Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Night of the Saracen"

I have praised this Marco Rota story in the past. When I went back and reread it, however, I realized...well, I'm forced to admit, it's not exactly a great story. Or is it? Comics consist of both words and pictures, so how much importance do you place on each of these elements? Because if you heavily favor the art side of the equation, it probably is a great story--indeed, it features a climax that may well be the most visually stunning thing in duckdom.  But if we privilege the writing…well, the premise certainly would have lent itself to greatness, but the execution is somewhat lacking.  Details? Okay.

The story begins with Donald dressing up as a Saracen pirate--one of those Sons of Mahomet--for a costume party.



Hmm. This story was first published in December of '83, predating "From Egg to Duck." In that story, we learn that Donald was, in fact, named after doughnuts. Yes, it would have enlivened the proceedings if Grandma had matter-of-factly suggested "let's name him after our murderous piratical forebear!" but that just isn't how it went down, people, and you need to learn to accept that. Sayin' a thing don't make it so! Honestly, sometimes I wonder about you.

'Course, we could always assume that Donald is just lying here--because, let's face it, being named after doughnuts really isn't that cool--but that leaves the question of why there is in fact an ancient pirate with a name similar to his who, as we'll see, looks just like him. Hmmm!



Things get cookin' when they find a treasure map inside Donald's prop sword, which it transpires is an actual sword that Scrooge gave to Donald rather than junking. You know what that means: treasure!



The question remains: is that actual Arabic script, or am I an illiterate buffoon for even imagining that that could possibly be the case?

Anyway, to cut a long, somewhat convoluted story short, the ducks need to find the rest of the sword so as to be able to put it together (the shard is supposed to be on the Italian coast) so as to be able to experience the mysterious "Night of the Saracen," and get some sweet treasure in the process. Sounds good, right? Good.



Rota is very good at drawing panoramas like this. The whole story really benefits from a strong sense of place.



Good sense of tension, also. All the townspeople have fled, leaving only our heroes. They find the missing sword piece--rather too easily; was it really just sitting around for hundreds of years?--and when they put it together, they are treated with a vision of the past, when ol' Don Al-Din was a-raiding.



You have to admit, that first line is pretty badass, and really establishes him as a force to be reckoned with right from the get-go. As for the second line...well, really, who can resist quoting "The Duck in the Iron Pants?" I know I can't!

However, Don's character makes a very sudden U-turn when he comes across a pretty girl hiding in a basement.



...as one does. And here we have the biggest problem with this story. Obviously, the medium presents one with somewhat limited confines in which to work, but even given that, this is the least convincing love story ever. The above is seriously all there is to it. He sees the girl and then suddenly, bam, he completely abandons his piratical ways. It would certainly have been possible to include enough detail to make this at least a little more plausible, but nope. This is all we get.



...also, she has dognose grandparents, an obvious and distracting mistake.



But let's focus on the positive for a moment. Don's crew turns on him when they see that he's turned on them, but they do not meet with a positive end, marking a rare instance in duckdom in which characters are actually unambiguously killed, even off-stange. My main point is this, however: isn't that storm awesome? And it gets awesomer:



WHAM. And, to reiterate:



WHAMBO! Rota really is a hell of an artist, and he pulls out all the stops here. And the business of doomed lovers facing their fate like this strongly appeals to the romantic in me.

But of course, this is a duck comic, so they're not really doomed, and we move rather precipitously from the sublime to the completely friggin' ridiculous.



Um...



Er, yeah. So here's the question, to which I don't have a definitive answer: is this "poem" supposed to be this, er, horrendous? Don's expressions as he's reading it certainly create the impression of goofy windiness, but it seems as though, given what's come before, a certain amount of seriousness would be called for here. However, regardless of whether it's intentional or not, it pretty firmly smashes the shit out of any drama that this romance may have had, and prevents us from taking it at all seriously. Of course, it might have been a bit much to expect Rota--or the author of the English script, Don Markstein--to come up with a genuinely affecting love poem, so we're kind of at an impasse. I think the moral here is: don't include poetry in your duck-comic love stories if you don't want them to descend into bathos. Or unless you're a really good poet, which let's face it you are not.



...and that's all, really. You'll note that the modern-day ducks really don't do much of anything here, rather serving as little more than an overly elaborate framing device. Seems to me that a bolder move would have been to jettison the modern-day stuff entirely, and just tell Don Al-Din's story. This would have allowed for a more protracted, and hopefully thus more effective, romance, and as Rota has shown in his "Andold Wild Duck" stories and elsewhere, he isn't averse to doing "historical" epics of this nature. As it stands…well, the story sure is pretty, I'll give it that.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Christopher said...

I haven't read this, so please correct me if I'm missing something. At the end, the ducks just walk away, and Scrooge is all "I travelled halfway around the world and all I got was a crummy love poem." But... didn't he just see a vision of a pirate ship laden with "too much booty" sink a half-mile from shore due to a truly awesomely-drawn storm? Why isn't he ordering diving equipment so he can salvage it? Does he not want to deal with all the drowned Saracen pirate corpses? Is he afraid of pirate ghosts?

And there's no reason why blonde duck or one of her parents couldn't have been adopted by dog-people.

February 26, 2011 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

No, there's no reason why they couldn't have, but if it isn't specified that this is the case, it seems to me that it's giving rather too much credit to the author to assume that that was what was meant.

Good point about the sunken ship. That's a pretty big hole right there.

February 26, 2011 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Natteravn said...

I'd love to hear from an expert about the "Arabic" script too! I took a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Arabic_alphabet and a cursory glance does bring up a lot of similarities, but some of the letters seem to have been mirrored or even flipped, like this one ڠ‎ which is similar to a letter in the second speech bubble, only mirrored.
Maybe the lady duck is half dognose/half duck ? I know the "races" of the Duckworld rarely interbreed, but there are some examples of interracial couples, Clarabell & Horace, for instance, and Donald is often seen attraced to dognose women. Gladstone is half goose/half duck.
I love this story, especially for the visuals, the combination of the realistic backgrounds and shading gives me goosebumps even today.

March 10, 2014 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Natteravn said...

I reread my own copy of this story, in Norwegian, and I'm really starting to wonder about the different translations! Turns out, there's so much differences in the dialogue! I want to learn Italian now, so I can read the original stories and find out how much of the story that actually is Rota and how much is the translator.
This illustrates one of the major problems I have with taking liberties with translation, it complicates the issue of which story it is, if the translator can change, or even add, so much, then he/she is really a co-author but they're never credited as such. So, maybe a really good and creative translator can make a great story out a bad one, but then the "bad" author would get the credit anyway. And, reversibly, if the translator isn't very good, and changes too much, the original author runs the risk of being blamed for faults in the story that was never there to begin with.

I'll give a few examples of the differences:

Firstly, in Norwegian, Don Al-Din is never mentioned as being Donalds ancestor. The dialogue in the top picture, second panel, goes: [With those clothes, you could be one of them] [You like this costume? I got it made after the illustrations in the book]
(no mention of Al-Din at all until they get the text translated)

Next picture, again second panel:
[It seems to be pretty rotten!] [The writing is completely illegible!] (they do say in the next panel that the writing *looks* like arabic, but they're not certain)

Next, the plain panel, it simply cuts a lot of the dialogue, then in the next panels goes on to explain that the trip was free for all of them and that it was the Sheik that bought them the tickets, no "Thanks, Unca Scrooge" because he didn't pay anything.

The news article is a bit different too, very different phrasings, and places the origin of the legend til AFTER the saracen times, not before:

[Listen to this ... "According to the astrologers predictions, a town on the North-Italian coast will be destroyed by a tidal wave tonight!"] then ["This seems to confirm the old legend that tells of a night when all the forces of nature broke loose and ravaged this part of the coast] ["People were so terrified that they later would compare the night with the terrible nights a long time ago, when the despicable Saracens ravaged the same areas"] ["That is why this night is called The Night of the Saracen!"]

Al-Dins angry shouts don't have the same flair as in the English version:
[Comb every nook and cranny! Turn over every grain of sand! Pull up every blade of grass by their roots!] [Force the fishes to talk!]

Also, when the tidal wave hits, the English text is more dramatic in the first couple of panels:

[Look at that wave! It is enormous!] [It's a tidal wave!] but then instead of that weird "Brother!" they say [We're doomed ... doomed...]

The poem is just as bad though, just completely different words in order for it to rhyme.
But Scrooge doesn't complain that the story was "boorriing", instead Hewie comments: [But we'll never be able to tell about it to anyone. Nobody would believe us]

It'd be interesting to hear which translation is the closest to Marco Rota's script.
Oh, and he is REALLY good, I actually found the cliff they were on, it is a real place in Italy, called Saracen Bay, here's a photo of the cliff with the tower:
http://www.savonanews.it/fileadmin/archivio/savonanews/3-ecomostro_varigotti_ago_2011_wwf.jpg

March 11, 2014 at 12:52 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Given the American translation tradition, I would guess that the Norwegian text is going to be closer to the Italian. And thanks for that cool find--although there's certainly no need to convince ME that Rota's really good!

March 11, 2014 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger progazm said...

For fun: Search "torre saracena noli" on google. You will find a very familiar tower and landscape. :)

May 13, 2014 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Well, not a guess anymore: the Norwegian IS closer to Italian, because in french the dialogues are quite like that too. Then Don-Al-Din was apparently NOT intended to be Donald's ancestor at all, and Rota did not create any inconsistency about Donald's name's origin. (I wonder which of the two versions is "canon": original Italian or new English ? I'd vote for Italian, or more precisely on a non-existing-yet translation which would be as close to the original text as possible.

May 26, 2015 at 3:14 PM  

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