Sunday, April 22, 2012

Retrieved from Storage: "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne" (Donald Duck Adventures #19, Gladstone, Feb. 1990)

"Starting this month, we've made every Gladstone comic at least a 64-page giant!", Geoffrey Blum exclaims at the outset of the <i>Cross Talk</i> in this issue (and the four other Gladstone comics bearing the February 1990 cover date). He didn't mention that each of Gladstone's Disney titles had only two issues to go, and that The Walt Disney Company's own imprint, Disney Comics, was about to take over. At the time, I had no idea that such an abrupt cataclysmic change was impending. If the Internet had been around, I probably would've. (Although it's worth noting that BOOM! never acknowledged <b>in the comics themselves</b> that any of <i>their</i> Disney titles were soon to be aborted. For a multitude of reasons, though, Gladstone was still boundlessly more respectable and competent than BOOM! as a company later would be, despite some of the fine creators and editors worked for the latter.)

The cover reproduced above (courtesy of a scan located through a Google images search) was drawn by Michel Nadorp. According to Inducks, Nadorp's Disney work has spanned "from 1980 to date" and has consisted of "mostly covers". The latter stipulations explains why, when taking stock of the cover in preparation for this post, I was wondering, "Why don't I know who this guy is? Why haven't I read more stories that were drawn by him?" Thanks to Inducks, I've learned that this cover was produced for the original printing of "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne" (this issue's lead story, as indicated by the title blub on the cover), which was in the Netherlands. The high physicality to the strained, pointedly accentuated poses of Donald and the nephew trying to force him up the ladder, and the damning look in the elephant's eye that's turned toward Donald, is very complementary to the story's art, which is that of Ben Verhagen.

<b>39-page</b> Duck stories are rare enough as it is. The occassion of a 39-page story <b>drawn by Verhagen</b> is on par with a passing of Haley's Comet! (I'm pretty sure I subconsciously picked up the Haley's Comet analogy somewhere else... My apologies to the unknown author!) Jan Kruse' story, Verhagen's images, and Dwight Decker's English translation and dialogue work in tandem as a rich, engaging, satisfying comics-reading experience.

Much like Barks "Race to the South Seas" and certainly echoing "Luck of the North", the plot is driven by a competition between Donald, aided by the nephews, and Gladstone to, starting at the same moment, be the first to travel around or across a considerable part the world. The motivation for this rash endeavor is the friction between the arrogant, smug, cocky Gladstone and the disenfranchised, embittered, schlubbish Donald that quickly becomes worse whenever they're face-to-face with each other ... <i>especially</i> when the presence of Daisy is a variable, touching a nerve in both men's insecurity and/or pride. Kruse's scenario and Verhagen's depiction have an impeccable lock on the ugly, resentful, spiteful nature of Barks' conception of Donald and Gladstone. Their behavior here seems wholly "natural" when one's primary reference is Barks.

Gladstone's luxury automobile and yacht (which, of course, he'd just won) and Donald's house at stake, the challenge to prove which of the rival cousins is "superior" this time is: be the first to "go around the world in eighty days the way that 'Phileas Fogg did it in Jules Verne's book!" Actually, the competitors are only required to make two successive stops while circling the globe back to Duckburg; Verne gave Fogg a much more daunting route. No matter -- this story isn't lacking in the least. The high-strung energy in Verhagen's art is perfect for the fired-up, up-against-the-clock momentum of the story and the desperate, at-any-costs, compulsive, all-overriding determination to best the other that drives both Donald and Gladstone.

There's more reasons to commend this story: in truth, it wouldn't be fair at all to call this a truncated version of Verne's novel; it's practically an original plot! If it weren't for the stipulation of "us[ing] the same kind of transporation that Jules Verne would've", I would have assumed that Kruse was exclusively drawing on Barks' Donald-Gladstone competitions. By no means does Kruse take the easy way out and shadow Verne's original. A lesser writer would have figured that having Donald and Gladstone in a race and how that enabled them to pass through a few distinct locales would be enough to carry the story through, as long as they had passable reasons for the give and take in the two opposing teams' progress. But Kruse does an exquisite job: the singular sequences set in "Howduyustan" and then "Chanmuria" are well-developed; in each, the scene-setting, conflicts, and incidental, local characters are comprehensively-realized enough for these bits to have stood as their own adventures. And yet, Kruse never loses sight of direction of the story as a whole.

Integral threads are woven through the plot that are expertly established, kept on hand, and finally, as the story races to its climax, brought back to the fore and played to their in a biting, knockout-punch way. E.g., Donald and the nephews being tasked by Scrooge with delivering a historically significant hat to the Chanmuria museum (for considerable recompense, of course)... only when they've finally made it there after numerous setbacks, obstacles, and close calls with mortal danger, and thus now rejoicing that luck and good fortune finally seems to be on their side... they suddenly realize that they don't have the hat anymore... and out of the blue, Gladstone struts in, characteristically having had the luck to have found the hat where Donald had left it and decided to hold onto it! Or at the story's conclusion, the photos that the nephews had taken during their encounters with Gladstone being used to undo him. Or the recurring appearance of the sea captain from whom Donald originally bought the ship that he and the nephews use for the first leg of their journey: shortly after Donald and the nephews set sail, we see that the captain is ironically also responsible for Gladstone's transport across the ocean to Howdoyustan; and later, at the story's climax, when looks that Donald and the nephews not only failed in the race but their fate is a bleak one, the captain unexpectedly comes to the rescue, in a veritable instance of <i>deus ex machina</i>. In fact, the ingenuity of Kruse's craft here (and Verhagen's, too, on the visual level, bringing so much vitality and richness) is on a near-Barksian level!

Moreover, Donald and the nephews being stranded at a remote point on the ocean before a miraculous rescue, and there being a clever twist of fate in which Donald is vinidicated and Gladstone gets his comeuppance, was a motif learned from "Luck of the North" and put to good use, at least IMHO.

Also, in Howdoyustan and Chanmuria, with the ducks darting about trying to get somewhere and accomplish something while passing through precarious, unpredictable foreign locales, impeded by various impetuous, petty, fickle, foolish, self-absorbed, incidental characters, Hergé's Tintin comics came to mind.

By telling you that Verhagen's ducks are cartoonishly exaggerated, one might think Cavazzano, etc. But Verhagen's characters' exaggeratedness only really comes out when the story beats call for extremities in behavior. Plus, their faces and heads have a soft, globulous quality, in a sense the complete opposite of Cavazzano's or Flemming Andersen's jagged, spiky characters. And unlike the stark style that they and other artist used for the three-tier-per-page digest stories, Verhagen's backgrounds are detailed and realistic, more in keeping with Barks and Rosa (and Jippes, but from what I understand, Jippes would kill me if I likened him in any way to Rosa!). Probably closer to anyone else in the Duck comics milieu, Verhagen's backgrounds, in addition to their detail, have a rough, sketchy charm, but not implying any of those terms' negative connotations.

...*phew*! And here I'd told myself I would just write a short review! Well, considering how much substance and and how many virtues I found this story to have, I guess I couldn't have accounted for it all in a restricted amount of space!


  1. Ryan writes: “"Starting this month, we've made every Gladstone comic at least a 64-page giant!" … [Geoffrey Blum] didn't mention that each of Gladstone's Disney titles had only two issues to go, and that The Walt Disney Company's own imprint, Disney Comics, was about to take over. At the time, I had no idea that such an abrupt cataclysmic change was impending.”

    And, of course, this was “expansion” for the purpose of using-up as much of the existing inventory as possible, before the gates slammed shut on the wonderful “first phase” of Gladstone’s Disney comics.

    Still, we were the beneficiaries of lots of great stuff around that time.

    I sometimes wonder what MIGHT have been, if the original Gladstone license was not ripped form them by a then-rapacious Walt Disney Company, that felt it could do no wrong.

    Would more new Disney talent have been developed to follow Rosa and Van Horn?

    Would they have expanded the roster of titles? Of that, I think we can be reasonably certain.

    And, here’s a key speculation… Buoyed by their critical and (assumed) financial success with their revivals of the dormant Disney titles, would they have sought to EXPAND that success into other arenas that were successful for Western Publishing?

    DC, at the time, had no interest in Warner Bros. comics. Could Hamilton and Company have taken a run at those – and (say) revived the LOONEY TUNES title more in the style of its DELL incarnation… starting with classic reprints (there were sure plenty of THOSE to choose from) and eventually developing new WB talents to move those characters forward into the ‘90s?

    Alas, at the time, Harvey was pumping-out utter crap in the names of TOM AND JERRY, WOODY WOODPECKER, POPEYE, and the Hanna-Barbera titles. Imagine if an expansion-minded Gladstone had swooped-in to do those licenses the justice they deserved.

    Honestly, I tend to think “not”, because the folks at Gladstone seemed too fixated on Disney – and, more narrowly, Barks and Gottfredson. But, one never truly knows. Ah, what might have been…

    Great review, as always! Do this regularly, and I’ll be a happy guy!

  2. Ah, Gladstone Series I...the holy grail of modern Disney comics. The quality and care and mass marketability of these books has never been surpassed by its successors. Gemstone came close, but GSI is a truly special time in the history of Disney comics.

    And this is one of my favorite stories they published. Thanks for spotlighting it!

    Joe, I doubt Gladstone would have expanded in the wonderful way you described. They seemed to issue the DuckTales title with gritted teeth!

    I remember those crappy Harvery books with the great covers that always promised but never delivered. Oy! Knew to avoid those like I avoid the BoomkaBoom! comics these days...

  3. Ryan,

    Comparing this story to Boom!'s "Around the World in 80 Bucks" (remember, from the pre-DUCKTALES, "we don't give a hoot" era of Boom! UNCLE $CROOGE?) makes you appreciate Kruse, Decker, and Verhagen's work all the more, doesn't it?


  4. Joe: Ah-ha, I had suspected that getting in "as much of the existing inventory as possible" in what little time they had left was just the case. Well, the irony of Disney revoking Gladstone's license is that otherwise, we wouldn't have gotten this story complete in one issue!

    I, too, have wondered what the Warner Bros., Walter Lantz, etc. properties would've been like under Gladstone's stewardship. But as you expressed, they might not have been interested. We can still dream of What-Could've-Been...

    Pete: Had Disney left well enough alone and let Gladstone keep on as they had been, sales arguably might've stayed up where they'd been ... maybe Gladstone would still exist today!

    Chris: Yes, I had "Around the World in 80 Bucks" in mind when proposing how "a lesser writer" would've handled Kruse' premise ... and not just because of what "Bucks"' title references! I accepted it at the time just because it was the only BOOM! Disney title resembling what these comics have traditionally been, but comparing it to "Footsteps", it's failings are all too apparent!

  5. I feel that this is a good place to bring up the following question: am I really the only person who is bothered by the way Verhagen persistently draws the characters *cross-eyed?* This is a source of some confusion to me; no one else ever seems to notice it, or if they do they don't see fit to mention it, but I find it *incredibly* weird-looking and distracting. He doesn't do this in all his stories, but after reading this (well-written!) entry, I went back to the story in question to confirm my memory that, yes, he does it here in spades. Thoughts?