Don Rosa in Review – Oolated Luck (1988)

[AR-110] – Oolated Luck (10 Pages, Gag)

Story: Donald and Gladstone compete in a contest sponsored by the manufacturers of Oolated Squiggs, because Donald has never read this kind of comic before and doesn’t know how this is going to end. Through the use of SCIENCE, the contest becomes farcical, and the nephews cleverly attempt to cheat fate on their uncle’s behalf. But even when Gladstone loses, he wins.

The Review: I’m not sure how to react to this story. It’s a Donald versus Gladstone story with a… twist? I guess? The perpetually lucky character lucks out in the end, and Donald fails. That’s kind of the opposite of a twist, but it’s played as one. Usually in Barks comics when Donald suffers it’s because he was acting like a twerp, not just because Donald is the universe’s chew toy. It just doesn’t seem quite right.

I take some satisfaction in knowing he probably broke his teeth.
The whole story feels workmanlike in that it takes no chances, the artwork is serviceable, it has a number of solid jokes in it, and as such it fits the bill for a typical ‘good’ Disney comic. If that sounds like an indictment against Disney comics… well, there’s a reason Rosa stood out, and it’s because he usually didn’t make comics like this.

Unrealistic dialogue from the nephews? Only if you’re not dealing with Gladstone.
That said… look at this guy. I want to punch him so hard he flies in to next month’s issue. He is obviously not a very active villain, very much like “Nobody’s Business”, but here you hate his guts so much you really want him to lose. This is solid, (though somewhat ham handed) characterization, because it means you want Donald to win. You care what happens. For good and for ill, that’s really all Gladstone is meant to be and it’s all he can be in a story like this. He’s an antagonist that you hate and want to see not just lose, but beaten. It’s exactly what you need in a story like this.

I’m talking about the art in this series a lot more than I really want to, but a big part of that is because Rosa’s early art is weird. It’s not that he started off bad, but he has some quirks that you can’t really ignore. Like in this story, where Rosa appears to intermittently forget how to draw Gladstone. I mean, on a technical level, he’s obviously capable of doing a very well drawn Gladstone.

It’s like looking at a beautiful, narcissistic coin.
… you know, if you only ever draw him at that angle. But looking at these panels…

Any artists want to tell me what’s up with these panels?
Well this… this is really not right. His bill is screwed up, and the perspective is all kinds of weird. He’s actually drawn fine in some parts of the story, but out of the 26 panels Gladstone appears in within this story, the profile angle is used in 9 of them. His Gladstone became much better throughout later stories. But even when he drew a Gladstone poster ten years after the publication of this story, he used the profile shot.

Part of the problem is that no other characters are really drawn like Gladstone. With his unusually large bill and curly head of hair, even when he’s drawn ‘correctly’ (meaning to Barksian standards) he still looks out of place amongst the other Ducks. Even Barks didn’t really succeed with fitting him in as often as you would expect, based on my reading. That said, I would bet there is a specific Barks panel that Rosa is drawing from for these profile shots (which he uses in this story and many others), but as always, my Barks knowledge is not up to snuff.

But that unusual bill length brings me to a point I have wanted to express for quite some time. And since I’ve had a series of negative reviews up in a row (that streak’s broken next time, folks), pardon me while I have a strange interlude: Gladstone Gander is drawn weirdly because he is biracial. Oh yes, I’m going there, and you can’t stop me.

The official Rosa family tree… and yes, Gladstone is drawn in profile.

For reasons unknown to me, “humans” in Disney comics are drawn with black noses and dog ears. They are colloquially referred to as Dognoses, and are the default ‘race’ within the Disney comics universe.

Look at those noses.
Compare this to our heroes, who are, well, Ducks. We don’t see anyone with their body type in the crowd. You know who else we don’t see in the crowd?

Yes I did come up with those names on my own, thank you.

The more you think about it, the more confusing it gets. Are all Mousemen black? What would a black Mouseman look like if they’re not? Why are the Ducks of Tralla-La all Dognose sized?

I’ve thought about this a lot.

But the point is this… Duckburg is basically a honky town, and Gladstone Gander is the son of a Duck and a Gooselip by way of Daphne Duck and Goostave Gander. His bill looks like neither of theirs. Either he is some sort of mutant freak in a way totally unrelated to his race, or his mixed parentage gave him a totally different physical attribute than his racial background would suggest. Is his pain that of a man searching between two cultures, a minority even amongst other minorities? There are but a few Ducks in Duckburg, and the only Gooselip known to us is a farmhand miles outside of town. Could this be the secret behind his obnoxious, hateful acts?

I know a guy like this. I almost punched out a guy like this.
Oh come on now. Just cause you’re a minority doesn’t mean you lack the capacity to be a jerk on your own merits. The fact is Barks didn’t do a great job designing the character, and he got stuck with a weirdly out of proportioned face that’s just hard to draw. At least to everyone in the comic he’s considered ridiculously attractive, so it all evens out in the end. Heck, it wouldn’t be a bad argument to say the larger bill symbolizes…

… nah… couldn’t be… right?

These fish people scare the crap out of me, and my chart has no explanation for them. I’m not perfect, what do you people want from me!?
Continuity: Beyond the obvious oolated item in question, a Barksian reference, and a one-off panel relating to “Race to the South Seas”… that’s it. Sorry folks. The ball really gets rolling next time, with the deservedly classic “Last Sled to Dawson”!


4 thoughts on “Don Rosa in Review – Oolated Luck (1988)”

  1. The only Rosa story I like less than this one is “Metaphorically Spanking.” It’s depressing to have Gladstone win so definitively, and I agree, Donald has done nothing to deserve such an ending. The fish-men give me the creeps, too.

    In general, I think that Gladstone’s absurdly good luck works better as a minor joke in a larger story (I love the Gladstone moment in “A Little Something Special”) than as the story’s entire plot, where it just gets wearisome, in addition to (as always) annoying.

    It doesn’t do to think too much about the characters’ physique. For instance, the male ducks have bare (aside from spats) webbed feet, but the female ducks just don’t have room for webbed feet in their shoes. (Among Duckpeople, shoes are a sex characteristic defining females, like eyelashes generally for Disney cartoon animals. Even the female Micro-duck has heels.) As for Gyro’s “human” feet–giving Gyro chicken claw feet would be gross. His shoes do seem to imply humanesque feet. But I suppose they could have been drawn more like, say, the feet of the Islanders in the Sky–similar to human feet only to the degree that all the characters’ four-fingered hands are similar to human hands.

  2. Usually in Barks comics when Donald suffers it’s because he was acting like a twerp, not just because Donald is the universe’s chew toy. It just doesn’t seem quite right.

    Donald did sometimes suffer wholly undeservedly at the hands of Gladstone in Barks, but not very often. You have put your finger here on by far the biggest problem I have with Rosa; no doubt you will address it much more directly in many a story to come.

  3. Elaine, I’m with you on Gladstone. He’s a pretty limited character, and you have to be very, very creative to have a full-length adventure story with him as a co-star, reining his luck in a lot harder than you really would expect to need to. There’s a pretty basic set of rules you need to follow for Gladstone to make sense as a character, but it involves going deeper beyond the surface than people are comfortable doing. If you’re not willing to go deeper, he’s just a foil for Donald, the one who’s always one step ahead of him despite anything Donald tries. That works, but it can’t sustain much more than ten pages. Race to the South Seas and Trail of the Unicorn are how-tos for Gladstone, but I think they’re often ignored in lieu of the easy joke.

    I’m actually joking on the human feet part (personally I think the Gearloose family has mixed ancestry), but it’s one of those things where if you’re looking at this universe from the perspective of “The Ducks are just real people with cosmetic differences”, you have to wonder how some of this works. You might as well have fun with it in the process.

    Geo, I hope you in particular enjoy what I get to do with Donald in this series. Your comments on Last Lord of El Dorado got me thinking about how he’s treated, who he is, and his role in the Duck universe. I was very surprised by what I found. Hopefully you will enjoy some of his stories more because of it (even though I will never be able to excuse The Last Lord of El Dorado). I can tell you this though, in my folder of Duck ideas I’ve got something that addresses that very issue. I’d rather not bog this post down with the whole of the story, but it’s simple enough: Scrooge goes too far, and Donald quits. Not as a joke, not for pretend, he just quits, and takes the nephews with him. And for the first time since his sisters left, Scrooge has to adventure alone.

    I’ll never get to write for Disney, but it’s fun to pretend.

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