Monday, February 7, 2011

"From Egg to Duck"

UPDATE, 02/17/14: Forget the below script; I made an unofficial English version of the story, which you can download here.  Read a bit about it here.

And now, a Duck Comics Revue exclusive: an in-depth look at what must--if only by process of elimination--be the most famous duck story never to be released in English, anywhere, Marco Rota's memoir (of sorts) of Donald, first published in 1984 to celebrate the character's fiftieth birthday. Told you I'd have something interesting for you. I'm quite excited about it. It took a hell of a lot of work, and it's going to be by far the longest entry I've ever written. So kick back, relax, and enjoy.

First question: is it actually entitled "From Egg to Duck?" That's what everyone calls it, but the original Italian publication gives as the name the more generic "Happy Birthday, Donald," as does the French translation that I read. Opinion seems to be very divided on this matter: According to inducks, the story has been published in twelve languages, and a few minutes with google translate reveals that only five of these use the "Egg to Duck" version, the rest using "Happy Birthday" or some close variation thereof (side note: google translate can handle Estonian. I was impressed). Curiouser and curiouser! Whatever the case, however, we will stick with "Egg," as it sounds much more distinctive.

One day, I was thinking to myself: self, thought I, at a certain point, you have to face some cold, hard truths. One of these truths is that there are duck stories you want to read that--for reasons of length, obscurity, content, or what have you--are never, ever going to be published in the US. You gonna just sit there and whine, or are you gonna do something about it?

Properly chastened, I decided to put my more-or-less passable French reading ability to the test. No, French would not be your first choice of languages if you were studying exclusively with an eye towards reading Disney comics--or your second or third, for that matter (can you name a prominent French Disney artist? I sure can't. Does such a person exist?); however, the market is still a lot more robust than it is here, and you can find all kinds of neat stuff on surprisingly cheaply (just make sure the seller specifies that it's willing to ship overseas).

Naturally, this story was the first thing that occurred to me, so I snagged a copy of this, which commemorates Donald's seventieth birthday with various anniversary-type stories, along with, for no very well-justified reason, Rosa's "Eye for Detail." Also, as you can see, there's a sweet interview with "Eric & Ramzy." I can feel your white-hot jealousy. I was happy to discover that reading the stories in French presents few difficulties; I occasionally have recourse to my trusty pocket dictionary, but mostly it's smooth sailing.

Okay, enough self-indulgent babbling. Let's get to the story. I'll include translations of the panels (which I personally scanned, I'll have you know) in Italics. I briefly considered editing the English dialogue into the panels, until I remembered that I suck at editing images and it would have taken fucking forever.

Journalist: Incredible! I've never seen such an evocative cityscape! In Duckburg, reality truly surpasses fiction!

The story begins with this rather attractive cityscape. There's a framing sequence in which a "foreign journalist" (Rota himself?) is doing photoessays on the world's great cities; naturally, Duckburg (which, it transpires, is called "Donaldville" in French--real clever, guys) was first on the list (obviously, there's a metafictional element to this story). In an interesting move, the framing segments are presented entirely from the journalist's point of view--we never see anything of him but his hand.

Journalist: I'm doing a photojournalism series on the world's great cities! Naturally, I couldn't miss out on a thriving metropolis like this one!
Journalist: In fact, I decided to start the series here, because I think that Duckburg is, if not the biggest...
Journalist: ...then at least the most celebrated city in the world!
Donald: If you say so...
Journalist: It's not just my opinion! Everyone knows it's true!
Donald: But...why?
Journalist: You're asking me?
Donald: I don't understand!
Journalist: Because this is where you live! You, your nephews, your uncle, and your cousins!
Donald: How did you know that my family lives in Duckburg?

The journalist babbles about how awesome the duck family is for a while, and after a few misunderstandings (Donald is very concerned by the notion that people all over the world know about his credit history), Donald agrees to submit to an interview (I can't say that the nephews, standing there staring blankly, contribute much to the proceedings). Then, the story-proper begins, although as you'll see, it's not really a coherent "story" so much as it is a series of very loosely-connected episodes.

Journalist: First of all, when were you born?
Donald: June 9, 1934! I've been told that it happened more or less like this…
It was nighttime, and the wind was howling furiously. All of a sudden, a strong gust broke the branch where my nest was sitting…

And so it begins. Now, you may raise objections to the above. Objections such as: ducks don't nest in trees. And even if you don't give a shit about ornithological correctness, you have to admit that the idea of anthropomorphic ducks doing so is just too unbelievably weird to even think about. I recognize and share your concerns--I'm not sure how well thought-out this origin story was. You may also object that it's a bit of a letdown that Donald is made an orphan, and thus we don't get to meet his parents. I think that was a rather more defensible decision, however; if he has parents, you get bogged down in thorny questions that--as Don Rosa found out--you are not allowed to address.

Donald: Wak!

His first word, if indeed "wak" is a word and not just a sort of grunt. Anyway, he wanders out into the road:

Donald: Blinded by the headlights, I could only hear the hum of the engine! Then…
Donald: The car's occupants got out! It was Uncle Scrooge and Grandma!
Scrooge:That was a close call!
Grandma: He's adorable!
Grandma: Poor little guy! He's trembling! He must be terrified!
Scrooge: What should we do with him?

Yeah, Grandma and Scrooge, and this is probably a good part of the reason that the story's never been published in the US: as you probably know if you know anything about it, the two of them are represented as siblings here (it's a natural assumption, really). I don't think it was "officially" established until the Life & Times that she is in fact his sister's mother-in-law. Still, a brief introductory note could have provided context, and that probably would've done the trick. We're not scared rabbits! We can handle conflicting stories!

Grandma: If you don't want to be his father, you can be his uncle!
Scrooge: Fine! I'll be his uncle! And you...
Scrooge: You'll be his grandma! Ha ha!
Grandma: Fine! You think the idea of being a grandmother would put me off?

We also get this rather awkward explanation for why the two of them are called "Uncle" and "Grandma." You might think that if you found a kid just sitting there in the road, even if you were super-keen to adopt, you would have to make at least some effort to ascertain what happened to his parents; call Child Protective Services or something. Just taking the kid without consulting anyone might well be termed "child abduction." But here, it's all good in the neighborhood!

Grandma: So what should we call him, then?
Scrooge: So many choices! “Insatiable Hunger!” “Bottomless Stomach!”
Grandma: No, about “Feathery?” “Downy?”
Scrooge: Donut! If he keeps eating like this, he'll become donut-round!
Grandma: That's it! You've given me a great idea! We'll call him Donald!
Scrooge: I just want him to stop eating so much.
Grandma: Donald! What a pretty name!

Was Sweater-Vest Scrooge Rosa's inspiration for the physical appearance of Scrooge's father? Could be!

Here's the origin of the name (yes, "Feathery" is a veiled Fethry reference, just for David, although it's not much of a leap to make). I suppose if you have to have such an origin story, this is as good a way as any to handle it. And at least "donut"-->"Donald" translates easily. There's also a bit about how he acquires his sailor suit, but if I try to cover absolutely everything, this will never end. It's not that fascinating, anyway; Grandma just makes it out of an old set of clothes. Scrooge laughs at the spectacle; Young Donald hits him in the face with an egg. Anyway, his entire childhood is summed up in a brief montage sequence:

Donald: In fact, my character very quickly revealed itself! I was enterprising, curious…
Young Donald: Wak x 4.

I like this bit a lot, actually; the childhood exuberance really shines through. As we'll see later on, the portrayal of Adult Donald is (in my opinion) somewhat problematic.

Finally, Donald, having grown up (you'd think his adolescence might be worthy of exploration, but apparently not), travels to Duckburg. Then there's a sequence that, I have to admit, kind of baffles me. Either there's something idiomatic that I'm losing in translation, or we're just witnessing an incredibly whimsical sense of humor. Donald accidentally gets onto a bus, and then...well, see for yourself:

Donald: Get off...
Man: Right, at the next metro station?
Donald: What's a metro station?

Man: It's where people who don't know where they're going find themselves!
Donald: What do they do there?
Man: They get off! Ha ha ha!
Donald: Oog! I wanna get off the bus!
Man: You can, now that you've gotten on!
Man: After all, how would you be able to get off without having gotten on first?
Donald: Grrr...enough! I want to get out of here!
Voice: Who's shouting?

This random stranger's gnomic pronouncements are very strange indeed. One can certainly see how they would be confusing to American audiences. As we've seen with Scarpa, however, those Italians can be kinda weird. Then again, maybe it's meant, not to be a strictly accurate portrayal of what's going on, but rather Donald's perception of the confusing, big-city hurly-burly?

In any case, he gets a job selling newspapers, which gives way to other employment:


Donald: One day, tired of working as my uncle's reading stand, I started looking for a new job...
Donald: I worked as a mechanic...
Donald: Glazier...
Donald: Mason...
Donald: Plumber...
Donald: Carpenter...

As we've seen in innumerable Barks ten-pagers, this is an accurate representation of Donald's employment status. He eventually goes to Scrooge for a coin-shining job. It's kind of dispiriting--at one point he explains "I was regularly refusing my uncle's offers of work, tempting though they were! I wanted to prove to him that I could improve myself without his help!" Does he proves this? Can he improve himself without Scrooge's help? NO.

I'm going to skip over the next part, where he meets HDL, because it's pretty much exactly the same as it is in the old Taliaferro comic strips: Della leaves him the kids, and they stay forever (Della is now his cousin rather than his sister, though how exactly she is related to him--especially given his orphan status--remains a mystery). I would like to note, however, that HDL are named Riri, Fifi, and Loulou in French, which I find highly amusing.

Next up: Daisy. He runs into her (literally; they collide) while chasing HDL.


Daisy: Malefactor! Brute! Reprobate!
Daisy: That you would commit such an outrage against the flower of young womanhood!
Daisy: though I were the sort of girl who...blah blah blah...
Donald: From that day onward, she would talk to me...
Donald: ...she kept talking...
Daisy: You must understand, my dear...blah blah blah...
Donald: ...and talking...
Daisy: ...after all, she was simply ignoring the fact that...blah blah blah...
Donald: ...and talking...
Daisy: ...I know that...blah blah blah...
Donald: ...and talking...
Daisy: ...a magnificent dress...blah blah blah...
Donald (box): ...and talking...
Donald: Snore...zzzzz...

Daisy: Blah blah blah...

Oh, those women--they just never shut up, do they?* This is not a highlight of the story; Donald and Daisy's relationship has always run according to reductive gender stereotypes to a certain extent, but this just really takes that to an extreme, and in so doing gives neither character the respect they deserve. Unfortunate.

*Not true, according to science.

Fortunately, we quickly move onward, to Donald's work in World War II cartoons. Ooh, more metafiction!

Donald: During the war, in Hollywood, I was asked to appear in several successful propaganda films!
Donald: The ladies were drawn to my uniform!
Donald: I felt important! I was as famous as a star of the silver screen!
Donald: It was an incredible experience!

I must note that, if we are really to take June 9, 1934 (the day "The Wise Little Hen" debuted) as his birthday, he would have been an eight-year-old when he appeared in the likes of "Der Fuehrer's Face." We don't actually get to see any of his acting work, alas.

Donald: I took off in the fighter plane!
Man: Look! Donald's taking the plane!

We DO get Enormous-Mouth Guy, however--seriously, what's the deal with that guy? Anyway, Donald crashes the plane and that's the end of that.

Donald (box): I climbed the highest summits of the greatest mountain ranges...
Donald: Just a little more! We're almost there!
Donald (box): I wandered the barren, trackless desert wastes...
Donald: In the future, no more guided tours for me!
Donald (box): In the infinite skies, I put out my hand and touched the face of God...

Donald: HEEEEELP!!!
Donald: In a tiny, fragile craft, I defied Poseidon's rage as I conquered the oceans of the world...
Voice #1: Where's Donald?
Voice #2: He's been hiding in the hold for the past hour!

Finally (aside from the present-day ending segment), we get what has to be the most entertaining part of the story, a montage of Donald's adventuresome exploits. It uses the tried-and-true technique of juxtaposing his assessment of his awesomeness with the less exalted reality. It's an old trick, but it produces amusing results; however, this also points to what I would consider the story's biggest flaw: aside perhaps from his childhood antics, the story is entirely unflattering to Donald. There is absolutely no effort made to illustrate his occasional heroism or nobility. It's really just an endless parade of buffoonery. Stories presenting the character entirely in this light can still be worthwhile, but shouldn't we expect a little more from a story meant to commemorate his gold jubilee?

Donald (box): I unmasked sinister spieses in their dangerous disguises!
Madame Triple-X: Stop bothering me when I'm in the shower!
Donald: You don't understand! Chiliburgerian agents could be anywhere!
Donald (box): I courageously performed feats of daring in front of immense crowds...
Donald: HEEEEELP!!!

Hey, look! It's a "Dangerous Disguise" reference! Yes, my translation plays up the connection rather more than the original, but I'm pretty sure it's intentional--the only overt Barks reference in the story.

Finally, we get a tonally off conclusion in which Scrooge shows up on the roof to berate Donald for being late to work, and the latter gets angry at his uncle for bossing him around in front of strangers and inflicts some quite appalling elderly-abuse on him.

Donald: The richest duck in the world depends on these two glass lenses! Without them, he's blind as a bat!
Donald: There! That oughta shut you up!
Donald: And here are your glasses!
Donald: Next time there are strangers around, you're going to treat me

Then again, Scrooge is pretty consistently dickish in the story. I dunno--it just seems to end the whole thing on a somewhat sour note.

Journalist: For all the hours of joy that you've given to us all, both great and small, all over the world, I say to you, with all my heart, Happy Birthday, Donald Duck!
Scrooge: I'll get you!


So what's the final assessment? Well, I was certainly thrilled to have the chance to read a story that I'd heard alluded to on many occasions but knew next to nothing about. It was an unusual sort of reading experience but an extremely interesting one, and I think that anyone really interested in duck-lore--that's anyone reading this, most likely--would agree. It's sufficiently flawed that I can see why it was never localized (really, Scrooge's and Grandma's relationship is the least of it), not that that's stopped plenty of other stories from getting the treatment.

Did I say "never localized?" I meant "never localized until now!" Bam! I've written an English script for the entire story (which I will probably tweak obsessively into the future, so don't expect it to remain one hundred percent unchanged), which will presumably be "compatible" with any version in any language you can scrounge up. Note that (like the above panels) it's not a wholly literal translation; I took liberties where it seemed appropriate, and I added a few Barks references and other literary allusions here and there to give it that extra je ne sais quoi. I don't think you'll find them overly intrusive.

I could easily distribute scans of the entire story, but I'm sort of torn--are people going to get on my ass about piracy (of a story that's very unlikely to ever receive a US publication)? Certain persons on the Disney Comics Forum have a tendency to do that. Let me know what you think.



Blogger Francoisw said...

>can you name a prominent French Disney artist? I sure
>can't. Does such a person exist?

For your information, yes. Claude Marin for art and Michel Motti for writing (look in Inducks for more details).

February 8, 2011 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks. I stand corrected. I see that these guys are unknown in the US, but at some point I'll try importing some of their stuff--should make an interesting entry.

February 8, 2011 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Susan D-L said...

I have some oldish (late 80s early 90s) Picsous that I pull out every so often to help improve my wretched French. They are chock-full of Barks and Rosa stories I can compare to their english-language originals when I get stuck. I love those things. (I love Marco Rota, too.)

February 8, 2011 at 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second page gets a lot more meta when you know that in French Duckburg is actually called 'Donaldville'.

February 9, 2011 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Yes, and Ludwig Von Drake is "Donald Dingue," and Grandma is "Grand-mère Donald."

One gets the idea that "Donald" is an all-purpose first name/surname, making Donald himself into the generic type and the city the home of variations on that type—it seems "Donald" takes the place of "Duck."

Similarly, Mouseton is "Mickeyville," though I'm really glad Goofy, Horace, and Minnie didn't end up with "Mickey" in their names.

February 9, 2011 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

Forum, schmorum. Post a scanlation!

February 9, 2011 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Nice job, presenting this “lost classic”. A friend of mine, who’s no longer with us – so I won’t mention his name, gave me a copy of the German edition in the mid-eighties, and did a translation from the German, so that I might read it. …Oh, yeah… There are problems galore with this one – plenty more since the coming of Don Rosa, who made sense of so much disparate Duck lore. Still, it’s BEAUTIFULLY drawn, and deserves to be seen for that alone.

To your comments:
“One day, I was thinking to myself: self, thought I, at a certain point, you have to face some cold, hard truths. One of these truths is that there are duck stories you want to read that--for reasons of length, obscurity, content, or what have you--are never, ever going to be published in the US.”

Just imagine the frustration of being a US Duckfan in 1980, as I was! I think we’ve done quite well since then.

“And so it begins. Now, you may raise objections to the above. Objections such as: ducks don't nest in trees. And even if you don't give a shit about ornithological correctness, you have to admit that the idea of anthropomorphic ducks doing so is just too unbelievably weird to even think about.”

That, I believe, more than anything else is why American publishers shied away from this one.

“We DO get Enormous-Mouth Guy, however--seriously, what's the deal with that guy?”

Just LOOK at him! He’s the father of Quagmire on FAMILY GUY!

February 9, 2011 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yes! Quagmire! THAT'S who that guy reminds me of!

February 9, 2011 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I have this story in German, but I appreciate your posting some of it in French. It nicely points up the pros and cons of Rota: his artwork is simply gorgeous, but his manner of constructing a plot... not so much. Since Rota's a better artist than Scarpa, the disparity between his writing and his drawing seems all the more irritating. I do respect his willingness to tackle such a daunting assignment, however.


February 9, 2011 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Glad people liked this.

Rota is really maddeningly inconsistent, but he gets a lot of leeway from me for "The Money Ocean," which is easily my favorite European story. If he could maintain that level of quality consistently, he'd be unstoppable.

February 10, 2011 at 3:55 AM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

Totally off-topic but after reading David's comments I thought that there was no way to easily know a character's earliest appearances in a specific country so I made one general purpose page for that:

February 10, 2011 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


"The Money Ocean" is definitely my favorite Rota story, in terms of all the elements "working."


February 10, 2011 at 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Ryan Wynns said...

I readily embraced the "meta"-ness of "The Duck Man". But from this overview of "From Egg to Duck", my kneejerk reaction is that I really, really DISLIKE this story!

Donald hatched from an egg in a nest in a tree? Scrooge and Grandma, apparently VERY close siblings, took in Donald as an orphaned duckling? If you're going to write of Donald and Daisy's first encounter, could you do it any lazier than "I happened to walk into her on the street one day, and from then on, she was just always there"? Is it too much to ask that the beginning of their relationship have some dynamics to it and not be so arbitrary? In "The Duck Man", there was a certain logic to the idea that Barks was a reporter, and so his stories were heightened accounts of the "reality" of the ducks' lives. Here, Donald's adventures are delegitmized...why, exactly?

The logic here actually reminds me of when I was a child and, scrawling in a notebook, wrote fantasy-adventure stories starring myself and a neighborhood friend. At one point, I decided that we needed an "origin story". The result went like this: a haunted house was transported into an empty lot down the street. The family that came with it seemed very "spooky". At the end of the story, a mad scientist's "ray" turned the family of "ghosts" into the (very human, quite alive) family of my friend. The title was "How We Began". I guess the assumption that we were children who lived down the street from each and had become friends just didn't cut it!

Yes, like Joe said, the art's still quite good. (Ironically, I like the page excerpting the various adventures -- the jalopy on the cliff edge, the ocean liner, etc. -- in particular, despite the premise.) Ah, yes, "The Money Ocean" -- for a long time, I wished to see more of Rota's stories along its lines. But it's gradually sunk in that there really might not be any.


February 11, 2011 at 7:08 AM  
Anonymous Ryan Wynns said...

But, of course, thank you for the translation and the painstaking, tedious effort it must have been to format this post! I don't regret the opportunity to be confounded by the story! :)


February 11, 2011 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Hey, it's cool! It's impossible to really argue with any of your objections. I think I was a bit more indulgent than you just because I was excited to be reading a "lost" story like this and because I found it really historically interesting, but it's undeniably flawed in a lot of ways.

"The Money Ocean" isn't Rota's only good story, though; the first thing I read of his was "The Golden Throne Legend;" this was at a time when I was still fairly narrow-minded about my duck comics, so I was surprised that I ended up thinking it was quite good. "Night of the Saracen" is also a winner, though as I recall there are still plot problems (better go back and reread it). And his "Andold" stories are generally goofy fun.

February 11, 2011 at 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Ryan Wynns said...


I understand; I know how it is with those elusive "holy grails" of duck comics!

Ah, looks like "Golden Throne" and "Saracen" were published in the U.S. during one of my "not reading comics" phases -- I'll have to check them out...thanks for the tips!


February 15, 2011 at 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Throgils said...

I read this in danish a few years ago under the title "Donald Duck: My Life in an Eggshell". Had no idea that it wasn't translated to english. It's a really cute story, even if granny and scrooge aren't siblings in the Carl Barks canon. I can't say I really give a damn about inconsistencies like that in duckstories, especially not when it comes to italian stories.
Thanks for the good work translating. I would've have done it myself if I knew there was a need for it.

December 24, 2012 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Now, as I promised on the Cupanship page, here's a translation that exactly matches the Italian structures and sentences. Tell me what you think of it.

July 1, 2015 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger TheKKM said...

Sorry to comment on such an old article, but your commentary about "French Disney artists" reminds me- you WILL have, this year, comics you should look forward to in French! Glenat is doing a series of Disney Graphic Novels.

January 31, 2016 at 6:46 AM  

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