Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Donald Duck, Special Correspondent"

Hey, folks, I apologize if you were expecting an Easter-themed entry today, but I'm way too excited about this story to write about anything else right now. As you know, probably, this is Federico Pedrocchi's follow-up to "The Secret of Mars" (direct follow-up--it began the week after "Mars" ended). And look, I may still sort of prefer "Secret of Mars," but that's largely for sentimental reasons--"Special Correspondent" is a fucking fascinating story, and quite obviously much more textually rich than its predecessor. My regret at Pedrocchi's untimely death increases by the moment. I'm still hoping against hope that Boom may not really be down for the count, but if they are, at least we finally got to see this story published--it was originally meant to be printed in Gemstone's third Disney Treasures volume, until Gemstone went belly-up; then in Boom's second DD hardcover, until all hardcovers were canceled; so it's been a long haul, but finally it's here. Huzzah!

I have to tell you, I am thrilled--probably to an unreasonable extent--that this story explicitly picks up right where "Mars" left off. In better circumstances, it's easy to imagine that Pedrocchi could have become the Italian Gottfredson, only with ducks. Or perhaps it would be better to say, the Italian Taliaferro, only with more talent and narrative ambition. Either way…man.

So yeah, he runs into Peter Pig here, from "The Wise Little Hen," in which Donald also made his debut. Peter is pretty much the least-used "classic" character ever: per inducks, Pedrocchi used him a few more times after this, and then he appeared in one story in the nineties and three in the oughts and that is it. There's not really much to say about him, really--he seems to basically be here so Donald has someone to interact with, and he never develops a very distinct personality, though David certainly does his best with the characterization. I just think there probably wasn't that much to be done.

This story, of course--as well as Pedrocchi's other efforts--was, of course, written in Fascist Italy, which definitely adds a certain frisson to the proceedings. If you wanted, I suppose, you could do a political reading of "Mars," but it would be a bit of a stretch; here--in a story that deals specifically with a war--it's just inevitable.

So you can see Donald's mission here, but what's the deal with these countries? Who are they, and why are they fighting? Is there a clear "good guy" in this fight? These questions will be, if not exactly answered, then certainly obliquely commented upon. I don't know to what extent Pedrocchi was trying to make a coherent statement about war and geopolitics in general, but there's a lot here that speaks to those subjects.

Then they meet this fellow. From his hat and trench coat, you can tell he's a bad guy. Notice how, in addition to being nicknamed "the Cat," he is, in fact, an anthropomorphic cat.

...pretty quickly, he steals their papers and betrays them to these here Sylvanians. Damn his eyes!

This is as good a place as any to note that David does a typically fine job with the dialogue, and there's one thing that I especially appreciate: there are a fair few cultural references and allusions, but here's the thing: almost none of them are anachronistic--they could all actually have been used in a comic released in 1938.

I say "almost" because the nitpicker in me just cannot rest, dammit. Look: obviously, the construction here didn't originate in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but let's be honest: that's what everyone's going to think of when they see "a funny thing happened on the way to the border." This, obviously, is not remotely a big deal, but I won't lie to you: I did find it a little bit jarring. Maybe there's an earlier reference point here that I'm completely missing, in which case--mea culpa! But I still question the usage.

Moving on to much more bizarre matters: Donald and Peter are captured, and there's this incredibly strange sequence in which they try to explain what happened but don't have any luck, because they keep referring to Caterwaul as "the cat," and their interrogators all think they're either lying or insane, because they refuse to accept the notion of anthropomorphic cats. in spite of the fact that they are all anthropomorphic animals, and that the guy that turned the two of them in in the first place is, in fact, an anthropomorphic cat. Disney has dealt with the odd tension between regular-animals and people-animals since, I suppose, it was determined that Mickey should have a dog for a pet and another one for a friend, but never in quite so surreal a fashion as Pedrocchi does here. It this isn't an absurdist critique of oppressive totalitarian power structures, I don't know what it is.

As overused as the word is, I would even go so far as to call it "Kafkaesque."

Yeah, and this is the kind of pop culture reference that I like and really appreciate.

Anyway, they're going to be executed by firing squad, but their editor takes a hands-on approach and gets them out so they can continue their mission.

Doesn't work so well, though--I really just wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the above explosion. Bazam! Also: another good cultural reference!

The newspaper here just hints at broader geopolitical strife, what with the paper being an "emergency extra" and General Sweet being--potentially--"Europe's New Hope." But of course, that's not actually the general, and our heroes have to go back out into the thick of things.

Thus endeth part the first. I was miffed about the story being broken in two and all, but given that it was published in weekly segments in the first place, it's hard to be too upset, ultimately. I mean, now that the whole thing's been printed, especially.

Never fear: they escape, would you believe?! But I've got to do a little more nitpicking here: time-wise, "Someday my prints will come" is pretty much perfect; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had just came out the year prior to this story. But…it's still just such a nonsensical thing for him to say here. Doesn't quite work for me, I'm afraid! But never mind that; as you can see, Donald is accidentally pegged as the general! Oh em gee!

Stuff happens, Caterwaul tries to screw over Donald by sending him--under the pretense that he is indeed the general--into the enemy's clutches, and Peter finally actually does something. Wham!

…but Peter saves Caterwaul, 'cause that's just the kind of person he is. I guess. Honestly, I would not at all mind seeing another story or so with the character, in which his personality would be fleshed out a bit more.

Donald comes up with the brilliant idea of sabotaging the Sargassians by pretending to be the actual General, so they'll get over-confident and attack. Note here Donald's "it is nobler to lose with honor." That's exactly the mentality that helped to make World War I such a horrific nightmare--generals using their troops as playthings, even when there was no goddamn strategic reason for it, as if it were some kind of fucking game. Thus: the old man would not so, but slew his son/and half the seed of Europe, one by one. Donald is quite effectively playing on the fact that General Sour here embodies precisely this mentality.

And if there were any question that anyone was actually fighting for anything coherent here--well, certainly Donald hasn't a clue what the fuck the war is about, and neither, it's probably fair to assume, does anyone else involved.

So Donald and Peter (who had sneaked over to join up with him) capture the General here to facilitate the war's end, and we get the above totally sweet action-y bit. Keep in mind, though, it's completely arbitrary that they're working with the Sylvanians: remember, these are the same people who were going to put them to death because who ever heard of a talking cat? No advocacy of military glory here, for sure. The whole story is actually pretty reasonably subversive, especially for the climate in which it was written.

So that's about it! Unlike at the end of "Mars," Donald actually ends up significantly richer this time! Wahoo!

So major plaudits to Boom for publishing it and to David for the swell translation (seriously, man, this is great--my nitpicking above should not be taken as any more than that).

But now we have a pretty significant problem, which is: holy crap do I ever want to read Pedrocchi's other stories. According to inducks, the man did eight stories after "Mars" and this one; the two Seven Dwarfs stories would be a pretty tough sell, no doubt, but all the others? GIVE GIVE GIVE. Okay, okay, I shouldn't get too greedy--I am cognizant of the difficulties involved with getting such old, comparatively obscure works ready for publication. But if they're anything like as good as this one, then they would be well worth the effort.



Blogger Christopher said...

Are you familiar with Hergé's Tintin comics? I ask because the scene in this Donald comic where a character falls out of a plane and is later scooped up and rescued in a loop-the-loop is strikingly reminiscent of a scene in Hergé's "The Black Island" ( where the characters Thomson and Thompson have a very similar– in some ways, almost identical– adventure. And the thing is, both of these came out in 1938. I wonder if this is coincidental, or if one influenced the other...

April 25, 2011 at 1:10 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I HAVE read a fair few Tintin books, but not recently. Chris also made a Tintin comparison in his review of DD364. I don't know what the publication history of Tintin was like in Italy, but I think the chances are extremely good that you are onto something there.

April 25, 2011 at 1:22 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Christopher and Geo,

I haven't reviewed this story yet, but the parallels with a TINTIN story are obvious, ESPECIALLY since Donald and Peter are newspaper reporters and Tintin was, as well. In addition to THE BLACK ISLAND, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT has a number of similarities to KING OTTOKAR'S SCEPTER.


April 25, 2011 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

Thanks for this interesting blog post.

Having read all of Pedrocchi's stories but one, I can say the late Pedrocchi stories are actually better I would say than his earlier stories. The art by the talented Enrico Pinochi is OK, especially his Goofy and Clarabelle. Pedrocchi's art doesn't seem as expressive as Pinochi's.

April 25, 2011 at 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Surely the Fictional Middle-European Countries At War-trope must be older than Tintin? "Prisoner of Zenda" (1894), anyone?

April 25, 2011 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I don't think anyone was trying to claim otherwise, but that doesn't mean Tintin can't be a clear antecedent to "Special Correspondent."

April 25, 2011 at 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

The Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" (1933) had Freedonia and Sylvania. Was "Sylvania" already present in the Italian original or is this a touch of translator David Gerstein?

April 25, 2011 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

In the Italian original, Sylvania was "Selvania." Similar, but not necessarily an homage—"selva" means forest, so "Woodlandia" might also be an accurate translation.
As translator, I went with "Sylvania" because it was reminiscent of a real place (Transylvania).

Another of my additions was the business of headlines saying "Europe's new hope" and suchlike; no such geographical location was mentioned in the original. But—since Donald and Peter drove to the battlefront from *home*, I felt it important to clarify that we were definitely in Europe (...and so is Duckburg, for the purposes of this early European-created story; the very buildings in Pedrocchi's Duckburg resemble early 20th century Italy).

April 25, 2011 at 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Thanks for your answer, David! Italian "selva" derives from Latin "sylva" ("forest"), so your translation is very accurate. Transylvania is actually "the land that can be reached through ("trans") a forest" ("sylva").

(I realize you might know this already.)

April 26, 2011 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Francoisw said...

In I Disney Italiani, it is noted that the buildings in Pedrocchi's stories are a clear reference to Milan.

April 26, 2011 at 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a bit off topic, but since you reviewed "Wailing Whalers", I feel obligated to mention that Moby Duck gets a one panel cameo in BOOM Comic's "Darkwing Duck #11"

April 28, 2011 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Interesting! I may read the Darkwing comics at some point, but that'll definitely not be 'til after I've watched the show for my other blog--which is a good way down the road.

April 28, 2011 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Oops! Never got back to you about possibly the most important thing here (not): that's right, "King Monkey Doodle."

Monkey Doodle sometimes means monkey poo today, but in the old days Monkey Doodle was the "jungle king," the main character in the jazz standard "Down in Jungle Town":

And here's a modern recording:

This was such a hit in the early 1900s that there was a whole generation of monkey/jungle songs following it, many referencing Monkey Doodle as well—including the Marx Bros' "Monkey Doodle Doo" (1929: "Come, my little dearie/That's the Darwin theory/Telling us to do/The little Monkey Doodle Doo").

May 3, 2011 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger ramapith said...

That'll teach me to cite the lyrics without checking them. Should be

"Go, my little dearie/There's the Darwin theory/Telling me and you/To do the Monkey Doodle Doo."

World-changing distinction here, fellas.

May 3, 2011 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

About this Tintin matter, I'm doubtful because until the late 50's, Tintin wasn't translated at all, and began by portuguese… For Donald european, I'm doubtful too. I'm one of the people who think all Disney cartoons and comics - even the most weirds — are in the same continuity, so I would rather on the contrary remove Italy and write USA if one day I have to translate a comic in which the name of another country than USA is cited as a location for Dukburg.

May 23, 2015 at 6:23 AM  

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