Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"The Secret of Atlantis"

Kind of somber for the first post of 2012, but I must note with sadness the passing, yesterday, of Victor Arriagada Ríos (Vicar), at the age of seventy-seven. In the past, I've joked that, in fact, Vicar drew every duck comic ever, and if you should ever note any counter-examples, they're just figments of your imagination. You know what I mean if you've paid attention to Disney comics from Disney's publishing tenure on: the man's work was absolutely everywhere; I'd be willing to bet a modest sum of money that, Barks aside, no artist was published as often in the post-Western era. On the Disney Comics Forum, I wondered aloud whether he was in fact the most prolific Disney artist ever; administrator cacou crunched the numbers and determined that no, in terms of total number of panels, he's "only" number six--though if you're talking about total number of stories, he's second only to Tony Strobl. An impressive legacy for sure.
So what do I think of his work? Well, I would describe it as "workmanlike" in a positive sense. His art was rarely what I'd call exciting (though he certainly had his moments), but it was unfailingly solid, competent, and professional. There's something to be said for that. You (or *I,* at least) would never pick up a comic book thinking "oh boy! A new Vicar story!" but if the scriptwriter did a good job, you could be confident that the art wouldn't let it down, even if it wouldn't propel the finished story to new artistic heights.

Anyway, I think it is necessary for me to commemorate his work by spotlighting one of his stories, since that's what I pretty much do on this blog. I'll admit, his stories often don't tend to stand out very much in my mind, but here's a pretty good one, written by an obscure fellow named Lars Enoksen. Note that this was part of Disney's "Time Tetrad," an idea that Bob Foster came up with in which four unrelated stories in four different books were declared to be part of a single storyline, inasmuch as they all involved time travel. Okay…the concept may be a li'l threadbare, but it still shows an unusual degree of narrative ambition, so good for ol' Bob.

Hey! Didn't Barks already let us in on the secret of Atlantis? Well, I guess it's just such an evergreen idea that nobody can resist taking a shot at it. Really, I just stuck this panel here to point out the nice art, which really creates a good sense of place.

Here's the plan, Stan. The historical stuff here is pretty well-done…

…see? Lots of good specifics. One general problem I have with a lot of Disney comics is that they just refuse to take history and exotic locales seriously--that is, they're completely ridiculous and cartoonish with goofy names, never for one minute letting you forget that this is just a comic with no real-world significance. Ducktales is habitually guilty of this, and the comics' track record isn't much better. Not, I should add, that this is always a bad thing--but is it not the case that lots of classic Barks stories--"The Seven Cities of Cibola," "Back to Long Ago," "The Mines of King Solomon," "The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone," and so on--gain a lot of their affect by creating the sense that this isn't just some cheesy made-up universe; that real anthropology/archeology is going on here. That's certainly what Don Rosa noticed and imitated, often to very good effect, in his own works. But it's something we see too rarely, as writers--I have to imagine--have this "aw, whatever, it's just kids' stuff" mindset.

My only point is, this is a story that does better than most in that regard, which is what I like about it.

Long story short, Donald and HDL accidentally activate the time machine and end up back here. Once again, I'm mainly just showing this panel to highlight Vicar's art.

"Funny ideas about street improvements" is right. I can only imagine what a terrible paving material gold would be.

This guy looks a lot like Scrooge does in "King Scrooge the First." Why he looks like Scrooge at all...on that, the history books are silent. "Ancient Persia" and "Dangerous Disguise" had their unexplained Donald Doppelgängers too, of course, but those stories were obviously very tonally different than this is. I guess it's just because Scrooge is automatically associated by many with tyranny, so in he goes.

And in the dungeon, the mighty Exposition Alchemist explains the situation. Yeah, good luck defending the place with gold spears.

This is special, water-soluble gold, is the problem. As you can see, there's a kind of apocalyptic, doom-y aspect to this story. I have to note that the sea air would probably then destroy all of it long before the actual sea got the chance.

They're all going to be burned, but then, thankfully, the wave hits. Some funny dialogue from Donald, courtesy of Byron Erickson; note that no more is seen of the Exposition Alchemist. Regardless of what's going to happen, though, HDL seem awfully chirpy for people surrounded by flames.

ROPES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! Guess we've got to escape somehow, though. I feel like for maximum effect, we really need a more focused panel of the wave hitting, but this is all right.

…and we see that Atlantis is doomed. Pretty grim, in spite of the desultory effort to indicate that, oh no, they're all going to escape! I think we can conclude that this is true of only a small number of them at best. Due to the king's greed, the kingdom was lost and thousands of his subjects died. Jeez. Alas, I can think of soon-to-be-contemporary parallels to this...

[Citation Needed] as far as these "legends" go. But it is a somewhat clever explanation for why the divers came up empty-handed.

Unfortunately, there's this absolutely horrible ending, where, through the most contrived circumstances possible--Donald tries to fix a broken pipe with a blowtorch, sets off the sprinklers, and hurls salted peanuts into the fray--the spears are destroyed. C'mon, Enoksen! That's not change we can believe in!

Other than that, though, the story's all right, and Vicar's art certainly contributes to that. I never really thought much about him over the years--he was so easy to take for granted; just this reliable, rock-steady presence. But his overall contribution to the field was certainly a positive one.

Rest in peace, Vicar. You will be missed by many.

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Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

The design of the Alchemist was interesting because it reminded me of the wizard in the Ducktales episode, "Sir Gyro de Gearloose".

Bob was just taking adventage of the fact that the same time machine design appears over and over, but it was really clever to have Quarteri use it for a Ducktales story, and even give Magica her own time machine (even though Rosa established that she uses candles for time travel) :)

Vicar and Van Horn were lumped in by misinformed fans as the reason for Disney Comics downfall, ("Where's Don Rosa?" was apopular request) but they're both very good.

January 5, 2012 at 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I, too, liked the sense of place & time in this story: the sense of time due to the historical detail in the writing, but the sense of place due to Vicar's art. We won't dwell on the believability of the comic-book-science (saltwater-soluble gold that is nonetheless real gold, ropes that stretch when wet [they should have been bound with golden ropes!], solid gold spears [perhaps the saltwater-soluble "gold" also had other idiosyncratic properties?]); I don't mind some alternative science in my comics, but I do like it to be more credible, especially in longer adventure stories. Your commentary makes me wonder: was it Vicar's decision to make the king look like Scrooge, or did the writer suggest that?

January 5, 2012 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I'm sure it was the writer: Donald slapping him on the back because he think he's Scrooge is what leads to him being sentenced to death.

January 5, 2012 at 5:01 PM  
Anonymous HDL Decimal System said...

I remember absolutely nothing of this story... except for the ending with the sprinklers and salted peanuts melting the gold, so I guess I must have read it.

Vicar was the paradigmatic Duck artist when I started reading (with Barks as the "classic", old-time artist). Even after they started putting the names of the creators in the weekly Scandinavian magazine, I don't think I ever realized "VICAR" was a person. I thought it was the name of a company, like Egmont. Which given the size of his studio and number of assistants wasn't too far off the truth, I guess.

January 5, 2012 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

It is sad enough to see the “second generation” (those that had the careers they did BECAUSE of Barks and Gottfredson) begin to go, but it is particularly to lose Vicar. To me, he personified that “second generation” like no other – save, of course, Don Rosa.

January 5, 2012 at 8:37 PM  

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