"The Strange Tragedy of Doctor Donaldus Faustus"
If you haven't downloaded this yet, you can do it here. IT IS YOUR DESSSSSSTINYYYYYY!!!
UPDATE, 01/24/14: I've completely revised this translation; the link now goes to the better version. You can read all about it here.
UPDATE, 01/24/14: I've completely revised this translation; the link now goes to the better version. You can read all about it here.
I am very keenly aware that me writing about a story that I translated using my own script is the very definition of "masturbatory." Obviously, however, that is not going to stop me. I think it's an interesting story worth writing about. I'm not going to try to follow all the story's twists and turns, because it gets kind of convoluted, and besides, there's no reason for you not to have read it if you want to. I will note, however, that when you think about it, you realize that the plotting is surprisingly sophisticated. Everything really fits together--as compared to Bottaro and Chendi's "Donald Duck on Treasure Island," which is pretty haphazard.
The French title of this story--which, like "Sandoduck," makes me question the acuity of Hachette's editors--is "Donald Contre le Diabolique Docteur Faust," and I don't think you need to have any French to realize the two major issues here; ie, A) Donald isn't "against" Faust; he IS Faust; and B) He's not "diabolical" by any reasonable standard. I have the sneaking suspicion that somebody somehow got Faust confused with Mephistopheles; supporting evidence for this would be the image that was chosen to represent the story on the cover, featuring Faustus breaking the flute over Mephistopheles' head. Hmm, I say.
(Faust or Faustus? Goethe or Marlowe? Well, the story doesn't exactly have a lot to do with either, but the fact that Marguerite is not a character in Marlowe might seem to indicate the former. The original Italian refers to him as "Paperus," however, indicating a preference for Faustus. Ultimately, it's kind of a toss-up; I just went for "Faustus" because that way you can just add an "-us" to "Donald" and have a nice symmetry.)
Of course, we open with our friend Mr. Framing Device. It's quite amazing how many illustrious ancestors Donald has had, from all different cultures. It's hard to see how this exactly works, chronologically--it's a bit like the Castlevania series, in which someone new has to head on down to defeat Dracula seemingly every other week.
This is one place where I completely changed the dialogue, on the basis that the French version is obscure and borderline nonsensical. I'm not saying my version is a deathless work of genius, but at least it makes sense, right? It accords with the action shown in the panels.
Here's how the French dialogue for the above panels goes:
Louie: Is this historic as well?
Donald: Of course! Recall the famous words of Pier Donaldo Capponi…
Louie: If you play the trumpet, I'll play the mandolin!
Donald: Indeed! That's one of the mandolins of our famous ancestor!
Now, I did figure out what this means, more or less. The Wikipedia pages says, of this Capponi character:
The Florentines were willing to pay him a large sum of money, but in settling the amount further disagreements arose. Charles, who was full the Medici's promises, made exorbitant demands, and finally presented an ultimatum to the signory, who rejected it. "Then we shall sound our trumpets," said the king, to which Capponi replied "And we shall toll our bells," and tore up the ultimatum in the king's face.
…but seriously, who in God's name is possibly going to get a reference that ridiculously obscure? And even if you do, what's funny about it? Why does Louie seem to think that this is some kind of hilarious joke? I can only assume that this exchange was translated directly from Italian to French, since it's impossible for me to believe that a French translator would independently hit on a line referencing some Florentine politician. Well, THE CYCLE ENDS HERE, DAMMIT.
So ANYWAY, the story gets going with this Scrooge/Beagle conflict. I must say, I'm a huge fan of this green-clad Beagle leader guy, and of the Beagles in general in this story. They seem more, I don't know…capable, perhaps? sophisticated?…than usual in this story. If I had to fight in this war, I'd definitely want to be on Team Beagle, is all I'm saying.
(And I know it's terribly gauche to laugh at one's own jokes, but to me, that line in the second panel there is the funniest thing in the story.)
…and I swear I won't keep digressing like this, but this was another place where I felt moved to change something that didn't make sense: in the French, Scrooge is like, grrr! If I let you get away with this, next time it'll be two fake coins, then three, and pretty soon they'll ALL be fake, and the Beagle's like, yup, that's the idea--leading to the question: uh…why is Scrooge willing to keep on doing business with them if they telegraph their intention to rip him off more every time? Guh? Is the idea that he makes all his money dealing with the Beagles? Not even slightly plausible, and even if so, that economic relationship would be pretty difficult to convey within the limits of this dialogue. I just threw the whole notion out.
(The coins are called "écus" in French, but for a Faust story, something more Germanic seemed appropriate.)
Here's where you can really see Bottaro's aristry--just look how intricate that battle scene is, and then, for contrast, note the scene of not-giving-a-shit, which is quite funny. My favorite bit is the grinning Beagle chasing a butterfly. It would be nice if real wars could just peter out like this, but nooooo, you always have your fuckstick generals stirring things up and making sure that as much pointless slaughter as possible happens.
A story like this really bends under the weight of its contradictions: on the one hand, it's a long war, fercryinoutloud; people are obviously being killed. If they weren't, why would the demons care so much about it? And yet…it's a Disney comic, so you can't actually show people getting killed, and the attitudes of the opposing Beagles and ducks are antagonistic, but not really in a murderous way. So if you think too much about it, the whole thing's just gonna fall apart. I may have exacerbated this a bit by having Mephistopheles and Hazel specifically talk about how the war's gonna bring more souls their way, but it was never gonna be unproblematic.
Another thing to note is that the soldiers in Scrooge's army are apparently of a different subspecies than the regular duck characters--note their thinner and longer beaks.
Yes, obviously, ANTRIP is my own thing; the French group is called "SOURD," "deaf," resulting in obvious zany misunderstandings. We'll say no more about it. I am really not sure about this idea of showing old-Faustus constantly looking so unutterably depressed and beaten-down. Sure, it creates a kinda neat contrast when he becomes young again, but golly--the ending of this story isn't too cheerful as it is, and that is only (unnecessarily, I would argue) exacerbated by depicting him like this.
I wanted to include a line or two from Faustus's terrifying final monologue at the end of Marlowe's play, and this seemed like the only really appropriate place for that. I really like the effect; I think it goes well with the art. If you'd read this in French, all you'd've gotten would've been "No! Help me!" My version is what we call VALUE for MONEY!
I also like all these crazy demons getting into the game.
It's kind of amazing to consider that Bottaro was also responsible for the art in that woeful "Mr. Duck" story. I would argue that this image of Donaldus sobbing is the only place we can really see the resemblance. An' thank goodness for that!
Hokay, let me talk a bit about the use of profanity of a sort in this story. I should state up front that I think Scrooge calling the Beagles "bastards" in the above panel is the one thing in my script for which there's really no possible justification, unless "I thought it was funny" counts--I just liked the abrupt tonal shifts, so I went with it (I definitely had the classic "letter to Neil's bank manager" sequence from The Young Ones in the back of my mind). Mea culpa!
Of course, the script also contains a fair few references to Hell and damnation and the like (some of this was present in the French, but I'm not going to sit here and deny that I played it up a bit). Now…that sorta goes with the territory, I think. Seems to me that the absence of stuff like that would call attention to itself more pointedly than its presence. Also, for the record, I would like to note that I did not pioneer the use of "damn" as an expletive in a duck comic. Certainly, I could have excised all this stuff; kept the story thoroughly G-rated (well, maybe not quite--the mere presence of all these demons along with the somewhat violent fight scenes still probably would've bumped it up a notch). Indeed, reviewordie suggested as much, noting that it would be similar to the way various old Japanese videogames were bowdlerized for US release. That would certainly have been an interesting stylistic exercise, but in the end, I thought, hell--as long as I have complete editorial freedom, I might as well just run with it, as long as I don't do anything that seems really jarringly out-of-place. And to me, nothing does. Your mileage may vary of course.
…but forget all that; from my perspective, this is the bit that should really excite comment, if anything should. This is the kinda language that back in the day woulda gotten you burned at the stake if you used it at the wrong place and time, or at least locked in the stocks for a fun day as a rotten-fruit target. Here's my thinking: this story is actually quite goofy in many ways, but it's still a burlesque on the Faust legend--and to my mind, this burlesque is more effective if there's some sense that it's playing off of something real and serious, as opposed to something that was never anything more than a silly joke. Compare, for instance, Barks' more historically-grounded treasure hunts to the sort of floaty, all-made-up stuff you'd get in a Ducktales episode. The latter can be okay in its own right, but it's never going to have the same sort of resonance.
So, in this instance, Mephistopheles may be a cartoon character, but he's still a denizen of Hell, and no joke. Lines like this remind you of that, and the other advantage is that they're sufficiently archaic that they don't really signify in the same sense that they would've a thousand years ago, so you can stick 'em in a story like this without (hopefully) inciting too much outrage--an instance of sort of being able to have your cake and eat it too.
And that's all I have to say about that.
Here's a really inexplicable bit. In the French text, the knight is just saying "I'd love to, but I don't think my wife would like that." So…what? Is this picture on his chest meant to be said wife? His wife's a man? Is this is a lady knight or a gay knight? In either case, why would s/he want a picture of his/her significant other looking so angry? Or is it just that this is a SHORT knight, and that's his actual face? In which case, the joke is…what, exactly? Very odd. As you can see, I just went with Absurdist Non-Sequitur.
Hey, did I note that Witch Hazel is in this story?!? Well, she is! And this is her last appearance in it before she just sorta vanishes! Note that this is only her second European story (the first, also a Bottaro/Chendi thing, has never been released outside of Italy). Also note (yeah, I'm just free-associating here) that her second appearance ever was pretty much the most ultra-obscure thing in the world: a 3-D Cheerios giveaway that has never been reprinted anywhere in any form ever. Dammit, now I want to read that shit.
Hazel doesn't make a huge impression in this story, but somehow I like her anyway--maybe just residual goodwill from "Trick or Treat" and those Bloch stories she enlivened. When you think about it, you gotta figure that if Magica had existed at the time when these stories had been written, she almost certainly would've taken Hazel's place, and the character would never have achieved whatever level of prominence she did. I like to think that after this story, she broke off her affiliation with Hell and became an independent mischief contractor.
Everything is just so goshdarned happy! I love this armistice stuff...
…but then, things get real dispiriting real fast.
NOW LOOK: I'm aware that we have this tendency to want to see Dark Sides to things; to believe that things have been sanitized and that saints are really sinners. To a great extent, this seems to me to be a healthy attitude; people really will cover up some dark shit because they want to maintain an image. It's not to condemn them unilaterally to note that most of America's founders were slave owners; it's merely to recognize that they weren't plaster saints, and maybe the way we in the US fetishize them goes a li'l bit overboard at times. Still, sometimes this tendency can get pretty stupid, as with the idiotic urban legends about Fred Rogers having had a criminal past or been some sort of sniper or having flipped off the audience at the end of his last show--sure, we like to be cynical, but man, sometimes you just have to accept that things are what they seem to be, meaning, in this case, that Mr. Rogers really was one of the most profoundly decent people to ever live.
Um…where was I going with this? Right, okay. So another sort of manifestation of this is the people who claim that there are subliminal dirty messages in Disney movies. This isn't always quite the same mindset as the attitude I described above; it's often more a matter of wanting to feel offended/persecuted, and the people doing it are often probably the same scary lunatics shrieking about how their baby dolls are trying to make their children into Muslims. Still, a similar thing; there's the whole "HA! You think Disney is so wholesome and g-rated, well WHAT IF YOU KNEW THAT ALADDIN WAS EXHORTING KIDS TO GET NAKED WHAT THEN HUH HUH HUH?!?" This shit always annoys me, because it relies on people being willfully stupid because it fulfills some sort of unhealthy psychological need.
ALL THAT BEING SAID, if there's some innocuous explanation for what exactly that bump just to the left of Satan's right knee there is…well, I don't know what it is. It sure looks to me as though Bottaro put one over on the censors, for whatever reason.
…but seriously, isn't this just about the most depressing conclusion to any Disney comic ever? Good lord. Okay, granted, given that he was given the gift of youth by the forces of hell, repercussions of some sort are inevitable. At least he doesn't lose his soul (though that's another thing--the idea that Satan wouldn't want it because it's too "noble" doesn't really fly--I would've thought that would be the kind he wanted the most)! Still, I dunno…if the story were longer, he could reap his rewards for a while until the devils come to collect, and then something could be figured out. People who aren't familiar with the particulars are often surprised to learn that in Goethe's drama, Faust is actually spared from hellfire in the end (for those interested, there's an interesting discussion of Goethe's Faust and its relation to modernity in Marshall Berman's classic study All That Is Solid Melts Into Air). I'm just saying. It doesn't have to be as grim as possible.
I really like Dewey's pole-axed expression there. His reaction mirrors my own. I tried to soften the blow slightly by tossing in the thing about ANTRIP--at least he gets SOME small recognition!
(You people are aware that "Gontran" is Gladstone's French name, right? Inducks tells me that his Swedish name is "Alexander Lukas," which I find inexplicably hilarious.)
HEY, WE CAN DREAM, RIGHT?!? I figured maybe I could help the process along by sheer force of will. Can't hurt.
I've gone through this story so many damn times in editing it that I probably won't need to read it again in one long-ass time. And no doubt part of the reason I like it so much is just because it feels like one of those stories that THEY don't want you to read (don't ask me who "they" are. I just work here). Still, for whatever reason, I like it a lot, and you've gotta read things like this if you really want to understand the full breadth of what people can do with Disney comics.
Also, I had a total fucking blast giving it an English script. You can definitely expect something else like this from me in the future, though I can't quite say what or when.