Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Anti-Dollarosis"

Romano Scarpa is the Italian Carl Barks! Or so I have been informed on a number of occasions. And after reading just about every one of his duck stories that's been localized, I have to ask: what exactly do you have against Italy and/or Barks?

Look, people, you know I'm broad-minded regarding duck comics. At one point this may have been less the case, but these days, even though I have my preferences, I will give anything a fair shake. And, to go even further, I like the idea of a sort of parallel duck comics culture: Scarpa was writing during the fifties, contemporaneous to Barks, and it's just fascinating to realize that there was this other world of duck comics that would have been totally invisible to all but the most cosmopolitan/multilingual Americans. So I have given Scarpa more than a fair shake. But I'm here to tell you, people, there can be no doubt on this point: the man was not a good cartoonist. He couldn't write a coherent story to save his life.

Now, one might call his stories excessively weird, but when I say that, I don't just mean that they're sort of whimsical. "The Loony Lunar Gold Rush" and "Queen of the Wild Dog Pack" are goofy as hell, but they're not incoherent. No, I mean something more along the lines of "they read like an acid casualty's dream journal." As in: characters regularly behave in ways wildly out-of-sync with actual human nature. Premises (which are invariably wildly contrived and unbelievable) change midway through with no warning or explanation. Random subplots come out of nowhere, accomplish nothing, and disappear without a trace. And let's not forget about the constant plain ol' plot holes. It's all very baffling, and somewhat maddening. If these stories were meant to be avant-garde exercises of some sort, we could think about them accordingly, but I see no indication that this is the case.

"Screw you," I hear you saying. "Why should I take your word over a whole bunch of people who think Scarpa is awesome?" To which I say: I take your point. I really, really do. I can't provide a good answer to that, except that, well, I seen what I saw. I suppose if you want to get an idea of what people like about the man's work, you could read Alberto Becattini's little essays on several of his stories that appeared in Gladstone's Uncle Scrooge and Uncle Scrooge Adventures. I don't find these particularly helpful, however, because Becattini describes them in wildly hyperbolic terms that are entirely at odds with my own perception. Maybe I am the crazy one! It would certainly make a lot of things in this world make a lot more sense! I can only report my personal perceptions. So don't take my word for anything. Here is "Anti-Dollarosis," from 1957. Most of what's been published of Scarpa in the US is from the late-fifties-to-early-sixties. Maybe his later stuff is better? But in that case, why wouldn't the 'stoners have published it instead? It's also unusual for being four-tiered; most of Scarpa's work is three-tiered.

Scrooge is wallowing in his money, when this happens:



Okay, so far so reasonable. The automatic assumption that we make is that this is "dollarosis" business is some sort of scam. And--pay close attention--this is the assumption we're supposed to make. That night, Scrooge is making himself sick obsessing in a paranoid manner about this frightful illness. Note that the endless variations on the name that Scrooge uses are a running supposed-joke of the story.



But look--he's not actually sick; the close-up of the thermometer over the candle makes this quite explicit. AND YET: the entire rest of the story proceeds on the premise that dollarosis is a real thing--that Scrooge isn't just paranoid. But what is dollarosis? What does it actually do? How does it affect people and/or money? These questions are totally ignored.



Yeah so anyway, the guy with the antidote is living on a far-off volcanic island, just 'cause:



...yes, well, I suppose this is about the least of what this story is requiring us to buy. Anyway, the Beagle Boys get wind of all this.



So maybe we should assume that the Beagles are just too stupid to realize that if the stuff's deadly to Scrooge (I'm inferring this deadliness from nothing, but what else can I do?), there's no reason to think it wouldn't also be deadly to them. Sure, we could, but given everything else I know about Scarpa, I see no reason to be that charitable--it's pretty obvious to me that it's just a big ol' plot hole. Nonetheless, they come up with a plan to mess around with the local extinct volcano in order to scare everyone off. The scientist remains blasé, but it works on the pilots.



There follows a six-page sequence in which a Scrooge-coerced Donald takes flying lessons. These are not successful. And then:



Well! Problem solved, then! I recognize this sort of padding all too well from freshman comp students. But I expect it from them. From an allegedly-professional cartoonist, I'm just insulted.

The Beagles make a last-ditch effort to scare everyone off with the volcano, and when that doesn't work:



Ah, I see the drugs are finally kicking in for real. Kind of a relief, really.

This, uh, plan fails (though it's impossible to imagine how it could have succeeded, unless we're meant to assume that the ducks are as high as Scarpa obviously was while writing this) when the volcano erupts for real, and everyone has to get out.



I want to say something positive about this story, so allow me to note that that's a pretty cool image.



...and so it ends. Healing? Healing it from WHAT? What the hell is this madness? Gah!

Not all of Scarpa's stories are insane in quite this way, so I'll cover something else of his some other day. But I just can't think of much good to say about the man. Okay okay, a few of his stories are vaguely amusing in spite of all the madness swirling through them. And Brigitta Macbridge, Scrooge's stalker/would-be love interest, is a potentially good character, even if Scarpa rarely if ever uses her in particularly effective ways (his other original characters make little impact, though to be fair, none of them have much of a US presence).

Still, he's pretty bad. As bad as the anonymous hackwork
produced by Western back in the day? Well, let's not get carried away. But the disconnect between reputation and reality makes his badness stand out to a greater degree. I dunno--maybe all the other Italian artists of the time were so transcendentally horrific that this looks great by comparison. There's a frightful thought.

I am seriously not trying to be confrontational here, or slaughter anyone's sacred cows, but what it comes down to is that I simply don't get it. I think there are some Italian people reading this; maybe you guys could mount some sort of credible defense. I can't for the life of me imagine what this would entail, however.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

I hear you, concerning Scarpa! I’ve always thought his Mickeys to be better than his Ducks.

Yet, the weirdness, especially when contrasted with concurrent work by Barks, is intriguing – if not outright entertaining.

I, too, wonder if Scarpa modified his approach as time went on. For instance, I dialogued a Scrooge story of his that I believe to be from the seventies. It was not weird in its original form… just dull! Kinda like seventies Gold Key, but with better art!

I peppered my script for this story with every gag, show-biz, and political reference I could dig-up, and like to think I made it a good read. Certainly better than the translation it came with.

I believe it is scheduled for UNCLE SCROOGE # 403. I’d be interested in your reaction…

Joe T.

January 20, 2011 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Neato! I look forward to checking it out.

January 20, 2011 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

Here's my word-for-word, hot off the presses impression of "Anti-Dollarosis" at the time it was released in the US:

"It's hard to tell what will get the moniker "Classic" hung on a work of art. Nowadays, any ordinary household implement liberally garnished with human body wastes would seem to qualify. The Italian Disney comics fans have somewhat better taste than that, and they've long regarded Romano Scarpa's 1950s story "Anti-Dollarosis," published in America for the first time in this issue, with considerable reverence as one of Scarpa's greatest early stories, so who am I to sour the ricotta and disagree? Actually, it wasn't hard to find flaws in this tale of Scrooge seeking a remedy for the titular malady from a scientist who lives on what appears to be an extinct volcanic island. Scarpa wanders away from the relatively simple plot (which bears some resemblance to the plot of the "DuckTales" episode "The Money Vanishes," right down to the guest appearance by the Beagle Boys) for several annoyingly lengthy stretches and gives the Ducks themselves surprisingly little to do. Evidently, Gladstone I's decision to introduce Scarpa to American readers in the late 80s with several stories of a slightly later vintage was a wise one."

And I think that's the key; this was an early Scarpa Duck story, and he's still trying to figure out what works in this universe. The incoherence and looseness is nonetheless somewhat strange in that Scarpa HAD crafted some really decent Mouse stories well before "Anti-Dollarosis" appeared, so he clearly knew how to put together a plot.

Chris

January 20, 2011 at 8:45 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

And, following on Chris’ great idea, here’s MY letter of comment to Gemstone on the same story! Perhaps, not so oddly, it seems to echo your thoughts, Geo…

“[Dollarosis] …could attack your money and make your money attack you!” – Professor Filbert Fuzzdome, discovering a new “strain” of our credulity, from Romano Scarpa’s “Anti-Dollarosis” in UNCLE SCROOGE # 351.

Oh, the wondrous whimsy of Romano Scarpa! Dollarosis? Attack your money? And Scrooge seems to be the only potential victim worldwide? What uncanny ability did Mr. Scarpa possess that enabled him to successfully execute a plot that would be tenuous for those infamous early eighties Whitman Comics, and actually make us enjoy it?

Not even such seat-squirmers as the old phony volcano ruse, an extended and superfluous digression of “pilot training” for Donald that would better suit an animated short, and the unimaginable ignominy of the great Scrooge Mc Duck on a rooftop howling in despair at the moon like a common alley cat (!) detract in any serious way from my enjoyment of the tale.

While Carl Barks endeavored to pack his work with as much “logic” as could possibly fit into stories about talking ducks, Romano Scarpa apparently practiced “magic” of a different sort. …And aren’t we fortunate to have had them both!

January 20, 2011 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

For the record, I have liked some Scarpa stories a bit more than this one: while I wouldn't exactly call them classics, and they both have their share of inexplicable weirdness, I kind of enjoyed both "The McDuck Foundation" and "The Man from Oola Boola." But then there's the flippin' "Last Balaboo," which just makes me crazy, and let's not even talk about the howling madness that pervades "The Lentils from Babylon" and "The Flying Scot."

January 20, 2011 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

When I first saw Brigitta MacBridge in "The Last Balaboo," I thought to myself, "Uncle Scrooge is cheap, but I'm sure that he could spring for a restraining order."

January 21, 2011 at 4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I enjoy some of Scarpa's work (and I've read a LOT of it), it seems inconsistent (storywise, art is usually great). Same problem with Luciano Gatto :(
Makes me realize how lucky we were to have Barks

January 21, 2011 at 4:54 AM  
Blogger Susan D-L said...

Oh, lordy. 'Last Balaboo', 'Lentils of Babylon', and Brigitta MacBridge. You guys are giving me flashbacks, and not the good kind. I agree that Scarpa's Mouse stories were better than his U$ epics.

From a production standpoint I remember all Scarpa stories being fairly easy to color and letter, thanks to the relatively simple, bold line art, and the stories having fewer panels per page than most American stuff.

But holy cannolli they were TEDIOUS to work on and too bloody long by half.

January 30, 2011 at 12:08 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

I had fun back when I was translating "Lentils" in the mid-1990s. But the has lost some of its appeal for me in the years since—mainly because of that length problem.

Looking back, "Lentils" also seems to be illogical for no good reason. If you're going to bilk a third-world country by selling and repurchasing food from them in an endless loop, why not use real food—rather than ancient lentils that no one can digest, and that can expose your scheme all by themselves?

Back when I first worked on it, I considered it Scarpa's best; times change. IMHO, "Colossus of the Nile" is still pretty darn good.

February 27, 2011 at 7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I peppered my script for this story with every gag, show-biz, and political reference I could dig-up, and like to think I made it a good read. Certainly better than the translation it came with." In my opinion translations should be as faithful as possible (the original authors probably wouldn't be happy if their script were altered). I would justify changes only: a)in case of untranslatable puns (however this could be resolved with notes explaining the pun in its original language) b) references to different culture (i.e. in the first italian translation of "Trick or Treat" (1952) "Halloween" was changed into "Carnival" because in the 1950s Halloween was unknown in Italy, or in the stories of Eega Beeva "kumquats" were changed into "mothballs" for the same reasons of "Halloween"!). I hope you changed only few dialogues and only if strictly needed... (i.e. in the two cases mentioned above)

March 4, 2011 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Lotta people are going to disagree with you on that one, and I'm one of them. Have you READ Gold-Key stories from the seventies? There are exceptions, but believe me, by and large, you would NOT want to see the equivalent of one of those published in the here and now, especially not in some misguided stab at "faithfulness." Another good example is "Moldfinger" as published in the Quack-Ups book--not a great story by any means, but the localization makes it fun to read. A "literal" translation would've been torture.

These ain't scholarly texts. They're supposed to be fun. Look, I'm an academic, but really now: the equivalent of footnotes in a comic story? Saints preserve us.

March 4, 2011 at 3:43 PM  
Anonymous RWB said...

I agree on Scarpa being a pretty bad Duck writer. Some of his introduced characters have been used excellently by later Italians, though.

September 25, 2012 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

By the way, GeoX you've reviewed "Lentils" and "Balaboo", but not "The Flying Scot", that for some reason you seem to hate to. Would you be so kind as to review it some time in the future, to make clear what you dislike here ? I found the story somewhat enjoyable, in spite of the undoubtedly weird premise, or perhaps because of it (this madness carries the same kind of appeal that there can be to, for instance, Alice in Wonderland, if it's not stretching it — which I admit it is, a little).

February 3, 2016 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

One of these days!

February 3, 2016 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

"I agree on Scarpa being a pretty bad Duck writer. Some of his introduced characters have been used excellently by later Italians, though."

I have had an idea recently about this whole question of why he's "considered the Italian Carl Barks" when he's clearly not as good, his moments though he may have. Well, I think that in spite of not being as good, he was as influential. He and Martian pretty much shaped Italian Disney comics, serving as the stylistic models for later artists such as Cavazzano or Sylvia Ziche. Their ideas and alterations to the Duck mythos (such as Brigitta McBridge, the dome over the Money Bin, etc.) have stuck just in the same way that Barks's own alterations to the limited Donald Duck verse he had at first to work with, stuck, and in a way few other Italian creators's additions have.

March 6, 2016 at 5:38 AM  

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