like were still common fare. Things just like he's describing here were, if not exactly commonplace, not long in the past, and they inevitably got romanticized in the retelling. This doesn't excuse him for his storytelling choices here, but he was, after all, a man of his era telling stories of the sort he himself had heard.
Anyway. Let's got on with the story.
Scrooge goes on to explain that the witch doctor created the doll with the thorn in it, and sent Bombie the zombie to track Scrooge down. (Yes, the zombie's name is Bombie. It could be worse - at least he's not called 'Zombo' or something.) Back then, he looked quite a bit like Donald, so when Bombie finally made his way across the world to Duckburg, he gave the doll to the wrong person.
All this talk of voodoo and zombies and shrinking spells has not helped Donald's nerves any, so Scrooge departs, suggesting that he take a sleeping pill and go to bed. Without much else to do, he does so.
Meanwhile, though, old Bombie is still out there, wandering around - and when Donald awakes the next morning:



Yeow! The zombie! HELP!
After much panicking and waving of brooms, it's noted that Bombie isn't actually doing anything menacing. In fact, he's just standing there.





Donald, understandably enough, is not inclined to join in on the chorus of sympathy for the damn zombie - he's got a voodoo curse on him! Furthermore, it's one that he knows nothing about - he doesn't know WHEN he's going to shrink. He determines that the only thing to do is head over to Africa as soon as possible, find the witch doctor, and get himself de-voodooed - and since this whole thing is Uncle Scrooge's fault, he determines that he's going to pay for his ticket.
Luckily enough, Scrooge agrees with him - he'll pay for his ticket, and ONLY his ticket. As Donald puts it to HD&L, "If I don't eat on the way, and if I don't mind walking the last two thousand miles", he's got just enough to get him - and only him - to Africa. This means the nephews will have to stay home, along with Bombie.
So he leaves for Africa, and leaves them behind. After feeling sorry for themselves for a while, the triplets decide that if THEY'RE not going to Africa, they can at least try and do something for poor old Bombie. Maybe Immigration Services can get him back home - it's worth a shot.
With this plan in mind, they dress up the zombie in a... somewhat eclectic outfit scrounged from bits and pieces in the attic (his old outfit was not fit to be seen in public after seventy years of wandering), and head downtown with him to talk to Immigration. Unfortunately, Bombie is an awfully slow walker, and they accidentally leave him behind. He gets caught in a passing crowd, and by the time the nephews catch up with him, he's entered the XXYZ Broadcasting Studio, and is plodding up on stage as one of the contestants for the 'Perky Peanut Quiz Show'.
A zombie on the radio. Well, THIS should be interesting...





(May I just say in passing that I LOVE the way the announcer twines around the microphone in that second-to-last panel. That's a great little Barksian detail.)
So when Donald arrives penniless at the airport in 'Whambo Jambo, Africa' the next day (as is often the case with this sort of thing, we never find out what actual country we're in, but Capetown is mentioned later, so it's probably in or near South Africa), there is another plane landing right behind him - a 'special chartered super luxury liner', with eight engines, silver fox upholstery and leopard skin wheels. Whoa! Must be some millionaire coming in, huh?



You've got to give those kids credit - they KNOW how to spend their money.
So, armed with the kids' new fortune, they rapidly put together an expedition and head for Scroogeville-on-the-Latex, Scrooge's rubber plantation that he got through his dirty dealings. Once there, Donald asks some questions of the plant manager, who informs him that the guy he's looking for is 'old Foola Zoola', and advises him to turn around and go back.



Into the jungle they go, and here's where the NEXT bit of highly questionable material raises its head:





Yeah. I'll let you make your own minds up on that one, but I think we can all agree that 'cowardly big-lipped natives running away' is not the world's most enlightened bit of imagery.
Anyway. So now they've been abandoned in the middle of the jungle, and they have no idea where to go next. They briefly try to get Bombie to show them the way, but zombies aren't big on directions.
"Did I hear somebody mention zombies?" pipes up a voice from a nearby bush. "I'm an authority on the subject!"



After the Ducks get over their initial what-the-hell-is-this reaction, the little man reveals himself to be one Professor Cornelius McCobb, Dean of Mystic Lore at the University of Ypsilanti. It seems he went to Foola Zoola to study voodoo - and things seemed to be going quite well, until one day he was given a doll to squeeze...



The professor advises him to accept his fate philosophically, but Donald's not inclined to listen - with concrete evidence that the spell works and only a day left, he's more desperate to find the witch doctor than ever before. McCobb draws them a map, and on they go.
(Incidentally, before they go, the professor gives them a little factoid about zombies - namely, that they're NOT dead, merely drugged by the witch doctor so they don't have to eat or sleep or feel anything, a process that wears off after a few centuries, at which point, they're normal again. This unasked-for detail feels sufficiently shoehorned in that I suspect Disney editorial was at work here - a GENUINE undead zombie would have been too much.)
So they find the village, and bang on the gate for admittance:



Yipes!
Actually, Foola Zoola is surprisingly reasonable, to start with. Once Donald has explained to him that his zombie got the wrong guy, the witch doctor agrees that a mistake has been made, and since he's got no beef with Donald, he's perfectly willing to take the spell off him - for a price. After the boys have forked over a hefty handful of dough, he cheerfully informs them that, in fact, he doesn't HAVE to do anything - the drug the doll had been dosed with lost its potency decades ago.
This cooperation lasts right up until Donald lets slip that Scrooge McDuck is his uncle - at which point, Foola Zoola changes his tune:



He starts work on a new doll, one which will make Donald even smaller than the other one - one which shall be given to him tonight, when the moon reaches its zenith.



The nephews escape the village and go for help. They're stopped by a guard, but they manage to elude him through the power of currency:



Going as fast as they can, the three zip back through the jungle to Scroogeville-on-the-Latex to summon help - only to find that everyone's gone to see a movie in Whambo Jambo. Everything's locked up - there are no tools or weapons or anything that they could use. Just rubber. Big blocks of rubber...



So along comes Foola Zoola to gloat, and here's where the final questionable note is struck:



Now, admittedly, Donald has every reason to be defiant here. He's being punished for a crime he didn't commit, and faces a terrible fate that he doesn't deserve. It's one thing to emphasize THAT, but to emphasize that he doesn't think his uncle did anything wrong in the first place... that's... Bad form, Carl.
In any case, here comes the dramatic climax! The moon is inching towards its zenith, and old Foola Zoola is ready and waiting with the doll. Back come the boys, armed only with rubber! What can they do?
Well, there's always this...



Now THAT'S an entrance. And an exit.
Naturally, they are pursued, but they've still got one last card up their sleeves - Bombie! And the rubber! And a cliff!



Ah, a happy ending - all except for Bombie. And Foola Zoola. And his tribe...
I'm kind of torn over this story, because racist elements aside, it's really pretty good stuff. The pacing is excellent, there are some nicely funny moments, and the 'voodoo doll causes you to shrink' aspect is nicely creepy - it's good Barks. Still, it's the very quality of it all that makes those other bits stick in your craw even more. It's a terrible shame, really.
So what do you all think?

Date: 2011-03-02 12:39 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lonewolf23k
It's a shame we never had Don Rosa revisit this story to resolve the issue. I could see post-Life and Times Scrooge actually regret his actions concerning Zoola's tribe and offer to make amends.

Date: 2011-03-02 03:33 pm (UTC)
houbanaut: (Default)
From: [personal profile] houbanaut
Am I right that you seem more critical of the racial stereotypes in this comic than of those in the old Tintin and Spirou samples I posted way back?

Not to deny the issues you point out (and the conclusion is particularly callous), but I'd point out that HD&L are not in fact smiling when Scrooge tells them the story of how he drove the tribe away from their land. They're smiling in the panel before, before the story gets ugly. Just given the bluntness of Scrooge's description and the words he uses ("I hired a mob of thugs and chased the tribe into the jungle"), I think Barks meant for readers to be appalled. In fact, throughout the rest of the story, the tribe is shown to have a legitimate grievance and to be more than just "crazy savages."

In this story, Scrooge is a kind of robber baron. His abuses (or at least this example of them) happened in Africa, but the story was written within living memory of American robber barons using hired mobs of thugs and Pinkerton agents to to attack, and sometimes kill, campaigners for workers' rights. I think Barks could see it from their point of view.

Date: 2011-03-03 01:13 pm (UTC)
houbanaut: (Default)
From: [personal profile] houbanaut
So for you it's more problematic that they're portrayed sympathetically but not given any sympathy by the characters than if they'd been given a more stereotypical presentation?

I think where we differ is that I see Barks as being completely unsympathetic to Scrooge's action, and even portraying Foola Zoola's revenge as a generally justified response. I agree that the Ducks' lack of sympathy (I read HD&L as serious-faced in the frame under discussion, but agree that they ought to have taken the tribe's side) and the fact that the conclusion of the story seems to regard their fate as irrelevant is problematic (and a bit puzzling), but I think that's more a consequence of trying to adhere somewhat clumsily to an adventure-story formula than any sense that what Scrooge did was justified or not any big deal.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the abuses of strikers by thugs were ever exactly glamorized. It wasn't exactly hushed up; people knew about it, but I don't think there were many examples of people trumpeting the noble robber baron's cause, unless, of course, the baron had paid them to do so. I wouldn't think that popular culture was ever really on the robber barons' SIDE - otherwise, why would they call them that?

I think you misunderstand me. My point was exactly that similar abuses were not unknown in the US, and that the robber barons were vilified for them. So I don't think it would be such a great leap of imagination for Barks to put himself in the tribe's shoes and recognize it for what it was.

You read the story as Barks tacitly accepting Scrooge's actions, maybe not as likable, but as acceptable behavior. I don't.

Date: 2011-03-02 10:18 pm (UTC)
hyaroo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hyaroo
I see that's the original version of Voodoo Hoodoo you got there. The story was partially redrawn by Barks later on (I forget exactly when), and the redrawn version, while not doing away with the racist elements altogether, at least tones them down heavily -- the black people are not drawn as big-lipped caricatures and their exaggerated speech is dropped as well (for example, the "If they see us first -- oh lawsy! Lawsy!" becomes "If they see us first, we are done for.")

I can't really be angry with Barks over this one -- like you said, it truly was a different time, and unlike many contemporary comics, this was at least not malicious.

Date: 2011-03-03 11:38 am (UTC)
janegray: (Default)
From: [personal profile] janegray
This story is indeed very problematic, but I've got to admit, I LOVE the "going shopping? - yes! Will you sell us that spear for ten thousand dollars?" exchange.

Date: 2011-03-05 03:56 am (UTC)
bradhanon: (Serious editor)
From: [personal profile] bradhanon
Wow, a Barks story I've never seen before (for somewhat obvious reasons). Thanks for posting, and man, are you right about the problematic aspects. It reminds me a lot of some of the Ebony White stuff in The Spirit: brilliant execution of some content that would make me tear my hair out, if I had hair.

Date: 2011-03-05 04:48 am (UTC)
bradhanon: (Serious editor)
From: [personal profile] bradhanon
That's an interesting distinction, and a worthwhile one. I agree the analogy isn't perfect, I just meant they were similar in the sense of making me alternately think "Wow, this is gorgeous" and "Oh man, that's ugly."

Date: 2011-03-17 05:05 am (UTC)
roguefankc: Leomon (Default)
From: [personal profile] roguefankc
Now, admittedly, Donald has every reason to be defiant here. He's being punished for a crime he didn't commit, and faces a terrible fate that he doesn't deserve. It's one thing to emphasize THAT, but to emphasize that he doesn't think his uncle did anything wrong in the first place... that's... Bad form, Carl.[/quote]

To be fair, I can sort of understand Donald's response.

If I've been terrorized, cursed, and thrown into a prison just because I'm related to Scrooge, I'd be in the same mindset of, "You know, I used to feel sorry for you, but now that you're doing this to me again, I'm not going to feel entirely out of place when I say that I take back feeling sorry to begin with."

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