Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Donald Duck and the Rheinegold"

Here's an interesting thing (actually, it may turn out to be a really banal thing; you decide): I was reading this issue of the French digest Mickey Parade, which includes back-to-back printings of duck stories based on/inspired by the Iliad and Wagner's Ring Cycle.  Both of these were written by Ol' Man Martina.  The one was first published in January of 1959, the other in May.  So pretty similar, you'd think.  And yet, I was reading the first--which was the one I was most keen on reading, onaccouna Luciano Bottaro's art--and in spite of its high inducks ranking, it wasn't doing anything whatsoever for me.  I just found it lame and tedious, and to top it all off, you have Gladstone in the Paris-ish role acting wildly out-of-character (out of character for Gladstone, I mean.  I say if you're going to do these literary adaptations, you need to find a way to integrate the characters into them while more or less maintaining their personalities.  Otherwise, there's just no point to it).

So after that, my hopes were none too high for "Rheinegold" here (which is drawn by Pier Lorenzo De Vita, whose work I criticized earlier, but like here).  But then something hilarious and awesome happened in the story.  And then something else.  And again and again.  And I tell you, if I had had a better-quality copy of the story, I would've started a translation project then and there.  At the very least, I knew I'd have to share on this here blog.  I'm not trying to say the story's a masterpiece; it has its problems, not the least of which being that it's pretty clumsily plotted.  But you don't too often encounter a story that so often makes you think, "huh--I had no idea I wanted to see that, but now that I have, I realize that before I did, my life was incomplete."  So there you are.

The putatively interesting thing is that I would have such disparate reactions to such similar stories.  But I feel like the explanation is that Martina just put more oomph into this one.  The Iliad story is kind of eccentric, I guess, but not in terribly interesting ways.  Whereas this one…well, you'll see.


Scrooge's delightful fish pose there, for instance.  Note that, as is usually the case with these adaptations, the actual correspondence between the source material and adaptation is veeeery loose.  So you'll get bits and pieces that match up with bits and pieces from the original, but you will drive yourself to gibbering madness if you try to make the two fit together anything like exactly--in this story, there are even places where characters themselves seem to fluctuate.

Above, we see Scrooge/Alberich diving to retrieve what would be the Rheinegold were this Wagner, but in this instance is just a coin that some Beagles tossed in the water to trap him.  Note that the hat, in a clever move, is the Tarnhelm, though again, in Wagner, it wouldn't play a role in this scene.

Anyway, the Beagles do steal the helmet and ring from him (though Martina doesn't seem to know what to do with the ring--it's mentioned, but it plays little role, and it rarely appears), after the manner of Wotan and Loge in Wagner, although they do not otherwise play the roles of gods.  And then we get THIS deathless scene:


One Beagle betrays the other, so he attempts to kill his former partner with a knife, only to be transformed into…José Carioca?  Waaaaah?  How do you not love that?  It's also worth noting that this is the only time I can think of that I've seen Beagles turn on one another, not counting instances where our heroes trick them into thinking they're attacking one another or whatnot.  Say what you like about those guys: they display admirable solidarity.  I can't help liking this exception to the rule, however.  At this point, they are playing the roles of Fafnir and Fasolt, and the one with the hat accordingly turns himself into a dragon to guard the treasure.


…'an Daisy, Minnie, Clarabelle, and Clara as Valkyries.  Cowgirl Valkyries (because the story has an inexplicable, inchoate Western/Mexican theme).  I wish that this was a better scan, and in color, but alas, this is the only picture of all four of them like this; only Daisy, in the Brünnhilde role, plays any substantial role in the story.  It's still a great image, though.


Also, note that, in spite of theoretically taking place in some sort of typical vague, mythic past, when Donald/Siegfried is summoned (via smoke signals, because of course), he's living in his plain ol' house and arrives by car (though not, sadly, 313).


Unfortunately, the portrayal of Donald is a weak spot.  Stories like this really give you the impression that Martina flat-out does not like Donald, the way he portrays him as having basically no positive characteristics--like winning the above battle by sheer luck, as the dragon laughs itself to death when his sword gets stuck in a log.  I guess I shouldn't say that, because I get a similar vibe from some of Rosa's work, and I'm certain that Rosa doesn't hate Donald--but both of them get the tone very wrong too frequently.  It's one thing to play up Donald's bad temper/vanity/hubris--that's just par for the course.  But--although its hard to quantify these things--when Barks does this, it generally feels earned and realistic, whereas for a lot of other writers, it can just feel unfair, as it does here.

At any rate, in a rather clumsy effort at mashing different parts of the story together, it turns out that for some reason, the only way to get into the cave and get the treasure is for Donald/Siegfried to rescue Daisy/Brünnhilde.  So it's off we go.


Inexplicable Chip and Dale cameo!  It doesn't contribute in any way to the overall story, but hell, in a thing this goofy, you might as well just stack that shit on (I'm not sure if there's any way to tell from the above which is which).


…also, Burrito from The Three Caballeros.  Who…can talk now?  Sure, okay.  Could've given him a cartoon Mexican accent; refrained.  Now, Martina usually restricts himself to regular comics characters, but he's not averse to sticking movie characters in his stories, either.  An example American readers may be familiar with is the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland appearing in "The Blot's Double Mystery."  When Western did crossovers like this,  the crossover was generally the point--look at this unusual thing we're doing!  Whereas Martina is much more matter-of-fact about it.  Not that I'm familiar with the paths by which Disney stuff filtered over to Italy in the first place, but it's easy to see how an Italian artist could see it and not interpret it the same way--with the same unofficial boundaries--that an American likely would.


…well, it's sort of cool-looking with the flames and all, which is good, because otherwise, it's just the usual tired gender tropes.  Whee.


To cut a long story short: Gladstone shows up, and for highly dubious reasons it's necessary to have a duel to determine who gets the treasure, and Donald's going to win except that his foot, the only part of his body that's unprotected, gets injured (and I can't believe I didn't make the connection and realize that Siegfried is a Northern European take on Achilles before now.  It is because I am a babbling cretin, probably) (and no, alas, if you were wondering, he doesn't become invulnerable by bathing in Fafnir's blood--it's just a potion of Gyro's).  And so, Gladstone wins.  Granted, he's not as offensive as he habitually is, but still…who's supposed to like a conclusion like this?  I ask you.

Anyway, this is why I like to read European comics: sometimes I find gems like this (yeah, in spite of everything, I'm still willing to use the word "gem") that would almost certainly never be printed in the US.  Fun for kids of all ages, I sez.

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20 Comments:

Blogger Napoleon said...

Hojotjoho! Thank you for making me aware of the existence of this blessed mess of awesomeness. 2013's Wagner bicentennial wouldn't have been complete without this, at least not for me. Also, that panel up there is among the more forceful renditions of the Ride of the Valkyries I've witnessed.

On a side note, the admittedly weird Western-Mexican-Modern-Mythical setting of this Nibelungenwackiness might not be too far-fetched from a European operatic perspective. In the postwar era, it has been very fashionable to make these intentionally displaced/alienating/against-the-grain/borderline-parody productions of the operatic repertoire, especially in the German-speaking area. I'm tempted to bet that there has been a Wagner production adopting a Western setting with Disney iconography somewhere, sometime.

As for the problems involved with these literary parodies (which I nerdily adore), you're right that the idea that you should designate a Duck/Mouse universe counterpart for every significant character in your source material, no matter what, is probably a bad idea. Tackling the Iliad within the Duck universe is a pretty thankless task to begin with, but I've read (& enjoyed) a decent and occasionally extremely amusing take on the Odyssey: http://coa.inducks.org/story.php?c=D+92228
Part of what makes the story work for me is precisely that the narrative isn't littered with unnecessary cameos that mess with the fundamentals of the Duck characters I know and love. Eg. Polyphemus and the sirens are unique characters, not some one-eyed Beagle Boys or disturbingly sensualized versions of Brigitte or Dickie. Apart from Donald as Odysseus, we still get Daisy as Penelope, pestered by suitors headed by Gladstone, and Magica as Circe, but other than that, the characters are mostly unique and still used inventively and to good effect. Littering the story with countless cameos would in fact detract from its mythical atmosphere and enforce its already very episodic nature.

May 8, 2013 at 7:22 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Look at Scrooge (standing) in Illustration # 1 and Donald (Disembodied head in caption box) in Illustration # 4.

In both cases they look as if drawn by Taliaferro. And, in the rest of your selected pics, not at all.

In fact, in Illustration # 7, Panel 3 (standing next to the flying donkey), he looks almost Barks-like.

Was the art that wildly inconsistent throughout?

May 8, 2013 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and is DALE calling CHIP… “Dale”?

It’s kinda like old Hanna-Barbera cartoons like “Pixie and Dixie”, where the wrong voice would come out of the wrong character’s mouth.

May 8, 2013 at 8:15 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

@Napoleon HA! I KNEW I'd see you comment here. :) I don't know if you've read the Iliad story, but I think its problem--or one of its problems--is that it doesn't try hard enough to bring in the actual Homer. In theory, I LIKE the idea of Gladstone as Paris; he's certainly obnoxious enough. But he's got to be a more passive, less overtly villainous Paris: strangely, there's no Helen in this story; Gladstone just steals a treasure from Scrooge because…he wants to be rich, I guess. And apart from that…well, Donald is sort of Achilles (except when he fights in single combat with Gladstone, in which case I guess he's Menelaus), and Scrooge is sort of some sort of Agamemnon/Menelaus amalgamation, an' that's about it (if only it had been written a few years later, it could've featured Ludwig as Nestor--how perfect would THAT have been?). As much as it doesn't follow Wagner, I think that this story benefits from featuring bits and pieces of the original gives it an enjoyably incongruous, mock-epic feel. The Iliad story lacks that.

I HAVE read that Odyssey story, but a while ago and in a very stilted English version. I'll have to revisit it soon.

@Joe I suppose the art is a little inconsistent, but it doesn't really bother me; certainly, compared to early Cavazzano or Carpi in his shakier moments, I think it's fine. Also, tell me: how do you distinguish Chip from Dale here? Aren't they the same color in Western comics? Certainly nothing like this beige/orange business. Inducks claims you can tell them apart by the placement of their teeth, but as far as I can tell, they're both the same here.

May 8, 2013 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Dale has the big red nose. Even if they were not colored, his nose is larger -- and not just a black oval.

May 8, 2013 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Thanks. That's actually my fault; neither of them are referred to by name in the original.

May 8, 2013 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

Dale USUALLY has prominent buck teeth. It's somewhat hard to see them here, but I can just barely make them out. The larger (and, in most cases, redder) nose is a bigger giveaway most of the time.

Chris

May 9, 2013 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Wait... Wasn't "Death to those who betrays the Beagle clan" the key part of Barks oryginal Beagle Boys personalities... ?

May 9, 2013 at 3:32 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

You Geox, my birthday is this sunday (May 12)... Can you review something special for me? :D

May 11, 2013 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

@Joe Torcivia

If you think this art

http://coa.inducks.org/hr.php?image=http://outducks.org/webusers/webusers-stories/i_tl_0137_ap_3.jpg

looks like Barks or Taliaferro or is not original anyway, please buy new glasses.

May 14, 2013 at 5:12 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I’m just curious about something, @Francoisw…

I have not taken your link, nor have I looked at the art you suggested I view -- but, just because I suggest similarities between the pictures Geo published and certain poses or images by Barks and Taliaferro, why do you suggest (in what certainly looks to me like a non-joking manner) that I “…get new glasses”?

Perhaps English is not your primary language, and this is nothing more than awkward phrasing while attempting humor – but, at my own Blog, this is the type of comment that I would delete, or not publish in the first place because it seems to take a gratuitous shot at one of my commenters.

If I’m incorrect, and you really do have something positive to contribute to my overall knowledge of Duck comics, feel free to phrase it more politely, and we might discuss it further.

May 14, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Well, I can't say for sure, but I suspect that came off a bit more harshly than Francoisw (who, if I'm not mistaken, is a native Francophone) intended.

I would also note that that link isn't much good for those of us who do not happen to be inducks administrators.

May 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I'd like to think you're correct on this, Geo. Let us see.

May 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

Here's a link that should hopefully work:
http://dcf.outducks.org/contrib/img/LTGMwl_SfHw90.jpeg

I understand that my writing was unnecessarily wounding, and that really wasn't my intention. I admit I've been shocked that PDV's art could be found non original, but that's obviously a respectable opinion, and there is no reason to be shocked for just that. So please allow me to "replace" this comment by the following.

I think I'm not exagerating when I say that Pier Lorenzo De Vita is a legend among Italian comic fans, for different reasons, but most of all because he is one of the few artists who developped a very personal style, back in the 30s, even before Barks or even Taliaferro became "the standard". Contrary to other artists like Bottaro who would often copy Barks, especially when they were young, PDV was able to developp his own, without worrying that his style was very far from Disney standards. It is refreshing to see that a Disney artist is able to do his own art, something very rare in the Disney world (and that is nowadays even more difficult).

Too many times, people tend to confuse "beautiful art" with "good proportions" or "perspective" or other technical skills, whereas expressiveness (and art) requires sensibility and originality. In fact, it is the contrary: if you follow a model sheet very well and have perfect proportions, you won't do real art.

It is however difficult to explain in what sense I consider PDV's art as one of the most touching in the Disney world but I can try. Even though I'm sure that my explanations will now be very poor.

In some panels, you will notice that sometimes PDV would put many things into some areas and left most other parts of the panels empty. Although this might look shocking at first sight it is extremely dynamic and nervous (and goes well with Scrooge and Donald). His characters are cartonistic but not only; he has a deep sense of the details, and also knows "when to stop"; the most difficult part of art is often to decide that you should not try to fill this empty space.

I'm not pretending either that all his work is great, he was sometimes clearly less inspired than at other times.

Regardless of these considerations, I hope people will have the curiosity of looking at the work of this very talented artist beyond Italy, which in my opinion deserve more consideration.

May 15, 2013 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Interesting take. I've never thought very much about De Vita père, but in the future I'll read him with an eye towards seeing what you see.

May 15, 2013 at 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The name of the Rhine in Italian is Reno, like Reno (Nevada), where the parody is set. This pun was probably lost in the French translation.
It's true that Martina very often showed Donald at his worst, but he was also the creator of Paperinik and a few times showed him at his best even in his regular identity.

May 15, 2013 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Thank you--that really IS illuminating. I'll grant that my French isn't the world's best, but I do think the joke is lost in French. The gold is referred to as the "or du rain," which could be some sort of wordplay, but I don't know what. Certainly, the action is never identified as taking place in Reno.

And yeah, I've read a little more Martina and I'm trying to take a somewhat more balanced view. I was kind of amazed at how generous Martina is to Donald in "Captain Fracas," for instance. That's one I'm likely going to write about sometime down the line.

May 15, 2013 at 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Anon, I join GeoX in thanking you for alerting us to the Reno/Reno pun. I'm also reading this story in French translation (I had bought the same issue of Mickey Parade GeoX did, for the sake of the highly rated Iliad story, though like him I found that story boring!), and therefore I also would have missed this punning reason for the Western setting.

May 15, 2013 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

Francoisw,

Keep in mind that in the U.S., some of us who've been reading duck comics our entire lives have never even heard of this artist before this post.

Joe thought that Donald looked Barksian in one place and Taliaferroian in another. That's it. He even acknowledged that he hasn't seen the entire story and so was going off Geo's excerpts alone. It wasn't an attack on De Vita, and so a defense wasn't needed. It's interesting to learn a bit about him, though.

-- Ryan

May 24, 2013 at 12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Donald head in the caption box is not De Vita imitating Taliaferro, but a Taliaferro's Donald cut and pasted by someone in the editorial staff who probably thought that the caption box was too empty.

May 24, 2013 at 10:08 AM  

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