"The Duckburg 100"
And I said let's all meet up in the year 100, won't it be strange when...okay, never mind. I realize that that is unconnected to the story and makes no sense as a parody of ANYTHING. But for whatever reason, my brain just REFUSES to not play it whenever I hear that title. What can I say?
(Okay, jokes aren't funny when you explain them, but A) that wasn't funny to start with; and B) it's not really even a "joke," so, for the perplexed, i.e.
Well, this is a story from 1961, round about Scarpa's prime, and, well...there's a lot to like about it, and it doesn't even have too many maddening Scarpaisms with notably rare exceptions). And if that sounds ominously circumspect to you...well, read on.
But first, feast yer eyes on the great cover that Marco Rota did for a 2008 Italian reprint:
Really gets you pumped up for the story. Also, we can all be thankful that it was recolored, because here's the original Italian version:
...hate to say this, but it kinda looks like it's soaking in urine. Ours is a big improvement.
Wait...how does Scrooge know this contest involves "thrift?" "Big Duckburg 100 Contest" isn't very descriptive. Oh, right, it says "campaign to encourage saving"...on a completely different building? Across the street? But I guess the banner somehow connects the two buildings, and the other is some sort of annex of the main bank? But the banner doesn't look like it's flush with the main building; it distinctly appears to be at an acute angle from it, so... wah? I dunno; there appears to be some distinctly non-Euclidean geometry going on here.
And that was a lot of harping on that, but seriously, it's pretty weird. Anyway, the main point is that there's this here contest going on.
Um...we'll come back to the details of the contest; for now, let's just note that it involves the bank, which Scrooge happens to own, giving away cash prizes to savvy savers. He has to stop them!
I'll say this for the story: it's a fairly complicated scenario--we have variously interlinking plotlines involving Scrooge himself, Donald, Jubal Pomp, and the Beagle Boys--and Scarpa handles all this surprisingly well, given his general MO. There's a lot less confusion than you'd think--so GO RO!
So...not to open a can of worms, but I'm going to open a can of worms. Because here's the translation part that just baffles me. And I mean, actually baffles. I'm not being rhetorical! So it's one thing to include anachronistic references in a story for laffs. Whether or not you philosophically agree that it's a good thing to do, you can at least understand why someone would. But including them because you want everyone to think the story was written and takes place in 2015? Donald's TV hero was clearly dubbed "Captain Retro" to allow for that bit about cell phones, and I DON'T UNDERSTAND. Is it...really possible that we want to trick people into thinking that this is a contemporary story? "Trick" makes it sound kind of meaner than I'm going for, but I simply don't get A) why this would be desirable; or, B) what other reason there could BE. And, I mean, even it it were, it's not likely to WORK very well. Granted, this story was printed before IDW had taken to including dates of original publication in their comics (a change that I commend in the strongest possible terms), but even so. The only ones who could possibly be fooled would be absolute Disney-comics newbies who, moreover, have absolutely no sense of curiosity, or possibly no internet access. I don't have the numbers, but I think this must be a very small portion of the readership. Whereas to someone like me, it's just jarring because it's so obviously a translation...thing. I mean, just look at that television there!* As hard as you try, pretending that this takes place in the here and now is simply not on. Romano Scarpa was a pretty good cartoonist! And he wrote his best stories in the late fifties and early sixties! What's wrong with acknowledging this?!
*I'm reminded of the Ace Attorney series of videogames, of which I'm a fan. These games are made by Japanese people, set in Japan, and often include very distinctly Japanese elements. But the people responsible for the localizations are absolutely dead-set on these games being set in the United States. This leads to a lot of weird dissonance, as satirized in this comic:
This localization isn't on that level of goofiness, of course. But it suuuure reminds me of it.
Well, regardless of all that, I like Donald in this story. I didn't the first time I read it, but somehow on revisiting it, my opinion changed. He's so goshdarned enthusiastic! And we see by the way he immediately snaps back to reality when shit gets real that he's not really being depicted as a little kid; he's just funnin'. I can relate.
And then we have Jubal Pomp! Like Gilbert in "The Blight Before Christmas," a search reveals that this is the first time I've mentioned Jubal. And for similar reasons, though it's not that he annoys me particularly; it's just that he's never really made much of an impression on me. He's a "wannabe tycoon" with frequent get-rich-quick schemes, if the shorthand that we're given in American comics is to be believed. And there's no reason why it shouldn't be! I just haven't seen enough of him, perhaps, to know what if any nuances there are to his character. He often teams up with Brigitta. That's all I got. Also, he reminds me of Van Horn's Rumpus McFowl. And it's not just the hat! ...okay, it's mostly the hat. But it's easy to picture McFowl in the role that Jubal plays here.
We also get one of Scarpa's less remarked-upon fixations: I HATE MODERN ART. Well, I SAY "modern art" but it would be more accurate to say I HATE ABSTRACT ART, 'cause really, folks, do you honestly imagine that the man had any actual understanding of the theoretical and aesthetic characteristics and concerns of modernism? It's really just GRRR ART DOESN'T LOOK LIKE SOMETHING BAD. Not what you'd call a sophisticated stance. To be fair, it's something you'd also see in Barks, on occasion. And, though I can't immediately call to mind any examples, you've gotta think Van Horn too, given his you-dern-kids-get-off-my-lawn cultural conservatism.
The only thing, plotting-wise, that falls short is this bit: the excuse the disguised Beagle uses to get into Scrooge's office to sneak in the little robot is that he CAN'T give him the statue now, because he's covered in glue and can't get it off him--but there was no way he could've known in advance he'd end up gluey. We could stipulate that the real problem is that McDuck doesn't have the cash on him, but in that case, the whole statue/glue thing becomes superfluous.
I feel bad for Jubal here--after getting blatantly ripped off by the Beagles, he gets screwed over AGAIN and then just disappears from the story. Is there no justice in this fallen world?!?
And I also like that Scrooge gives Donald a cool reward for helping out. That's sweet.
Okay, RIGHT, but now it's necessary to look at the nature of this damn contest, because it makes zero sense and this senselessness infects the entire story. "You have two choices: you can do something super-easy and make an extra hundred dollars...OR! You can do something much harder! And if you choose that option, you can make...an extra hundred dollars!" Boy, that's a tough one, innit? Seriously, this is NOT a puzzler. There is a Correct Answer here, and that answer is "stick the hundred in a desk drawer for now; then tomorrow you can use your two hundred for whatever you want." Anything else isn't even worth thinking about.
There would have been other ways to run this contest in which it made sense! In fact, I daresay most ways would've made sense! But Scarpa unerringly gravitates to the one that makes gibberish out of his otherwise well-constructed plot. It really does seem positively pathological with him sometimes.
And it leads to stuff like this, which is as nonsensical as anything I've ever seen from Scarpa. "I smell a rat?" "Something's fishy?" These are sentiments that simply don't apply to the situation. "Suspicious" indicates that there's some room for doubt; we THINK Scrooge is up to no good, but golly, we just can't be sure--in spite of the fact that he's giving them ridiculous, self-evidently bad advice and not even providing any kind of specious rationale for it. "Bad advice" might be generous, actually. "Invest all your money in a Ponzi scheme!" is bad advice. "Pointlessly lose the contest! No rationale, I just think losing is a good idea!" is...well, I guess the term still applies, but it's so over the edge that no one would ever actually say it in so many words. It makes sense that Scrooge wouldn't be eager to bring up the downside of spending the money right now, but the fact that HDL don't bother to bring it up just makes them look dim, and this whole thing just makes your head hurt with its dumbosity.
That's the long and short of it, innit? This also just makes Donald seem unacceptably stupid. Because yeah, he can make dumb decisions, and he can have poor impulse control, but never like this. If it were just a matter of "you'll just end up owing a hundred to the bank, no matter what," you could justify it: say, okay, he doesn't want to owe money, but he's entirely sure he's never going to have this opportunity again, so damn the torpedoes." But no! This is a situation where HDL could--should say to him "dude: all you have to do is put the money somewhere safe overnight. Then, tomorrow you can in effect get the walkie talkies for free and have another c-note to to buy more Captain Retro crap." But no!
Everyone keeps repeating the parameters of the contest and yet still goes around acting as though they were other than what they actually are. I don't think I've ever seen a story create quite this level of disconnect. It's just such a poorly-thought-out move on Scarpa's part that it distracts from and diminishes the story's considerable virtues. Also, note the way Scrooge talks about "fooling" the Beagles. He knows perfectly well that this "investing" business makes no sense! Why doesn't anyone else? It ain't particularly arcane, foax!
Okay, so what would be the easiest way to fix the story? Well, it depends how much revision you're willing to do. If you change the contest rules so there's no saving option, it's just "invest it or give it back," then the behavior of Donald, the Beagles, and Jubal all instantly makes sense: for Donald, the walkie talkies are a matter of now-or-never, and the others are so filled with hubris that they're sure they can make profitable investments/successfully rob Scrooge. The downside is that then Scrooge dashing around urging them to SPEND SPEND SPEND becomes even more absurd. You could have him urging them to make specific investments that he knows are bad, but again, that would involve quite a lot of revision, and would also likely lengthen the story considerably. Another option that might work better would be to say, okay, one hundred extra if you save it, two hundred if you invest it. That would cover the Beagles and Jubal well enough, but it still leaves Donald with no good motivation.
I dunno--maybe you can think of some way to have this make sense changing only dialogue, but I have a feeling that the cold hard truth is that it would require more work than that. Not to say that it would likely be particularly difficult! The plot is sound in outline! But, as we've seen time and time again, any revision is apparently too much to ask from Scarpa. I'll grant that in some ways, he was a genius. But boy, if only he'd been able to couple that genius with a modicum of discipline--then I can only imagine how good he might've been.
Labels: Romano Scarpa