Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dwelling on DuckTales #2: My First Episode


The date was October 28, 1987. At least that's when Wikipedia says this particular episode of DuckTales aired, my first episode. This is arguable, because I should have been in school, that was a Wednesday, my parents only removed us from school if there was a good reason, and I was out-of-town for the day.

But it was definitely October 1987. So, we'll run with that date.

That September, I had started kindergarten at a local Christian school. I saw kindergarten, or K-5 as they called it, as an intrusion at best, imprisonment at worst.

For the first five years of my life, I had led a relatively care-free existence. Which must be why I don't remember much about it. It was care free. No damaging incidents. No scarred memories. No horrid events.

Although I'm told that around age three I thought the birth of my sister was a horrid event, going so far as to tell my mother to (and this is how I've been quoted to me by others as saying), "Go back to the hospital and take her with you."

I allegedly yelped this on several occasions.

I've always been pretty good at sharing my things. My turf, on the other hand...

It took the intervention  of my father who calmly and patiently but firmly (as was his way) sat me down and told me, in no uncertain terms (as was his method), to stop saying what I was screaming.

I did.

(As was the usual reaction to my father's calm, patient, firm spelling out of certain terms...not just by his children, but also by others.)

That's one of a few early childhood incidents that stick out in my mind. Another happened at age four when I recall asking Jesus into my heart under the guidance of my mother. I distinctly remember coming to this decision without the influence of my parents. Unusual, given the circle of Christians they ran with in those early years, Christians who saw the salvation of their sinner child's soul by at least age two to be of highest priority.

There's also one other moment I remember...

...staring out my parents' second-story bedroom window at the weekly trash pick-up collected below. In that week's trash was our television. I think I was three or four at the time.

My father, ever the minister and always fearless about making socially unconventional decisions, had decided that television posed a harmful threat to the spiritual wellbeing of our family. This was a common mantra in conservative Christian households, and let's face it...not wholly untrue either.

In some Christian households, the next logical step was not regulation of TV watching, but wholesale removal of TV from the domestic sanctuary.

My father took the latter step. We would not have another television until 1991, when the Gulf War broke out, and my father desperately wanted to see, not just hear the news. (Yeah. We still had a radio. Don't ask. Apparently, hearing sin isn't as bad as seeing and hearing it.) That television was a black-and-white set loaned to us by a friend. Maybe that's why I struggle with shades of grey...

Obviously, other huge news events occurred during my family's television-less years. On one occasion, my father went to K-Mart's electronics departments to watch coverage of the 1986 Challenger explosion. I remember sitting down in the aisle thinking this was a strange place to watch a movie what with shoppers swarming around us.

(Incidentally, celluloid creations were also forbidden, unless it was a Billy Graham masterpiece and ministers were needed for the "altar call" at the end of the God-glorifying flick. I recall thinking a movie theater with a gigantic screen in the background was an odd place to hold a church service. If I had been smarter, I would have anticipated today's mega-churches, invented them by age five, and be presently reaping the profits...and by profits, I don't mean souls...or prophets. ;-))

Some would see this lack of media in our lives as equal parts bad parenting (ironically enough), overly protective (ironically enough), and flat-out weird ('cuz we can't have anyone being a little different, now can we?).

But I'm not scarred. In fact, I chuckle when people talk about how sheltering my childhood was, simply because my parents didn't expose me to certain kinds of entertainment at a young age and because they were concerned that I not only turn out to be a productive member of society, but also a spiritually conscious member.

Now, I threw all of those ironicallys into the previous paragraph, because I have to wonder...

How are parents being bad parents by keeping their young children away from certain elements of life until they're a proper age to experience those mature elements? Yeah. I didn't see Madonna in her naked prime or see all of those eighties movies and TV shows. So what? Does it matter? I can fake it in a conversation about stuff I know nothing about.

True, there are extremes, but I would say kids today could use a little sheltering before the age of 10. Being "exposed" to the world now has more meanings for kids than ever before. I tell folks they can disagree with my parents' decisions, but compared to what happens to some kids in homes that do have TVs...I wouldn't have traded a television-less childhood for an abusive or harsh one any day. They were good parents, with or without a flickering box in the background.

But I digress...

...with good reason.

I write all of this in order to set the stage for you and to emphasize the sheer coincidence by which I, a kid with no TV to watch, discovered DuckTales within its first few months of premiering.

Understand. Before we rid our home of Evil TV, I wasn't really a fan of any cartoons shows. Most of the shows on then were kinda boring...


Here are my wrists. Slit away.

That's the only cartoon show I remember watching before discovering DuckTales, and I only remember it because I had the caboose/clubhouse from the show (which was kinda cool) and all of the little figures (none of whom were cool).

I think the only reason I watched The Get Along Gang is because my parents did that "adult thing" and saw "get along" in the title, had heard my early threats toward my newborn sister, and thought, "Gee. Maybe this is a cheap way to help his psychoses."

I didn't kill Angel, so maybe Montgomery Moose did rescue me.

(Aside: Did you know that damn show and those damn characters had quite the following, especially in the UK where the comic book ran for 93 issues?! I like Evanier's characterization of the cartoon and others like it..."The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong." Guess I derived the wrong message from the show.)

Prior to discovering DuckTales, though, I largely lived in my own world, pleased to wallow in the recesses of my imagination. I've always been a loner, rarely craving others for entertainment. A stack of books--comic or otherwise, my own room (or in the case of our growing family, my own section in the Boys' Room), and I was good.

When I headed off to kindergarten on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8:15 to 3 (I think), I wasn't so keen on the change of venue. For one thing, there were other kids, most of whom were cruel, as kids tend to be. I'm a pretty genial "fellow" and found classroom hostilities to be a major cramp in my style. For another thing, I had to do the same things at the same times as everyone else. To this day, I still don't do the same things at the same times as everyone else.

Obviously, I survived, but I didn't give in to the brainwashing. Although for a while, I did... Well, that's another story for another time. My time, not yours. ;-)

One other fact of life I remember discovering in going to K-5 was just how poor our family was, especially in comparison to the other kids who were getting "things" that I thought were only displays in toy stores.


You mean, people could really afford that stuff?!

Also, not being exposed to much television, I had no clue what most of those toys were. I didn't know what a Nintendo was?! And even if I did, there was no way in hell my parents could/would buy it for me.

I'm sure at some point, this new show DuckTales was mentioned. I remember having to stay after school with the principal's family (for some reason), and the daughter whining to her mother, "I wanna watch DuckTales. I wanna watch DuckTales."

Either way, I had no clue what DuckTales was, and they never did get the reception in well enough for me to find out.

So, being a socially awkward kid from an overly sheltered home in a beastly new and at-times cruel environment, I was desperately in need of...something else.

Thus, it was on October 28 (or some nearby date), that my Dad asked if I wanted to go with him to help a friend move that day. I eagerly agreed and ended up hanging with his friend's kids for most of the day. Sometime in the afternoon, the TV went on, and I saw this for the first time...


The episode was "Back to the Klondike." At the time, it was my first encounter with DuckTales. I didn't realize then, but it was also my first encounter with the Duckman himself, Carl Barks...


For 30 minutes (even commercials), I was riveted by what I saw. It was easily the most incredible show, easily the most fascinating program I had ever seen.

I realize, at this point in my life, there wasn't much competition, but still...

What was it about DuckTales that captured my attention, besieged my imagination, and enslaved my lifelong devotion?

I don't have a specific answer for you.

Why do we fall in love with anything? I can tell you reasons why I love my wife, but the core reason goes beyond words. And while I may not be "in love" with DuckTales, I certainly have a deep emotional bond with the show and the characters, a bond that goes beyond casual interest.

I'm not sure why this bond exists, though. It could be that it was the first animated that appealed to my sense of adventure, that was most in line with the imaginary games I had been playing since I was born. It might be the undeniable comfort that the show gave me, the escape it afforded me, while still being intelligent and respecting me as an individual. (Even at five, being respected was important to me.)

Rewatching "Klondike" again  last weekend, I loved it as if I were seeing it for the first time, but I still couldn't pinpoint where the spark was struck on that first viewing in October 1987.

Ultimately, I suppose could sum it up with one statement.

I just like DuckTales.

Everything about it. The characters, the stories, the action, the comedy.

Everything.

Even Webbigail. I made my peace with her a long time ago and have come to appreciate her as an integral member of the cast.

I'm sure the fact that I was a kid when I first discovered it might have something to do with my like-love for the show. There's a sentimental value on it, for sure.

But why DuckTales?

From the second I saw it, it stimulated my imagination. As we drove home that night--a solid hour or so drive--I talked to my Dad endlessly about the show. It was only 22 minutes, but somehow I was able to fill up 60 or more minutes with information and stories derived from that one episode. If I didn't know a character's name, I gave him/her a name. If I didn't know the character's backstory, I made one up.

It was probably months before I saw another episode, but the spark was lit, my curiosity enflamed, and a lifetime, thousands of dollars, hundreds of comic books, dozens of collectibles, and a few well-worn T-shirts later, that obsession with these characters (now, in all their forms and incarnations) is still strong.

I don't have a good reason for why this is. It just is. I love these characters. I love this show. And with its 25th anniversary upon us, it's time to look back as thoroughly as is humanly possible.

So, join me, won't you, as we embark on this journey. Dinnae fear. This won't be a harsh critique of the series. Oh, sure, there were less-than-stellar episodes and definite flaws in the program. But there are enough people out there who have torn DuckTales to shreds over the years. Time to emphasize the positives, and there are more positives than negatives.

We're going to emphasize the positives. After all, my generation, the DuckTales generation, owes a lot to this series. It's historical significance may be understated and unappreciated today, but the way it has inspired and captivated generations from 87 on cannot and should not be overlooked.

I hope those of you who are fans will offer your insights and your memories. I hope this series will spark some good discussions about a show and about characters we all love. And I hope that it will lead to proper recognition for a pivotal program in pop-culture history as it enters its 25th anniversary.

But most of all, I hope it will help you to remember that first time when you were introduced to the world of Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, Webbigail, Duckworth, Doofus, the Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica de Spell, Bubba, Tootsie, Fenton Crackshell/GizmoDuck, Ma Crackshell, Gandra Dee, Gyro Gearloose, and all of the wonderfully imaginative characters in-between.

Let the hurricane begin...

5 comments:

  1. Bravo, Pete! Well written!

    I feel as if I’ve just read the author’s forward to the greatest book on DuckTales that will ever be produced! It’s gonna be a fun summer!

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  2. Thank you so much, Joe! Coming from the co-author of the original DuckTales guide, I consider this high praise. I'm excited about this, and I hope to forge some new ground for the blog...

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  3. Pete,

    Looking back, I think that DT simply "hit me" at the right time. I had been collecting Duck comics for only two years at that point (starting with a couple of sets of the old Another Rainbow BARKS LIBRARY) and, while I was bringing myself up to speed pretty quickly on Barks' world, I was still "well behind the curve" compared to the "old sourdoughs." I had not followed any animated series for years. In that respect, "Treasure of the Golden Suns," in its original two-hour compressed format, was darned near overwhelming. And here I was, in on "the ground floor" for it.

    I think we now have a much better perspective on how DT "changed the landscape." How many animated creations of the late 80's, 90's, and even into the early 00's strived to match the commitment and quality implanted in that one show. They did it in various ways, ranging from clever slapstick comedy (I'm obviously ONLY talking about Warners TV Animation here) to straightforward dramatic adventure (BATMAN, SUPERMAN, GARGOYLES). An interesting question: since the era launched by DT is so obviously "over," what do you think was the last show that was clearly influenced by it to some extent, in terms of trying to attract both young and old viewers with sophisticated storylines, compelling characters, etc.? I'm willing to go as far as KIM POSSIBLE, but probably not beyond that. I've seen very little in the past 10 years that packed that sort of universal appeal.

    Chris

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    1. Thank you for sharing this, Chris! Unfortunately, I've never seen KIM POSSIBLE, but I've heard great praise for it over the years.

      I would have to say that the Warner Bros. superhero productions continue to carry on the quality legacy first established by DT, but there simply aren't any "funny-animal" cartoons around that are trying to do what DT did.

      However, 2004's Direct-to-DVD movie, MICKEY*DONALD*GOOFY: THE THREE MUSKETEERS, reminded me of a DT-style episode in its seamless combination of intelligent writing, humor, and slapstick. (There was even a French version of the Beagles.) I haven't revisited that movie in eons, so I might have a different opinion the second time around. I do remember being very impressed with it (or at least pleasantly surprised by it) on its initial release, though.

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    2. And glancing at the Internet reviews for THREE MUSKETEERS, I see I'm nigh near alone in my esteem of the movie...

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