Monday, September 19, 2011

A History of DuckTales Comic Books, Part Three: DuckTales Magazine and Disney Adventures

From the summer of 1988 to the fall of 1990, as licensed by Disney, Welsh Publishing Group produced DuckTales Magazine on a quarterly basis.  It was entirely geared at children -- going by memory, its contents were along the lines of activities, games (e.g., simple mazes and crossword get the idea...), short stories told in prose with illustrations, fluffy articles, and silly, vapid columns (am I correct in remembering there being an Ask Webby feature, or something of the sort): 

The cover art was usually pretty nice, though.  (That reminds me -- as a child, I had an '88 or '89 DuckTales calendar, each month bearing a painting the ducks in some form of adventure and derring-do, some -- or all? -- of which were used as covers for the magazine.  My copy of the calendar ultimately had a child's scrawlings all over it, and is long-gone.  But I'd like to find a clean copy.)  Here's the first issue's cover:

The only component of this periodical of relevance to this history is its four-page comic stories -- one per issue (presumably starting with the second issue, as Inducks lists nothing for the first).  In spite of being credited to such honorable names as Joey Cavalieri, Héctor Saavedra, and Cosme Quartieri, the format's brevity -- and likely editorial preferences -- were incredibly constricting; from what I recall of them, these stories were simple, excessively light in tone, lacking in wit, and their pacing (understandably) felt rushed and truncated.  Carl Barks' strengths as a writer and artist were never compromised by doing 10-pagers or 4-pagers...which is why I suspect that the editors wanted written "down" to children. 

...I mean, DC's 1990 three-issue Bugs Bunny mini-series was written by Cavalieri.  It demonstrated cleverness and wit, and narratively, was acute and relatively subtle...especially in comparison to these four-page DuckTales comic stories!  So it's not like Cavalieri couldn't do funny animal stories. 

Even the one written by Don Rosa ("Back in Time for a Dime", in the spring 1990 issue) was completely generic and unimpressive.  (Looking at Inducks' scan of its first page, I note that Quartieri's art was inspired, though.)  (To read Rosa himself referring to DuckTales Magazine's comics -- one infers, even his own! --as "mindless drek", and his explanation of how Disney not allowing Gladstone to return his art to him had forced him look for work elsewhere -- I guess because he sold his own stuff to collectors? -- culminating in freelancing for the magazine this one time, visit the DCML's "Don Rosa on himself" page, and scroll down to "Story for DuckTales Magazine [script only]".)  (Curiously, "for a Dime" features Bubba -- I don't think he appeared in any of the magazine's other comics, andf that Fenton/Gizmoduck never appeared!  One would think that Rosa would've been reluctant to include characters created for the series, so his story being the exception in this respect is odd.)

[ADDENDUM: Regarding Bubba appearing in Rosa's story, David Gerstein added some vital information, and invaluable insight, in his comment below, reproduced here:

"Editors altered Rosa's story to add Bubba after Rosa submitted it. From my perspective, it was an incredibly damaging alteration: when the whole point of the story is to draw a distinction between modern Duckburg and the Stone Age, it confuses everything to have a caveman in the 'modern' scenario.

"The editors also altered Rosa's opening gag about the tremor running through the house, but at least I managed to restore that when we reprinted the story at Gemstone."

Because of David's thoroughness and dauntlessness, the "director's cut" of "Back in Time for a Dime!" -- rectifying the opening panel so that Scrooge's dialogue is what Rosa had originally written (the tremor gag to which David refers) -- was included in Uncle Scrooge #369 (Gemstone, Sept. 2007).

Thanks again, David!]


In November 1990, two months after the advent of both The Disney Afternoon and TaleSpin, and just as DuckTales Magazine was being phased out, Disney launched another children's magazine, this one a monthly: Disney Adventures.  Disney Comics promoted it and had some editorial involvement, but I'm not sure to what extent.  It seems likely that the non-comics portions of it were produced by another staff/department/division entirely.  It had far more distribution and more success than the Disney Comics line proper, early in its run making its way to being on display in grocery and department store checkout lines, right alongside the tabloids and TV Guide

Each issue boasted on its cover a currently-"hot", recognizable-to-kids celebrity; that, above all else, compounded with its popularity and its presence in checkout lines, should tell you the nature of the magazine, and why we need not concern ourselves any further with its non-comics contents (which were the majority of its contents.)  Needless to say, its target audience was not Carl Barks fan.

Because the magazine's launch was concurrent with the Disney Afternoon's, Disney saw an opportunity to further the hype surrounding the latter; during its first couple years, in the case of most issues, the celebrity featured on the cover was posed interacting with one or more characters from one of the four show in TDA's current lineup.  From the outset, each issue included three or four (give or take) comics.  At first, DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, and TaleSpin comics were featured exclusively.  When Darkwing Duck joined TDA, DW comics were incorporated; the same in the case of Goof Troop, and so forth.  As each year TDA dropped its oldest series, the older series' comics were phased out from Disney Adventures, but between the two, there wasn't a perfect concurrence in this respect.  Which properties were featured in comics form varied from one issue to the next. 

Prior to the official first issue, its launch was promoted, ca. late summer/early fall 1990, with a Kellogg's tie-in -- mail in so many proofs-of-purchase, and you would receive a special giveaway issue!  Being eight years old at the time, I was quite eager to take advantage of the offer, and feel quite nostalgic now as I recall raiding my grandparents' shelves to cut the UPC barcodes off of their Kellogg's cereal boxes!  

Not only did that "pilot" issue include two DuckTales comic stories, the cover was an unqualified DuckTales cover, uncorrupted by not a single celebrity!

Pretty cool, eh?  (Trust me, this is the only Disney Adventures cover you'll find me saying that!)  (Note how they forgot to color Launchpad's hair -- looks odd, doesn't it?)

One of the two included DT comic stories was a whopping 18 pages, divided into two chapters.  Here's Inducks' scan of part one, page one:

And part two, page one:

Inducks cites no creator credits for this comic.  Unfortunately, my Disney Adventures collection is long-gone (overall, good riddance!), so at present, I'm not able to reread this story in its entirety.  But going by memory, and judging by these isolated two pages, it was decent.  Think I'll start watching for this issue on ebay.

In the official first issue (cover date: November 12th, 1990), DuckTales was represented with an eight-page comic story, "The Dream Scheme".  Again, Inducks' scan of the first page:

Once again, I have no way of reading the rest of the story, but going by this scan, it seems it could've been decent.  The dynamics of the art, and the jump-right-in, off-the-ground-running narrative hook, are better than DuckTales Magazines' comics, to say the least.  (It's certainly worth noting that it was written by Bob Langhans!)

I don't particularly remember this story.  Same goes for most of the DuckTales comics created for Disney Adventures.  Generally, I think they ran from decent to mediocre; sometimes, perhaps a bit worse.  In all fairness, I'd have to re-read them to be able to say anything definite about them.  But given how enthusiastic I've always been about DT and yet how none of these comics have proven memorable...well, that speaks for something, no?


...there's one, DEFINITE, exception.  I will never, ever forget the five-part serial entitled "The Legend of the Chaos God", written by Bobbi J.G. Weiss and David Cody Weiss, and drawn by Cosme Quartieri, who's name should by now be familiar, and printed in the June, August "23rd" (there'd been a plain ol' August issue, but "Chaos God" Part Two was nowhere to be found therein; more on that below.  The August "23rd" issue was in lieu of the September issue...ya got me!), October, November, and December 1994 issues. 

In the all-too short run of Disney Comics' Tale Spin, Weiss had made some ambitious, commendable attempts at deepening the series' mythology, such as a story tackling Kit's past.  And an editorial comment in one isssue's letter column that a multi-part serial, courtesy of Weiss, delving into the "origins" of the Air Pirates' airborne fortress, the Flying Vulture was in the near-future; alas, this story was still slated for later when TaleSpin became a victim of the Disney Implosion.  (And again, I ask: how much work was done on the material for the next few issues before they were cancelled, and does any of it survive?)

And with this serial, Weiss once again "thought big".  And by all rights, the end results should earn a place of reverence amongst Disney Afternoon fans for all time.  What's the big deal?  "Legend of the Chaos God" is a veritable Disney Afternoon crossover...or quasi-crossover: it follows a jewel possessed by an ancient warlike, vengeful god as it makes its way from Cape Suzette (Part 1) to wherever the Rescue Rangers live (Part 2)(the "humans" are dogfaces in this case -- creative license taken so that the Rangers could exist in the same world that the other series do!) to Spoonerville (Part 3) to Duckburg (Part 4) to St. Canard (Part 5).  In each case, the malevolent god, Solego, manages to possess someone (or something -- a car, in the Goof Troop intallment), but doesn't escape the jewel until Part 5, only to then be defeated by Darkwing and Gizmoduck -- for at the end of Part 4, Solego had taken possession of the Gizmoduck suit and departed for St. Canard, with Fenton vowing pursuit!  The fanboy in me can't help but revel in how unabashedly "awesome" this transition into Part 5 is!

...see??!!!  ;)

Thus...the adjacency of the serial's DuckTales and Darkwing Duck installments, and Gizmoduck's bridging the two, is incredibly pertinent, because: BOOM!'s imminent DuckTales-Darkwing Duck crossover is actually not the first one that's ever even officially happened...nor is it even the first one that's ever officially happened in comics!

Bobbi's handling of the DT-DW "timeline" is very logical and simple: Launchpad's not in the DuckTales chapter because he now lives in St. Canard, where, sure enough, we find him in the Darkwing chapter, in the same capacacity that he is in any Darkwing story.  Thus, we infer that Bobbi's assumed that the entirety of the DW series takes place after the entirety of the DT series, and "Chaos God" (besides Part 1) is set well into the timeline of the DW series -- at least after Darkwing and Gizmoduck's first encounter.  So, this is a rare DuckTales story in that it's consciously set after the series and during the course of DW -- and the only exception that has to be made is that Launchpad's not in the DT chapter.  Otherwise, life seems to have continued as normal in Duckburg.   

Seems the obvious way to go, no?  But for some reason, BOOM! seems to have really muddied up this matter.  But we'll see how they address it once the actual crossover is underway.

Here's page nine of Part 5 -- Darkwing and Gizmoduck's (Fenton having by now reclaimed the suit) (and Launchpad's...kind of) showdown with the now-freed Solego!

This scan, and one from Part 4 above, iare courtesy of this site -- which, wonder of wonders, hosts scans of every single page of the arc!  For once, I can direct you to a place where you can easily access the entire thing, and, unlike almost every other comic that ever appeared in Disney Adventures, I have accesss to it myself!

Inducks notes that Part 2 is the last Rescue Rangers story to ever appear in Disney Adventures.  No such note is made in their entry for Part 4; however, by this point, DuckTales comics appearing in the magazine were few and far between, and after "Chaos God", there weren't many, if any.


I'll do either one or two "History of DuckTales Comics" posts on the BOOM! era, and one post spotlighting a certain story that's never gotten much attention or fanfare.  And I want to write about other subjects, as well.  But when any of that will appear, I'm not sure.  My sister's weekend is to take place during this coming weekend, and my work and school commitments are considerably demanding.  So, it might be a little while before I post again...but I hope I don't once again go longer than a month without a new -- and proper, full-fledged -- post!

A History of DuckTales Comic Books, Part Two: Disney Comics

It's been over a month since Part One, and since I've posted to this blog at all.  I assure you, I'd intended otherwise!  In the interim, I've been inconvenienced by not one but two spells, each lasting over a week, of not having Internet at home, due to technical problems.  On top of that, between work and school (including teaching a class so as to fulfill a degree requirement, when I have no prior teaching experience whatsover!), the past month has been especially hectic and chaotic.  Things seem to finally be in order again, though.

All right -- let's get down to business. 

1n 1990, "the Walt Disney Company itself decided that what Gladstone could do, Disney could do better", and thus "revoked Gladstone's license".  (See this article that, all the way back in 1996, David Gerstein wrote for the Disney Comics Mailing List's home page.)   And thus, an operation christened Disney Comics came into being -- a new arm (...or, more aplty, a new arm hair...) of the mammoth, sprawling corporation that bears the name of an innovative, audience-pleasing early-to-mid-20th century filmmaker.  In June (well, that's going by cover, that would've made it, in reality, what, April?), Disney Comics launched eight monthly titles, the majority of them featuring original, exclusive new material.
At this point, DuckTales, the TV series, remained a hit -- as now did a second syndiated Disney animated series, Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers.  Disney saw fit to give each an ongoing comic book series -- the first issue of each amongst the June 1990 debuts.  (In the case of DuckTales, Disney disregarded Gladstone's numbering.  Same for Donald Duck Adventures.) 

The cover of Disney Comics' DuckTales #1:

(Eh, too yellow for my taste.)  :)

(After TaleSpin -- and not to mention, The Disney Afternoon -- premiered on TV that fall, Disney Comics ran a "trial" TaleSpin four-issue mini-series.  Likewise, the advent of the Darkwing Duck TV series prompted a four-issue mini-series, but an ongoing, regular comic never came to fruition.  More on that below...)

Unlike the Barks reprints, the Lustig/Van Horn originals (which were arguably more Barksian than they were DuckTales-esque...but were more Lustig/Van Horn than anything else!), and even the limp Jaime Diaz Studio (which at least, on one level, looked like the TV series) stories that had accounted for Gladstone's version of a <i>DuckTales</i> comic, the Disney Comics version felt like a true tie-in with the show, exuding the flashiness, bombast, and kid-geared "coolness" characteristic of a popular contemporary animated TV series' merchandise. 

The comic lasted until #18, which bore a cover date of November 1991.  Then, Disney Comics' line was cut down to only Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck Adventures, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (in BOOM!-speak, classics were back), and by and large, they ceased producing original stories.  (When this "Disney Implosion" occurred, the Darkwing Duck "trial" mini-series was underway.  They waited out the scheduled four issues, and simply never again said anything about an ongoing series. you know!)

Their DuckTales run can be broken down as follows:

#1-7: "Scrooge's Quest" seven-part serial.  Written by Marv Wolfman.  Drawn by Cosme Quartieri and Robert Bat, et al.

#8: two Jaime Diaz Studio stories.

#9-15: "The Gold Odyssey" seven-part serial. Written by Bob Langhans.  Drawn by Cosme Quartieri and Robert Bat, et al.

#16: two Jaime Diaz Studio stories.

#17-18: "A Dime in Time" two-part serial.  Written by Bob Langhans.  Drawn by Cosme Quartieri and Robert.  (#17 was part of "The Time Tetrad", that month, Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck Adventures, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories all featured stories involving the use of the same time machine.  In "A Dime in Time", thanks to Quartieri and Bat in their art replicating the appearance of said time machine in said European stories, the ducks once again used it to hop centuries...this brings up continuity questions that, for the time being, I'll spare you...)

Like the Jaime Diaz Studio material Gladstone had used, the stories in #8 and #16 had the trappings of a Duck comic, and sported "professional" art with very "on-model" characters.  However, they hit their cues only on a superficial level; both their narratives and panel stagings were uninspired and bland. 

But "Scrooge's Quest", "The Gold Odyssey", and "A Dime in Time", on the other hand...these serials were highly-energized, and amibitious, exhibiting the aspiration to be operating on an epic scale.  Kind of the rock 'n' roll version of Duck comics.  Notably, these stories -- as was Disney's wont -- eschewed the four-tiers-per-page model that Western had established as the standard and tradition for Duck and Mouse comics, opting for a three-tiers-per-page format, aping DC and Marvel.  Now, if you're going to use the same amount of space for fewer panels, then you're going to have bigger individual panels...and this may have had a lot, if not everything, to do with how bombastic the book seemed.

The art generally "got" the aesthetic of the TV series (even Scrooge's mansion looks as it did on the show!), and, for the most part, is lively, active, distinct, and dynamic, if perhaps more sloppier and rushed at some points than at others. 

Both seven-parters used the modus operandi of stringing together what were in truth a few self-contained adventures/episodes together with an overall arc that was-- so I'll admit, even though I'm inclined to "push" these comics -- thin, loose, and inconsistent.  Yes, over the course of the proceedings, Wolfman and Langhans, each in their own right, stooped to mindless action-adventure clichés, and, without question, the proceedings lacked the class and finesse of Carl Barks.  Nonetheless, these 100+ page Duck quasi-opuses were, again, ambitious -- it was exciting to see Scrooge and Co. traipsing through such "big" exploits, the suspense sustained -- in real-world time -- for months on end.  And in being competent, accurate reflections of the TV series, they did the trick, if that was your bag.

Chris Barat champions "Odyssey" as being superior to "Quest".  And, sure, I'd submit that my preference is also for Langhans' issues.  The individual chapters of "Scrooge's Quest" are probably more coherently realized.  And the tightness of his writing serves "A Dime in Time" well, its two issues having the same high-gear momentum of its longer predecessors.  And he probably wins out for having taken things as far as he could, and making them as "dark" (for a "family" comic that would've been subjected to Disney corporate scrutiny, anyway) as he could've -- take the occult-alluding third chapter, "The Once and Future Warlock":

But, in all respects, I don't think of there as being a huge disparity between the two seven-parters; I see them as being very much of the same nature, sharing not only the same shortcomings, but the same points of commendation.  (In short: as a whole, the arcs were anemic, made up of several disconnected scenarios that hinged on action-adventure clichés.  But for the most part [...I know I'm inviting condemnations of "Scrooge's Quest" Part Seven here!], both writers had a pretty good understanding of, and respect for, the show and its characters.  And...well, I mean, these are 100+-page Duck multi-adventures, the conflict and danger never relenting!  ...that's just cool!  Yup -- twenty years later, there's still novelty and guilty pleasure factors at play!)

I have always wondered: given the unexpectedness of the "Disney Implosion", at least the next couple issues of the soon-to-be-abruptly-cancelled titles should've been well along in the editorial process.  So, had another Langhans-Quartieri-Bat serial been slated to begin in #19?  And if so, how much work on it, if any, was done, and does any of it survive?

It's worth noting that in 2008, Gemstone published trade paperbacks of both "Scrooge's Quest" and "The Gold Odyssey", both serials complete in one volume.  If you're interested, they're still pretty easy to come by.