That Old Duck Magic
For twenty years I've written about Carl Barks and the way in which his life and peeves are manifest in his comic books. Barks' stories are full of the things that intrigued, amused, and--let's say it--annoyed him. When he wrote about ancient temples or ocean voyages, his enthusiasm was infectious, and we turned pages avidly. When he wanted to be a sourpuss--about neighbors, bureaucrats, or abstract art--he could download that bile onto Scrooge and still keep the stories lighthearted.
It's a trick I hope I've mastered, because I'm writing duck comics now.
This feels like a new era, and that's what "World Wide Witch" is about: finding yourself suddenly and unsteadily in a new age. The story began as a satire on trendy white magic, long before Charmed became popular on TV. I was reading an interview with Zsuzsanna Budapest, a local celebrity and well-known Wiccan, and began to wonder if there mightn't be an angle for Magica de Spell in all the touchy-feelyness. There was indeed, but my plot never evolved beyond that angle, with Magica using goddess worship to flummox Scrooge's secretaries and get inside the money bin. Then it ground to a halt.
It wasn't until I worked up a good mad at another popular phenomenon--the internet--that things started coming together. If you think about it, the net and magic have a lot in common. Both draw you into a shimmering, shadowy otherworld where you relinquish very personal things--your name, your privacy, your credit card number--in order to use powers that can be incredibly helpful or incredibly destructive. From the comfort of your home you can research the most recondite subjects or locate and purchase long out-of-print books. You can also play with your identity, touch up your photo, lie about your age, blitz strangers with your jokes and your opinions. Imagine what an old-timer like Scrooge would think of this! I made him the mouthpiece for my fears.
Of course, I've had to abandon most of my Luddite principles since conceiving the story. Three years ago I bought a new computer, taught myself web design, and went online in order to survive. Since my editor is in Europe, I couldn't very well write comics without the internet. I'd like to think that Scrooge, for all his insularity and his roots in the past, might bite the bullet in the same way. As Humpty Dumpty observed to Alice, the question is simply, who's to be master? Scrooge accepts the net into his office because he finds a way to make it co-exist with his own regime. The staff can have their computers and e-mail and music downloads so long as they continue to fill out his ledgers with good old-fashioned pens and pencils.
As it turns out, I had to fight for that ending. My editor, who made several other changes in the story, wanted Scrooge's staff typing cheerfully away at their keyboards in the last panel, while music poured around them. I don't write unequivocally happy endings, especially ones that glamorize the eight-to-five office grind. I pointed out that Scrooge would adopt technology only if he saw an angle in it, a chance to keep things his way or maneuver his employees into higher productivity. Fortunately, pigheadedness--Scrooge's and mine--carried the day.
You'll gather from this that I identify with Scrooge. What's scary is how much I also identify with Magica. I could write her dialogue in my sleep--and we both look hot in black. In the upshot it's not so surprising: the sorceress and Scrooge are two sides of the same dime. Both are creative, self-dramatizing outsiders laboring away at specialized careers and venturing into society mainly when they need something from it. I assume Magica leaves her workshop now and then to buy groceries and CDs, as I do. Perhaps I should state up front that I'm not a Wagnerite; that just seemed like good, power-mad music for a villain to play. I've written more Magica stories, including one in which she and Scrooge switch bodies. You'll be seeing her again.
You'll also see more of Magda Marshbird, the Russian witch who makes her first appearance here. I needed a Duckburg-based confidante for Magica, since Ratface can hardly come along on the airplane from Vesuvius every time. Daniel Branca rose to the occasion and drew me a wonderful old peasant woman with Russian trinkets littering her shop, so I put Magda into other stories and even gave her a dog. At this point we know very little about her, but I've embarked on a narrative arc in which she'll become pivotal. I'm taking the ducks to Russia.
Narrative arc? I can hear Barks harrumphing right now. But as I said, it's a new era. Two years ago, when "World Wide Witch" was published in Europe, I found it intriguing that editors and readers alike homed in on the internet factor; they dug the modernity. I've no pretension to being the new Carl Barks or even--a more recent influence--the Joss Whedon of the duck comics. But I do intend to pull Scrooge and his kin firmly into the twenty-first century.
2003 by Geoffrey Blum
Copyright © 2003 by Geoffrey Blum