"Donald and the Treasure of Saturnin Farandoul"
Shortly after I finished my English version of Marco Polo, I determined that my next project would be this story. I even went so far as to scan it and delete the French text--ie, the mindless, tedious parts. But then for some reason I just stalled out, and the thing lay fallow for some eight months, until a couple three weeks ago, when I finally roused myself. If there's one thing I hate, it's leaving things unfinished. And now…well, here we are.
Is this a good story? Well…yeah, I think it's good, though I will freely grant that there may be a certain amount of Stockholm Syndrome contained in that judgment. It's surely not without its problems, along with some standard Italian eccentricities, but I like the way it whipsaws crazily from one thing to another, never giving you any idea what's coming next. It's based on a French novel by Albert Robida, The Very Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnin Farandoul (1879), which is itself a Jules Verne parody/pastiche. I haven't read it (though now I kind of want to), but it's supposed to be pretty wild, and I think in that regard the comic is probably a pretty good representation of it.
Here is the fruit of my labor. Please download and read it. I'm proud of all my localizations, no question, but this one, I don't know--maybe it's just that I've used an actual comic-book font this time, and thus the whole thing looks more or less professional (if, as always, overstuffed on occasion), but I'm super-happy with it. Also, it would be better to read it before checking out my commentary, below, which spoils various of its twists and turns.
First: the infamous (or would-be-infamous, if this story were well-known) whaling background thing. Of course, it's wildly far from anything that anyone would consider canon, and it seems incredibly jarring to contemporary sensibilities, but you can't really blame Martina; opposition to whaling amongst civilized people wasn't really a thing until the sixties.
What you can do, however, is ask: just how ancient did he think Scrooge was supposed to be? This story was published in 1959, and there's no indication that we're meant to imagine it being set anywhen but the present-day. So give the story wildly more benefit-of-the-doubt than it deserves and assume that Scrooge is meant to have somehow become a whaling tycoon at the tender age of fifteen; that would still make him 119 in the present.
I'm certainly not going to go over every story beat here, but especially in the Mysterious Island section (The Mysterious Island being Verne's quasi-sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea--but you knew that), there's a really nice sense of atmosphere. Sure, there's goofy stuff with apes, but I think somebody--De Vita, I suppose--deserves credit here.
And the whole Nautilus business? That's just awesome. You assume that the whole story's going to go on in this vein, and then you're kind of disappointed when it doesn't.
("Merit Badges in Submarine Discovery"--I kill me.)
I could've excised the earlier reference to whaling (although I wouldn't have; such bizarre little details are half the fun in stories like this), but for the fact that it comes up again. Bah. Anyone get references to New Zealand folk songs?
Now here's the thing: I mostly like De Vita's art here. But this story's biggest weak spot, by a wide margin, is inconsistent character reactions from panel to panel, and I can't quite figure whether De Vita or Martina should get more of the blame. So in the above, first Scrooge is all enraged--which seems perfectly plausible--and then he immediately collapses into this feeble gloominess that doesn't at all seem to work with the character or to be a logical thing for his anger to dissolve into. Too bad.
Donald getting pissed off like that is kind of the same problem I mentioned above. And no, that thing with the guidebook doesn't make a great deal of sense. The French version has the kids saying "the page is missing," which just seems odder. One option would be to just stipulate that the book they have isn't in fact the Woodchucks Guidebook, but…I'm not down with that. Hey, what can I say: some editor decided that kangaroos weren't that important. I suppose he'll probably get reprimanded and lose some merit badges.
For me, the Australian segment is the weakest part of the story. The other parts are disparate, but they all feel kind of appropriately old-time-y and Jules-Verne-ish (boy, dig that critical vocabulary). Whereas the Australian stuff just seems kind of generic, in spite of my efforts to add Local Color. Those are the sorts of headlines you see in Australian newspapers, right? I'm pretty sure that's accurate.
The ducks are "rescued" by Beagles, some of whom are more or less normal-looking, and some of whom GAAAAAH. Hard to know what else to say.
I'd like to use this opportunity to say this: I think just about everyone who cares enough about Disney comics to bother having strong opinions about them agrees that problematic racial presentations in old stories should not be whitewashed. If you're arguing against that position, you're more or less attacking a strawman. But the thing is, there are certain persons--some of whom may post on certain popular Disney fora--for whom you get the impression that it's not just that they don't think this stuff should be censored; rather, they think it's tragic that you can't still get away with stuff of this sort. That it was in some sense a positive good. The invocation of the "political correctness" shibboleth is often present. To which I say: no. Yeah, stuff like this should be preserved, and yeah it's interesting for historical and sociological reasons, but at the same time, it's bullshit, and we're well rid of it (to the extent that we are) in the twenty-first century. Dammit.
After all that yelling, how about relaxing? Maybe with a drop of the hard stuff? Now, there's that one Jippes/Milton ten-pager in which Donald imagines HDL getting smashed, and of course there's "Bubbleweight Champ," in which Donald is depicted for all intents and purposes as an alcoholic. Still, as best I can remember, this is the first story I've read in which the ducks get genuinely, no-doubt-about-it drunk (though I'm sure there must be other vintage Italian stories out there where it happens). I don't really have a bigger point than that. It's just an interesting little oddity. The discrepancy between the sort of things you could get away with at Mondadori versus what you could at Western is notable.
I had to stick a "Scrooge's Second Childhood" reference in there. Just had to. I really enjoy the idea that, in spite of the wildly-different sensibilities of Disney comics created in different times and places, they're all taking place in the same world.
The Paparaguayan sequence is easily the story's most bizarre. Yes, a descendent of Phileas Fogg, of Around the World in Eighty Days fame, is the antagonist here.
And yes, they engage in this insanely baroque duel that involves playing chicken with trains.
And yes, when Donald and Scrooge win (or think they won) they are declared supreme commanders of the country's military.
Now, all this is completely nuts, but for once, I think that's mostly not Martina's fault. I may not have read the original Saturnin Farandoul, but I have read the introduction to the English translation, which you can do on amazon, and this seems to be more or less from the original text. Yes, Fogg is a villain, and yes, he and Farandoul become enemy generals in a civil war (which I think is actually meant to be a rekindled US Civil War--I believe the switch to South America is Martina's innovation, although, as always, I Could Be Wrong). Do they do this batty train-dueling thing? That, I do not know.
At any rate, I'm not complaining. Is not the bizarreness part of what I like about so many Italian stories?
Now, one thing I very much appreciate is the way, on a number of occasions, like
various of the ducks express indignation at the idea of killing or otherwise badly injuring enemies. That injects a good humanitarian note that is sometimes lacking in Martina. However, it has to be said, these instances do not, for me, quite balance out this:
I know the joke, such as it is, is that both sides are totally clueless about what actually happened (because HDL changed the tracks at the last moment), but really, now, hilarious gleefulness about having (you think) completely annihilated your opponents? Hmm.
I think it's a really cool, triumphant ending, though part of that may well be due to a bit of a "yes! I've FINISHED TRANSLATING this mother!" feeling on my part. In the French, Scrooge gives Donald one gold piece for his work. Tiny as it is, that percentage might seem overly generous, but hell, Donald and the kids got made out like relative bandits with a small percentage in "The Loony Lunar Gold Rush," so hey--Barksian precedent.
So that's about it. Hardly a perfect story, but seriously, you look at something like this, and then you look at what everyone not named Barks was doing at Western in the fifties and sixties, and in terms of ambition and sophistication, there's just no comparison. I hope that you have enjoyed this story. Hard to say exactly when, given my schedule, but I have two more really good stories in the translation pipeline for the near future, and after that, who knows?