Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"The Path to Perfect Happiness"

(Hmm...we just passed the two-hundred-post mark a few posts back.  Let it be noted!)

Okay, Rodolfo Cimino coverage continues…NOW.  This here is a 1974 story that commenter Elaine has cited on a number of occasions as a favorite, and since it's grâce à elle that I've read it, it seems only fair that I write something about it.  You gotta dance with them what brung you, after all.  Which is not to imply that I'm doing so grudgingly--it's an interesting story that merits comment. 

1-1
Donald: A sage like you should have no problem making ends meet!  Why don't you give lessons?
Sage: Not interested.
1-2
Sage: I give advice, that's all.  And no one listens anyway, because it requires sacrifices!
2
Sage: I preach self-denial!  With intellectual discipline, anyone can conquer mere matter!  See?


Jumping right in, Donald gets thrown in jail for insolvency following a typically Donaldesque run of bad luck.  His  cellmate is this guy, who's a Tibetan ascetic.  Naturally, he ends up teaching Donald.

1
Nephew: When Unca Donald gets out, we have to follow him!
Nephew: You're afraid he's going to try to master the discipline?
2
Nephew: Yeah, and for someone as undisciplined as Unca Donald, that could prove fatal!
Nephew: Let's go!


People who have read the story may note that I am conveniently avoiding the bit where HDL put a name to this philosophy.  I am doing this on the basis that I have no idea how I would translate it without it sounding super-weird.  If you have an idea as to what "philosophie supra-cata-risible" should be in English, by all means let me know.

Anyway, Donald ends up heading to the Himalayas, and HDL follow him.  This section of the story, it's hard to deny, feels pretty strongly like making time; it's not all that relevant to the larger narrative.  But I'll not deny that there's some amusing art (courtesy of Romano Scarpa, acquitting himself much better than he did in the last story we looked at), like when they chase away bandits by dressing up a goat:

1
Bandit: By Tamerlane!  It's a vengeful spirit!
2
Nephew: That takes care of them!
Nephew: Let's help Unca Donald!
3
Nephew: He needs it!


The expression on the goat's face is the best part.  Or even better, when Donald is captured by a yeti as he's doing his head-standing exercise:

1
Huey: Let him go!
2
Huey: I can't get a good shot!

That head-standing business is distinctly Fethry-ish.  His blissed-out expression through all this is a lot of fun.  Is this guy related to Gu from "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan?"  Well, he doesn't especially look it.  But maybe they at least they know each other!

Nephew: Look!  They've become friends!
Nephew: I don't trust them!  Look how the lady of the house is pointing at that spit!


This is--apparently--a sign that Donald is getting the hang of the sage's teachings.  Those smiles, again, I find quite funny.  An' don't worry; she's only pointing at the spit to suggest that they go hunting mountain goats.

But really, all of this is just prelude; and indeed, spending so much time on it may unbalance this entry, because the really meaty part of the story doesn't kick in 'til we're back in Duckburg.

1-1
Man: Why so serious, my good fellow?
Scrooge: Huh?
1-2
Scrooge: I am NOT your good fellow!  I'm the richest duck in the world!
Man: And yet, you seem unhappy.
2-1
Man: Will you let me sit here with you?  I've never felt so at peace with the world!
2-2
Scrooge: Enough lollygagging!  My coins won't polish themselves!
3-1
Man: You're after three hundred francs, are you?
3-2
Man: Here!  Take it and leave us in peace!


So the idea is that the training did its work, and Donald is now in this permanent state of languid euphoria, which rubs off on anyone who comes in close proximity to him (relatives excluded, conveniently enough).  Already, this raises some questions.

For instance: why is it that the sage's training resulted in this permanently-stoned effect?  Presumably, that guy had inner contentment, but he was nothing at all like this--nor is there any indication that Donald can manipulate matter in the same way that he could.  Even more troublingly, how is it that other people can get this effect just from hanging out with him?  Donald at least had to train to some extent to achieve it, so why is it effortless for everyone else?  And if it's all such good fun, then why was the sage complaining about no one listening to his advice?  Hmm.

Well, if we were so inclined--though this is probably a bit of a stretch--we could read this as an implicit critique of the way Westerners so often take Eastern philosophy and religion and sandpaper away the complexity, reducing it to this generic sort of hippie stuff.  I would prefer not to pursue that line of thought, however, since A) I obviously just made it up out of nothing; and B) it'll make things way more confusing than they need to be.


Box: Some time later…
Nephew: So this is what the old miser came up with!
Nephew: He's exploiting Unca Donald's happiness!


A predictable enough Scrooge move.  There's an obvious--but still important--message here about the ways that capital takes facets of life that are fundamentally separate from it and forces them to fit into its patterns.  All the spiritual enlightenment you can eat for just $4.99!



I just can't help, however, but point out again that this seems like a decidedly limited take on what "perfect happiness" would entail.  I don't know, though--maybe the problem is with me.  Utopia is, after all, alien by its very nature, so criticizing it for not conforming to bourgeois notions of what a good life entails may be missing the point.

1-1
Clerk: All his businesses except the Happiness Clubs are going broke!
1-2
Clerk: No one's buying anything!  Merchandise, especially luxury products, is just rotting on the shelves!
2-2
Clerk: And these losses are far greater than whatever gains he's making from the Happiness Clubs!  It's a nightmare!
2-2
Clerk: He'll be ruined within two months, and us with him!  Oh me oh my!


Not too hard to see where this is going, I think.  But are we really to believe that everyone in the world, or close to it, is lounging around in a blissed-out haze?  Actually…I can certainly think of ways in which that would be a positive development.  You have to wonder about the logistics of this, though: even if people are buying less, there's still a bare minimum of material goods they would need just to live.  You'd think that would be enough to keep Scrooge more or less solvent.  And really, when Scrooge is losing money and in danger of going broke, isn't the tradition to have this bankruptcy be some ridiculous number of years in the future?  C'mon now.


Sage: Let me explain!  The old tightwad made one fatal mistake!  When people have attained perfect happiness from his clubs, they no longer feel the need to spend money!  They stop caring about material things and don't buy anything they don't need!  And happy people need very little!  Donald's influence will last for quite some time, and the old tyrant will lose money by the fistful all the while!  It's no less than he deserves!

Well, there you go.  That's some some Buddhist Four Noble Truths stuff right there: the origin of suffering is attachment.  You suddenly catapult yourself to perfect happiness, and bam, it's gone.  It's actually a potent message: Scrooge's empire, Cimino is asserting, is based upon people endlessly attempting to fill the voids in their lives with things.  Ouch.  Mind you, I'm still wrestling with the problem of the nature of this "happiness," but I guess a certain amount of ambiguity just makes the story richer.

(Of course, other than narrative convenience, I'm not sure why you would expect the effect to ever "wear off.")

Box: Some time later…
Nephew: We've been here for several months; we could probably head back now…
Nephew: Give it a few more--we want to give Unca Scrooge plenty of time to forget about this sorry affair!


Heading back to the Himalayas to avoid Scrooge's wrath (for something that was one hundred percent his own fault, dammit) results in this rather wonderful ending.  If I don't see why the effect would wear off the people Donald met, I really don't see why it would wear off of him.  I mean, it clearly hasn't yet, so...and in any case, it's kinda dubious to think of spiritual enlightenment as though it were some sorta drug.

In spite of my occasional confusion, there's a lot to recommend this story.  It leaves you with more to think about than most.  It would've made a perfect marquee story in an issue of Gemstone's Uncle Scrooge--it's just the right length (twenty-nine pages), there's precedent for their printing Cimino/Scarpa material, and I would have no problem asserting that it's superior to the ones that they did use.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Elaine said...

True, the specifics of how the enlightenment is "catching" and how long it lasts are pretty dubious, and it doesn't seem to relate all that much to the words of the jailmate guru. I take this story as a fable: what happens when enlightenment meets capitalism. The fact that it's comic-book enlightenment (blissed-out expressions, relaxing in harmony with nature) and comic-book capitalism (selling happiness)is part of the fun. I love the fact that Scrooge's success at selling satori backfires by leading to a huge drop in consumption. True, people would still need to buy stuff, but isn't it true that "consumer demand"--mostly for stuff we *don't* need--is what drives the economy? So representing this in comic-book terms by the threat to Scrooge's empire seems appropriate. Maybe it's not that he would run out of money entirely in a couple of months; it's just that his businesses would go under. (Joe could fix this in the dialogue!)

And then I love the joyful mutual greeting on the last page of the snow-beast and Donald, and the goat who flips upside-down to ski on his horns. I think the interaction with the snow-beasts is a fine way to picture enlightenment: alien but deeply welcoming, exciting and peaceful, and playful. And the incidents on the original journey to the Himalayas don't seem like they're just marking time to me--at least, not as much as the digressions in the long Italian stories often can seem to me. After all, you have to have stuff happen to make it seem like a really long (and somewhat dangerous) journey. By the way--this would be one minor problem with publishing the story in the USA: Donald and the boys are able to *walk* from Duckburg to Tibet!

In the reprint I have of this story in Super Picsou Geant 128, the French dialogue was entirely redone, and the boys say: "La sérénité magnétique Tibétaine est une discipline appliquée de la philosophie du rire intérieur." A bit easier to translate than the name they gave it in the version you have, from Picsou 79.

April 17, 2012 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

This actually is a story we'd considered using at Gemstone had our run continued.

Most other Gemstone stragglers were published by Boom—but a few weren't: "The Eternal Knot" (dialogue by me) and "The Chirikawa Necklace" (dialogue by Jonathan Gray) didn't make it before the cut.

April 17, 2012 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Looking back, that last paragraph I wrote is kind of terrible--I start by calling the ending "wonderful" (which it is), and then I say nothing more about that but instead immediately, and with no transition, launch into a complaint about a minor nitpick? Sheesh--I wouldn't let a composition student get away with something that sloppy.

April 17, 2012 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine writes:

“Maybe it's not that he would run out of money entirely in a couple of months; it's just that his businesses would go under. (Joe could fix this in the dialogue!)”

Thanks, Elaine! I’m glad to see you’ve adopted my philosophy of “embracing the weirdness”, when it comes to stories like these. Yeah, it sure would have been fun to try!

And, David says we COULD have had some more Mickey by Jonathan Gray??? …As Bugs Bunny would have said: “Ooooh! I’m DYYYIN’!”

Indeed, the topic of unpublished work that exists and is ready to go (if the comics EVER start again) is quite sad in itself.

There’s that unpublished Scrooge that I’d finished dialogue work on as Boom! went bust, that I called “Bad Things Come in Threes”, featuring (as the title suggests) a trio of foes for Scrooge and Donald to face – including one that is particularly dear to me!

And there’s more I worked on – and still more I’m merely aware of.

I’m not sure what would be worse… the comics never starting up again, or getting them back and having this stuff IGNORED, in favor of another “flavor of the month” approach... to lure readers that just AIN’T pickin’ up a Disney comic anyhow!

April 18, 2012 at 4:07 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Another point that I just noticed, upon rereading Elaine’s comment – is that there were TWO DIFFERENT dialogues… in TWO DIFFERENT editions of Picsou? Was “Le Originale Editor” scared off by Pepe Le Pew, or something, and “Le Editor Secondarie” left to come up with new dialogue later on? :-)

I know that happened once – maybe twice – during the Disney Comics and Gladstone periods, too – though I believe no skunks were involved. (Though, at Disney Comics and Gladstone II, you can never be completely sure!) “A Day in the Life of Scrooge McDuck” stands out, and I believe there was another Donald short.

Sure, I can see going back to correct something. Or, update it for different times. But, you’d THINK, once a dialogue was established, that it would permanently attach itself as a given country’s localized version of a story – though that does not appear to be the case in general.

Funny, way back in the days when our world consisted of nothing but American produced stories (both good and bad), we never gave dialogue a thought – merely leaving it up to Carl Barks, Vic Lockman, Carl Fallberg, Bob Ogle, Bob Gregory, etc. Now, it’s become an “art form” in its own right, and is analyzed and criticized along with plot and art.

April 18, 2012 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

Joe:

The Donald short you're thinking of is "Circus Seats"/"The Best Seat in The House". Both appeared in Gladstone 1 and Disney Comics and involved Donald trying to get a good seat at the circus (each one more worse than the last) until he is finally given a seat high up on the trapeeze.

Those Yeti remind me of the rats from Rattatouile, but I don't dare check. Those rats were animated too well for me to want a second glance. I prefer cartoon rodents that look nothing like the real thing.

As for stories in which the ducks seeks spirtiual gudidance/balance, I was reminded of the "Flipism" story, where Donald was convinced by the sidewalk hustler to leave his fate to chance and ask no questions. I think it ended with him wanting to track down the hustler and beat him up, but he couldn't see which side the coin landed and wound up going out with daisy and her nieces (who lived in the apartment next door) instead.

April 18, 2012 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger DocHunter said...

Totally unrelated:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1b7h6pyJ83M

April 18, 2012 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Dochunter: Yup...that's a thing!

I wouldn't call the question of Scrooge's businesses going under/not going under to be "weird," per se--it's really just a minor cavil on my part, and easily changed if desired. I am, however, quite interested in the question of multiple translations of the same work. Do different ages need different scripts? And why? Very elusive question. Would you say, Elaine, that the new French version is "better" than the old one?

April 18, 2012 at 9:31 PM  

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