Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A coincidence, or a "missing link" found?

A few years ago, going on the recommendation of a friend who since high school has been one of my closest, I perused the work of film director Werner Herzog. This post is off-the-cuff, so to introduce Herzog, I'll cite Wikipedia: he is "one of the greatest figures of the New German Cinema", and "[h]is films often feature heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who find themselves in conflict with nature."

After binging on a fraction of the Herzog filmography, at some point during the ensuing couple of years, for one reason or another, my thoughts fell upon Herzog. I began turning over in my mind my memories of the several of his movies that I'd seen. Suddenly, it struck me that some of them had a difficult-to-pinpoint but distinctive air of ... Carl Barks! I'll quote again, in part, one or more Wikipedia author's characterization of Herzog's work: " ... heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields ... " Might that not be apt things to say about, say, Scrooge McDuck or Gyro Gearloose?

In particular, there were two Herzog films that I'd seen, Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) -- incidentally(?) both starring Klaus Kinski -- that stood out as Barksian. Especially Fitzcarraldo. Take into account the Wikipedia entry's (as of this writing) introductory synopses of the film: "It portrays would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known as Fitzcarraldo in Peru, who has to pull a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory. The film is derived from the real-life story of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald." I ask you, does that not sound like a plot that would be seemlessly transposable for an Uncle Scrooge story? Perhaps in particular, given the harrowing tone of Herzog's film, a Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge story?

Tonight, I re-read Uncle Scrooge #249 (Disney Comics, Dec.1990), featuring the book-length story "The Puffer", plotted by Paul Halas (according to Inducks -- this credit is absent in the issue itself), scripted by Gary Gabner (update: per Joe Torcivia, both Disney Comics and Inducks are incorrect in crediting the dialogue to Dave Angus), and drawn by Daniel Branca -- a rare treat, indeed, a book-length Daniel Branca story! Revolving around a steamboat race pitting Scrooge and his nephews against Argus McSwine, it draws heavily from ... well, logically, Barks' "The Great Steamboat Race", originally printed in Uncle Scrooge #11 (Dell, Sept. 1955). The villain in Barks' original one of his many McSwine prototypes, here dubbed Horseshoe Hogg.

Two-thirds or so of the way into tonight's reading, I suddenly got a strong sense of an impending plot development, and my heart skipped a beat ... or I gasped in shock ... or a chill went down my spine ... well, I'm not sure if any of those literally happened, but it was like one of them had! ;) Sure enough, just as in Fitzcarraldo, the aid of a native tribe is enlisted to construct over a stretch of land to a river an extended platform upon which they'll tow a terra firma-stranded steamboat until it's asail in said river!

(See the resemblance/commonalities?) ;)

I have no idea if Halas, Angus, or Branca had seen or even knew of Fitzcarraldo. But directly inspired by the film or not, it works fantastically as a homage to "The Great Steamboat Race" and an original, well-crafted -- but still Barksian -- Scrooge story, yet also, at least to some degree, affirming my sense of an "odd couple" kinship between Barks and Herzog and Fitzcarraldo's adaptability to an Uncle Scrooge comic!

If you're a Barks fan and Herzog and Fitzcarraldo at all appeal to you, I urge you to seek it out!

-- Ryan


  1. Great find, Ryan!

    But, “riverboat”? Ha! Try the same trick with a nuclear sub – and in 1966 to boot!

    And, more basically… “heroes with impossible dreams, people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who find themselves in conflict with nature.”

    Sound much more like Barks’ DONALD to me!

  2. Joe,

    You know ... not long at all after I posted this, I thought to myself, "Oh, geez ... "heroes with impossible dreams" -- I totally overlooked Donald there, didn't I?! ...maybe I better go revise the post!"

    ... and now that you've inspired me to think about those parameters and qualifications more still, it hits me that "in conflict with nature" could be applied to every conundrum and frustration -- no matter its scope; regardless of whether it's confined to a dispute with Jones waged over the fence between or if it encompasses the dangers of an adventure his uncle has dragged him to the other side of the world for -- that Donald's ever suffered! :)

    You are absolutely right (does that even need to be said? :) ) about the same elements, traits, etc. being staples of stories belonging to the same genre and/or medium. But in this case, the commanality isn't just a steamboat, but a single-minded, independent, idiosyncratic individual being driven to commandier a crew of natives to carry out the grueling task of dragging a riverboat overland through a tropical forest until it reaches the river that will set the vessel on our "idiosyncratic individual"'s desired course. Fitzcarraldo is practically built around this undertaking, while in "The Puffer", it is a decidedly lesser plot point. It may well be that the creation of this story has nothing to do with the film, but the commonalities are compelling enough ... at least for me!

    And still, I reiterate my endorsement of Fitzcarraldo ... to you, Joe, if anyone! Of course, if you really didn't want to do so, I wouldn't want you to watch it, but a TIAH review of the movie would be very interesting! Between Cagney and Gottfredson, and then Barks, Irwin Allen, and all the way along to J.J. Abrams and beyond, it might have a place in a continued, evolving orbit that'd be very interesting and fun to to discuss. :)

    -- Ryan

  3. A bizarre yet intriguing thesis, and did I mention that I'm a big Herzog fan myself? I have to note, though, that Fitzcarraldo's motives are substantially less mercenary than Scrooge's typically are--if he were in it to become a rubber tycoon for its own sake, he would be much less interesting character.

    Now that you mention it, though, I can easily imagine Rosa's version of Scrooge descending into Aguirre territory or close to.

  4. Though ALL THREE personality trails are true, what really caused the “Donald analogy” to crystalize was “unique talents in obscure fields”. Heck, we had an ENTIRE GENRE of Donald story based on that one!

    Scrooge, for all his quirks, doesn’t REALLY have that – and Gyro has only ONE talent.

    In that VOYAGE comic, crew and natives alike perform the herculean task of moving the landlocked Seaview over land to eventual freedom. The comic often did things that could not have been done on a ‘60s TV budget, and this was a prime example.

    It is THAT “big concept” aspect of the story that I zeroed in on, and feel that it preceded both the film and the later Scrooge story.

    Actually, it WOULD be interesting to see “Fitzcarraldo”, if you and Geo think that highly of it. Maybe Kinski is the Cagney of German Cinema. :-)

    And, hey… Cagney, Gottfredson, Barks, Irwin Allen, J.J. Abrams… that is QUITE the continuum!

  5. I don't have that issue anymore, but I seem to recall most of the action involved the characters just trying to get to that boat, what with Scrooge trying to do everything on a shoestring. I thought Barks' "The Great Steamboat Race" and the flashback from Uncle Scrooge Goes To Disneyland were better stories, but I loved that cover - it would have been more fun if present-day Scrooge went at it solo.

  6. Nothing to add on the subject of Herzog, but I have to say I'm glad to see someone else likes The Puffer. It's hard to put my finger on why I feel this way, but that story struck me and continues to strike me as the best and most Barksian European story ever published during the Disney Comics run. I love Branca's artwork in the story(particularly his frequently manic Scrooge, the grimacing McSwine, and the amusingly drawn natives), and Angus' script seems wittier than anything else he did for Disney (I can quote some of his dialogue from memory: "OK, McSwine, you snort a good game"--"Pandamonian Soldier Ants! they love tea and villagers in equal measures"--"He's about so big, with a ratty moustache and an evil leer"--"Shilling the suckers on the steamers; those were the days"). Plus, the central quest for the boat and the wonderful panels of its launch (not to mention the climactic river race) are just plain irresistible.

  7. Ryan,

    Not familiar with FITZCARRALDO, though I do know some of Herzog's other works. Interesting parallels here!


  8. Dan and Everyone:

    I enjoyed “The Puffer” too! It was one of the better stories of the period, in large part due to Branca’s art and the lively dialogue.

    But, I must point out, that dialogue was not by Angus – but by “Gary Gabner”… who REALLY isn’t “Gary Gabner” at all, but another talented name that you will recognize. I’ll not spoil the secret here -- but “Gary’s” identity is generally known.

    As I’m always attuned to the dialoguing of these stories, and I’d like to give credit where it’s due. Even if it’s to a pseudonym.


  9. My abject apologies to Gabner; that will teach me to consult either Inducks or my own comic files before making a blog comment. Now I recall that Gabner was the go-to guy for Disney "scripts" during much of their earlier run (John Blair Moore seemed to do more dialoguing towards the end); Gabner really excelled himself with The Puffer.

  10. Geo: Actually, it makes a certain kind of sense that you like Herzog.

    Naturally, I would think that if Fitzcarraldo were adapted into an Uncle Scrooge story, Scrooge would be in it because he had reason to believe the venture would be especially lucrative, rather than "in it to become a rubber tycoon for its own sake". Perhaps it would work as a Life and Times story -- one step along the way in building in his business empire.

    Rehab: Yes, towing the steamship to the river only takes up a couple pages in "The Puffer", just about as the story's climaxing, while the same undertaking in Fitzcarraldo is the thrust of the entire film, accounting for a good chunk of it. Still, it's interesting that the exact same scenario, in and of itself, is part of both works.

    It's too bad that you didn't enjoy this story more. It's not the most original or most complex plot ever, but I found it to be cleverly and acutely executed, Branca's delightful artwork and the sharp dialogue giving it an energized, frantic momentum.

    Dan: Great description -- I think you've accurately distilled the merits of the story's art, plotting, characterization, dialogue, and both its comedic and dramatic action.

    Inducks actually appears to have duplicated Disney Comics' mistake of crediting the dialogue to Dave Angus, so don't blame yourself. Thank you, Joe, for setting the record straight.

    Joe: Ah, of course, the Donald Mastery stories! But I think Herzog's protagonists tended to have a "special talent" in but a single "obscure field", so I wouldn't discount Gyro. I'm not sure, though, if Gyro's a "dreamer of impossible dreams", or more an idiot savante who realizes them! Scrooge, as the uncanny self-made, deliberate, shrewd wealthiest person on the planet, I would say that Scrooge has a "unique talent in a special field". And from Rosa's depictions of young Scrooge, one could say that he had once pursued what others were sure were impossible dreams ... and then showed them otherwise!

    Ah, so that's why you pointed to that Voyage comic -- for some reason, the relevance of the cover blurb didn't sink in at first! It may well be that the similarity between all three works is a complete coincidence, but one way or the other, you are right to point out that the Voyage comic did it first.

    Actually, from the cover, that issue looks pretty appealing -- same for the others in that run, in fact.

    Kinski as "the Cagney of German cinema" actually might not be much of a stretch -- from the too little of Cagney that I've seen, both are on the short side for a lead male, fairly gaunt, wild-eyed, speak in a coarse, tried tenor, and have a restless, fiery tension in their disposition. But while Cagney has effusive charm, the outright crazed, rabid-seeming Kinski might be more of an acquired taste!

  11. I recall that this was third or fourth Scrooge vs. McSwine story - each had the same plot outline to it and I may have noticed a little too well to enjoy it. There was the "bamboo raft" race, the "Golden Carp" hunt and "Pie in the Sky" - which was a Van Horn story that also had a pig-faced villain, but I liked that one. I had lumped them all together at the time. I think the only one I kept was "Coffee, Louie or Me?" with the McPuerco Brothers - someone (I forget if it was Joe Torcivia or Joey Marchese or Fritz Baugh) suggested that this was a post-Ducktales story because it had Quateri doing the art and Donald joking about why he joined the Navy and not the Army.

  12. Disney Comics did tend to over-expose McSwine in their early years, but I thought The Puffer stood out from the raft race story and "The Last Carpocanth" story in several regards. Both those tales had much more uninspired scriptwriting, and their central conflicts didn't lead to any sequences as spectacular as the boat launch/race in The Puffer. Plus, neither of the other McSwine ones had Branca's artwork (they were both Vicar, as I recall); said artwork is one of The Puffer's biggest strengths.

  13. “(I forget if it was Joe Torcivia or Joey Marchese or Fritz Baugh) suggested that this was a post-Ducktales story because it had Quateri doing the art and Donald joking about why he joined the Navy and not the Army.”

    That sounds like me, ‘Rehab! …Wonder what happened to those other two guys!

  14. Fritz Baugh occasionally posts on the Disney Comics Forum.

  15. I checked my "archives" - It was you, Joe! When I saw that you and Chris had blogs that was the first thought that popped in my head! "Where's Fritz's blog and Joey's blog?" Another fan who appeared often in those columns was Steven Acevedo - Who knows!

    In fact, my first published letter in a comic was one sentence - it was in the issue of Uncle Scrooge with Don Rosa's "Island of Gold" story. Then there were the issues of Mickey Mouse and Friends during the Gemstone years - and a drawing of Catman that DC printed in THE BATMAN STRIKES #47 and an issue of Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I don't have anymore ( :( ). I'll be happy to sign copies of all those, just like Evan Dorkin and that issue of ROM where they printed his drawing of Avalanche in a hospital bed. He signed my copy with "Evan Dorkin - was a dumb teenager". :)

  16. Geo and Rehab, sorry it's taken so long for your comments to appear. Obviously, I neglected my moderator queue for the last couple weeks!

    'rehah, I can understand how you were put off by "The Puffer" for being a retread. It actually is bizarre that Halas and Branca did a Scrooge-versus-McSwine steamboat race story without alluding to the fact that it'd been done before! (Assuming that wasn't just a side effect of it having to be translated for an American printing.) Until revisiting it shortly before writing this post, I'd barely remembered it, so it couldn't have stood out to me, or captivated me, to much of an extent when Disney Comics printed it.

    But these days, when I revisit issues Gladstone I and Disney Comics issues from my youth, my approach tends to oriented toward whatever I find to be their most meritorious aspects. Also, I've come to have a great deal of appreciation for Daniel Branca, when he hadn't stood out to me when I was younger. So I completely agree with Dan Neyer that Branca's art plays a big part in what I now find appealing about this story.

    quote: "Wonder what happened to those other two guys!" Great question, Joe! Like Geo, I've seen Baugh make an appearance once or twice on the DCF. And I've even seen him on Twitter! But I haven't seen Joey Marchese anywhere since the Disney Comics era. What was interesting about him was that he professed to be a convert from Marvel!

    Interesting anecdote about Joe's observation about "Coffee, Louie, or Me?": After reading the letter in which he said that, somehow, over the course of the next couple years, the situation had been conflated in my mind so that I erroneously remembered there as having been a few letters that said, in effect, "Since Donald kept making reference to having been in the Navy, this is decidedly the first post-DuckTales story!"

    And so, in my first column for the A.P.A. WTFB, while explaining that in my (young, in some ways quite naive) mind, there's solid continuity between Barks and Barksian Duck comics and DuckTales, I stated, "Many have pegged 'Coffee, Louie, or Me?' as the first post-DuckTales story"! In his column in the following issue of WTFB, Joe asked, "Oh, so who are these 'many'? Names and addresses, please!" With a sense of urgency, I checked the Uncle Scrooge letters pages from within the likely timeframe that there would've been comments on "Coffee, Louie", and sure enough, Joe was the only one who'd said anything about the matter! That was a fantastic, hard-learned early lesson in being as accurate as I can in making citations and giving credit where it's due!