Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"A Day in a Duck's Life"

I may in the past have expressed indifference about Daan Jippes' Barks re-draws, but I recently read the new version of "A Day in a Duck's Life" (Barks' last DD story, I believe, from 1971) as recently published in Boom's WDC716, and, well...I read it side-by-side with the original, Kay Wright version (as reprinted in WDC632), and I can't deny it: the difference is pretty stunning. The story itself may be one of Barks' weakest efforts, but the new art helps it immensely, making it far more fun to read than it really has any right to be.
Mind you, this doesn't mean that I think that characterizing Jippes' work here as being "in the classic Barks style" is any less nutty. Wright's art isn't very good, but--probably inevitably--it looks more Barks-y than Jippes does. That's not intended as a value judgment; it is merely to say that, since Wright was working in the same time and place as Barks, with the same dominant aesthetics, his work is more Barksian. Badly-executed in its Barksianism, for sure sure, but Barksian nonetheless. Whereas Jippes' art is very distinctive; you're never gonna confuse it with anyone else's, let alone Barks'. But this is really just pointless semantics.

There's little point in going over the story beat by beat, because it doesn't really have much of a plot, rather jumping from one thing to another without any sense of rhythm. A number of Barks' later ten-pagers did this sort of thing, but here it's really taken to an extreme. Basically, Donald is big into muscle cars. He steals the kids' money. He cuts in on their delivery business. He randomly takes time outs to race some rival car guy. And he inadvertently stops a plane hijacking. It's all pretty chaotic.

But let's look at some differences between the two versions. First, it should be noted, Jippes' version increases the original's thirteen pages to fourteen, mainly by expanding some of the panels to double size. So, f'rinstance, this...

...becomes this:

As you can see, not only is the Jippes version more detailed (what with the addition of a stoop, screen door, and trash receptacles), but it's also substantially more dynamic, with an actual sense of motion. Their contraption is honestly pretty lame in the original; it's much cooler in the remake.

Also, check out these panels, from the hijacking bit:

In the first one, the pilot looks sort of harried, but not anything like as terrified as one probably would be under the circumstances; and Donald looks more apathetic than woeful. Jippes draws their faces much more appropriately.

There are also a few unobtrusive Jippesian additions to the story. Blasphemy, you say? That's as may be, but they are unquestionably improvements.

No "we hope" (and no nephews, for that matter) in Wright's version. This adds just a touch of transition and makes the whole thing slightly less jumpy than it is when HDL just disappear as Donald roars off.

More notably, at one point Jippes adds a whole new panel:

As you can see, in the original Donald just sort of teleports from the tree to holding the piggy bank; it's a pretty egregious continuity problem (though one for which Barks himself has to take the blame). The whole sequence of Donald trying to steal the kids' money probably goes on rather too long, but this is also the place where I think the new art helps the story the most: sure, it's ridiculous, but the manic sense of energy that Jippes brings to the affair meant that I was guffawing throughout the whole thing; the same certainly could not have been said for Wright's leaden rendition.

Seriously, what can one possibly say about that last panel in the original version? It's not just that the nephews look, let's say, mentally challenged; it's also that they look more like they're doing some sort of tai chi thing than they are actually running. Also note that--although "A Day in a Duck's Life" would imply some sort of temporal flow--it's still full daylight in the earlier version (though this, to be fair, is probably more a problem with the coloring than anything else). Jippes fixes all this.

What he can't fix, though, is the fact that the story has no moral viewpoint. It's just empty. Donald steals the kids' money as well as their business, but is there comeuppance? Is there even any hint of possible comeuppance? No, there is not. And I don't think that's intentional; I think it's because Barks just forgot about these things. There's no challenge to anything Donald does; he just muddles through the story, remaining pretty much exactly the same the whole way through. I guess you could argue that this is some sort of commentary on something, but I'm pretty sure that Barks just couldn't be bothered--not that you can blame him, given that he was being called back into service after having nominally retired, but the end product speaks for itself. Even his more depressing late ten-pagers have more narrative ambition--more to chew on--than you find here.

Still, I'm grateful to Boom for publishing the new version; Jippes does the most that man could do to rehabilitate it, and comes surprisingly close to succeeding. And as for Barks, we can take comfort in the knowledge that, with "Horsing Around with History," he ended his career on a relative high note.

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Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Several of your questions are answered in the pages of “The (original) Carl Barks Library of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Volume II”. That is the Bruce Hamilton Russ Cochrane ‘80s hardcover volumes.

That set ran Kay Wright’s “A Day in a Duck’s Life” along the top half of several pages, with Barks’ corresponding pencil roughs along the bottom half for comparison.

This text preceded the presentation: “Barks originally submitted “A Day in a Duck’s Life” as a 14 page story. It was shortened to 13 pages by eliminating one panel entirely and reducing the width of seven others. The finished art is probably by Bob Gregory.”

Hmmm… aside from that last artist misidentification (…and I can’t believe they didn’t know Gregory from Wright by that time!) I’d say that sums up much of the differences… beyond DAMNED BETTER ART by Jippes, that is!

Jippes was being more true to Barks than some of us might have believed. What you say he added is ACTUALLY CROSSED OUT in Barks’ roughs. We may never know if Barks or Western did the crossing-out.

To all this, I can add that the “14 to 13 page Donald lead story situation” would be true! The Donald leads from the first issue in 1967 thru 1970 (maybe early ’71) WERE 14 pages – so that they would end neatly as that damned “Gold Key Comics Club” 4 pg centerfold would begin. The CKCC would take six pages, ordinarily used for story content, and use them for more cost-effective and repetitive kids drawing and joke submission features. This was the start of their long and slow decline as a comic publisher.

In 1971 the page configuration changed, as the GKCC finally disappeared and increased advertising took its place. There was also a point in the seventies where Western decided on a 13 page maximum on all new stories. These factors surely compressed Barks’ 14 page story to 13 pages.

One last nit-pick! Why-o-why didn’t Jippes draw the neighbor as Jones? Even back when I saw Kay Wright’s version as a “brand-new comic”, I thought it was Jones – just drawn as best as Wright could.

Joe T.

March 15, 2011 at 8:24 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Ah, I see. Thanks for that. Adding the excised stuff back in is definitely an improvement.

I also wondered why Jones wasn't used as the neighbor--the only thing I could come up with was that the guy isn't as antagonistic as Jones usually is--he looks more helpless than anything else. Then again, that's to a large extent visual; Jippes could have just made him look a little more fierce, and then he would have made more sense as Jones.

March 15, 2011 at 8:32 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Joe beat me to the observation about the excised pages. The Jippes version is better, but there's not a whole lot that can be done with this plot, I'm afraid.


March 16, 2011 at 10:09 AM  

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