"In the Footsteps of Jules Verne"
Ben Verhagen! A Dutch artist who drew a number of stories in the eighties and nineties--and who maybe, possibly, is still active, though certainly not very active. He's never been very prolific, but he's overrepresented in US comics since someone at Gladstone I decided, whoa, getta loada this guy! and started publishing all his stuff they could get their hands on. This month's WDC happens to feature a Verhagen-drawn short, which made me think I should spotlight one of his stories. Not the newly-printed one; it's fine, but it's short and I don't have much to say about it. We could look at "The Last Voyage of Ringtail Van Dukke," often regarded (by me too, probably) as his best story, but, while we may get to that someday, for now, instead, we are going to examine "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne." We have our reasons! It's a long (thirty-nine pages!) story written by Jan Kruse, who seems to have written most things.
Is it obvious what I'm going to complain about here? Seriously, are you thinking "come on, I KNOW what's after the jump, just get it over with?" I am genuinely curious about whether other people notice the same thing I do about Verhagen's art, so let me know in comments if it is.
So...right. Cards on the table: for all that Verhagen's work does have it's virtues, there's just
Okay, COME ON NOW, BEN, WHAT'S THE DEAL? This is incredibly weird-looking and distracting and you constantly do it. In fairness, it should be noticed that at a certain point someone seems to have pointed it out to him, and in his later stories the problem is basically fixed (and it's a good thing; otherwise I can't imagine "Ringtail Von Dukke" would be remembered so fondly). But fair or not, it's the first thing I associate with his work.
If you can get past the way he frequently makes his characters look like flatworms, there's actually a certain amount to recommend in this story. It's easy to see why Gladstone decided to publish it. The above, for instance: this idea of Donald pitting his hypothetical boat against Gladstone's actual one is both funny and very Barksian. It harkens back to the oldest conception of the character, whose main trait was being loudmouthed rather than especially lucky. Though, inevitably, the luck will play heavily into this story.
Okay, so granted, the whole Eighty-Days structure isn't too creative or original, but that doesn't mean you can't do something interesting within it! I do like Daisy's limited appearances in this story. Not takin' a whole lotta guff.
That...doesn't sound like much of a journey. Seriously, a round-the-world trip has a grand total of two destinations (India-analogue and China-analogue)? In addition to being not terrible epic, how does that even work? How do you completely avoid both Europe AND Africa (you can skip one, but not both), as well as the entire American landmass? Even if you make the VERY generous assumption that duck-geography as conceived in this story isn't supposed to exactly correspond to real-world geography--Howduystan is like India, but not India exactly--this still seems untenable. It's made quite clear that this is definitely supposed to be a circumnavigation of the globe (though the "eighty days" thing is forgotten about immediately), but to me, it looks more like it consists of this:
If you want to believe that, in the face of all logic, it has to go all the way around the world, it would have to look like THIS:
While there is of course a certain suspension of disbelief in just about any story, this one reeeeeally pushes up against the limits of what one can accept, if it doesn't break through them entirely. To me, it just comes across as kinda poorly thought-out and lazy.
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE again, nice flashback! Once again, quite Barksian.
I'm not going to go through the whole journey, though; to be honest, it's not that interesting, and that's where the story breaks down. Donald and HDL travel around and Gladstone travels separately and blah.
Also, the narrative leans entirely too heavily on Gladstone's luck (which is irritatingly telegraphed in bits like the above). People need to not do that, I feel. Barks was able to get away with it on occasion because A) he was Barks, and B) the character was new enough that it wasn't such a predictable cliché. Here, it's just WELCOME TO YAWNSVILLE, POPULATION: YOU.
HERE SHE COMES IN HER PALANQUIN ON THE BACK OF AN ELEPHANT ON A BED MADE OF LINEN AND SEQUINS AND SILK ALL ASTRIDE ON HER FATHER'S LINE WITH THE KING AND HIS CONCUBINES WITH HER NURSE AND HER PITCHERS OF LIQUORS AND MILK
Yeah, that's a pretty great image, and it gives us some of the orientalist local color that the story desperately needs more of if it's to work on its own terms.
...are those statues meant to be tanukis? That's a pretty cool detail, although, let's face it, this is China-analogue, and although you do find raccoon dogs in China, they're far more associated with Japan. Just saying.
It's a fairly clever ending, though. Interesting that Gladstone's luck apparently wasn't familiar with the contest's rules.
...why does he not have a thing? When he was borrowing money at the beginning, he was totally cool with the interest, noting that he'd "just take out a mortgage on Gladstone's boat." The boat may be wrecked, but at the very least he should still get Gladstone's car. Seems unfair to me for Scrooge to just be able to do this drive-by all-your-money-are-belong-to-us.
Also, as much as I like when things go Donald's way, it's hard to see what he's done in this story that should let him sit so pretty in Daisy's esteem. He just sorta bumbled along as usual; there wasn't any kind of moral component to the trip.
While I suppose I'll agree that "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne" was good enough to localize (and the script by Dwight Decker is quite good), it doesn't really live up to the potential coolness of its title. I think it's a good example of the principle that Gladstone was often less interested in printing the best stories than it was the ones that were most reminiscent--in terms of art and/or plot--of Barks. And maybe they weren't wrong to do this; you've gotta maintain your audience, and bombarding them with weirdly unfamiliar material may not help, even if my personal preference would be for something more daring. Still, I have to end by pointing out that, though not without its flaws, "The Treasure of Saturnin Farandoul" is significantly superior, both as a story and as a Jules Verne tribute. It's actually only four pages longer than this, but it crams in WAY more variety and incident.