Luciano Bottaro (1931-2006) was a prolific Italian comic book artist who, in addition to a bunch of original material, also drew a few hundred Disney comics. He also wrote some of them, often (as in the present case) in collaboration with Carlo Chendi. He's completely unknown in the anglophone world; if Inducks is not mistaken,* none of his Disney work was ever
published in English before these here Literature Classics came out, and I don't think any of his other work has been either.
*Which it could well be--there are a bunch of British publications of Italian material that haven't been indexed. But certainly not often or much.
I first heard of Bottaro a while back when some rather obstreperous individual showed up on the Disney Comics Forum to loudly complain about how, in his opinion (pretty sure it was a "he"), Bottaro's work is unfairly neglected compared to that of other artists. Damn people, always liking what they like. I'm telling you, there oughta be a law…this was also part of the reason he hated Don Rosa. I don't know why it was necessary to drag Rosa into it, but there you go.
Anyway, as much as I think this person's concerns were maybe not one hundred percent rational, I'm certainly keen on rediscovering little-known(?) artists. It appeals to my romantic side. So let's do this, shall we?
(Confidential to the person who hooked me up with a handful of Bottaro stories and may or may not wish to remain anonymous: I thank you again. I do plan to write about at least one of those stories sometime in the future, but this entry was in the pipeline before you sent me those things, besides which, given the higher printing quality of the Literature Classics stuff, this seemed like the best way to showcase Bottaro's art.)
I won't keep you in suspense: this 1959 story is pretty darned good, definitely the best in the Literature Classics series after those Carpi stories. The plotting isn't as tight as it could be, but there's some very good art indeed, and some substantially awesome moments. It's pretty laughable to try to claim--as the Literature Classics publication does--that this is actually based on Robert Louis Stevenson in any meaningful sense, though. The title is about as far as it goes--though I suppose it you grant that we base a great deal of our pirate mythos on Treasure Island,
I guess you could say that it is in spirit. "Inspired by," let's say. Whatever.
Anyway, you have to be charmed by the sheer joy the kids are taking in flooding the house, don't you?
Really? Book-burning? I know the biggest reason we have such a viscerally negative reaction to that is 'cause nazis, but that's as good a reason as any. You will note, however, Donald's "grrr" face in the first panel there. We'll see a lot of examples of this throughout the story: if there's one thing Bottaro does really well, it's draw the character in these fierce, gung-ho moods.
HE HAS TO CHANGE HIS VIEWS ABOUT PIRATES. SUCH RETROGRADE ATTITUDES ARE SIMPLY NOT ACCEPTABLE. THIS IS THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, GENTLEMEN.
Yep so anyway: pirate ghost. This stuff so far isn't necessarily that mind-blowing. It really starts getting good when the time travel kicks in, as you'll see.
This is apparently a collective dream with Donald. One thing you notice is that this thing can get quite violent by Disney standards. Not sure whether shooting a Beagle Boy in the crotch with a musket would fly today. At any rate, you see what I mean about Bottaro drawing really fierce characters well.
Part of me thinks I should just remain silent about this to match its own wordlessness, but I must say: quite impressive. I don't think I've ever seen a completely wordless full-page panel before. Not even a sound effect. And there'll be another one coming up, too.
…but here's the real star of the story. The Beagles are working for Pirate Scrooge, who is awesome. I mean, he really
holds nothing back. I know in the past I've complained about Scrooge being excessively mean, but that is not an operative concern in this case: here, he's just mythic.
Granted, to get the best effect, the story would need a better script that really played up the colorful pirate-speak to the hilt, but even here it shines through. Really: "gun you down with rusty nails?" I don't think I've ever seen a threat quite this hardcore in a Disney comic.
Yeah, Pirate Scrooge is one cold sumbitch. YOU SHOULD'VE MURDERED HIM AND TAKEN HIS SHIT, DAMMIT! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?
(No idea whether his sideburns are yellow in the original or if that's just a somewhat odd coloring innovation.)
Nice atmospheric use of shadow there. Again, the threat of bloody violence here seems unusual.
At any rate, this is a long-ish story, so let's skim a bit. The pirates capture Donald and the kids, resulting in various botched escape plots. And…
…man, that octopus is not to be fucked with, clearly. Bottaro definitely gives you bang for your buck, art-wise. I wouldn't say I'm as big a fan of it as I am of Carpi's, but the quality is undeniable. It has a simpler, cleaner feel to it; I suppose what you ultimately prefer just comes down to personal taste.
Donald accidentally gets blasted to this scary skull island. This is where the treasure is, as it turns out (see--I told you the plotting was a little sketchy). But really, just look how good
this all looks.
Donald stumbling around through what he believes to be the netherworld? Probably dancing on the line of what you're able to get away with in Disney comics (though obviously, Europeans are somewhat less puritanical about these things than we in the demon-haunted US are).
Scrooge and the Beagles come along and find the treasure, and Scrooge apparently cuts off a Beagle's nose. See? See? Unsurprisingly, the Beagles betray him and take the treasure. Really your own fault, dude. How the fuck do you expect to command the loyalty of amoral brigands if you're not willing to spread the wealth around? All the best pirate/Hun/Mongol captains knew this.
Oh yeah, the ghost that brought them here also shows up and does allegedly-comical stuff. These bits are pretty much the weakest part of the story, as far as I'm concerned. But why complain about that when you can have…
So they get eaten by the dragon and fight a duel in its stomach. Part of me wants to say: that's a pretty awesome duel. 'Cause it is. But another part of me wants to say: man, that's a pretty gruesome death. 'Cause it is. Seriously, the poor sea monster. What did it do to deserve this?
So on the island they find these guys, who are looking for a new captain for their ship. They, like the ghost, are meant to be funny but really…aren't, particularly.
…and I suppose there has to be something like this, so as to demonstrate the comic's weird Italian bona fides. I like it, though when you get to thinking what something like this would actually entail, if it actually worked and wasn't just a plot to trap the Beagles, it's a little alarming.
Ships: sink. Scrooge: goes down with--and that's about the end of the dream. Not that Scrooge exactly has many admirable traits in this story, but that sort of badassery has its effect too, and makes this seem surprisingly melancholy.
…and the story blurs the lines between dream and waking. How is it that they're actually
in a lifeboat at sea? Best not to ask.
Man, you just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you? Leaving Scrooge to his (presumed) death would've been way better. Though what this really does is emphasize that even if he did
somehow got away, presumably the sailors and Beagles did not.
And that's about that; not too much more to say. When you come right down to it, it's an unpretentious little story: it promises you pirate thrills, and it delivers. Just don't look for any great thematic resonance or poignancy and you'll be good. This is the sort of story that would've been a great candidate for inclusion in Gemstone's digest books, if not for their general exclusion of classic material ('cept for that one Scarpa story
). The more I delve into this longer-form European stuff, the more it seems to me that it's a real problem that US Disney publishing (even when it, you know, exists
) isn't generally set up to print this sort of thing. Not that there isn't plenty of shorter material that's quite good, but strictly on the artistic merits, the longer stories deserve at least as much attention.
Labels: Carlo Chendi, Luciano Bottaro