Gyro Gearloose in "Monsterville"

I spent most of the past year unemployed, and even now the issue is never far from my thoughts. The whole meltdown-recession-depression-whaddyacallit has many people questioning the once-solid bedrock of capitalism and the American work ethic. Of course, if you want to bring about sweeping change, it helps to have some idea of what will happen. Which is one use of imaginative fiction.
On deck today is a Gyro Gearloose story from May 1961, "Monsterville," written and drawn by Carl Barks. The introductory caption box reads, "This is the tale of a great inventor's greatest feat, and of the low-down comeuppance it got him!" (Barks calls it "Monsterville" because the kids wouldn't get "Hubristown.")
Gyro is enjoying a fully-automated picnic while contemplating the smokestacks of his hometown:
"Oh, Duckburg, you busy beesville! How your citizens needlessly waste energy – all because your work ways and play ways are so hopelessly old hat!"
Saying it's none of his affair, Gyro prepares to leave, but is stopped by a traffic cop who accuse him of speeding – while standing still. Seems he can't see the wheels on Gyro's car. Not surprising as it's a hovercraft.
So the cop tickets him for flying low.
This spurs Gyro to drag Duckburg into the future. He present his top-line inventions to the local brass – the heads of the police, fire department, roads, weather(?), banking, and the Mayor.
"I can't afford to build all these marvelous inventions, myself, but there are the plans – my gift to Duckburg!" (Gyro has always been incredibly bad with money, consistently underpricing his goods. This is to show that his technological skills outweigh his common sense.)
It seems almost unimaginable that a city would be so eager for such a far-ranging renovation, but then again, this was the Sixties. The U.S. was at the height of postwar prosperity and its attendant optimism.
Then, too, the banking sector is run by Scrooge McDuck. Whatever else happens, Gyro's makeover won't lose money.
Under Gyro's watchful eye the old Duckburg is torn down. (It seems a shame to demolish some of the legacy buildings. But Barks seldom referred to earlier stories, so no mention will be made.)
So now we're on the third page for a travelogue of the new Duckburg, similar to "Looking Backward." The new buildings look vaguely Deco-ish, but the main visual is of the swooping, looping transport rails.
Duckburg enjoys a perfect climate because it's sealed under a huge weather sphere. (Say it with me: "D'ohme!") The weather man is feeling his oats, trying out the rain, hail and snow options.
The weather test over, Gyro is taken aback by a strange smell.
"Why, it's fresh air! That's all we have now that the factories have smoke-filters on their stacks!" The smoke-filters look like nothing so much as upside-down wine corks.
The only car on the streets (or over them) is the air-cushion car Gyro was driving at the start of the story. They even have side jets to prevent collisions.
Foot traffic has been replaced by moving sidewalks and slides. Including slides that go uphill. These are not explained, but more for lack of space than failure of imagination.
Gyro needs to go quite a distance, so he takes the high-speed monorail. (I wonder what Barks though about Disneyland, and Tomorrowland in particular?)
The passengers in Gyro's train are rather morose, slump-shouldered and sleepy eyed. This will become a plot point soon enough.
Traveling at 300 mph makes it easy to miss your stop. Gyro gets out and finds himself  close to Donald Duck's house. (Barks has a deep field of characters to draw from, and he makes use of it.)
He finds Donald fast asleep in a parenthetical La-Z-Boy. "Unca Donald will flip if you wake him," say the nephews. "He's just put in his TEN-MINUTE button-pushing shift at the factory!"
Ten minutes?
Boy, that's a jolt to the system! Barks was old enough to remember the days when the 40-hour week was a new idea. He merely extrapolated and got as close to a no-hour day as he could. (Even George Jetson – by some accounts – worked a three-hour day, three days a week.)
But a ten-minute workday leads to other considerations. As a commuter says later, "If we're even ten minutes late, we've missed our shift!" Then, too, it's incredibly wasteful of energy to travel any distance for just ten minutes. A better way would be to combine a week's shifts: one hour, one day, one week. But the Oil Shock is over a decade in the future and most people aren't thinking in such terms yet.
Back to Donald. He's taken to snoozing 23 hours between shifts – "And boy! That much sleep sure makes him grouchy!" (Seems hardly believable; no time for his family? Or TV?)
The kids don't have to go to school because they take in info via sleep-learning. (This was a very long-lived piece of speculation, seen in dozens of comic stories. The Legion of Super-Heroes finally turned it on its head by touting the results from "wake-learning.")
The kids can't even play; the new toys go by themselves. (Buzz and Woody could hide in plain sight.)
"I'm sure the boys will adjust to such things," thinks Gyro, and he heads off to check in with a fellow Barks creation, Scrooge McDuck.
In direct opposition to Donald's lethargy, Scrooge is hopping mad. "I'm making MORE millions all the time!"
"Great," says Gyro. "That should make you very happy!"
"It doesn't though! This electronic brain makes all of my deals and has all the fun – while I do NOTHING!" (Like many fictional computers from this time, the electronic brain has exposed tubes and is five times as big as Scrooge. But it does have a duck beak.)
Scrooge can't even swim in his money bin, because it's too full! (The last time that happened, in Barks'  "Christmas in Shacktown," the floor of the bin broke and sent Scrooge's money underground. I guess he reinforced it later.)
"Oh well," muses Gyro, "Mr. McDuck will adjust to that, too! Time cures many woes!"
After four panels with the Fire Chief, who goes from Scrooge-like anger to Donald-like torpor, accepting that all he can do is polish the autonomous hydrants, Gyro is distressed to hear gunshots coming from the bank.
But not to worry – his anti-burglary system is working fine.
"How terribly unexciting," says a customer. "As soon as the robber pulled his gun, the automatic "eye" winked open a trapdoor to the jail cell below!"
A teller takes up the narrative: "And there the frantic robber futilely tries to shoot his way out!" (Those had better be some soft walls, Gyro, or the burglar could sue the city for the ricochet.)
A bored cop yawns. "All a policeman amounts to these days is a bored scorekeeper!" I'll just point out that, due to Barks' layout, the customer and the policeman are as short as Donald.
Gyro finally admits to the force of what he – and we – have been seeing. "I'm getting worried! Nobody seems happy with the new Duckburg! I'll go to my lab, where I cn think up a solution to the problem!"
But when he gets there, he finds his helper has anticipated him.
"What the ding dong are you making? A - A robot of some kind! Oh, no!"
"I am an automatic inventor, Gyro. Sit down – and let me take over your problems! I'll do your thinking for you! Relax, man! Relax!"
"(Groan) A machine to make me idle-handed and idle-headed! I can never adjust to such uselessness! And I WON'T! No mechanical monster is going to take over the greatest fun I have – WORK!" And with those words and a monkey wrench he reduces the automatic inventor to its component parts.
Funny how it took staring his own obsolescence in the face to make Gyro see the point; then again, he may have been sensitized by his talks with Donald, Scrooge and the rest.
And how smart is Gyro's helper, if he can create a robot that can in turn out-invent Gyro?
"Sorry, helper! I know you meant well – the same as I did – but Duckburg isn't ready yet for total automation!" (Note the "yet.")
"Here, Duckburgians – grab a tool and start wrecking this – this MONSTERVILLE!" (Title!)
"No use, Gyro! machines are superior to us stupor-fied ducks!"
Gyro can't dismantle everything, but he can disable it – a wire here, a cog there, and future-Duckburg grinds to a halt. "Before long," says the yellow box, "Duckburg is just plain, old Duckburg again." (At least keep the smog filters.) Donald and the boys are out for a walk, all bright eyes and bushy tails.
Gyro is tooling around in a four-wheeled car, in repudiation of the hovercraft at the beginning. "Duckburgians have made me promise not to invent any more advanced inventions!" But – isn't every invention an advanced one? Wouldn't it make more sense to any, any disruptive inventions? (I almost said paradigm-shifting, but that buzzword won't become common until the Nineties.)
"Well, I won't push any more wild stuff on them! I won't even be seen driving around in an air-cushion car! But the inventive urge in me is a very powerful one, so I'll just look normal until nobody's looking!" And with that his two-door sedan becomes a private plane. (Something that has actually been done, even if uneconomical.)
All that in ten pages. Let me catch my breath.
Gyro's speech on page eight – with that "yet" I asked you to note – seems to indicate he thinks total automation is mankind's eventual achievement, even if not feasible at this time. And yet what was the main problem with Monsterville? Boredom. For pity's sake, Duckburgians, take some courses, spend some face time; don't just sleep 23 hours a day. (I'd like to think that was a result of this being so new and Donald not having had time to adjust. But since we're talking about Donald, well….)
The fact that Monsterville is so new – as one stranded rail-commuter says, many of them still have their cars at home – means that one pernicious possibility has no time to take effect: obesity. If Duckburgers had stayed at their levels of inactivity they'd be packing it on.
The effect of near-total automation in Monsterville, is boredom; in Wall-E, it's blob-dom.
Perhaps Duckburg would have been spared that fate. In this same issue of Four-Color, Gyro is threatened by the Beagle Boys and invents a ray to give himself super-strength. I'm sure he could invent a weight-reducing ray. (Then again, the strength ray had its drawbacks – hence the story title, "Mighty But Miserable.")
Let me return once more to Barks' mention of a ten-minute workday. Barks (and others, like the anonymous Jetsons writer) took it for granted that increased automation would increase productivity, which was perfectly correct, and that this would lead to shorter hours and higher pay for the American worker, which was anything but correct. There are many reasons for this, including the loss of union power, the rise of competing economies, massive deregulation and even more massive tax cuts.
It's good that we have imaginative writers such as Carl Barks, who can point out potential pitfalls in our plans. This frees us to find new ones. (Plans, or pitfalls? Both.)