Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In hindsight, how portentous both of your musings were, oh ye letter-writer and ye editor...

Inevitably, during my latest grad school residency, which was held earlier this month, I visited the nearby Wonder Cards & Comics in Barre, VT, and emerged from it with a modest (heh...) stack of "new" (to me) "old" comics...which I'm still working my way through.

Just now, I'd made it as far as the letter column on the inside front cover of one of said excursion's acquisitions, Uncle Scrooge #230 (cover date: October 1988). Here's it's (quite, quite nice) Daan Jippes-drawn cover:

One letter in particular, in conjunction with its editorial reply, was very striking, due to how this exchange is obviously (as you'll see) a product of pre-mid-'90's Duck fandom. 

If the provisions of SOPA will permit, here's the second and last paragraph, reproduced in full, of a letter written by one Orlando J. Almodovar of Rosedale Queens, NY:

Can you make and print a story about Scrooge coming from Scotland, earning his #1 dime, and building up his fortune? That would be an extravaganza!

The editorial response (skipping its first paragraph, which deals with a separate question Mr. Almodovar had asked):

The story you're asking for would be a mighty long one [indeed!!! -- Ryan], and some of the details on how Scrooge earned his fortune have already been covered in past stories [...and little do you realize, Don Rosa's brewing big plans based around such flashbacks and dialogue-based passing anecdotal references ... well, I don't think Don realized his destiny, either, but suspect he had a considerable amount of his research already in the bag by '88, just by sheer first nature! -- R.], but it might be nice to do a shorter piece on exactly how Scrooge got his first dime [...involving time travel, perhaps? ;) -- R.].

...little did they realize...! ;)

So, Orlando, if you're out there: were you still reading by the time Gladstone serialized Life and Times? Were you excited at the time? Did you like it? Since then, has your perspective in regards to it changed at all?  :)


Friday, January 6, 2012

R.I.P., Vicar

ThereAt present, there's a lot of uncertainty in my life. It's been far too long since I've updated this blog, and I realize that I have to compose and post the final entry in the History of DuckTales Comics series (and I think there's one or two other things I'd been saying I'll be posting about...) I didn't expect to post today or that I'd be writing about our present subject, but I would remiss if I didn't proceed as follows...

Learning, tonight, of the passing of Vicar (the alias of Víctor Arriagada Ríos) hit me in a way I didn't expect. Honestly, I wasn't even sure if he was still alive or still working. But when the news reached me, I felt a noticeable sense of loss...felt the absence of something that had always been present...kind of like someone had torn out the hundreds of Vicar pages from my collections of Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories...no, that's a bad analogy! The realization and sensing of this loss didn't entail such hostility or aggression. It was more as though the spirit of all those comics had suddenly been whisked away to another realm, for which our realm is now to forever be more barren.

I began reading those comics in the late '80's, when -- as you may well know, if you're reading this -- their publisher in America was Gladstone. Thus, as long as I've known, the work of Vicar has been a regular presence in contemporary Duck comics. Had my childhood been a decade earlier, I wouldn't be able to say that.

Vicar, per the Inducks link above, began working for Egmont (formerly Gutenberghus, formerly Egmont), a major European publisher and Disney licensee, in 1971. However, at that point, in America, Western Publishing still held the Disney comics license, as they had since the '30's, and would until they closed shop in 1984. In the meantime, they continued to use creators on their own payroll for new material (which took a serious dive in quality during that last decade-and-a-half stretch...at least, that seems to be the near-unanimous consensus amongst fans!), but more and more falling back on reprints from their earlier decades (when Carl Barks, Bill Wright, Jack Bradbury, and others were in their prime; in other words, what by the '70's were Western's bygone glory years....at least, that seems to be the near-unanimous consensus amongst fans!)

Thus, stories that Vicar and other Egmont/Gutenberghus artists had drawn were not imported to the U.S., translated into English, and dialogued for American readers by talented folk such as Geoffrey Blum and Byron Erickson until Gladstone had assumed stewardship of Disney funny animal comics. During Gladstone's first run, any story that an American like me now recognizes as the handiwork of Vicar or Daniel Branca was generically credited to "the Gutenberghus Group". I've been told that was per Egmont/Gutenberghus' request. However, when in 1990 Disney started publishing their own comics, the credits became specific and individualized, and we became very familiar with Vicar's name.

Earlier this evening, the solemn tidings came to me by way of Chris Barat's blog. Shortly after reading the personalzied eulogy that Chris had written, I discovered that Joe Torcivia and GeoX had paid also posted tributes. (GeoX did so by reviewing a select Vicar story. The review is a veritable article or essay...presumably, Geo cranked it out in less than two days, possible within but one; given the thorough chapter-by-chapter Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck series of review that he burned through in less than one month, I'm envious of how he keeps up his dizzying, constant output of in-depth content!) [Update, 1/7/12: Joseph Adorno, the author of the ComicBookRehab blog, has also said his peace, as has Pete Fernbaugh of Caught at the Crossroads.] As I had no doubt I'd found, there's a DCF thread dedicated to the loss of an artist whom has been such a mainstay in our collective comics reading. Also, the person who started the DCF thread included a link to what appears to be an obituary on a Spanish-language comics web page.

My reflections on Vicar's work is similar to those of Chris and GeoX; Vicar's work was very steady, but I can't say he was one of those creators who made his mark with showstopping blockbusters that became lifelong favorites. I must confess that, as I grew up, I saw his work as being just there, and even found many of his stories boring and forgettable.

However, very recently, revisiting Vicar has made me realize how much I'd always taken Vicar for granted. The Barks influence abundantly clear in his art, his stories are well-crafted, while free of bombast and ego. It's just not true that he was a bad artist or that the average Vicar story was a bad one. In fact, because he was such a staple Gladstone, Disney Comics, and Gemstone's respective runs (and BOOM! gave him some time, too), Vicar's consistency has, in a way, between the premiere of Don Rosa epics, the American debut of a Romano Scarpa classic, etc., single-handedly been responsible for the overall consistent quality of these comics over the past 25 years! I'd have a hard time explaining this to someone who hasn't been reading these comics for their entire life, but first turning the pages of an Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse comic, there's certain "cues" that tell you that you're "home". And Vicar frequently hit those cues!

You can see me coming around and realizing that I owed in Vicar his due in one of this blog's earliest posts, from this past July. In part, I wrote:

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) preference point for Egmont creators like Vicar, but the latter's just as good as any of his peers -- as demonstrated throughout this story...  [...and, I proceeded to expound on the story's numerous good points...]

In response to the post, Joe posted the following comment:

If there WAS a predisposition toward Vicar and Branca in the early Gladstone days, please recall that awful Kay Wright and Bob Gregory art were the new story “duck standard” at Gold Key and Whitman for the previous 15-20 years!

After enduring all that – and for so damned long – I’m sure they wanted something that would look GOOD! And, it sure looked good to me!

I became concerned that I'd come off as though my opinion of Vicar, as it stood, was negative, when in fact, I had intended to be praising him! And now, I feel as though, retroactively, I've inadvertently speaking ill of the dead! (I hope that Vicar himself hadn't, at some point in the last several months, happened to have seen my posts, saw the part about me having not been much of a fan of his, and didn't catch the part where, ultimately, I'd changed my mind!  That's an unsettling notion...)

I'll close by recounting my memory of reading Uncle Scrooge #254 (Disney Comics, May 1991).

This issue's feature story was the Vicar-drawn "The Filling Station. Courtesy of Inducks, a scan of the first page:

In the tradition of Barks classic like "The Paul Bunyan Machine", "The Money Well", and, in fact, the feature attraction from the very first issue of Uncle Scrooge, "Only a Poor Old Man", "The Filling Station" concerned the Beagle Boys executing an elaborate scheme to steal Scrooge's fortune, and Scrooge's counter-strategy, both sides using over-the-top subterfuge and stealth in disguising the true nature of their (implausible, humorously over-the-top) wide-scale operation.

But, the thing was...while reading the comic, I was actually under the impression that I was reading a Barks story!!!!!!

Some Barks fans and scholars might be mortified that I could have made such an egregious error. But, I was only nine years old; at least a few people have noted Vicar's talent at drawing in a Barksian fashion (as mentioned in the quote above from that post of mine from this apst July, I vaguely remember people commenting on the resemblance in Disney Comics' letter columsn; and, in Joe's aforementioned post written in homage to Vicar, you'll note, several paragraphs down, that he attributes Vicar for evoking Barks of 1953 specifically!); and I'd far from read all of Barks' stories yet (...I think I still haven't! *behaves sheepishly*), let alone have the encyclopedic knowledge to immediately know that he'd never written and/or drawn a story entitled "The Filling Station" So, come on, give me credit for being such a sharp reader at such a young age to have recognized the story's formula as a quintessentially Barksian one!  ;)

In all seriousness, I'm using my age at the time to excuse that I'd unwittingly, totally, without question believed, for the story's 24-page duration, that I was reading a Barks story. But considering that I was astute enough to recognize the variation of a plot/premise that Barks himself had reinvented a few times, I was clearly a bit beyond a mere novice by that point. Thus, "admitting" the fact that my ever-so-scrupulous nine-year-old self was utterly and completely "fooled" (...by all rights, not just by the artist, but also by Gail Renard, whom Inducks credits for "plot", and Donne Avenell, whom Inducks credits for "script") is perhaps the ultimate tribute that I can pay to a Barks fan and "disciple" like Vicar!

...but, that slights him, really. I've enjoyed pages and pages of his stories, on their own terms. And there's still plenty of back issues I've yet to read, others that will inevitably be re-read, and, if another publisher ever takes on the American license for Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics and continues them in the Gladstone-Gemstone tradition, I believe there's still plenty of Vicar stories that have yet to see print in the U.S. And even if we Americans aren't fortunate enough to have that happen, I think it's safe to say that, as the old adage goes, throughout the world, Vicar will continue to be read, and in that respect, he'll live on, continuing to keep Disney comics "steadily", consistently "good".