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, HergĂ©'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!

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