Saturday, February 16, 2013

"The Fantastic Adventures of Marco Polo"

You may have heard of this story, sort of: Scarpa mentions it in an interview that was published along with the US printing of "The Blot's Double Mystery."  Specifically, there is this exchange:

It seems that this and other stories you have written and/or drawn have been influenced by American film noir…

Positively.  I have often been inspired by that kind of movie.  I have always been fond of the cinema.  In a story I did a few years ago, where Donald Duck and many other characters interpreted the cast of Marco Polo, I inserted memories of Gary Cooper's interpretation of the character, and in one panel I even used a take from John Ford's Stagecoach.

So…now you know.  Tragically, I have not seen either of the movies in question (I know, I know; Stagecoach is a classic, or so sez everyone).  The Cooper vehicle DOES seem like a good movie to watch if you want to see white people playing Mongols!  So there's that.  But anyway.  If you read that and vaguely wondered what the story in question was about--well, this is it.

I made an English version of it.  If you want, you can download it before reading the rest of this entry.

And guess what: I recommend reading it.  'Cause it's solid stuff.  It's written by Guido Martina, and it has definite similarities to "Master McDucato," and HEY!  GET BACK HERE!  No, I swear!  It's a LOT better!  What it has in common with that story is that it's a lengthy picaresque with a lot of fairly low-key incident, but it lacks that other story's bizarre quasi-educational element, and it has a real sense of epic grandeur, helped by Scarpa's excellent artwork.  You don't wanna miss it.

Well, probably you don't.  I'll allow that it's not perfect.  The biggest problem that you may have with it is that the connection between the characters in the Marco Polo story and the ducks who play them is, while not entirely absent, extremely tenuous.  Also, the present-day framing segments are, uh, kinda weird, in a way that may or may not work for you.  And, of course, there are individual plot bits here and there that are problematic, which I will of course point out.  On the whole, though, it may not quite deserve its inducks top-100 status (#97 as of this writing), but if a story of this type is going to be up there, better this than "McDucato" by a long shot.

I'd say that my script is probably a little more restrained than past efforts, but it still includes plenty of silliness.  Thing is, I don't know if this is a reflection of the original Italian, but the French script is really intensely functional--there's not much of an effort being made to add color to the proceedings.  So, it was necessary to to something about that.  Pretty much the usual thing, I suppose.  For whatever reason, this project felt way more time-consuming than the others I've undertaken--probably because, while it's shorter all-told than "McDucato," it's not divided into distinct chapters (at least, not in this four-tiered version).  And it is twice as long as "Faustus."


Note Clara Cluck standing in the background there for no reason.  She sorta hovers around on the periphery while contributing absolutely nothing to the story.  It's really weird.  There's something similar in Scarpa's Robin Hood story, where she just appears in one panel, does nothing, and then is gone.  Was Scarpa just a huge closet Clara fan for some inscrutable reason?


There's this framing device where they're trying to get this TV show off the ground.  As far as these things go, I suppose it's marginally more sensible than a weird historical travelogue about Tuscany, but…not that much more so.  We also see here the beginnings of Scrooge's insanely counterproductive cheapness, which will become a running theme.  What???  You need ACTORS for a TV show?!?  Man, THAT one came out of left field.


This story doesn't have as many blatant historical errors as "McDucato," but it does have some, starting with the fact that in the French version (and, presumably, in the original Italian), the names of Marco's father and uncle were reversed, so Scrooge was Niccolò, and Ludwig was Maffeo.  The last thing I need is enraged Marco Polo fanboys on my ass, so I fixed it.


That is indeed what "The Million" refers to, referring to the belief that Marco was lying his ass off about this stuff, which I gather is still a matter of controversy.  That could've been an opportunity for some interesting ontological questioning of this whole narrative, but the story never goes there.  


Things get off to a bit of a slow start, with this business where everyone refuses to believe our heroes are the REAL Polos.  I played up the ridiculous faux-melodrama, because what else can you do?


"Pietro"--as you've noticed if you've read the story, the business with their guide (played by an Orientalized version of Fethry) is really inconsistent.  In the French version, Marco doesn't even refer to him by name here, making things even more confusing.  The thing is, he just vanishes for significant parts of the story when he's clearly supposed to be present.  It's really disorienting, especially when you don't know who he is or what he's even supposed to be doing when he is there.  I specified that he's only "Half-Mongol" to make it somewhat more plausible that he could be named "Pietro."


This whole "Noah's Ark" section is interesting just because, as has been noted, overt religious themes are generally not a Disney-comic thing, for obvious reasons.  Not that this is particularly religious, but the characters do find Noah's Ark.  A thing like that!

One might object that this sequence is pointless, but this story lives or dies on the accretion of an epic sense of scope out of these smaller episodes.  In that sense, I think it's okay.


Ah, yes…there are three points where Scrooge breaks in to complain about how expensive this is going to be, neatly dividing the story neatly into four parts, which is how it was originally published (in three-tiered format, natch) in Topolino.  


Now, of course, Scrooge's behavior is often penny-wise/pound-foolish to the extent that it's difficult to see how he could possibly have ever accrued such a fortune, but I've never seen that go any further than it does here, where he completely axes the first three episodes in the name of saving money.  Of course, it's basically a joke, but it kinda makes it seem like he's is sliding from "miserly" to "mentally deficient."  Well, that's ol' Guido for you!


And here's another place that's sort of dubious from a contemporary perspective: it is, I suppose, possible or likely that the Polos would've had no particular moral qualms about slavery, but look, these people are supposed to be likable to us, and disregarding the slaves in order to pretty blatantly steal jewels?  Huh.  I don't know about this Martina person.  I really don't.


An' if anyone doubts that it is sometimes very necessary to embellish scripts, note that in the French version, those speech bubbles say "See those cows?" "And those sheep?" and "and those enormous donkeys?"  What…so we're in kindergarten now?  Yeesh.


Scarpa consistently does these sweeping landscapes really effectively, which is good, because it's what the story needs to be what it wants to be.

Let it also be noted that at various points, I consulted the actual Travels of Marco Polo for names and things.  Here, f'rinstance.  King Nogodar is a real figure mentioned in the Travels, but in the French version, his men are referred to as the "Ischerans."  Who the fuck are the Ischerans?  Well, google will not tell you.  I can only assume that Martina pulled that name out of his ass, which makes all the less sense when you learn that these guys did have an actual, honest-to-goodness name that is mentioned in the text.  Strange stuff.


"Hey, Turkeys are a new-world bird!  Blah blah blah I'm so smart!"  Shut up!

This unfortunate bird was actually referred to as a duck in the French, but even though there's Barksian precedent for this sort of thing, it just seemed a bit much to me, and I ask you: how many other birds can you think of that look like that?  It just seemed like there was so much Disney precedent for turkey being the roast bird of choice that I flippin' well went for it.  Blame it on poor research on Mickey's part if you want.


Can't claim that the "mirages" segment is terribly original, but give the story credit for putting our heroes in some of the mortal-est danger you'll ever see in a Disney comic.  And, again, at least it looks good--although someone's going to have to explain to me what that thing that the boater hat's sitting on is supposed to be.


Not to harp on the theme too much, but doesn't that landscape there look good?  In a very appropriately Chinese sort of way?  It's things like this that initially enchanted me about this story.


And THIS--jeez.  I don't know what else to say.  'Course, the coloring ain't half bad, either.  Credit where due.


Ah, Kublai Khan.  I tried to play up his child-like nature in the translation.  I'm not sure if that's how we're meant to see him, but it's certainly how he comes across.  This right here with the jewel is a pretty funny joke, I think.


I…am sort of at a loss re these "Tablets of Power."  MP's Travels do make mention of tablets that Kublai would give to his messengers to authorize them to act on his behalf, but nothing, obviously, like these, which appear to be…actual magic?  It's hard to say.


And now, we reach our absolute zero of solipsism, as I use the same fake-Italian name for the Little Booneheads that I made up for "The Dungeon Tower."  Yes!

"Rock-ai?"  Yeah, it's hard to say what a good Chinese-sounding name would be for Rockerduck.  He's called "Flairor" in French (his regular name being "Flairsou," to contrast with "Picsou").  This is what I went with, somewhat arbitrarily.


(The idea being, of course, that this is where Rock-ai has taken the stuff.)

Again, nice art.  Brilliantly enough, the French version variously calls this place "Saianfu," "Saingfu," "Saïangfu," and "Saîangfu."  I wouldn't swear to this, but I sorta kinda think what they might be going for is what we would most likely think of as "Xanadu," where Alph the mighty river ran through caverns measureless to man.  But it's hard to be sure, and in any case, the real Xanadu was Kublai's summer palace, so it just seems to be confusing matters to decide that it's actually this place.  


Again: Kaidu's daughter was named "Maigèrh" in French, but Khutulun is actually a real historical figure.  Apparently, she would wrestle with prospective husbands, and when she won they'd have to give her a hundred cattle.  Ultimately--again, per Wikipedia--she scored ten thousand cattle this way, which is a pretty sweet deal for sure.

Do you think it's odd that Trudy is playing Pete's daughter here?  Well, wikipedia sez that "the people alleged that she maintained an incestuous relationship with her father," so there's that--though it sure sounds to me like "the people" were just being dicks because they were unnerved by the idea of a strong woman who didn't want to get married.

Also worth noting: in real life, Kaidu was Kublai's nephew.  But given the species difference, that didn't seem like it would be such a great idea here.


The Khan's daughter is, once again, an actual person, named Cocachin (spelling may vary according to system of Romanization), but for some reason the French refers to her as "Minh-Ouch."  Yeah, ya got me.  And as far as cartoon ducks go: not bad-looking at all, I must say!  In the French, she's called his niece, but she was his daughter.


If you think the above panels are cool in and of themselves, you may like this story.  If not, perhaps not.  I sure do.


This narrated montage sequence is really good for showing the passage of time.  It's little things like this that all add up to make this story really work for me.


This business is apparently historically accurate, at least according to Marco himself: as far as I know, there's no indication that there was romantic tension between him and the princess, but she really went off to Persia to marry the king, only to be compelled to turn back due to civil war, at which point the Khan determined that a sea voyage would be best, and sent the Polos--whom he'd previously refused to let leave--to go with her.  And if you find this history lesson super-boring, this may not be the blog entry for you.


This little romantic drama is to be admired for its compactness, I think.  To me, it inspires real pathos, though it must be admitted that I changed it a little: see, in the French version, Marco's just like "oh no, I can't go off with her; if I did that, I would be betraying the Khan's trust!"  Now, this may well be an accurate summation of what someone in his situation would've thought at this historical juncture, but it's really kind of the most patriarchal thing ever, isn't it?  "Oh no--if I allow her to have personal autonomy, it will violate the manly bonds of friendship I have with the Khan!"  Her feelings are sacrificed in the name of…well, not much of anything, really.  And if we're supposed to sympathize with Marco, as we are, this is a bit much to take.  So, I pushed it a little: we may not like the way these power structures work, but we can accept that they do, and that going against them like this very likely would cause a major diplomatic incident.  Thus, our young lovers are victims of the system, rather than being complicit in it.  

That works better, for me--which is good, because this is not an emotional dynamic that one sees much of in Disney comics, which I like.


…but seriously, I don't know what the deal is with this.  The Polos escape their predicament by purest deus ex machina here.  I mean, it is, I suppose, meant to represent the awesomeness of Marco Polo, but…given that this is the final action in the story, you might hope for a bit more.


As for the ending ending…well, it's a typical sort of thing, for better or for worse.  The French version is kind of dumb, because there, Scrooge suggest that Brigitta should be in it, but before he even says who she should play, Daisy flies off the handle, which is really just bizarre, because A) why would she possibly assume that Brigitta would play Cocachin, a part for which she is obviously too old?; and B) since when does Brigitta of all people inspire sexual jealousy in Daisy?  Bah.  So anyway, I did my best to make it less dumb, though it has to be allowed that it's still a little dumb.

So, there you have it.  I realize that this story is very open to criticism, but I can't help kinda loving it.  From the first time I read it, I knew that I would have no choice but to English-ize it.  This is a kind of story that has literally never been published in the US; you can see why, but it's still very much worthy of consideration.  Um…download it today!  I don't know what else to say.

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22 Comments:

Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“Stagecoach” is THE classic western, among classic westerns! It’s something everyone should see at least once!

From this, director John Ford and John Wayne would go on to have one of the longest and most successful collaborations in Western cinematic history!

It’s really cool to know that even Romano Scarpa was, in some way, influenced by it!

February 16, 2013 at 10:30 PM  
OpenID reviewordie said...

I think you've made a conscious effort to post better and better Scarpa art with each post on this blog. Whoever did the layouts was... hoo man, I'm just in awe.

Wow.

Wow.

No criticism, just wow.

February 16, 2013 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Note that Khan's daughter is played by Scarpas very own Dickie Duck (who is ment to be 14-15 years old)

Ow that Donald...

February 17, 2013 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

Thanks for the interesting review and translation.
If I may suggest something, you could use the Comic Sans font that would make it very much like actual comics ?
Thank you again for your work.

February 17, 2013 at 7:08 AM  
Anonymous David Gerstein said...

Francois, excuse me for disagreeing—but Comics Sans (sic) is the generic, Simpsons-inspired "comics" font everyone uses.
If Geoff wants to use a "real" Disney comics font, I'd love to suggest he go with WildWords or Smack Attack, the two we liked best at Gemstone and Boom.
(We used ComicCrazy a lot too, but these days it's also quite overused... and its bulky design seems to make it an awkward fit with many art styles.)

February 17, 2013 at 7:33 AM  
Blogger Dr. Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

It's true that a different font would probably look better; I guess I'm just doing what I'm used to. But comic sans? Yeah, that would be a nightmare.

February 17, 2013 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Dr. Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

@Pan Yeah, but the "real" Marco was also substantially older than the Donald-Marco is here. I think we can assume a certain flexibility in the characters' presumptive ages.

February 17, 2013 at 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anybody find the panel for which Scarpa used a take from Stagecoach?

February 17, 2013 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger Napoleon said...

The translated story and the review make for very pleasant reading. I have already praised your translations in the past, GeoX, and once again it works very well, creating an enjoyable extra level to the story. I haven't read the original or any other version, but from the information given here, all the changes you've made make sense and indeed improve the story a little.

(A further note on translations:
It seems European translations of Italian Disney comics tend to be on the rudimentary side when it comes to atmosphere, varied vocabulary, verbal humour, and characterization. At least that's the picture I'm getting here. It's a shame -- of course I don't know how much effort is put into the original Italian dialouge. Such bland translations used to be a bit of a drag in Finnish Topolino translations as well [which used to be Finnish translations of German translations of French translations of the originals], but they adopted a more ambitious and idiomatic approach in the 80's [as well as finally going directly to the Italian source], and nowadays in my country these comics get really good and lively translations that have been praised by teachers and linguistic authorities. I think French readers deserve nothing less. The Académie française should interfere. If the French are to be flooded with zeez Apennine bastardizations of zee fruits of zee imperialism cultural Américaine, they should at least be reminded of the expressive glories of their noble and most perfect language. Hrmph!)

I don't really get the framing device here. I'd much rather read the story proper, fun as it is, without framing -- you know, the actual adventures. I guess it can bring some cohesion to these very long stories, but if you want to divide your adventure into separate chapters, you might just call them chapters and do away with this weird Mickey script. I do find it exceedingly funny, though, to see Mickey objecting to Scrooge's commercialist schemes. Yep, you've never put YOUR DAMN LEERING FACE, for example, on anything just to sell it, have you, Mickey?

Martina is a very prolific writer. He can do a good job, but as far as I know even his best efforts have some inexplicable inconsistencies, and he's certainly no stranger to jarring contrivance. He also has a tendency to go for some ethically suspect stuff. Stealing from a slave mine is hardly the worst he's had these characters do.

As for the art, I really like this more mature style of Scarpa's (though his early, more rubbery ducks also hold a certain charm for me). The landscapes are, as observed by everybody, beautiful. As for the unidentified object in the mirage segment: I think it's the ornamental stabilizer found in the bow of a gondola. The mirage is supposed to be reminiscent of Venice, after all, and the boater hat is an additional tip. Why the gondola appears to be buried in the ground I have no idea.

All in all, good show.

February 17, 2013 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Dr. GeoX writes:

“An' if anyone doubts that it is sometimes very necessary to embellish scripts, note that in the French version, those speech bubbles say "See those cows?" "And those sheep?" and "and those enormous donkeys?" What…so we're in kindergarten now? Yeesh.”

…And if THOSE aren’t words to live by, Dr. GeoX (especially where Italian stories are concerned), I don’t know what are! Thank you, from “that little old script embellisher”, me!

BTW, I really like “So, which one would win in a fight?” Also enjoyed “I’m gonna dive in it – like a porpoise, or something!” …Even if it wasn’t Scrooge who said it. Well done!

…And what a dreadful ending! ‘Nuff said on that!

February 18, 2013 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it, thanks.

And if I may return to the ending, which I agree is pretty bad, while reading I was convinced that it would end with Scrooge deciding to cancel the last episode as well.

Also, is there anything in the original travels parallel to that weird storm at the end? It's even weirder that the sailors hadn't noticed it, making it seem magical. So, there was some wizard trying to keep them in the desert, or something? Really weird and unmotivated.

I agree with Joe on: “So, which one would win in a fight?” & “I’m gonna dive in it – like a porpoise, or something!”, nice touches.

February 18, 2013 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Dr. Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks, all. "Who would win in a fight?" was a popular, uh, intellectual activity for my brothers and I to engage in growing up. No doubt this is a common experience.

That sandstorm business is indeed strange. As far as I can tell, it's made up out of whole cloth. WIth a story like this that's sort of quasi-historical, it can be hard to tell what's meant to be based on something and what's not, though.

February 18, 2013 at 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks for bringing this to us in English, GeoX. From now on, I will think of Scarpa as the "Khan artist." Yes, the art is terrific, as everyone has said, and as you noted, the colorist also deserves praise. Before reading your post, I too was struck by the summer palace panel--and thought "Wow, that's good coloring, too." Kudos to Napolean for identifying the gondola part--and I'm glad to know that the homesick ducks are hallucinating a particularly Venetian mirage. (And yes, Napolean, the idea of Mickey being anti-commercialism is a hoot!) The landscapes are great, but so are many of the details, from the compass to the earthquake-detector. It would be interesting to read an annotated version of this story that would explain exactly what comes from MP's text and what from Scarpa's imagination. Oh, and kudos to you, GeoX, for your superior re-write of Marco's renunciation of romance. The renunciation scene reminds me of Reginella!

February 18, 2013 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Dr. GeoX writes:

“Thanks, all. "Who would win in a fight?" was a popular, uh, intellectual activity for my brothers and I to engage in growing up. No doubt this is a common experience”

…And, that’s exactly what makes it funny in the context of an ancient historical reenactment! Unexpected or otherwise incongruous bits of humor, dropped into a script, always work for me!

It’s something, Mark Evanier’s occasional scripts notwithstanding, the later Western comics completely lost the ability to do.

February 19, 2013 at 4:36 PM  
OpenID hyaroo said...

In the Norwegian translation, at least, Scrooge did name Dickie Duck rather than Brigitta as the actress, so I don't think it's too big a stretch to say that this was probably the case with the original Italian script as well... What the French translator thought, I have no idea, but maybe he didn't know who Dickie was and just inserted the name of the first female Duck character he could think of?

February 22, 2013 at 6:38 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

hyaroo - I guess we must consult a person who read the Itaian version On this one...

But Yhe - Maybe he didn't know who Dickie and asume it was just some "stock character" and Peperetta Ye'Ye is just a pun on some Italian big name movie actress...


Dr.GeoX - Now that you mention it actualy it's interesting how Italian/Brazylian writers swich "how old Dickie" all the time. In some stories I've see n she appears to be only slithly older then HD&L and other characters treat her like a child but in some stories she actually OWNS a car which makes her at least 16-17...


I like this chracter and I was sad they bearly used her in the last decade... HOWEVER she recently was reused in a Italian "Twilight spoof" story (which is great BTW)where she played the role of Alice and I've heard there is some new Italian series which centerers around her and Fethry as reporters (but I havent seen it yet..)so maybe this character is having some sort of a comeback... ?

February 22, 2013 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Dr. Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Very interesting info; thanks. At a guess, you're right; it probably WAS in the Italian as well. Then again, maybe the Norwegian translator was as nonplussed as I was and did a little editing of his/her own? Anyone who knows for sure wanna weigh in?

February 22, 2013 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

Les goûts et les couleurs.

February 26, 2013 at 5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read it in Italian. The character was indeed Paperetta.


" and I've heard there is some new Italian series which centerers around her and Fethry as reporters (but I havent seen it yet..) "

They are not exactly stories. They are mostly pieces of actual reporting with the ducks interviewing real people.

March 17, 2013 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

My two cents on some points :) :

The original title of the book was probably something like
Livre de Marco Polo citoyen de Venis, dit Milion, où l'on conte les merveilles du monde.
Many people thought that Milione was related to the book, but was probably related to Marco Polo himself, because "Emilione" was a nickname used for him and other members of his family and "Milione" should have been an apocope of it.

Scherani o Ischerani is the name of the folk ruled by king Nogodar in the text of Il Milione taht I own, written in ancient italian language. It is an italianization of the real name, that recalls the italian word "scherani" meaning "killers, cutthroats".

The tablets... in your version the Khan says they grant HIM extraordinary powers, and this is what, I think, they seem to be magic to you. But the italian text says that the tablets grant extraordinary powers to whom they are given: just a document to be held by emperor's delegates.

Rock-meth was the name of the unfaithful minister in the original version: it recalls that of Achmach, not a chinese but a saracen.

Kaidu's daughter is called Aigiarne in my ancient italian text: Martina calls her Aigianne, and makes her a pupil of Kaidu.

About Cocacin: Donald-Marco decides to reject her for loyalty to the Khan AND to let her become queen. Not so bad as in the french version ;)


May 8, 2014 at 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

As a kid I used to love reading this story in French, so thank you. And as a translation student this has been a very interesting read !
I'd just like to add something about the name used in French for Cocachin : "Minh-ouch" is most likely a racist wordplay to make the word "minouche" (a term of endearment that could be likened to the English "kitty") sound like what westerners think might be an Asian name.

July 31, 2014 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

You are very welcome. I also appreciate the clarification.

July 31, 2014 at 1:09 PM  

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