Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Fanboy Looks at Fifty... From BOTH Sides

Three situations came together to inspire the following exercise in ramblage:

1.  My DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE series reaching entry #50 (duh).

2.  Some comments posted by Joe Torcivia in response to my review of "The Right Duck."

3.  My growing interest in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic -- the TV series itself, that is, as opposed to the comic-book title.  (You can tell the difference because I use italics for TV series, capital letters for comic-book series.)

Joe started the ball rolling in his response to "kenisu" regarding the subjective nature of fans' reviews of their favorite works:

Chris is one of the best reviewers I’ve ever been associated with – and together we go back just about as far as DuckTales itself. He does a magnificent job reviewing this series in retrospect – as he (and I) did back when it was “current”. But, I don’t always agree with him – and that doesn’t make his views any less valid than my own. I find that I am far more critical of DT now, than I was then. A combination of no longer being enthralled with the “mere notion” of such a series after too many years of “bad animated programming”, Disney-decision-making vs. Barks’ original visions, and the fact that other series (mostly from Warner / DC) have surpassed it in overall quality.  The great DT eps are still great – but the flaws of the lesser ones have become far more glaring (fairly or unfairly) due to the reasons cited above.

I've gradually come around to the same conclusion as Joe -- that DuckTales, for all its many virtues, has in fact been "passed" by several newer series (I won't be specific).  The thing is, it took me a very long while to admit that he was right.  You see, my experience with DuckTales mirrors how most people become fans (short for "fanatics," let's not forget) of entertainment products.  You start with an emotional commitment to the product.  Why did Star Trek become the first and foremost of all "cult TV shows"?  Because at that turbulent time, people desperately wanted to believe that the idealized, cooperative future pictured on the show was possible.  The intellectual rationalization for the emotional interest -- all those Klingon vocabularies, character backstories, specs of Starfleet vehicles, and so forth -- followed soon after.  In the case of DuckTales, while I had already begun reading Duck comics at the time the show debuted, the TV show was a product that I could literally experience from Day One.  I still recall how excited I was when "Treasure of the Golden Suns" aired in its two-hour format, and I still do feel those reverberations.  That excitement led to my work with Joe on the DUCKTALES INDEX, and I hope that that same sense of commitment has been visible in the various RETROSPECTIVES columns.  I had a similar sort of emotional investment in RICHIE RICH comics, which were the only comics I collected for quite some time.  By the time I got to write for Mark Arnold's HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES!, I was ready to subject those comics to an intellectual (well, quasi-intellectual) examination, writing about the different genres of RICHIE adventure stories and so forth.  One of the reasons why I decided to do my Kimba the White Lion columns starting in 2009 was to perform a similar dissection of a TV series for which I had always had a very powerful emotional attachment and had "rediscovered" as an adult.

The problem with the emotional/intellectual paradigm is that, depending upon how emotionally flexible you are, you may have trouble accepting that the thing that you love so much doesn't look quite so good in retrospect.  Emotionally and temperamentally, I am much more conservative than the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances, so shoving DT several paces back in the queue was not so easy a task.  Depending upon how invested you are in the product, this process can be extremely disconcerting.  Reading through all those "great" RICHIE RICH adventure stories and having to pick out all the inconsistencies and logical absurdities was annoying enough, but taking DT down a peg or two was considerably harder.

A while back, I mentioned a piece I wrote for THFT! a few years ago entitled "Free DuckTales!" in which I bemoaned the loss of status that the series had (at least in my eyes) endured among animation fans in general.  I tried to walk through it in an even-tempered a manner as possible, and I think that I did a good job, keeping the whining (as opposed to the garden-variety complaining) to a minimum.  In retrospect, I see what I was trying to do there: come to intellectual terms with the idea of knocking DT off its pedestal.  Emotionally, however, I hadn't quite "bought in" yet.

After reading Joe's comments and mulling them over, I was at long last able to come to terms with the reality of the situation.  DuckTales will never lose its status as the "Arnold Palmer" of modern-day TV animation, the monster hit that showed the industry that high-quality, intelligent TV Toons could be done on a reasonable budget and cross age and gender lines to be popular with a mass audience.  I'm still absolutely convinced that post-1987 TV animation of ALL sorts owes a massive debt to DT that ought never to be forgotten.  But I'm fine now with the whole notion of other animated series being better.

Needless to say, when I attended the recent BronyCon, I saw plenty of evidence that the people in attendance had made intense emotional commitments to the series, with the intellectual activity trailing in its wake.  The emotional stakes appear to be far higher now than they were to me in 1987, though.  Even I never considered writing about "100 Years of Narrative Art" (the title of one of the Con panels) and treating DuckTales as the panel blurb seemed to treat MLP: FIM:

Come on a 100-year journey [through] the history of modern culture from the publication of PETER PAN to the one-year anniversary of MY LITTLE PONY.  We'll look at CITIZEN KANE, WATCHMEN, DUBLINERS, and CLANNAD and show how it all leads up to MY LITTLE PONY.  (Boldface mine)

Of course, the Internet, social media, Youtube fan reviews, and other technological advances (not to mention Hasbro's very active encouragement of the MLP: FIM fandom) have everything to do with this.  This is light-years removed from the days of taking handwritten notes and reading the DT credits realfast because I didn't have a VCR.  It's enough to cause a new, middle-aged fan of the thing to throw up his hands in despair, as I seemed to do during my review of the first four issues of the comic-book series when I said, "there's no way that I'm ever going to be anything more than a 'fellow galloper' in their bubbly little world."  What I'm discovering -- actually, it's more like relearning -- is that there is another way to become a fan of something, one that reverses the emotional/intellectual paradigm.

Unlike most of my Duck fan-friends, I did not read the Duck comics while growing up, apart from brief exposure to one WALT DISNEY'S COMICS DIGEST.  I did, however, learn something about the works of Carl Barks from other sources.  In 1985, with RICHIE RICH comics having for all intents and purposes "gone away," my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I bought two sets of the Another Rainbow CARL BARKS LIBRARY.  This was first and foremost an intellectual decision; I wanted to examine these works, see what made them tick, and see why they were so popular with so many highly intelligent people.  Of course, I found them even better than I had supposed.  The emotional "buy-in" came soon thereafter, helped in no small measure by the return of American Disney newsstand comics.  At the same time, the manner in which I entered Disney comics fandom made it somewhat easier to "accept" the many changes that were made to the Duck "universe" in DuckTales.  I wasn't protecting any sort of primal emotional commitment.

Of course, if you enter a fandom through the intellectual "door," then it's more likely that your interest in the product will not be sustained, since the fandom wasn't, in a sense, "part of you."  I was curious about superhero comics in the 90s and started to buy several of the DC titles, later augmenting them with titles from America's Best and the like.  My interest started to peter out soon after 2000, however, simply because the emotional commitment was just not forthcoming.  The fact that DC was at a creative peak in the 90s, only to slip a few years later, certainly didn't help matters.  But part of the reason for the change of feeling was the "gut sense" that superheroes simply aren't my "bag" in the way that humorous comics and TV series and classic comic strips are.  In the same manner, I greatly enjoyed Warners' Batman and Superman animated series of the 90s and still respect the hell out of them, but that's pretty much as far as it has gone; I feel no compelling "push" to seriously seek out any of the more recent series and am content to let others show me episodes that they think I might enjoy seeing.


Regarding MLP: FIM, as I wend my way through the old episodes, I think that I'm traveling the same route that brought me to my interest in Duck comics, starting with an intellectual curiosity about the product (Adults and teens getting into a new version of that crappy series from the pre-DuckTales 80s about cute ponies?  What is UP with that?).  Unlike what happened with superhero comics and animation, however, I've definitely started the process of the emotional "buyin."  I can tell because (*gasp!*) I'm now willing to admit that the show is actually better than Kimba.  It's more consistent and just as "Heart"-filled without the irritating continuity lapses and occasionally jarring animation.  For me to admit this would have been absolutely unthinkable just a couple of months ago.  It's "demotion of DuckTales" syndrome all over again.  The difference this time is that I've been down this road before, and so the process is somewhat easier.  By this point, I'm also more at peace with myself about what I truly enjoy and don't really care as much about the sort of impression it makes on others.  I'm not going to try to justify my liking of MLP: FIM in the same elaborate manner that I've done for the likes of RICHIE RICH, Kimba, and DuckTales.  I'll leave that to the show's original, first-and-foremost emotionally committed fans.  If it's good, it's good, "intended demographic" be damned. 


I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on my emotional/intellectual theory of fandom.  Does it make sense from your perspective?  (And I didn't even use the phrase "playfully transgressing normative coding."  Yes, that appeared in the blurb for a BronyCon panel, too.)
 

15 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Fascinating commentary, Chris! I’m happy to be the one who started this ball rolling.

However, when it specifically comes to my changed view of DUCKTALES, I maintain that the reasons FOR that change are exactly those stated in my original comment. Episodes like “Where No Duck has Gone Before”, “Double-O-Duck”, “Uncrashable Hindentanic”, “All Ducks on Deck”, and others were great THEN – and are still great now! Others, for those stated reasons, and from today’s perspective, are not.

You do a really nice job of “soul searching and analysis of the cause for your own shifting views” but, for me, and for this particular discussion, the matter is simple. Certain things may shift in your own personal perspective, while others do not.

DUCKTALES has shifted. Things of similar ilk that, at least for me “have not” would include: ’40s – ‘50s Warner Bros. cartoons, pre-1965 Hanna-Barbera cartoons, 1964-1966 Gold Key Comics, Silver Age and ‘80s – ‘90s DC Comics, and Warner Bros. animated series of the ‘90s (as noted in my recent TAZ-MANIA DVD review http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/dvd-review-taz-mania-season-one-part.html )

Post-1965 / Pre-1970 H-B cartoons, for example, have undergone a similar shift to DT. I still like them, but they are simply NOT as good as their predecessors. Never mind their monumental decline Post-1970. Yet, coincidently, this very week I saw two Huckleberry Hound cartoons, “Piccadilly Dilly” and “The Unmasked Avenger” – and they are just as funny and clever (again, to me) as they were ages ago.

Oddly, in the converse of this notion, the DC Comics of the ‘70s have risen ever-so-slightly in my estimation, but only because the story and art of what they do now is so uninteresting and/or distasteful.

Because Blogger has a limit on how long a comment can be, I’ll offer further perspective on DUCKTALES in my very next comment.

Joe Torcivia said...

Much of the extremely high regard I had for DUCKTALES, back in the day, was because of “…the mere notion of such a series after too many years of bad animated programming”, and seeing things from beloved comic books that I’d NEVER have imagined I’d see on my TV screen!

Now, imagine if DUCKTALES had come along AFTER Warner’s BATMAN and SUPERMAN ANIMATED SERIES! (…and yes, I’ll concede in advance that, without DT, there very likely would NOT have been any great WB shows to surpass it!)

To keep it short and simple, I’ll limit my list of those DC series’ virtues to just the fact that, for the first time, we saw an animated Batman and Superman perfectly reflective of the contemporary comic books – and not of “SUPER FRIENDS”, and as for “seeing things from beloved comic books that I’d NEVER have imagined I’d see on my TV screen”… Limiting it to just ONE from each series: Ra’s Al Ghul and Lobo! ‘Nuff said!

Let’s say DUCKTALES comes along NOW – offering what has unfortunately been our ONLY chance to see the world of Carl Barks (and Floyd Gottfredson) translated to animation. Just how well did they do?

We have NO DONALD. There’s a Gyro that sounds like a “country doctor”, rather than Barks’ “fussy and sometimes prissy” genius inventor. Magica is not Italian, but Slavic. The Beagle Boys (though entertaining) are unrecognizable. With the exception of Launchpad, we get new characters that (in retrospect) add little or nothing to Barks’ “perfect-as-is” world…

…And, most unforgivable of all, a series that commits needless atrocities to Barks’ CHARACTERS (“Ducks of the West”) and STORIES (“Down and Out in Duckburg”)... and offers a number of other early production efforts that are dull and uninteresting enough to be ‘70s Gold Key product.

Well, the “love” that stemmed from quality animation that was not “cutesy and toy-based” would NOT BE THERE, because Warners would have beaten Disney to that particular punch – and all you’d have was an average series, that failed to live up to its inspiration – but with some very specific and undeniable heights. And that’s what DUCKTALES now is to me.

More in our next comment.

Joe Torcivia said...

And, that finally leads us to “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” (TV or comic books)…

Only you know your own mind, and your likes and dislikes are your own – and there’s no need to justify them to anyone.

But, wasn’t one of the reasons we all thought DUCKTALES was “The Beatles and Elvis of Animation” precisely BECAUSE it was not “cutesy and toy-based”?

Seems to me, we would have run screaming form ANYTHING with “Friendship is Magic” as part of its title. But, you clearly know something that I may not care to learn along with you – and that’s what makes the world go round.

What may be undeniable is that, in our (for lack of a better term) “fannish quests”, we tend to seek out new and or different things. As I have found great enjoyment from classic TV shows (thanks to DVD) such as PERRY MASON, THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE FUGITIVE, GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, WAGON TRAIN and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, not to mention a variety of movies from the ‘30s – ‘50s, you seem to have found it here.

So, enjoy it – and thanks for an interesting look into your “thought process”.

Just one request… Go on and NAME those series that surpassed DUCKTALES! I’d be interested to know!

Comicbookrehab said...

It's the "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" curse; comparing a TV show that has ceased production long ago with a current offering that has grown in favor. And yet..."Ducktales" IS a great show itself - well written, well-produced & worth our time. NOBODY can say that about other shows from the decade that were re-released on DVD, or even think it worthwhile to devote the attention we've given to DT around it's silver anniversary; the other programs - like "Transformers" - were terrible and had commemorative merchandise celebrating their age; what did Ducktales get?..."Ducktales Remastered"? Okay..what about new episodes? A box set of the remaining episodes on DVD? No? Well, that's how the curse begins.

I just find it hilarious that a"My Little Pony" cartoon is believed to have raised the bar in animation these days...

Comicbookrehab said...

Btw, Chris, you're looking in top shape for 50, if that photo above is any indication. :)

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"You do a really nice job of “soul searching and analysis of the cause for your own shifting views” but, for me, and for this particular discussion, the matter is simple. Certain things may shift in your own personal perspective, while others do not."

In my case, the major thing that has not "shifted" since my initial exposure to it would be the Carl Barks Duck stories. If some disaster were to befall me, and I'd have to start selling off my comics and books, the Another Rainbow CBL would be the very last thing to go.

"Well, the “love” that stemmed from quality animation that was not “cutesy and toy-based” would NOT BE THERE, because Warners would have beaten Disney to that particular punch – and all you’d have was an average series, that failed to live up to its inspiration – but with some very specific and undeniable heights. And that’s what DUCKTALES now is to me."

I'm not going to go so far as to say that DT was "average." To me, it's still well, well above the norm, even for animated series of today. I will, however, list some series that, in my estimation, have passed DT:

1. TALE SPIN (Yes, Greg Weagle managed to convince me)

2. KIM POSSIBLE

3. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES

4. SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES

I could also argue for the (earlier years of) THE SIMPSONS.

I'll address MLP: FIM in another comment.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"Seems to me, we would have run screaming form ANYTHING with “Friendship is Magic” as part of its title. But, you clearly know something that I may not care to learn along with you – and that’s what makes the world go round."

Think of it this way: Just because a microwave made in 1985 was somewhat bulky, clunky, and hard to use doesn't mean that people refuse to buy microwaves today. The quality has improved. Such is the case with MLP version 4. The "cutesy and toy-based" aspects of the show can still be glimpsed on occasion -- and some fans-from-the-start are apparently pissed at what they see as Hasbro mucking with the show in an effort to sell new toy lines -- BUT the entertainment value is infinitely higher than that of any previous incarnation of the series. It doesn't measure up to the best Disney or Warners series, but, for a generation of people raised on snark and ugliness, it has definitely struck a nerve.

Once I finish watching the first 3 seasons of eps, I'll make sure to make some additional comments (as opposed to apologia) on what I have observed.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

CBR,

"It's the "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" curse; comparing a TV show that has ceased production long ago with a current offering that has grown in favor. And yet..."Ducktales" IS a great show itself - well written, well-produced & worth our time. NOBODY can say that about other shows from the decade that were re-released on DVD, or even think it worthwhile to devote the attention we've given to DT around it's silver anniversary."

Regarding a lot of the shows from the pre-DT 80s, you're correct.

"I just find it hilarious that a "My Little Pony" cartoon is believed to have raised the bar in animation these days..."

That may be putting it a bit too strongly. What's happened is that something that no one should have had any reasonable expectation to be good has turned out to be extremely good. The phrase "pleasant surprise" comes to mind.

"Btw, Chris, you're looking in top shape for 50, if that photo above is any indication. :)"

That wasn't me, that was my stunt double. :-)

Chris

Ryan Wynns said...

Chris, Joe, et al,

Oh, I could go on for pages about these matters! Let me read the post and comments over a couple of times, sort out all that's racing through my mind, compose a few paragraphs, and I'll get back to you with something (hopefully relatively) meditated and coherent...

-- Ryan

Joe Torcivia said...

Ryan:

Very much looking forward to your comments.

As someone who “knew us then – and now”, your observations on Chris’ fannish-journey and mine (as well as your own) could prove fascinating!

For my money, it’s fascinating enough to note Chris and I began on a solid, common APA and Fanzine foundation of DUCKTALES and the great CARL BARKS STORIES that formed the (alas-not always-adhered-to) basis for that series, and now we are Blog-posting on MY LITTLE PONY and THE WALKING DEAD, respectively!

…Could you become more opposite than THAT?! (Both of us, that is, no value judgments intended!)

Ryan Wynns said...

(Part One)

Chris, Joe, et al,

The reason that I'm so excited about Chris' thoughts on his "emotional/intellectual theory of fandom" is that, though I've given the issue considerable thought over the years, I don't know if any of us have ever really taken it on in one of our public forums (once APAs, now our blogs) as fully as Chris has here.

I was five years old when DuckTales premiered. For some reason, when I first saw a commercial spot for it during the summer of `87, I ran out to the kitchen RAVING about this exciting NEW show "coming this fall". (I said, "Mommy, mommy, they're making a show where they turn all the Donald Duck into shows. The reason that I'd taken that notion away from the ad is that I believed that the word "tales" meant "books". So I thought that I would be seeing animated adaptations on TV of the Donald Duck Little Golden Books that I owned. My mom was just confused.)

Throughout the remaining my childhood, other interests superseded DuckTales: The Real Ghostbusters, then (believe it or not) Rescue Rangers for its first few months in syndication, then Darkwing Duck, then Godzila movies, then Sonic the Hedgehog ("SatAM" specifically, for those wondering)...

But in the long run, I've always looked back and considered DT THE television series of my childhood. And it was because of that emotional commitment -- after all, the first time I saw a commercial trumpeting its imminence, I "lost my sh*t". I don't really know what it was that caused that reaction, but it was very real, and there must be something to that.

(cont.)

Ryan Wynns said...

(Part Two)

And then when I saw "Treasure of the Golden Suns" (by accident -- on that Sunday night, I had not had any idea that it was going to be on), it replayed in my head for weeks. But when "Time Is Money" and "Super DuckTales" came out, they actually eclipsed "Treasure of the Golden Suns" for me -- after all, I was a kid, and a caveman and a dinosaur, and a robot superhero, were more exciting than a plain ol' treasure hunt. It was actually reading The DuckTales Index that reinvigorated my enthusiasm for "Golden Suns", and every time I've watched it over the years, to me, it's like re-watching and studying Citizen Kane (as silly as I'm sure many will find that).

...oh, there's a big EXCEPT here ... except for during my teenage years. Everything that I'd liked came to seem silly to me (which I had NOT expected to happen). I noticed more plot holes, they seemed culturally dumbed down, and even, in some cases, the animation/comic book art looked clumsy, in a way I'd never noticed.

So, throughout high school and college, I moved on to other things. But I eventually came back around, and reconciled the "coming of age" crisis I went through in high school. The comics and cartoons I liked as a kid were what they were, and I could still appreciate them -- both in new ways and in terms of what made me like them in the first place.

(cont.)

Ryan Wynns said...

(Part Three)

So I can really relate, Chris. Yes, over the years, the discrepancy in quality between "Treasure of the Golden Suns" and "New Gizmo-Kids on the Block" has become more difficult to ignore. However, I have raised the "surrender" flag -- not so much in admission that subsequent series have proven themselves "better"; but that DT has slipped through the cracks as far as animation and pop culture fans considering it of any significance, and it's probably going to stay that way.

Anyway, circling back a bit, I'm still very much an enthusiastic DuckTales fan ... and just as with some of my other long-term interests, it's because of an initial emotional investment. On the other extreme, I've read Krazy Kat, but only on an intellectual level ... and I don't think that I will have any lasting enthusiasm for the strip (other than a general appreciation for its place in comics history, its intelligence, and its innovativeness). It's much the same as with sluggish "arthouse"/avante garde films (except without the "general appreciation" part...)

In short, Chris, from 31 years of personal experience, your theory checks out!

Joe: If today I suddenly found your blogs after 15 years of having lost track of you, I'd probably be surprised. But having kept up with both of you pretty steadily over the past 10 years, I've seen the different turns your paths have taken, so in both cases, where you've arrived makes perfect sense. :)

-- Ryan

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"For my money, it’s fascinating enough to note Chris and I began on a solid, common APA and Fanzine foundation of DUCKTALES and the great CARL BARKS STORIES that formed the (alas-not always-adhered-to) basis for that series, and now we are Blog-posting on MY LITTLE PONY and THE WALKING DEAD, respectively! …Could you become more opposite than THAT?! (Both of us, that is, no value judgments intended!)"

Well, Pinkie Pie got the other "Mane 6" Ponies to act like Zombies when Queen Chrysalis' Changelings reappeared during the "Return of Queen Chrysalis" story arc in the IDW comic. That should count for something in the way of crossover!

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Ryan,

"Throughout the remaining my childhood, other interests superseded DuckTales: The Real Ghostbusters, then (believe it or not) Rescue Rangers for its first few months in syndication, then Darkwing Duck, then Godzila movies, then Sonic the Hedgehog ("SatAM" specifically, for those wondering)..."

You don't really have to apologize regarding RESCUE RANGERS... though it took me longer than the "first few months" to really warm up to the series.

"...oh, there's a big EXCEPT here ... except for during my teenage years. Everything that I'd liked came to seem silly to me (which I had NOT expected to happen). I noticed more plot holes, [the shows] seemed culturally dumbed down, and even, in some cases, the animation/comic book art looked clumsy, in a way I'd never noticed."

I suppose that if this were ever going to happen, it would be during the teen years. You're more capable of noticing logical inconsistencies and eager to move ahead and "put childish things aside." But "childish" things are not the same as "childLIKE" things. The latter can be appreciated at ANY age by people with the imagination to recognize their universal truths. That is why C.S. Lewis loved "children's literature" like THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and produced similar literature of his own, and also why MLP:FIM has proven to be such a surprising hit with teens and adults.

"However, I have raised the "surrender" flag -- not so much in admission that subsequent series have proven themselves "better"; but that DT has slipped through the cracks as far as animation and pop culture fans considering it of any significance, and it's probably going to stay that way."

And a lot of the blame goes to Disney itself, for treating the show so shabbily in terms of DVD releases and other ancillaries.

Chris