Monday, July 19, 2010

"Duck in Orbit"

It has been argued that the US market for Disney comics is hampered at least in part by the fact that there are virtually no comics actually produced in the US, and that, for whatever their virtues (which can be considerable), foreign creators don't exactly understand the characters in the same way that Americans do (or COULD, if there were actually a statistically significant number of American creators kicking around these days), and therefore they don't resonate as strongly with US audiences.
There may be something to this, but we really can't complain, given that them goldurn Yurpeans, unlike us, actually WANT to do things with the characters. Fair, I think it is fair to say, is fair. Anyway, sometimes they can bring out interesting new aspects of the duckiverse. I'm not complaining, really, though talented new American artists would be nice (though totally inconceivable, unless the people at Boom! decide to get off their asses--if you want to see how incredibly insular the European market is, just read through this thread.).

Still, sometimes you see something that just makes you say: dude--no. Not acceptable. That's not change we can believe in. Like today's story, "Duck in Orbit," which would be a pretty okay story if not for a problem that will quickly become apparent. The story's drawn by the Vicar the Mad Chilean (sometimes I think that Vicar has actually illustrated every single duck story ever, and all supposed counter-examples are just an elaborate illusion--not that I'm complaining; his work is nothing if not Serviceable) and written by some Dane named Gorm Transgaard, whose work I'm reasonably sure I've read elsewhere but can't even come close to remembering where.

Right, let's do this thing. So here's the set-up:

Nothing much to say about that; a set-up like this could go in any direction. It's the "something else behind it" that turns out to be the problem here.

Now listen: as everyone reading this probably knows, Scrooge has a famous line in the all-time-classic story "Only a Poor Old Man" (published in the first-ever issue of US), regarding the question of how he made his fortune, which is felt to sum up who he is. Say it with me:

Now, what exactly "square" MEANS is an extremely open question. You can find examples in Barks of Scrooge behaving in ways that don't seem too damn square to ME, by any definition. Forget about "Voodoo Hoodoo;" that was before there was any clear notion of what kind of a character he was supposed to be. But is THIS "square," f'rinstance?

Okay, that's an extreme example, and in fairness, Barks' one-page gags are known for often not having much character continuity with his longer stories. But you can see examples of him trying to get the better of his nephews, trying to avoid paying them what he owes them, and stuff like that all the time. That's all been sort of rolled into his character, and we accept it unthinkingly. However, these are small-scale things; furthermore, he's dealing with kin, and we know that, if push comes to shove, he's not gonna leave them in the lurch.

So it's flexible. But if "making it square" means ANYTHING, it bloody well means NOT ENGAGING IN CORPORATE SABOTAGE TO CREATE A BLATANTLY ILLEGAL MONOPOLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF ENTHUSIASTIC PRICE-GOUGING. Come the hell ON. This is just an awful deformation of the character.

Is this actually a consequence of the story being European? It's not a closed case, but I tend to think it is. If you go back to American non-Barks Scrooge tales from the fifties and sixties, you can see him engaging in all sorts of dickery, but the character hadn't really solidified by that point (also, Barks' contemporaries tended to be incredibly hacktastic, but I guess that's beside the point). He has been known to behave fairly reprehensibly in Rosa and Van Horn stories, but again, in those cases it's generally rather limited indignities directed at kin, as opposed to LARGE-SCALE WHITE COLLAR CRIME. Sorry to keep shouting, but geez.

Even if it's not strictly a European thing--I'm certainly open to counter-arguments here--the very least we can say is that it's definitely an example of what happens when someone has a very poor understanding of the character he's meant to be writing. Shouldn't happen at all.

We could see this as more of Scrooge being a jerk, which it is, but more than that, it's just garden-variety bad plotting to get the story's main action going--which may, however, be a sign of the same lack of care that results in Scrooge's mischaracterization. Yeah, the public's easy to distract, but you can't have the circuses without the bread. "Hey, why did my phone bill just double for no reas--Ooh! Pretty lights!" Uh huh (no word on how the 99.99999% of people in the world who miss this brilliant distraction are gonna be pacified).

So Donald over-powers his rocket, and it drags him into space.

The actual "duck in orbit" part of the story is actually pretty darn cool. It's just a shame it couldn't have gotten here in a less idiotic way.

Yeah, if there's one thing scientists hate, it's winning Nobel Prizes and getting dozens of high-profile papers published. It's pretty much what they're known for.

So the rocket crashes into Scrooge's COMPLETELY FUCKING ILLEGAL satellite, and that's that for that scheme.

That's all-right-looking too, though it's probably thanks to the colorists more than anything. All hail "Egmont Office, Scott Rockwell!"

Unfortunately, Transgaard just COULDN'T leave bad enough alone, though, because then we get this remarkably tone-deaf ending:

Yeah, okay, so it's hardly the first time a duck story has ended with Scrooge threatening to inflict violence on Donald. Barks did this plentia times. However, it may well be the first--the first I'VE seen, certainly--in which he threatened him with a club with a nail though it. And, all this, let us not forget, for inadvertently breaking up a plan to VIOLENTLY SHOVE OUT THE COMPETITION AND BLEED THE PEOPLE FOR ALL THEY'RE WORTH. Okay, I'm done shouting now. Inappropriate! Just a bit! This shit just WRECKS what could otherwise have been a decent story. To be fair, it may be that Vicar himself just improvised the weaponry, but that doesn't really make it any better, nor does it disprove the theory about non-Americans and ducks. Again, I want to make it clear that I'm certainly not accusing all furriners of malfeasance. Not "getting" Scrooge to this extent is pretty rare for ANYONE. But there it is.

The bottom line is, regardless of whether it would exactly prevent things like this, I want more American creators. Also, for Boom! to stop letting Van Horn's stories languish, unpublished in their native language. Also, a pony.

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Blogger Chris Barat said...


This is pretty harsh behavior by Scrooge for an Egmont story. I've heard that the Italian version of Scrooge (Paperon di Paperoni) can be a real villain at times, even going so far as to work with The Beagle Boys when the situation warrants it. Perhaps that reflects some strain of cynicism/nihilism among Italian creators that isn't usually present in the folks who write for Egmont. (Could those Italian stories be the duck equivalent of spaghetti westerns, I wonder?)

The ski-jump gag is the exception, rather than the rule, as many of Barks' one-pagers emphasize the theme of thrift, rather than chicanery. Cf. the classic series of "cup of coffee" gags in the diner.


July 19, 2010 at 1:41 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Let’s start from a common point… Carl Barks is the best that will ever be. He made it all up, after all. Don Rosa is awarded second place for taking what Barks did to new and wonderful places.

The rest all falls in somewhere between great and awful.

Americans have done great stories and awful stories. Europeans have done great stories and awful stories.

If we’re lucky we get a good European story with a good American translation to make a good thing better still.

In the piddling amount of dialogues I’ve done, I’ve had the pleasure of getting stories from Lars Jensen, Kari Korhonen… and Gorm Transgaard.

These three, in particular, really do great stuff – and it’s great to begin with, making my job so much easier.

Yes, it’s a shame there are no great American creators up and coming (and I know one who would REALLY wow you, if he had the chance!), but the system seems to work against that nowadays!


July 20, 2010 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...


Good point about Italian vs. Nordic comics. I hadn't considered that.


I hope I haven't implied that I think Americans are by nature "better" than Europeans when it comes to duck comics. I don't believe that at all. The only argument--a very narrow argument, and one I'm not sure I even believe--is that Americans are more likely to make comics that resonate strongly with American audiences, due to the common cultural background and understanding of Barks' work. As far as this story in particular, I just wanted to show how, if you buy that argument, that different understanding could sometimes manifest itself in unfortunate ways. I don't know Transgaard from Adam, and he may well have done some really good work, but I think he screwed up pretty badly here. Whether that has anything to do with his nationality is very much up in the air.

July 21, 2010 at 3:39 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

...and yer killin' me with that cryptic "one who would REALLY wow you if he had the chance." Gimme a hint!

July 21, 2010 at 3:46 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


No, I don’t think that you were implying that American authors were “better”, but it’s an argument I’ve heard expressed many times and in many ways. The three writers I singled out are certainly among the best, when it comes to the original “raw” material. I’ve seen just enough of it to know that.

To your statement that “…Americans are more likely to make comics that resonate strongly with American audiences, due to the common cultural background and understanding of Barks' work”, that’s what Geoffrey Blum first did a quarter century ago by re-dialoguing the “competent but flat” Euro-stories of the ‘70s and ‘80s for publication in the earliest Gladstone comics.

And as folks like Gary Leach, David Gerstein, (and in smaller ways) Chris and I have done in the years since.

Like me, you’ve probably read enough Egmont and Italian stories to determine whether or not the dialogue writer succeeded or failed. I’ve seen plenty of both.

Speaking strictly for myself, the work I’m most proud of in that regard was “Uncle Scrooge Meets the Syntheziod from the Deepest Void” (UNCLE SCROOGE # 370 – October, 2007). Without a lot of internal detail, this was a great story by the original author that was savaged on one side of the pond, and nicked-up on the other. I somehow managed to repair the original editorial damage (Not an easy thing to do when you can’t modify the art!) and place it squarely in the Barks-Universe through dialogue and references that were not part of the original.

That, to me, sounds a lot like what you’re describing – and I’d like to think I did the job well… despite someone on the Internet who whined that Scrooge had a munitions factory! Hey, I was just making the best use of the finished art they gave me!

Finally, I can’t mention names, but if this guy ever gets the chance to do the type of work I know he can, I’ll be sure to alert you!

Thanks for a great Blog!


July 21, 2010 at 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember a Wild West story where he was the villain, actually stealing the federal food transport for Indians in reservations, then reselling them to the natives. It was probably an European (or South American story, as it was fairly recent, and Fethry was in it. My point is that in this example, we Europeans don't think of Native Americans as "real", but we are convinced that they were movie characters very very far away.

Canon Scrooge is a prick, because in my opinion he is somewhat cynical (people try to cheat all the time, he can do various sneaky loopholes). And in his own ethics he is in the right to abuse Donald - after all, his son figure is a slacker, wasting his talents. I'd say that the money Scrooge cuts on Donald's wages are the cost of Donald's education in the ways of finance and being cunning, a lesson he never seems to get.

Protestant work ethic again. In Catholicism, poverty is a virtue. I don't remember any local kid story where a rich man was a positive character. If the hero found riches, it was never hard work but instead a stroke of luck. (of course Transgaard does not sound particularly Catholic, but the rule is fairly general)

Of course, not all European Scrooge stories are like that. Some are downright classic - Scarpa's "The Beans of Babylon" is comparable to the Barksian epics, though it ends in a rather un-American way.

July 27, 2010 at 2:43 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Extremely interesting comment. Thanks for that. I think your third paragraph in particular may well get at an essential difference between American and European conceptions of the character.

July 27, 2010 at 2:58 AM  
Blogger Matthew Pearl said...

Just thinking about "I made it by being tougher than the toughies..." etc. I'd have to go back and look more closely, but if wanting some continuity (which we all want by reflex) I guess you could argue that he's referring to the past--i.e., how he originally *made* his fortune, which Rosa does fill in with a pretty stark ethic (that gets challenged and troubled as the money accumulates), which may be a different ethic than where Scrooge sees himself retaining/protecting/growing his wealth.

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