"Whitmans?" he asked.
"Gladstones", I asserted.
"Oh!" he laughed wryly, smirking. "Those are even worse!"
I did a double-take. "Um...no, they're not!" I protested. I had absolutely no doubt about this, but I anticipated that I was not going to be able to diffuse the misconception held by the person whom I was talking to.
"They were mostly just reprints," he derided.
"They were presentations of classics, and were carefully selected!" I spat back, thinking of their Barks and Gottfredson material, and the way they would be contextualzied in Cross Talk. "That was Harvey, in the early '90's, who cheaply and lazily slapped reprints together!" I may have also mentioned the regular inclusion of European stories that had never before appeared in North America, but I wasn't prepared to explain how Geoffrey Blum's or Byron Erickson's scripts for them were of premium-grade quality. And this acquaintance obviously had no idea who Don Rosa and William Van Horn were -- not that that would've done any good.
"They were just reprints," he reiterated, contempt ringing clearly in his voice. See? He was stubborn.
This exchange brought up an interesting point of consideration, though: if Barks and Gottfredson are not to your taste, and you're predisposed to, no matter what, never finding merit in any of their stories, then reprints of their work in traditional, mass-distributed comic book periodicals would look like cost-cutting, resulting in throwaway "rags". I suppose...I dunno. I'll let you mull that over. *shrugs*
Gladstone's first run ("Gladstone I", as it's commonly known) was comprised of the Duck and Mouse comics of my childhood. Perhaps that's why I hold them as the most perfect American Disney comics ever published.
This is for, 1), aesthetic reasons: the inspired, brilliantly composed cover art (so very often by Daan Jippes, but I'm not excluding others) and the warm, cartoony-but-not-garish title logos, and their proportionate relationship to the aforementioned cover art; and inside, the plain black text on the plain white backdrop of the page itself, a style consistently employed in the letter columns, the Cross Talk editorials, and all in-house ads; and the subtle, careful coloring (shout-out to Susan Daigle-Leach!), which was more refined than that seen in Western Publishing's Duck and Mouse comics of the preceding decades, and -- in part because newsprint was still the paper type of choice -- not as flashy and loud as what's been done since.
And then, 2), content reasons (...which are pretty important, wouldn't you say?!): Barks, Gottfredson, Murry, et al had never before been in more loving hands. (Something that a "non-fan", like my acquaintance quoted in the personal anecdote recounted above, wouldn't have the intuition to grasp, while it's a matter I'm partial to.) (And not to mention that many of the Gottfredson stories that Gladstone serialized or printed in "albums" had never been officially reprinted before!) And then there were the European stories, which didn't have the bombast of -- nor was it heralded with the fanfare accorded -- say, a new Don Rosa adventure. Nonetheless, the appropriation of European material for regular inclusion gave the line a certain consistency and steadiness in quality...even if they were usually used as "backup" stories...
In terms of the Duck books, I've long regarded Gladstone I's Barks reprints (whether a 10-pager or an adventure) and Rosa originals (ditto) as the main features (Van Horn? Yes, eventually, but he didn't start off with a "big splash" the way that Rosa did with "Son of the Sun"), while the European fare, appropriately, as it tended to be more average in quality, served as filler. And there was the matter of them being short, and I have a longstanding prejudice against non-adventure, shorter stories, that, fortunately, is eroding away. Point in fact, very recent reading has prompted a reassessment on my part. Let's proceed, shall we?
Between Romano Scarpa and his modern descendants like Cavazanno, et al, Italian Duck and Mouse comics are distinctly Italian: wackier, lunier, stretchier, squashier, more distorted, etc. I may be wrong, but I believe that besides a select few prime Scarpa stories ("The Blot's Double Mystery", "Kali's Nail", "Tapiocus VI", "Amusden's Talisman", "The McDuck Foundation", "The Last Balaboo"...did I miss any?), Gladstone I steered clear of Italian stories. And in that respect, because of the Prescott office's embracing of the Danes and the Nederlanders, the relative exclusion of Italian content, on the flipside, was equally crucial to the unity of the line that I referred to above.
Scarpa, from what little I know, greatly admired Barks, but didn't let that force him to try reining in his own style -- which clearly had its influences on his successors amongst his countryfolk. It has always struck me (and others have observed) that the objective of people like Jippes, Daniel Branca, Ben Verhagen, and Daniel Branca was to be as visually faithful to the world of Barks' Duck comics as possible. Also, like Barks, the vast majority of such creators' stories are self-contained, whether they be 10-pager (or 10-pager in spirit) domestic sitcoms or adventures (at which, when some Europeans try their hand at such, admittedly, the results seem "smaller" than Barks' various cornerstones of the Duck adventure story template. Also, Jippes, Branca, et al nearly never alluded to an over-arcing, aggrandized Barks-based continuity and mythology. (*coughcough*whocouldibealluding to?*coughcough*) (In all seriousness...reportedly, Jippes at one point in some interview that of course wasn't in English bashed what he saw as Rosa's artistic limitations. Without a doubt, Jippes' is a fantastic, masterful artist. But where are his stories? Though, it may very well be that there are no shortage of them, but we Americans would never know it, as all we've gotten of his work in recent years has been Junior Woodchucks redrawings...)
So, take the Barks reprints. Add the imports from Denmark and Netherland, which, in adhering to the Barks gospel, and in trying to recreate the Duckburg of his stories, seemed to exist in a permanent 1950's (something that Rosa did overtly). Stir it all together, and what does the stew look like? Gladstone I was, in a big way, an anomaly in its time (and certainly completely out-of-sync with its licenser, the Disney corporation!) (ARRGH!!! There's nothing I hate more than some moron deriding me for liking "Disney", as if Bark, Rosa, or Gottfredson are the equivalents of the Broadway production of The Lion King, or Disney Channel "tween" junk like Hanna Montana). The line persisted in exulting in an idealized, perfected version of a slice of what some other members of the human race had created 30 years earlier. (...is it too late to find a way to go back to such a utopia, even if it doesn't exist beyond the pages of some comic books? Yeah, I know, we can re-read the ones that already exist and that we already have, but there's just something about knowing that new ones are coming out and have a feeble presence in the world-at-large...)
These thoughts were prompted by a visit to a comics shop this past Friday...specifically, to Wonder Cards and Comics in Barre, Vermont, making sure to scope it out on my way home from my residency at Goddard. I was approximately seven years old when I began regularly buying (or rather, having my parents buy for me...semantics) Uncle Scrooge, when Gladstone I had about 12 to 18 months left to go. I didn't start collecting all of their titles until their last few months. So, there's a good chunk of their output that I've never owned. But now that I'm actively collecting again, that's changing.
Time for specific examples, chosen from the haul I came away from Vermont with. First up: Donald Duck #253:
As you can see...a wonderful Jippes cover. Great facial expression; great sense of physicality/motion/anatomy.
The issue is led by a Barks 10-pager from 1950. (I would've pegged it for a year or two earlier...shows what little I know...) It's titled "Ski Samaritan" in the credits at the end of the letter column, but Inducks lists it as "Serum to Codfish Cove", which seems more like a descriptor than anything. I'm sure I read this story back in the '90's (in the Walt Disney's Comics and Stories in Color albums), but I don't have any specific memory of it...so upon reading it a couple days ago, it was a revelation to me that it was clearly an antecedent of "Somewhere in Nowhere"/"Somewhere Beyond Nowhere", in that we find Donald braving unforgiving snowy regions to deliver something to people in (a) remote location(s).
At the outset of the story, it's snowing, and Donald is bragging to the nephews that he's "the greatest skier that ever skied!" Soon, several feet of snow have blanketed Duckburg. When the mayor reports that "[t]he village of Codfish Cove is marooned without medical supplies", the nephews -- having eaten up their uncle's boasts -- volunteer Donald to deliver a serum to the unfortunately situated Codfish Cove. When Donald's propositioned about the matter, he suddenly becomes skittish and reluctant, but realizes he's going to have eat his words, and dons a pair of skis to carry out his mission. Matters are complicated when a comical, caricaturized, obviously Soviet pair of spies switch the serum with "rocket ship" blueprints, setting Donald up for a surprise interception to take place once he's en route.
Just as funny as the spies is the Secret Service agent -- replete with a protruding chin and puffed-up chest -- who alerts the nephews to the situation, prompting them to pursue their uncle in the hopes of preempting any potential danger. We find that the trials of the impassable route that Donald's enduring are causing him to suffer, and he seems to be close breaking.... In the end, the nephews not only foil the spies, they also, unbeknownst to Donald, enables his successful delivery the serum...but Barks seamlessly integrates a reason why the nephews can't reveal their involvement. Thus, we iris-out on Donald walking on eggshells, singing his own praises, while the nephews knowingly wink at each other. Most creators would've had Donald receive his comeuppance. Showing the nephews' self-satisfaction and lack of need for recognition and acclaim works as a far more meaningful, poingnant coda.
So much has been written about Barks -- what do I really have to add? (Especially something that I haven't said before and elsewhere?) Needless to say, this story is fantastic. The dynamics between Donald and the nephews; the complication (and resulting farcical antics) of the spies' involvement; and the nephews' saving Donald's hide and preventing him from the disgrace of not withstanding the storm and saving Codfish Cove, all the while keeping to the shadows...when compounded, these various factors making up this tiered scenario plays out in a matserfully constructed story. The visual humor in only the chimneys, rooftops, and spires of Duckburg poking out from beneath the snow; the hunching, sneering, leering spies; the over-the-top "upstanding", "heroic" appearance of the Secret Service agent; and Donald freaking out and fleeing at the sound of a gunshot are Barks at his sharpest.
This story is from what I call Barks' "romantic period". GeoX has noted how Barks' later Uncle Scrooge stories (say from the mid-'50's on?) strayed from straight adventures and became more satirical, and even cynical. I've never been able to put my finger on it, but I've always found that around the same time, something about his art also became more cynical...dryer, maybe. Here, though, is Barks at a time when he drew more lushly and with more grace...oh, don't get me wrong, the poses and facial expressions are decidedly cartoony, but it's subtle. But as in most of Barks' Christmas or winter-set stories of this period...well, I just want to be in the ducks' kitchen with them as it snows outside. Or bunkered down and cut off from the world, spending the winter in Codfish Cove. These places just look so warm and toasty!
Okay, so, let's move on to the rest of the issue (which is mainly what I'd meant to write about!) Gladstone I had the curious practice of giving blanket credit for most of the European stories they printed to "the Gutenberghus Group" or "Oberon Publishing". But, thanks to Inducks, I can cite specific creators!
"Putting on the Dog" (written by Jim Kenner; drawn by Daniel Branca): this is what's referred to as a "Donald mastery story". I balked at the staging and props -- slapstick resulting from trying to rein in a disorderly bunch of dogs, and the silliness of giving stylized haircuts to dogs who have snooty owners, just isn't my bag. Branca's art is nonetheless excellent. Clearly Barks-modeled (and a close cousin to Jippes' art), but he's no mere Barks copycat, clearly able to execute anything the story calls for, and do a damn good job of it.
"Journey Through the Center of the Earth" (written by Evert Geradts; drawn by Ben Verhagen): after the "meh"-inducing dog-grooming moorings of the preceding story, hijinks involving both Gyro and Scrooge -- in addition to Donald and the nephews, that is! -- are very refreshing. My breakdown: Gyro's sad because he's got this amazing new invention, but he can't make any headway in bringing it to the world's attention. The nephews, knowing which of Scrooge's buttons to press, manipulate the ol' tycoon into investing in Gyro's efforts. Soon, Donald, strapped inside a single-passenger mini-rocketship, is being ping-ponged back and forth along a narrow tunnel that Gyro bore through the center of the earth (hence the title...) (...oh! And, also...paging Mr. Rosa, paging Mr. Rosa!) between the workshop's yard and a village inhabited by indigenous people on the surface of the other side of the planet. When the authorities threaten to shut down Gyro's operation and he and the rest of the ducks desperately try to argue their case, Donald is forgotten, left to the torture of being endlessly flicked back and forth between the far ends of the tunnel. Heightened, neurotic characterization; an absurd comical scenario (e.g., the bewildered natives on the other end of the shaft!), and Verhagen's sharp-edged, pointed art = a win all-around!
I noted earlier how the Danes and the Nederlanders tended to strive to recreate Barks, aesthetically. While their devotion to him is clear, that's not to say that as creators, they had no individuality...it's just that the typically, the Italians are especially and exceptionally stylized in their work. Compared to Jippes, Branca, or Vicar, though, Verhagen is noticeably "scratchier" (in a good way) and more fiesty/quirky (also in a good way).
Next (and last, for today) up: Donald Duck #263:
Cover's by Branca. (See? You could've told me it was Jippes, and I'd be had...I'm really not an expert!) The presence of Daisy and the abundance of yellow dispose me toward not liking this cover as much as I do #253's...but, setting aside my biases, I can see that in all fairness, all the nice things I said about #253's apply here (in terms of expressions, movement, poses, etc.)
"All Washed Up" (Inducks credits "plot" to Philippe Le Bars and "script" to Jack Sutter; drawn by Vicar): This is one of those stories in which Donald tries to do something right, but his screw-ups result in a minor oversight spiraling out of control, until Duckburg is struck by some sort of wide-scale disaster. There's a twist, though...that being the original, tantalyzing framing device: we open on a mailman making a delivery to a shack built on the very end of a rocky outcropping towering above the ocean. This takes place in the midst of severe weather, to boot. The cabin's occupant turns out to be Donald, who's in hiding after the latest wide-scale disaster he's caused, the story of which he then relates to the postman...and, by proxy, us. The escalation and coincidental twists are timed and carried out as well as anyone this side of Barks has done when taking a shot at doing this kind of story. One unfortunate finding: unlike in the Codfish Cove story, where Donald was due for some degree of comeuppance, in this story, his sufferings are completely undeserved, having gone out of his way and above and beyond to live up to his responsibilities, his mistakes being just that -- pure, honest mistakes!
I remember some gripings in the letter columns of the Disney Comics era about Vicar being a Barks-imitating hack. Nah. ...I mean, yes, as I've noted here, Barks was a major (and that's an understatement) reference point for Egmont creators like Vicar, but the latter's just as good as any of his peers -- as demonstrated throughout this story, from the dramatic opening splash of the postman struggling to make his way to the dangerously-positioned cabin, to a regular-sized, procedural panel showing something as ordinary as Donald mopping the floor (though he's doing so with a determined fury, spurred by feeling the need to both show up Scrooge and keep his date with Daisy...and that's a good example, in another sense, actually, as just being able to read this stuff in Donald's face shows that Vicar's an artist who is attentive to story, which is one of the highest complements that can be paid to someone with his job description!).
"Fly Now -- Pay Later"...an early Van Horn four-pager! Unmistakeably more elasticy and balloony than anything else in the comic. Donald ants "peace and quiet", so he orders the boys to stop "playing ninja" (it was 1988, when Ninja Turtles and Karate Kid were popular...so this is the rare occurence of a contemporary reference in a Gladstone I comic!) But as he tries to lounge and read a book, Donald is irritated by the buzzing and flitting about of a housefly...which poor Donald can't bring an end to, even after successive attempts, which lead to him tearing apart the house, and making quiet a racket in the process; the irony does not go unnoted by the nephews. Two escalation/disasters stories in a row! This one's told with more brevity, and is sort of a miniature incarnation of this Duck comics sub-genre.
"Double Incentive" (written by Jan Kruse; drawn by Mark de Jonge -- never heard of him!): another quickie (er, get your mind out of the gutter...) Since Gus is so lazy, Gyro is generous enough to invent a robot-Gus to pick up the slack...but Grandma has other ideas as to how to use the robot. (...no!!! no, no, NO!!!!! ...sheesh, I told you once already!!! For crying out loud, I just meant that she's going to manipulate Gus by announcing that the robot will now be served all of Gus's meals, since it is now the robot who's earning his keep, giving Gus the incentive to finally start working hard...but I was't going to explain all this, because I thought that I shouldn't spoil the ending! But now look w hat've you made me gone and do!!!!) (Actually, I was just being lazy and not trying to have to write as much. I mean, what stopped me from spoiling the ending of other stories, as I've done without discretion earlier in this post?) A clever, if simple, little story. The art reminded me of Verhagen; a bit distorted, and a bit quirky (but it's got nothing on, say, Cavazzanno...)
The Gus-Grandma-Gyro story is followed by a lone Taliaferro gag, here titled "His Level Best", and that Inducks says was syndicated on Oct. 2nd, 1938. Man, those 1930's comic strip artists could really draw, right? You know that stuff Warren Spector was saying in his introduction to Vol. 1 of The Floyd Gottfredson Library about Gottfredson's art being so cinematic? Taliaferro was close... And, actually, I think Donald was onto something here: securing a picture frame to the wall by [SPOILER WARNING!!!!] (see? I'm responsible!) nailing each corner seems like a pretty darn practical idea, dontcha think?!
Finally, a Barks' 10-pager (positioned at the back of the issue this time...hmm...well, "All Washed Up" was damn good, so I'd say this was a wise, discretionate choice on Geoffrey Blum or whoever's part) from 1953 that seems to be officially known as "The Price of Fame". (This issue's credits and Inducks are in agreement that that's what it's called, anyway.) This story projects a decided sentiment of irritability, and frankly isn't as likeable as "Ski Samaritan"/"Serum to Codfish Cove" -- nor does it have the kind of complicated web of clashing character motivations that that story did. Also, it's somewhere between Barks' "Romantic, lush era" and his "cynical, dry era". Still smooth around the edges, but somehow, Donald's home, and Duckburg overall, look a bit more drab and weary. Damnit, I know what a mid-'50's Barks' WDC&S 10-pager looks like, and, by hell, this is one of 'em!
Basically, when the nephews lament, "Unca Donald will never amount to much!" (Jerks! After he took you in, after all the demeaning jobs he's slogged his way through in order to support you, and after you've been right there with him as he's risked life and limb time after time during all the perilous adventures Scrooge has dragged you guys into! INGRATES!!!!) They manage to inspire Donald to want to become a musician. After his singing auditions are a wash (...was Barks at all thinking of Donald's voice as heard in the animated shorts? It'd make sense...), Donald tries his hand at a series of instruments. But the sounds that he manages wrenches from each, as we see, rattle the nephews' nerves to no end. Basically, the story is a few variations of this "Donald makes loud, obnoxious sound and the nephews cringe in reaction" gag strewn together, with no brilliant twist or resolution at the end; instead, Donald finally gets the media's attentions with the invention of an absurd, ludicrous, lowbrow musical instrument. Well, okay, I guess that counts as a twist, as getting on TV had been Donald's objective from the get-go. Still, I find this ending, and the overall story that led up to it, a bit underwhelming. But, it's really okay, because Barks is responsible for, what, how many dozens of masterpieces?
Interesting that Bark' would tell a story in the comics format that revolved around sound -- seems like something that'd work better on film. Still, Bark really delivers in completely overcoming what you'd think would be a handicap, and succeeds with nary a hitch in showing, again and again, that Donald is producing cacophonious sounds, and that this annoys the nephews; in each instance, there was no confusion about what was taking place on this reader's part, anyway. (Admittedly, I was imagining what Donald's efforts might've sounded like, though.) (Also, Barks' partial deafness -- if it'd set in by this point, of which I'm not sure -- has me wondering how that would've informed his approach to this subject.)
Speaking of being irked by sounds...note the date; I'm sure I'm not the only one who at some point today thought to themselves, "I hope that wasn't a gunshot..." (While writing the preceding couple paragraphs, I could hear an incessant barrage of fireworks being set off outside, and it was really getting under my skin. How fitting, given the subject of the story I was writing about.)
Have a good week!