Monday, April 30, 2012

"Donald in the Undersea Kingdom"

Okay, just one more Cimino story.  This is a 1972 thing that several people have commended to me, and…well, it's nothing if not unusual.  I enjoy it when I have the chance to read stories featuring weird, marginal recurring characters who have never appeared in English.  This is one such case.

1-1
Nephew: Unca Donald should stop being so obstinate.
Nephew: There's no coast in the world free of crazy people with harpoons!
1-2
Donald: That's where you're wrong, molecules!
2-1
Donald: I've studied this chart, and there is indeed such a place!  It's the Bay of Silence, just west of Mystery Point!
2-2
Donald: No diver has ever plumbed those depths!  I'll be the first!


The idea is that Donald the Diver is all annoyed that fishermen and things are cramping his style (though the introduction's kind of weird--he's getting all pissed off, but we never actually see any of these crazed harpooners.  I almost feel like there's some kind of joke or something that I'm missing.


Donald: Huh?  What is this?

Then again, it's certainly a story with its hallucinatory aspects, as, while he's plumbing these uncharted depths, he gets sucked into…well, into somewhere mysterious and weird.

Box: However…
Nephew: Unca Donald's been down there an awfully long time!


…or, more accurately, he's grabbed by a giant hand thing.  I'm trying to demonstrate the peculiar aesthetic of the story here.  The art's by Giorgio Cavazzano; I was interested to learn that, at this early stage in his career, his art really wasn't notably Cavazzano-y.  It's not bad, though; I'm actually kind of impressed that, along with his familiar style, he's also perfectly capable of doing stuff that looks more "normal."

1-1
Guy: Welcome to our Kingdom, Donald!
Donald: Eh? What?
1-2
Donald: But…but that's my double!
2-1
Guy: Not your double, Donald!  That's just your terrestrial shell!
2-2
Guy: From now on, you're here with us!  You have no more attachment to Terra Firma!
3
Guy: See?  Your passed is stored in our archives!  You'll be happy here, you'll see…


I only include this bit to show you how very odd this story's ontology is.  This business where Donald apparently sheds his earthly body whilst in this kingdom?  It's not any kind of important plot point; it never comes up again.  It's just to emphasize the alien nature of this world.  A little distracting, but I have to give Cimino credit; alternate-dimension-type situations are really a dime a dozen in Disney comics, but most of them are pretty banal.  Kudos for trying to make this place genuinely different.

1-1
Guy: So as to avoid contact with the earthlings, we established a base under the seabed!
1-2
Guy: Our planet's transmutation rays allowed us to restructure the the molecules of the abyss…
2-1
Guy: …and to create a transparent barrier that would ensure our survival!
2-2
Guy: The idea of "time" is completely foreign to us.  Life is good here, so here we stay!


As you can see, it gets quite elaborate; it turns out that they're aliens who crashed on Earth and…well, did this.  You might think I'm mistranslating "temps;" that it ought to be "weather," but as we'll see, in this case it actually is time--these guys do in fact live outside of time, which is interesting even if the explanation isn't entirely clear.

Guy: Come on!  The princess wants to see you!  It would be unseemly to keep her waiting!

This merely to point out the rather striking architecture here.  These digests are by no means ideal for showcasing art, but you can still tell that this is quite good.


Donald: Er…greetings, your highness!
2-1
Reginella: Now, tell me your story!
Donald: Nothing to tell, your highness!  I was just born!
2-2
Reginella: The treatment has rejuvenated you!  You're a new man!
Donald: I'm happy that you're pleased, princess!


Okay okay, let's get to the crux of the biscuit, eh?  Perhaps you were wondering where this was going and why you should care.  Well, I don't think I can force you to care, but if you're going to, it'll probably be because this here story's the first appearance of this Reginella, who would go on to appear in four later Cimino stories which I haven't read.  The idea--apparently--is that she's a love interest for Donald, but it's all tragic and stuff because obviously this can't be a continuing thing.  This is how it has been represented to me.  some person on inducks has characterized it as the "best love story ever in comics!"

1-1
Reginella: We will take many trips together!
Donald: Why wait?  Let's go right now!
1-2
Reginella: All right!  Let's take another tour of our kingdom!
2
Donald: I wish this trip would never end!
Reginella: You're so sweet!


But…the thing is…it's actually pretty lame.  Hey, you know I dig the romance; I will totally swoon over some Scrooge/Goldie stuff, f'instance, and people have also done good things with Donald in this regard.  But this…there's just nothing to it.  Nothing that really indicates what attracts them to one another in the first place, and nothing once they're together other than this cooing of sweet nothings accompanied by hearts.  It's really difficult for me to find a good reason to care about any of this. 

But that's not the only problem, let me tell you.  See, Donald has to take this "test" to see if he belongs in this new world…

1
Donald: Three frozen children in their boat!
2
Reginella: Do they remind you of anything?
Donald: Nothing, princess!
3
Reginella: You have truly proven yourself!  You are without a doubt one of us!
Donald: Delighted to hear it!

Great!  He passed the test by being too brainwashed to recognize his nephews who are frantically searching for him!  Yay…?

With this as context, this whole situation seems less romantic and more sinister, but it's just thrown in there like it's no thang; like we aren't supposed to be struck by it. 

(HDL are "frozen" because the seapeople are outside of time, remember.  Though if that's the case, I don't know why they Donald and Reggie would automatically surface right when they are--do they only exist at this one moment in time, or what?  This confuses me.)

1-1
Reginella: Tell me…would you share with me the cares and joys of ruling my kingdom?
Donald: Of course, my dear!
1-2
Box: Donald is having an amazing adventure…Reginella has made him forget his terrestrial roots, which originate in a very different world, and which include…
3

…Huey, Dewey, and Louie, who certainly have not forgotten about Donald, and who continue their search…

But I don't know!  This bit juxtaposing the two worlds makes me think I am supposed to see this new situation as dubious, or at most a mixed blessing--although the story as a whole really doesn't seem to support such an interpretation.  And in any case, as far as I'm concerned, it's not any kind of blessing, mixed or otherwise.  There's just no question.  I don't think Donald's reprogramming is supposed to come across as super-creepy, but it really, really does.  Gah.

So how does this romantic dream, such as it is, end?

1-1
Mad guy: I must be rid of this cursed intruder!  I don't care if they don't like it!  I'll use the legendary sword of flame!
1-2
Mad guy: My rage will be written in fire!
2
Mad guy: I shall reduce that interloper to ashes!
3
Mad guy: Grrr!  To arms, cursed Terran!
Donald: Gadzooks!


What happens is, he embarrasses himself by fleeing from this crazy, jealous person.  'Cause hey, what kind of loser doesn't just confront, wholly unarmed, a maniac attacking him with a sword made of fire?   Okay, okay, I suppose he's just not extraordinary  enough to play an important position in this new world if he doesn't react bravely here, but it isn't exactly a romantic sort of break-up, is it?

1
Guy: He's hiding his head in the sand like the ostriches from his home planet!
2
Reginella: Tell me, chamberlain, do you think that such a person could ever make a good king?
Guy: Never, princess--I don't see how he could even be a good
subject!  Just look at him!


A more effective story would force Donald to choose between his family and this new life, but this one conveniently cuts out that possibility with the brain-washing thing.  You could even maintain the thing where the guy attacks him--only in my version, it's at Donald's request; he wants to look bumbling and cowardly in front of Reggie so that she feels less bad about losing him.  That would be clever and effective.  This?

Donald: Farewell, princess!  I return to you your medallion!  If I told the Terrans where I'd been, not a single soul would believe me!

(I guess I didn't show her giving him a medallion, did I?  Well, it wasn't that memorable.)

So anyway, he gets unceremoniously kicked back to the surface, and the undersea stuff becomes a half-remembered dream.  And…you would think that the story would end here, wouldn't you? It certainly seems like this is how you would end a story like this, doesn't it?  And it wouldn't be a bad ending, either, if only what came before had been more effective.  Well, I hate to sound negative, but no.  Sometimes these Italian stories have this thing they do where they go on a little after the main action is done, with material that may or may not be related to the main story, before sort of petering out.  The conclusion here isn't a complete non-sequitur, but, well, it's pretty odd nonetheless.

1
Donald: Whoa--I just realized: that medallion must be worth a lot of money!
2
Donald: Better retrieve it!


Okay, now it seems like Cimino's actively trying to make this as unromantic as possible.  I think the idea here is that this mercenary behavior is being contrasted with less cynical life under the ocean.  That would certainly accord with the business about commerce versus happiness in the last Cimino story we saw, but if that's the idea, he really should have done more to show what life was like underwater, and in particular the dynamics of the Donald/Reggie relationship.

Box: That evening, at Daisy's…
1
Donald: I always pay my debts, Daisy!  Here's the money for tonight's dinner at La Chat Sauvage!
Daisy: Thank you!  It's all I was hoping for!
2-1
Donald: And here, take this!  I bought it with what was left over!
Daisy: You're a real treasure!
2-2
Daisy: But…it's a gold necklace!
Donald: Naturally!  Precious metal for a precious girl!


So…he sells the medallion, and buys a bunch of stuff for Daisy.  As I said, I think, though I wouldn't swear to it, that we're meant to compare the commercial nature of his relationship with Daisy here with the Twoo Wuv he had with Reggie.  As far as the first part of that goes, okay; Daisy's been portrayed as being shockingly shallow often enough, frequently by Barks himself, but as far as the business with Reginella having been so great…well, you know my position on that by now.

Nephew: Look at them!  It's amazing how a full wallet can change things!
Nephew: Yeah, but…the origin of that medallion remains a mystery!


This is the last panel, and have you ever seen anything as weird as Donald's and Daisy's poses here?  An awfully cynical conclusion the nephews draw, though it seems clear that the story wants us to go with it.  But as I keep saying, the juxtaposition just doesn't work for me, and neither, I must say, does the story as a whole.

As I noted, Cimino wrote four further stories featuring Reginella.  I'll admit I'm at least a little curious to see how he could do this without repeating himself and/or seeming really contrived, but I can't say it's exactly a burning question.  My real burning question is this, which perhaps someone can help me with: after this story, there is the following page:

1-1
Box: The next morning…
1-2
Huey: Where are you going, Unca Donald?
Donald: To the bank!  I'm going to send a deposit to my creditors!
2-1
Huey: Good idea!  We'll go with you!  That way, we can stop you from changing your mind en route!
Donald: Cheeky little twerps, aren't you?
2-1
Donald: A check for twenty-five francs to Fethry, to start…a chloroformed pocketbook under Gladstone's nose…what a life!
2-2
Box: But at that precise instant…


(No, I don't really understand this chloroform business either.)

This page is here to segue into the next story in the digest, which indeed opens in a bank like this.  But…where does it come from?  It's definitely not actually part of the story; the original Italian publication doesn't feature the next story.  And it certainly doesn't appear to be by Cavazzano.  Versions of this digest were published in a number of countries, so it's not just France.  But…who's it by?  Where does it come from, and why?  My confusion is great.

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21 Comments:

Anonymous ChickenChickenChicken said...

It was (and may still be) standard practice in these pocket-sized digests to bridge the stories with short transitions to create one continuous narrative. I guess it was meant to keep kids reading on from one story to the next (sort of like a cliffhanger) and to make the stories seem more "real", like continuing dispatches from Duckburg life.

As for the art, it looks like Giuseppe Perego, who did many of these frame stories.

April 30, 2012 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks for the wisdom.

April 30, 2012 at 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The italian publication ends with Donald throwing the medallion and swearing to hold the secret about the undersea kingdom and Reginella. IMHO a more satisfactory and less "greedy" conclusion
(please excuse my poor english)

April 30, 2012 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Your English is fine--don't let that stop you from commenting. And whoa--consider my mind blown.

So...who mandated the change? And why? Were the extra pages written by Cimino? And how about the art? The only page where the art actually looks different to me is the last, clearly unrelated, one, so I had no reason to assume they weren't Cavazzano, but now I don't know. Does this mean that ALL of those stories I've read in French digets in which the story contains extra material at the end that seems weirdly superfluous are examples of stuff tacked on later? If anyone knows the inside story here, I would love to hear it.

April 30, 2012 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Kopekobert Dukofjew said...

The story hasn't exactly been changed. The "weirdly superfluous" extra material is part of the frame tale (I CD 2-A), written by Dalmasso and drawn by Perego. Like ChickenChickenChicken said, these frame tales were used in "I Grandi Classici di Walt Disney" in order to create a continuous narrative. The digest you read is just the french version of "I Classici di Walt Disney" n°2.

April 30, 2012 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Kopekobert Dukofjew said...

Small correction: The frame tales were used in "I Classici di Walt Disney" (NOT in "I Grandi Classici Disney" - I tend to confuse them...).
By the way, you mention in your post that the art isn't notably Cavazzano-y. In fact, Cavazzano changed his drawing style several times over the course of his career. In case you're interested: Frank Stajano wrote an interesting article on this matter: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~fms27/disney/cavazzano/.

April 30, 2012 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks--that helps to makes sense of that. I suppose I should read these digests all the way through instead of just immediately jumping to the stories that look most interesting.

April 30, 2012 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Anyone notice that “Angry Flame-Sword Guy” looks like “Melvin X. Nickelby” from UNCLE SCROOGE # 367 – a character (and issue) near and dear to my heart! :-)

Beyond that, how can ANY story with as cool a sci-fi / monster inspired scene as Donald being grabbed and dragged below by a “Giant Underwater Hand” be so… so… misguided and uninteresting?

April 30, 2012 at 8:39 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I figured that everything after the "throwing the amulet into the sea" panel was one of those interstitial pieces they put in digests. I agree with you, GeoX, that the aspect of his forgetting HDL makes it all seem sinister and undermines the apparent romanticism of the story. (I like your alternative plot outline!) And I also agree that there's not a whole lot to the romance, nor is there much narrative satisfaction in how it ends. I was also struck by how childlike Reginella looks--her shortness, her cutesy face, her chick's beak. That I also found disturbing. So I am mystified that this story (and its sequels, esp. apparently the first of the sequels, said to be "even more romantic") are so beloved by so many Italians and others. (I'm not just basing this on the very high score in INDUCKS, but on comments made in the Italian festschrift for Rosa, when people are talking about the characterization of Donald.) Finally, they say, Donald has a romantic partner who doesn't just fight with him and get annoyed by him! OK, his relationship with Daisy is not ideal, but still, what do they see in this relationship with Reginella? Beats me.

But yes, the architecture and some of the alien details of the underwater world are indeed cool.

May 1, 2012 at 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Reginella’s look hints at her childish attitude. In my opinion the flaw is that, apart from the beginning and the conclusion, we don’t see the “true” Donald: brainwashed and without his personality (his terran shell) he is little more than a puppet, like when he assert, with a very disturbing gaze, that he is “just born”. An element that is, also, a specific choice. In this story Cimino focus more on Reginella and her crush for Donald than their relationship. A reader has to wait to the second story that shows their first “real” encounter.
What I like it’s Cimino’s capacity to develop Reginella’s character through the series. She, gradually, change from a princess to a queen, a “mature” sovereign, who has to choose between the good of her people and Donald. For example, in “Donald Duck and Reginella’s wedding” (http://coa.inducks.org/story.php?c=I+TL+1673-A), the third story, she has to deal (among other things) with the fact that he, unconsciously, brings dangerous cultural elements from a foreign world.

May 1, 2012 at 2:14 PM  
Anonymous Richie said...

I dig the implication that as Anonymous said, consciously or not, the Donald Reginella meets in this story is a one-dimensional character that can serve as the ideal concept she has of a lover; only a male's body she can place affection into. BUT! At the end of the story, when Donald displays fear, she's forced to come on terms with reality. That her super, flaw-less lover exists only in her mind. I think it would be interesting to see it developed from this angle, as she slowly becomes to see Donald and the humanly emotions so foreign to her, and accepts them instead of wanting him to be a shell without a personality.

May 1, 2012 at 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I'm glad to hear, Anonymous, that the Reginella character develops and matures in the sequels. I have only read this first one; I'm afraid that means I have to find/read #s 2 & 3 to give this storyline (and its many vociferous fans) a fair shake.

May 1, 2012 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Good comments, people. I suppose I too am now obligated to pursue the character further (though the last one's never been published in French, so that's out).

May 1, 2012 at 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Louis said...

Well, thank you! It’s good for me to take part in this discussion and be able to give a little contribute (I’m the Anonymous of the precedent message). I think that the last publication about Reginella is Italian Tesori Disney 1 (2009, about series created or published by Disney Italia like this cycle of five stories), however I have only seen Inducks, maybe there is something new in other languages.
One of Cimino’s strong points was the setting, of course, a complementary one was the aim of uncle Scrooge’s treasure hunting (for example in a story he goes to the center of Earth where guardians control the birth of time and where he could take a little more to use managing his economic empire). In “Undersea Kingdom” even the conditioning process is used to show us a foreign people (and, for me, a bit xenophobic).
The series is not yet finished: there were rumors (before Cimino’s death) about two scripts ready, so the series about Donald-Reginella relationship would be a “heptalogy”.
Now I shut up before becoming annoying or, worse, spoiling too much about the plot in the other Reginella’s stories.

May 3, 2012 at 8:38 AM  
Anonymous ML-IHJCM said...

One thing I want to point is that the French translation of Donald's words in the last panel of the story (the one where he throws the medallion in the sea - this is where Cimino's plot and Cavazzano drawings end) is completely arbitrary, with essentially no relation to the original. In the Italian version, Cimino put in Donald's mouth some of the most touching and poetic words ever uttered in a Disney comic. Unfortunately I don't remember the full sentence by heart (I admit I have never really been so moved by this story - surely not as many other Italian fans) and my collection is far away, so I cannot check (not to mention that most probably I would not be able to convey its beauty in English). The fragment I remember is something like "Even if our spring never bloomed into summer ..."

Also, translating Reginella's title as "princesse" is probably wrong. For what I remember, she always appears as queen.

As for your comment "The idea is that Donald the Diver is all annoyed that fishermen and things are cramping his style (though the introduction's kind of weird--he's getting all pissed off, but we never actually see any of these crazed harpooners. I almost feel like there's some kind of joke or something that I'm missing." I am pretty sure that in the first page of the original we see Donald being harpooned (that's why he wears the cushion in the first panel you show). Was this scene missing in the version you read?

May 6, 2012 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous TlatoSMD said...

The original Cimino/Cavazzano story ends with Donald throwing the medaillon into the water, the rest is part of the frame story drawn by Perego.

You see, these frame stories were a lot like the alternating color/b-w pages in the early days. Both of these traditions were discontinued around the mid-to-late 80s. The frame story could be found in all the European digests up until then.

The origin of the frame stories were thus: Once the digests expanded beyond Italy in the years 1967-'69, there was a large pool of stories already available from the vaults of the original "Topolino" magazine. For each issue, a number of stories were chosen from this existent pool, and only after all the stories had been put together for an issue, a frame story was written and drawn to make the whole issue seem like one continuous narrative. More than 90% of all frame stories were drawn by Perego in this sub-standard style.

Today, readers remember the *IDEA* of the traditional frame story more fondly than the alternating color/b-w issue, the only thing they still hate about the frame stories in practice is that of all people, they chose Perego for this job.

May 6, 2012 at 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

In the French version and the German version I have, Donald is indeed harpooned in the second panel, and the kids remark that it's the third time this week. The German story also calls Reginella "Prinzessin". Donald's medallion-throwing speech here is: "Live well, Princess! I give you back your medallion. I will never forget you and I promise you never to speak of your realm. Probably they wouldn't believe me anyway!" So no poetry here, either.

When I read the digests with the frame stories, I am particularly glad when there is a "fin" on the last panel of the story. Without that, I sometimes have had to use the story page counts from INDUCKS to determine where the actual story ends!

May 6, 2012 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks very much, TlatosSMD. That clears a lot up.

Elaine, I think we read the same French version, since I think it's the only French version. Yeah, he's harpooned, but what gets me is that you never actually *see* anyone--either the harpooner or any other harpooners. He's complaining so mightily about it that the fact that the place seems deserted strikes me as very odd indeed.

May 6, 2012 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

...and thanks to you too, ML-IHJCM. I somehow missed your comment in the rush. Yeah, the Italian script sounds a helluva lot better than the French translation.

May 6, 2012 at 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yes, ML-IHJCM's comment about the poignant, poetic final speech does make me wonder how much of the reported romanticism of these stories is lost in translation/re-writing. Time to learn Italian!

May 6, 2012 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo and Elaine:

You wouldn’t HAPPEN to be saying that “Great dialogue can make or break a story!”, would you?

I am now OFFICIALLY declaring “dialoguing” as an art form in its own right – because, as anyone who lived through the early days of Boom! knows -- it’s abundantly clear what it can add if done well… and what it takes away if not.

Let’s hear it for the original Italian!

May 6, 2012 at 8:35 PM  

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