Friday, May 3, 2019

"Night of the Living Text"


I read this story when the English version was first published, and, well, I liked it. A lot, in fact. I'd go so far as to say that, after "The World to Come" and "Quandomai Island" (those sentimental favorites), it might actually be my favorite Casty story (I also like the much-feted "World of Tudor," but I find it's just a little too hard to fully suspend my disbelief). So there you go, but obviously, I didn't write anything about it. And...I haven't written anything about any Casty story, I see. Well, there's definitely a reason for that.

I remember when I was working on my PhD dissertation, I noticed something. It consisted of four chapters, the first two of which were about modern writers from the early part of the twentieth-century, and the latter two of which were about more contemporary writers, who were and are still alive. And what I noticed was that, for the former two, it was much easier for me to talk about themes or ideas that their books might embody, regardless of their intention. Whereas it was hard for me not to think about the latter two as being more...aware, let's say, of what they were doing, and thus perhaps less fertile ground for analysis. And I think this is really just a matter of them being more recent and therefore more difficult for me to historicize or put in their proper perspective.

And thus it is also for comics. I know I've written about a fair few contemporary stories here, but the balance of my entries is pretty heavily weighted towards classic material, and I think it's exactly for that reason. I just don't find I have as much to say about the average Rosa story, somehow (which in some instances hasn't stopped me, of course).

Anyway. That being my long-winded way of saying that I'm not entirely sure how much of interest I'll find to say about this one. But I shall give it my best!


So the idea is that narration boxes turn evil.

And...I guess that's that! We are done here! See ya next time, folks!

...

Okay, obviously not, but it does point to a problem with writing about a story like this: it very much is a gimmick. That's not a pejorative; it's a great gimmick, but, I mean, what can you say about it once you've pointed it out? This is the question that we must answer.


Really, I can't complain: it's right up my alley; I know I've written before, probably too many times, about postmodernism and metatextuality and stuff in these comics, but this is just begging for it: this whole jumble of comics and tropes and whatnot all coming together in this big ol' jumble.


And, you know, it's true that the gimmick is easily described, but it's certainly executed with panache.


No, really, the way captions go from being expository to diegetic within a few panels is just DARNED. COOL.


I also like her; not that the character is really much of a character, but Casty's art I think especially nails it, and makes her more entertaining to read than you might think.


Also, I like dopey jokes. So there you go. But my question is: what do we do when this text makes us trip?


...that's not my department, says Gerner von Dipp.

Had to get that out. I must admit, I do find the "in the comics, there's always..." stuff a little bit grating. I mean, granted, given the premise, it's thematically appropriate, but STILL. Yeah, yeah...


I'll admit, even, that the boxes can become a little ominous, a bit like a China Mieville sort of thing, though the story doesn't go too far with that. I don't suppose you could in a Disney comic.

But really: the idea of this text, not signifying anything, only existing for effect, constantly calling attention to its textuality: is this a Gilbert Sorrentino novel, or what?


You'd better do what you can with the concept here and now, because unless you come up with a truly substantial, novel idea, you're not going to be able to have a do-over. So this is fun. I want to know what the Italian version had here.


I've made fun of the Italian tendency towards gigantic recap boxes before, so this made me laugh out loud.


And it's visually cool; I just somehow wish there was more to it than just this one visual joke. There it is, that's all. No follow-through. I do feel, somehow, that there are places where more probably could have been done with the concept. But then again...maybe not? Maybe it's inherently pretty limited? Difficult to say.


Yes! I immediately identified that "summertime" box as coming from the beginning of the localization of "The Delta Dimension." I would enjoy more of that kind of thing. I must admit, that "Folkestone Coast" reference (I assume it's a reference) is lost on me, however.


Anyway, we are coming to the denouement, which at least features Pete looking goofy. Or is that Goofy looking...? Oh, forget it.


Although, to tell the truth, even if I like the visuals, I still find this conclusion somewhat lame. Does that make caption boxes go haywire? Does it really? I am not so sure about this. I do not think there is any rule that would make this seem like something that comes from somewhere as opposed to something that Casty whipped out because he needed to end this somehow.


Well all right then. Surely the final "The End" box had to have some role here, so that's all right. And I do like the fact that it isn't quite the end.


Aaaaaall a dream! The most exciting ending! Especially when you pair that with "...or IS it?!?"


Yes. Well. I'm surely being unfair here. It is what it is, and what it is is fine. But the real question remains: you already have ice cream cones. Why do you need to go to the "soda shoppe" as well? Crikey! I feel like people have trouble coming up with fun things for Mickey to do, so they just revert to this archaic nineteen-fifties stuff. Oh well! That's neither here nor there. Really, I feel like I've spent entirely too much time carping about this story, which is really quite good regardless of my ability to pick nits.

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read this story but from what I can tell it's a clever and creative idea. Love the way it plays with form.


~ Pan (who has a momentary problem loging for some wacky reason)

May 3, 2019 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

So glad to see “Night of the Living Text” reviewed here! It is clearly Casty’s love-letter-to-the-genre and, in my translation and dialoguing (…which for some reason is never even touched upon in the review?), I went all out in service to his premise!

I would like to point out that this is my most favorite of any Disney comic book story I have had the great privilege of working with… and it actually falls in my Top Five Micky Mouse comic stories of all time!

If anyone cares…
1: Island in the Sky (Floyd Gottfredson).
2: Mickey Mouse Outwits The Phantom Blot (Floyd Gottfredson).
3: The Return of the Phantom Blot (Paul Murry)
4: Night of the Living Text (Casty).
5: A Phantom Blot Bedtime Story (Nordling and DeStefano).

As I tend to be rather Blot-Centric, it must be quite the story to rate so highly with me – sans Blot!

The Cheerleader and the Professor were perfect genre stock characters, complimented by PETE (oddly) providing the unsuccessful stock-military-solution. I couldn’t resist calling him “Sgt. Rockhead”, in tribute to the famous DC Comics war-genre character! Tropes were what this story was ALL ABOUT!

Of course, Casty was “AWARE” of what he was doing… as is ANYONE who entered the field of comic books after the 1960s! It’s ALL built on what came before! Casty is just a little more “honest” about it – and definitely has a great deal of FUN with it!

About all those “dopey jokes” you enjoyed, you can thank me for most of those – created to complement Casty’s wonderful concept. I shudder to think how that story might read, if published at IDW today!

As for the caption that refers back to “Plan Dine from Outer Space”, it referred back to an earlier story in TOPOLINO – so, in this case, I literally duplicated Casty’s gag to refer to a recent story that I’ll assume most IDW readers had read! The fact that said story was ALSO a great Casty genre parody was merely a plus!

The “Giant Recap Box” was the most fun to fill! Did you notice that it’s TONE is not neutral, but is from the POV of the rebelling captions?

Also, the first paragraph was my homage to the opening narrations heard in the first two seasons of LOST IN SPACE, which began with something like “Last time, as you recall, we left Will, Penny, and Doctor Smith peacefully bird-watching… unaware that, within moments, a strange alien presence would, etc., etc.”

“Does that make caption boxes go haywire? Does it really? I am not so sure about this.”

If captions exist to EXPLAIN THINGS… then can they continue to exist in the face of the unexplainable? It’s as simple as that! Kinda like all those all-powerful computers that Captain Kirk destroyed by applying some good old illogic! …Love letter to the genre, remember?

“Yes! I immediately identified that "summertime" box as coming from the beginning of the localization of "The Delta Dimension." I would enjoy more of that kind of thing. I must admit, that "Folkestone Coast" reference (I assume it's a reference) is lost on me, however.”

That may have been from an Andold Wildduck story. As I recall, David was responsible for that?

And, after all that, wouldn’t you want to wash down your ice-cream with some soda! It’s a Disney comic, after all… they can’t exactly go to “Cheers”!

Great, if nit-picky, review! Looking forward to more.

May 3, 2019 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Quite a great story indeed, and I loved the Giant Part Two Explanatory Box as well (I'd already read your review of The Phantom Blot's Secret Double, so it immediately made me think of your "ENJOY MORE GIGANTIC REAMS OF TEXT!" at the time).

I was sort of disappointed by the "all a dream" ending, even though it does fit in with the general genre-homage. Also annoying was that no concrete origin was given for the evil-caption-boxes; there genre homage is no excuse, for no self-respecting 1960's yarn would have introduced weird monsters like that and not given a preposterous, dashed-off technobabble explanation of where they came from.

May 3, 2019 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

While this is a fun and energetic story, I don't know if I'd put it on a list of my all-time favorite Mickey Mouse stories. It is one of my favorite surreal stories, and it was rather appropriately paired with an equally hallucinogenic William Van Horn story about Donald and Gyro's virtual reality device in IDW's printing, as well as being in the same hardcover book as a story where Mickey and his friends (and Walt Disney!) meet Salvador Dali! There's quite a triple threat of surrealistic Disney comics right there!
This idea would also have worked as an Animaniacs story, or something with Daffy Duck, although neither would have thought it out the way the more thoughtful Mickey Mouse did.
On another topic you mentioned, with Don Rosa, oftentimes you don't even have to analyze his works, as he has the tendency to explain them to death in the Don Rosa Library volumes, unless it was a short gag story, in which case he usually has very little to say.

May 3, 2019 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Debbie Anne said...

My above comment is not meant as a slam against Rosa, but serves to illustrate a problem with analyzing the works of living authors, especially those who are their own biggest critics like Rosa is.

May 3, 2019 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Mesterius said...

I enjoyed the review but, I must admit, I had hoped for it to be longer. One thing I'm surprised you didn't mention is the great use of Pete, a specialty of Casty which he has clearly borrowed from Scarpa's early stories (which, again, were heavily incfluenced by Gottfredson). Casty taps into Pete's dual potential as comedic foil and threatening villain as pretty much no one has since Scarpa's golden age, I think. In this story he and his relationship with Mickey is clearly played for laughs, of course. I especially love his "Well, he AIN'T exactly my FRIEND, prof!" remark in the climax when Mickey can't think of anything absurd to do like the others.

May 3, 2019 at 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

My favorite thing about this story (which I quite enjoyed) is the fact that the giant recap caption box recaps Part One of the story from the POV of the caption boxes. As of course it should, being a caption box itself! Joe, was that POV Casty's bright idea or your own?

May 3, 2019 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Achille writes:

“Also annoying was that no concrete origin was given for the evil-caption-boxes; there genre homage is no excuse, for no self-respecting 1960's yarn would have introduced weird monsters like that and not given a preposterous, dashed-off technobabble explanation of where they came from.”

Think back to the original 1968 “Night of the Living Dead”, from which our story derives its title… not merely one of my favorite GENRE films of all time… but one of my favorite films of all time – PERIOD!

For what it’s worth, “Casablanca” is still the greatest film ever made… but “Night of the Living Dead” is WAAAY up there in my book! …Probably explains a lot of things – including why I was chosen to translate and dialogue it! But (as they say), I digress!

No concrete reason was ever given for the rise of the “Flesh-Eating Ghouls”! Oh, sure there was speculation via the brief television reports the film gave us glimpses of (one of which included “Night of the Living Dead’s” filmmaker George Romero) But, for something that spawned many sequels and homages, and “moved the needle” on our zombie-loving culture, there was NO indisputable origin to be found – at least in the original film.

And that’s exactly what I did here! Professor Gerner Von Dipp offers much speculation on the captions possibly being “lettered with radioactive ink”, or alternatively “rocketed to Earth when the distant planet ‘Kap-tion’ exploded”, thereby further parodying TWO of the THREE most famous origins in comics (Spider-Man and Superman)!

If there were a way to have the captions traumatized by seeing their parents murdered in a botched robbery – and coming to “dark and brooding life” as a result, I could have worked Batman’s origin in there as well.

But, I’m pleased (not to mentioned thoroughly tickled) to have gotten as much as we did. Again, imagine how blandly this would be handled today!

Elaine writes:

“My favorite thing about this story (which I quite enjoyed) is the fact that the giant recap caption box recaps Part One of the story from the POV of the caption boxes. As of course it should, being a caption box itself! Joe, was that POV Casty's bright idea or your own?”

Never give a “Ham-Writer” (or whatever the literary equivalent of “Ham-Actor” would be… Have I just coined a phrase?) a huge open caption to fill, unless you want a result like this!

I LOVE CAPTIONS! Another commonality you might notice in stories that I’ve worked on is that “my captions” don’t just merely say “Later…”, or “And so…”. I try to work them into the fabric of the story, to whatever extent the available space – and my editors – will allow!

So, yes… That was all mine! The original just sort of recapped the events so far… actually trailing off into “ bla bla…” at times over the extensive narrative! Yes, really!

Now, maybe that’s why some people love my work, and others don’t, but I’m NEVER gonna give you a BIG CAPTION LIKE THAT and not do something special with it!

In this case I (…all together now) worked it into the fabric of the story by having it assume the POV of the rebelling captions! The additional LOST IN SPACE homage at the beginning, was merely a genre-bonus! I feel that giving it the POV nicely compliments Casty’s visual of the smaller “Title Caption” actually weaponizing the HUGE caption – by causing it to come crashing down on Pete’s fleeing soldiers!

I’m really glad to see that so many of you like this story! Casty really outdid himself with this – lovingly invoking as many genre stereotypes and tropes as possible, and rendering them masterfully! Me? As a Casty and genre fan, I just did what I could to best support Casty’s superlative efforts! I hope I succeeded.

May 3, 2019 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger The Mayan Alien said...

Ah, I recall reading this one in the library... strangely, I felt right at home as I bent down among the book-chomping toddler terrors and leafed through the DISNEY COMICS SECTION. Yes, my library has a collection of DISNEY COMICS. Sadly, it only stretches back to Boom's run, but it's surprisingly in-depth... anyway! Night of the Living Text was a captive read (ha), with an admittedly novel concept (haha). However, I found the final act to be something of a let-down... oh, well.
good endings are a rare gem in disney comics after all

May 3, 2019 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Having read the story in its original form (well, in the straight French translation, at least), I think Joe's being somewhat unfair to the "bla bla" gag with the Giant Caption Box, even if I can see why he'd decide to replace it with something more showy. After all, the central joke, and a very aware one at that, is that no one ever actually reads the giant recap boxes all the way through, so they might as well just be "bla bla bla" for all anyone cares. Replacing the "bla bla" with text that, due, to its unusual POV, is actually an enticing read, cannot help but shift the nature of the joke significantly.

At any rate, much as you stand by your oath as blogwriter, I stand by mine as Wikimaster. Here's the page!

https://scrooge-mcduck.fandom.com/wiki/Night_of_the_Living_Text!

And did you know this story has a one-panel, humorous epilogue by Silvia Ziche? It's fun but insubstantial stuff, but the most salient fact is that after some consideration, I gave it the unofficial English title of Dawn of the Text. All in favor?

May 4, 2019 at 6:24 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Achille:

To be perfectly honest, I never “got” – or even noticed – the joke that “…no one ever actually reads the giant recap boxes all the way through, so they might as well just be "bla bla bla" for all anyone cares.”

Perhaps it’s because it came across a bit too subtle in the translation… or perhaps it’s because *I* read every caption with interest (…because, when they aren’t trying to take over the world, they ARE imparting important information on the story they serve), but I confess that I sincerely did not see that as the joke you describe!

The only thought that DID occur to me is that, because the captions were rebelling, they were purposefully NOT fulfilling their ordained function, and the “bla bla…” was just another aspect of that rebellion by choosing to give us an incomplete recap!

Regarding that as “my own interpretation” – not to mention one that wouldn’t come across as “funny”, or even “interesting”, on the printed page – I chose to have the big caption act more as a manifesto for their… er, “caption-y cause”!

Even if I was fully aware of the joke, as you describe it, I don’t think I could have pulled it off without sounding too flat! I think it worked out fine, but am grateful for the additional perspective!

And, for the ease of Geo’s readers, here are the links you mention above!

Night of the Living Text

Silvia Ziche’s Dawn of the Text

Achille does a REALLY great job with this Wiki, and everyone should visit it! When you do, you’ll find yourself taking link after link – going deeper and deeper – into entry after entry! Yes, it’s THAT GOOD!

May 6, 2019 at 2:48 AM  

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