Saturday, February 20, 2010


Fair warning: this entry is only incidentally about "Close-Ups." It's really just an excuse for me to maunder on at great length about William Van Horn. Sorry!

A lot of people speak Van Horn's name in the same breath as Barks and Rosa, which is something that baffled me a little--I would read his stories in the issues of Gemstone's comics (the ones with which I started building a collection of contemporary duckbooks) that I was accumulating, and I had trouble discerning anything all that special about his work. He mostly does Barksish ten-pagers, and they always struck me as kind of aimless--the art was fine, and the dialogue was sporadically amusing (I suppose I should give him credit for the first and to date only use of the word "chiaroscuro" I've seen in a Disney comic), but I would generally be left shrugging--so? Why should I care? Also, he would occasionally make truly horrendous stabs at social relevance--including plot twists involving reality shows and the like--that kind of made me want to die. It's a pretty safe bet that any Van Horn comic that spells out the fact that it's not taking place in an indeterminate fifties era is not going to be felicitous. Behold, the single most embarrassing story in the history of duck comics:

Would I be accused of excessive political correctness if I asserted that there's something just a tad problematic about dismissing a majority-black artform as so much undifferentiated noise with no agency? I'm no huge hip-hop fan, but come on. Please note that I am not accusing Van Horn of being a racist here. There is ample evidence in his work that he is an equal-opportunity reactionary in that regard, and that he hates all kinds of Devil Music. It's just that, without that context, it's hard to know what sort of conclusion you would expect anyone to draw from that panel.

Even if that doesn't bother you, though, surely the distinct "you dern kids get off my lawn!" vibe does.

Also, for no justifiable reason, he created an original character named "Rumpus McFowl" who is meant to be Scrooge's half-brother. I know that by taking umbrage at this I am giving up any pretense at being anything other than a complete fanboy dork, but SCROOGE DOES NOT HAVE A HALF-BROTHER, GODDAMMIT. And it's further specified--in the story in which Rumpus is introduced--that he is meant to be Scrooge's only sibling. Never mind the off-handed murder of Hortense and Matilda that this entails--please explain to me, in this case, just how the hell Donald and HDL are supposed to be Scrooge's nephews, unless Rumpus is supposed to be Donald's father, which he isn't. GRRR.

At this point, there's a lot of burying going on, which is a shame, because I really, no-kidding came to praise. My first inkling that I might have misjudged the man a bit came when I got my hands on Gemstone's first issue of WDC&S, which includes a noir pastiche by Van Horn, "Hard-Boiled Duck," which is extremely clever and funny. There's nothing else to say about it. It's shockingly good. Then I started picking up some of the old Gladstone (to avoid confusion among the uninitiated, I should specify Gladstone the publisher, not the character) books. Many of them contain Van Horn stories, and I realized, huh. By and large, these are actually pretty…good. They're not super-ambitious, but what had previously struck me as "aimless" now seemed more "charmingly low-key." I still didn't love all of his work--his Scrooge stories generally seem substantially weaker than his Donald-oriented efforts, and whenever he starts introducing wacky monsters and the like, I start losing interest. But at his best, he really does capture something of the Barksian spirit while adding something of his own. I still think there's a noticeable drop-off in quality in a lot of his later stories, but I nonetheless appreciate them a lot more than I used to.

(As a sidenote, he must also be given props for providing the art for Carl Barks' last-ever story, "Horsing Around with History," in 1994--quite a good story, too. A bit unfocused, but that fits well with Van Horn's style, and art and writing mesh quite well. A pedant might object to me calling it Barks' last story, pointing at 2000's "Somewhere in Nowhere," but come on--Barks may have provided some small creative input, but the editorial material in the US printing makes it quite clear that this was very limited, although it's easy to understand why Gemstone would have had you think otherwise.)

Van Horn still does stories, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace, but they've mostly been stranded in Europe of late, with no English-language publication (the same situation a lot of Don Rosa's stories found themselves in during the period between Gladstone's end and Gemstone's beginning). What with Rosa's retirement, these are pretty much the only new stories I'm interested in--the only connection left to the Barksian spirit. There's Marco Rota too whom I like, but the European perspective is naturally different, the quality of his work is even more variable than Van Horn's, and in any case, we were never getting more than a small fraction of his output anyway. However, please don't imagine that I wouldn't be pleased as punch to see more Rota localized. Please! I want it all! Sigh…and some new accessories would be nice. How we slipped into quoting from Zelda just then, I'll never know.

Hooray! you think. Now that Boom! has the license, we'll get the ones we've been missing! Well…sort of. Maybe. Except that Boom! is monomaniacally focusing on these lame fucking superhero/secret agent stories. Look, guys, if you want to do some of that, okay, but come on--nobody would care about your dumb fanfiction versions of the characters if not for the originals. And how do you expect anyone to continue the tradition if you refuse to give them a venue in which to hone their work? Dammit. MORE VAN HORN AND ROTA, please.

But in any case! In what is a small step in the right direction, there IS a new Van Horn story in the back of WDC700! Woo! How little Boom! actually cares about this can be gauged by the fact that their description page doesn't even mention its presence--Willy, we hardly knew ye. But, whateryagonnado?

Anyway, there it is, and there's something about seeing new Van Horn in a new book that really resonates with me--I was a bit late to the party for new Rosa stories, so this is really the first time I've gotten to have the experience of seeing duck stories by a favorite artist published for the first time EVER! This is especially sweet given that for so long there was such doubt that they'd ever see the light of day. The only feeling better than this would be Rosa's triumphant return. So…I think this is about as good as it gets. The point I'm trying to make is, this set of circumstances mean that I was always going to be a lot more charitable towards "Close-Ups" than I would have otherwise.

There's no doubt that the story is a big, fat joke--the first metatextual duck story I've ever read, unless I'm forgetting something big. The premise is simple enough: all the regular characters plus Rumpus (confession: I don't actually dislike Rumpus, even if his place in the canon is highly dubious) are taking a little walk in the woods. Then, a concern is raised:

You can pretty much see where this is going from here--the rest of the story consists of the characters musing on this question of watchedness--only there's a gimmick, which I can only really demonstrate by reproducing an entire page:

That's right--true to the story's title, the conversation is depicted entirely in a series of close-ups--six pages' worth. And the characters start becoming self-aware:

It's hard to know how to react to this--what does it mean for a comic character to be aware of the camera angle (as it were)? Well, it certainly makes the reader more aware, too--Donald's absolutely right: this kind of framing is claustrophobic as fuck. Makes you appreciate the level of skill needed to competently lay out a comic story, possibly.

So there you go. I will go on record as saying that it's permissible to use commenting on laziness as an excuse to engage in laziness. Once. No more will be tolerated! Is this also a comment on creative entropy on the part of the author? Again: could be. We'd probably want to see more of his recent work to judge (hint, hint). At any rate:

That actually seems like a bit much to me--spelling it out strikes me as excessive, and it's not a pleasant feeling to see Donald confronting such a revelation. Maybe that's the measure of how much we like the character. You would actually get the impression from this that maybe Van Horn was planning on hanging it up for good--that he was exploding the universe and getting out. As you would expect, however, there's no need to worry--it's aaaaall a dream!

Suddenly being released from the endless close-ups does feel liberating. And the dialogue's kinda witty into the bargain!

I won't claim that "Close-Ups" is a major work, but I approve of the effort to test the limits of the form. Disney comicsdom as a whole can feel a bit airless at times, so it's nice to see the effort, even if it doesn't yield epiphanic results. Now, Boom!: more, please. Let's make a deal: you give me more Van Horn (some Rota would be nice too, but I realize that that would be pushing my luck); I don't say anything about your Disney superheroes. Deal? Great. Glad we could work something out.



Blogger heyraymond said...

I hold ZERO hope for BOOM as a Disney publisher. They tried to "self-publish" their books in the early nineties, so as to "modernize" their books. It didn't work then, it won't work now. RIP GEMSTONE/GLADSTONE.

August 7, 2010 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I believe you are being unduly hard on those early-nineties comics. Yeah, they did some based on their afternoon cartoons which may be of limited interest, but their regular duck comics featured basically the same mix of stories that Gladstone did. Certainly, they were nothing whatsoever like Boom!'s efforts, over which I would take them in a heartbeat.

August 7, 2010 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I don't know if you have read enough Van Horn in America to take the full measure of it (it is easier in France where Picsou Magazine shows a lot of his work), but he definitely loves playing with dreams and multiple levels of reality. I recall a story where there's first a depiction of a nightmare about gruel,of which Donald is the protagonist, then we see Scrooge awaking, he says it was a dream, he is then attacked by a gruel-like monster, Rumpus awakes, transofrs into gruel, and eventually Scrooge awakes. The real one. And that's the story… You should check on Inducks.

May 27, 2015 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I know the story you mean; it's a bizarre one all right. I've actually read most Van Horn; before Gemstone went belly-up, all of his stuff was published in the US. The only things I haven't are most of the stuff he's written since then--though from what I have read, in French, it's pretty minor stuff.

May 28, 2015 at 2:46 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Like tears in rain...

July 8, 2016 at 2:31 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

LOL! You are clearly reading my comment: Why don't you give an honest attempt to answer my questions? I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't genuinely curious...

July 8, 2016 at 2:38 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Seriously, dude, how fucking childish ARE you? It should be obvious by this point that I'm not going to let your posts stand, so what are you trying to accomplish? If you want to write pompous posts about how black art forms suck and saying otherwise is insidious political correctness, there are *any number* of places on the internet that you can do that with your fellow Trump supporters. My blog, however, is not such a place. Sheesh.

July 8, 2016 at 2:39 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Jazz is considered to be a black art form and I think lots of it is actually quite good. Same with some disco and Blues... Your own prejudices are showing... I really don't care if you post my comments or not, my goal is to get people (you) to think, and that is not even remotely childish...

Trump is a pompous ass...

July 8, 2016 at 2:46 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

It is not racist to dislike an art form or genre just because it associated with a race. I know black people who do not like rap at all, and make fun of it. Are they also racist?

Here is what racism is: Racism is the belief that certain characteristics are unique to a race of people and labeling them as inferior (or superior) based on those characteristics.

July 8, 2016 at 3:01 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

You were the one who brought up Van Horn being racist because of his comments about Rap and Hip Hop... That is why I initally posted what I did, it had nothing to do with you having a different opinion, and everything to do with the fact that you had to bring the whole "is he racist" bull shit into your review.

July 8, 2016 at 3:12 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I need to learn how to phrase things better, here is a better way to word what I wrote earlier: "Just because an art form is associated with a race does not make someone racist if they dislike that art form."

July 8, 2016 at 4:11 AM  
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