Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"A Christmas Quackarol"

Well, here we are: the part of this little project that I've been laboring over for the past month.  Actually, the idea of finding multiple Disney Christmas Carol things to write about came to me late in the game; initially it was just going to be this, a 1982 story written by Guido Martina and illustrated by José Colomer Fonts, who sounds like some sort of design studio but is actually just a guy.  A few dozen Fonts-drawn efforts have been printed in the US.  If you want to read the story before checking out my commentary, you had better do it and decrease the surplus population.  I have no idea what that was supposed to mean.

First, some background.  I read the story in its UK Disney Literature Classics printing.  I thought it was pretty good--not perfect, by any means (as I will inevitably elucidate), but Martina plays it completely straight here and does a reasonable job.  It's by far the most faithful to Dickens of all the things I'm covering, in a generally good way.  

Unsurprisingly, the UK edition does not feature a great localization.  It's a pretty typically stilted, indifferent piece of work.  In this case, however, it bothers me more than it might otherwise, because here's the thing: as I noted, Martina follows Dickens quite closely, and this includes a substantial amount of language taken directly from the source text.  But alas, the translator clearly did not refer back to said text, meaning that you have bits that clearly echo Dickens, but in a mangled, lost-in-translation sort of way.  Golly, I thought.  If only somebody would do a version that actually uses Dickens verbatim.  How great would that be?  And…it's probably pretty obvious where this is going.  I get an idea like that in my head and even if it starts as a mere velleity (that's today's fifty-dollar word), I just know in my heart of hearts that eventually it's going to build up 'til it reaches the point where I have NO CHOICE but to do this shit, so why even make a token effort at fighting it?

I was actually glad to be able to do this because working under a set of restrictions like this is, I think, valuable.  I'm proud of my work on "Faustus" and "McDucato," sure, but in those cases, I was playing pretty fast and loose with the original text.  Not so here.  Whenever it was at all possible, I made use of Dickens' language--although, naturally, there were points where it had to be sliced and diced and shuffled around to make it work.  When it WASN'T possible, I basically did my best to write unobtrusive text that fit in with the original as well as possible; I may not have been wholly successful at this, but I think it works okay, and you'll certainly find no anachronistic cultural references here (I would say "no cultural references" period, but I do quote a few period-appropriate Christmas songs where it seemed appropriate, so there you are).

Oh, and I should note that I'm entirely cognizant of how utterly terrible that title is.  And wholly unprovoked, too; in keeping with the general spirit of the story, the original is simply called "A Christmas Carol."  Fact is, though, any effort on my part to edit it would've looked awful, so you'll just have to mentally redact it.

For comparison purposes, let's look at the original first page and mine:



As you can see, I've actually added a lot more Dickens than was in the original.  Obviously, that inane bit about how the story is wise AND entertaining! had to go (even though, as far as I can tell by squinting at the inducks page, it's the comic's original opening), and there was a perfect opportunity to open the story with the story's actual opening (edited down for reasons of space).  In Dickens, Scrooge's line about how Christmas celebrants should be murdered in ironic holiday-themed ways comes during his argument with his nephew Fred, but there was no room for it in that scene, it's a memorable enough line that I wanted to include it anyway, and this seemed like an appropriate spot.  So there you go.

Let me, however, ask the question variations of which are appropriate throughout the story: why is Cratchit played by some generic dude?  Seriously: why?  It's not as though the story exhausts the ranks of duck characters to the extent that there was just no one left.  If this is going to be a Disney version of the story, bloody well use Disney characters whenever possible.  The cartoon, at any rate, understood that much.  

My suggestion: have Gyro play Cratchit.  There's plenty of precedent for him being unassertive and for Scrooge exploiting him, so it would be a good match.  'Course, later on, you'd have to invent characters to be his wife and children, but surely that shouldn't present too much of a problem.  Or if you don't like that, you could take a page from the cartoon and just use Mickey in the role.  He wouldn't map onto the role as well as Gyro, but the advantage there, of course, is that there you have a ready-made family.  Hell, I don't care.  Just do SOMETHING.  Anything other than this.


The thing about this story is, the beginning is the best part.  It deteriorates a bit as it proceeds.  The opening section--comprising Scrooge's interactions with his clark (generic though he may be), his nephew, and the charity guys--is quite well-done and generally faithful to Dickens' text.  Interesting thing about the original story that I'd forgotten is that "I don't know that" line.  It's interesting that, to some extent, he uses willful ignorance to justify his own behavior to himself, which is a more human sort of thing to do than we generally expect from the character, pre-redemption.


In Dickens' text, the time from when Scrooge leaves his office 'til he gets home is summarized thusly: "Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker's-book, went home to bed."  Martina, however, stretches this out to a full three pages.  And there's just no point to it all.  The bit with him slipping and rejecting a child who tries to help him serves the function of the part in the original where he chases away a kid singing "God bless ye merry gentlemen" through his keyhole, which is I suppose an okay, if pointless, alteration, but there's a lot of padding here to no particular purpose, which would be less irksome if not for the fact that Martina could clearly have expanded the Dickensian material to good effect if he'd used his page count more carefully.


Now, I've mentioned how much I like the Marley sequence of the story.  Even as a non-religious person, I must say, I find the whole "I wear the chain I forged in life" speech existentially terrifying.  For the record, here's a part that I deeply regret being unable to fit into this version:

'But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

'Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'

Dickens can be frustrating because his humanism is in no way systemic; he understands well enough that the economic system around him is inequitable, but his "solutions" always involve individual acts of generosity that don't remotely address the larger problem.  Maybe the fact that they don't address the problem is an implicit social criticism in itself, but I can't help feeling unsatisfied with a lot of his stuff.  That said, regardless of any criticisms I could make, on a visceral level there's no arguing at all with this sequence, which I find just overwhelmingly powerful.

Here's the thing about this comic, though: Rockerduck as Marley--awesome.  Fantastic idea.  Fonts' rendering of Marley, however?  Not so hot.  The man's meant to be suffering the torments of the damned, but here he mostly looks just kind of whiny and petulant.  And that chain--I'm not going to necessarily object that it's not made of "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel."  I can see how that might be distracting in a visual medium.  But it needs to be a really heavy, massive burden that's weighing him down both literally and figuratively, not the wimpy sort of thing that this guy is wearing, that's just attached to his leg going god knows where, like an extension cord.  Believe me, the scene is a helluva lot better now that I've inserted the original Dickensian dialogue, but I shudder to think how good it could be had Fonts put a little more effort into it.


And…this is the second-most idiotic thing in the story.  Golly, I wonder if there are three extremely prominent duckiverse characters who appear nowhere else in the story who could play the spirits?  For fuck's sake, even the shitass Little Golden Book recognized this.  But here?  Nope!  Sorry!  Here, have these unpleasant-looking little homunculi instead!  Ugh.  Hard to say whether it was Martina or Fonts who dropped the ball here, but it's really kind of inexcusable either way, and seriously drags down the story.  


In the original English version--which I have to assume is the same as the original Italian version, since I can't imagine the translators would make these things up--Scrooge is calling out to "Tony Britt, Charles Wilkins, John, Raymond."  I haven't the faintest idea where these names came from.  Wikipedia says that Charles Wilkins was the first person to translate the Bhagavad Gita into English, for whatever that's worth.  Unless Martina was including shout-outs to friends here, I got nothin'.  I just went with names that, though generic (except for Steerforth), are definitely from Dickens.  What can you do?


This part is rather more complex in Dickens; there is an element of loneliness, but Scrooge also goes into raptures about the book young-him is reading (some version of the Arabian Nights), and there's this idea of a lost sense of wonder.  This drastically simplifies it, although to be fair, most adaptations of the story do.  It's not a nuance that's so easy to capture.


Fezziwig is referred to as "Fizzwig" in the original English version--the final evidence, were it needed, of the general lack of care that went into the translation.  I'm not sure quite who you'd get to play Fezziwig, but jeez, man, at least have Dick played by Fethry or something.  Also: how weird and awkward is their choreographed pose in that last panel there?  Fonts has definite…limitations.  

I suppose leaving out Fezziwig's party isn't the end of the world, but I think it would've been helpful to include it; to drive home more explicitly the sense of joy and plenitude.  Certainly, there are OTHER parts of the story that could have been excluded with no real loss (with gain, even).


I have to say, though, the scene where his fiancée leaves him is quite good, even if she should self-evidently be played by Brigitta.  That would also solve the problem of the fact that that exact character model is later used for one of Fred's relatives.  Still, kudos to Martina for including much of the sense of the original scene.


Okay, on to the present.  The scene with the Cratchit household is none too great: it's only a page total, and they spend the entire time bitching about how much they hate Scrooge, whereas that plays only a small role in the original, which is more meant to convey the standard "they're happy in spite of being poor!" trope.  Not a difficult aspect of the story to include, I would have thought.  This way is just kind of sour.

No Tiny Tim, either.  I know that thread of the story can be played in an overly saccharine way, but I must admit, I have a weakness for Dickens' quasi-pornographic child deaths, and I think it IS kind of important for Scrooge's development, the idea being that we get so wrapped up in the vision of Bob's grieving family that the third ghost presents that we're desperately relieved when it's over, as though we've woken from a nightmare, and we realize with Scrooge that it's not too late.  Here…eh.


Fred and his family.  Once again, note Generic Humans.  Why not stick Grandma and Gus in there?  Also note that Fonts is kind of awful at consistent staging.  See the above image?


Right, and now see how Daisy has teleported farther to Donald/Fred's right, the other woman is suddenly across from him, and everyone else has vanished?  Geez.


This scene is okay, though it spends rather too much time on this "Fred insults the food" business, which is a pretty wild extrapolation from this:

'Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,' interrupted Scrooge's niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.

   'Well. I'm very glad to hear it,' said Scrooge's nephew, 'because I haven't great faith in these young housekeepers.'

…and that's all.  I don't know why you would think this was a useful addition to the story.


Okay, onward to the future.  This part is fairly faithful to Dickens.  It may seem like Scrooge is absurdly slow on the uptake in realizing that everyone's talking about his own death, but in his semi-defense, it is pretty darned convenient how both he and Marley just happened to die on Christmas Eve (and so did Tim, apparently, in versions featuring the character).  It would be pretty difficult for the ghost had it been otherwise, I must say.


And I'm rather proud of my work here: it required pretty substantial reworking to fit Dickens' dialogue in it, given that there are three people coming to try to sell Scrooge's stuff to Old Joe in the original.  An' wouldn't it be better were Joe a pig-faced villain or something?  Really, now.


And here we have the most idiotic thing in the story.  You can probably tell just by looking at the above that I made a strategic edit here, because in the original, the ghost was lecturing at Scrooge (Scrooge: How much time do I have left to make up for the past? Ghost: I'm not allowed to tell you!  But remember, you can only save yourself if your remorse is sincere!), in direct contradiction of the fact that THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS YET TO COME DOES NOT SPEAK.  THAT'S HIS ENTIRE POINT.  It fucking boggles my mind that Martina would think it was a good idea to violate this--and with such inane platitudes, to boot.  I mean, it's okay in "Mickey's Christmas Carol" where the ghost is actually Pete, but here it's presented as being entirely Dickensian in nature--until this moment.  Sheer idiocy.  As you can see, my "solution" is hardly ideal; it's obvious enough that the spirit is meant to be speaking and that Scrooge is not actually saying anything there.  Still, a damn sight better than the original, I'd say, especially since there was plenty of authentic dialogue available to stick in his mouth.


That "they can do anything they want!" line always cracks me up.  It just sounds so childish.  Which, I suppose, is appropriate, given the character's rebirth, but reading it in those terms seems anachronistic to me.


Thing is, post-redemption Scrooge requires a delicate touch to portray well.  Sure, there's giddy, exuberant joy, but this needs to be tempered a little by a sense of quasi-religious awe--a recognition that this grace is a gift, not something that he earned, and that this gift represents a compassion and mercy far beyond anything he's capable of understanding.  It's far too easy to do what this story to a substantial extent does, which is to just make him look like a smug dick: HO HO HO!  LOOK HOW GREAT I AM!  It's kind of insufferable, to tell the truth.

The other thing is this: as I noted in my first entry, Scrooge's conversion isn't at all psychologically realistic.  We're primed to accept it because it seems so self-evidently the right thing: be nice to people and they'll like you and you'll have a better life and it's not like it'll even cost you a sum of money that'll affect your quality of life in any way.  But we're overlooking the fact that, having lived this way for many years, it's clearly become an entrenched way of life for him, and that he must have many defense mechanisms in place to avoid having his carefully-constructed sense of self disrupted.  I don't want to say that overnight conversions are literally unknown, but it's gotta be pretty close.

None of which is to criticize the story per se, but for Scrooge's redemption to have even the illusion of realism, you have to really, really dig down into past, present, and future.  You've really got to feel gripped, along with Scrooge, in a visceral way.  That none of the stories we've looked at really do this is probably just down to the limited scope that you necessarily have in a Disney comic, but there it is.


That narration box is really the only part that hints at any vulnerability, and it ain't much.  Note that I gave Fred's cousin and wife names, according to my whims.  Pretty much the only serious bit of authorial whimsy I indulged in here.  In the British version, he asks her if he can see her brother-in-law, implying that this is meant to be the wife of the Gladstone character who would then be Fred's brother.  That's not right, though; Dickens explicitly notes that Scrooge's sister had but a single child.  So, I changed it.  Ha!


Martina seems to think that Fred is as impoverished as Cratchit, but I don't think that's really the case in Dickens, notwithstanding Scrooge's "what right have you to be merry?  You're poor enough" line.  Everything about the depiction of his family makes me think he's part of the emerging middle class.  I suppose there's nothing too terrible with Martina's interpretation, except that there's a certain monotony in having Scrooge buy meals for TWO families, and it lets him put on his "gosh, I sure am great, and everyone knows it!" face.

(Also, how come there's a generic stork dude here who wasn't in the vision?  And, if Gyro isn't busy being Cratchit, why isn't he playing this guy?  Hmph.)


In Dickens, Scrooge visits Fred, and that's it for Christmas Day; the story goes straight to the next day and surprising Cratchit with niceness.  But this version features a full five pages of stuff in between, Martina evidently having felt the compulsion to re-visit various characters from earlier in the story--a perhaps theoretically valuable idea that doesn't really work here, especially given everything that he cut out from Dickens.  The above is especially egregious: dude.  The entire point of the Christmas-yet-to-come vision was that they were indifferent to your death because you were a jerk.  If you've realized you were a jerk and  changed your ways, you have no business getting angry at them for their reaction to pre-conversion you.  And seriously: lording it over them based on information you obtained from the vision?  Serious dick move, Scroogie.


I never know how I should feel about this last scene.  I mean, I know how I'm supposed to feel, and certainly given the choice, you definitely want "Scrooge is nice to his employee" over "Scrooge is a dick to his employee."  But, socialist that I am, I can't help but be rubbed the wrong way by the idea that Cratchit's welfare (and, in the original, the very life of his son) should be dependent on his boss's noblesse oblige, unavoidable though it surely is (also, it's hard to see how Cratchit wouldn't think for a good long time that this was all some sort of trick, but that's a side issue).  This goes back to what I was saying earlier about Dickens' lack of systemic thinking.  At any rate, I can't really fault this version in particular; it's pretty faithful to the original.  And, I must admit, if I can manage to suppress my instinct to analyze this in larger economic terms, I'm at least somewhat heart-warmed.


Yay!  I always like that "total abstinence principle" wordplay.

In the end, there's so much good and so much bad in this story that it's hard to know quite how to rate it.  It's only real competition is "Mickey's Christmas Carol," of course.  I suppose I have to put this above that if only because, in spite of all the flaws here, there's room for more of a genuine character arc, and for all the missteps this thing makes, there's nothing quite as bad as the cartoon's depiction of Marley.

Merry Christmas.  I may or may not have something else seasonal in the next few days.  We'll have to see.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś said...

What do You think about Jim Carrey Christmas Carol?
I like that it was made into a horror story like Dickens intendeted... Heck! Heck, they actually remember that the present spirit was ment to be scary as well...

December 25, 2012 at 3:35 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

BTW -> What duck characters would You cast as the spirits, Bob ect. ?

December 25, 2012 at 4:06 AM  
Blogger tymime said...

There's this wonderful version of the story with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, and instead of breaking down instantly like most portrayals, he remains in denial and actually tries to bargain with the spirits up until the end. Great stuff.

December 25, 2012 at 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks for introducing me to this story, and for re-dickensifying it (though I couldn't read the whole thing, because the link didn't work for me today). I agree with all of your comments, on the dorky spirits, the lack of Disney extras, Fred's class standing, the smug Scrooge at the end, etc. And I have seen illustrated-book versions of CC that do a great job of Marley's chain with all its parts (as you noted, Mickey's Carol did it well). I think the omission of the Cratchits' dinner and the Fezziwig party is quite serious; those scenes show the joy Scrooge is missing (as the Arabian Nights characters are, less successfully, supposed to show the imagination he has lost). The Cratchits' home life, I believe, is less about the "poor but happy" trope and more about their love and respect for one another. And at the end, Scrooge's inclusion in both the Cratchits' and Fred's world are not about Scrooge playing Lord Bountiful; they are about his finally connecting with other human beings in community. Certainly, Scrooge shouldn't look at all smug; he should be aware that even towards the Cratchits he is only making a tiny dent in the pile of back-payments due. Alastair Sim is the only actor I've seen who gets all this across in the end: the giddy, childlike joy, the deep chagrin over the past, the hesitancy over how he will be received, the gratitude for kindness, etc. (I love most the moment when he's sitting at his desk and says sincerely, "I don't deserve to be so happy"--and then throws his pen in the air and laughs, "But I can't help it!")

December 26, 2012 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

GeoX,

This isn't bad so much as "eh". The artwork seems much too sterile and doesn't get across the emotions that the characters are experiencing.

Chris

December 27, 2012 at 3:32 PM  

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