Friday, February 24, 2012

"Donald Duck on Treasure Island"

 Luciano Bottaro (1931-2006) was a prolific Italian comic book artist who, in addition to a bunch of original material, also drew a few hundred Disney comics.  He also wrote some of them, often (as in the present case) in collaboration with Carlo Chendi.  He's completely unknown in the anglophone world; if Inducks is not mistaken,* none of his Disney work was ever published in English before these here Literature Classics came out, and I don't think any of his other work has been either.

*Which it could well be--there are a bunch of British publications of Italian material that haven't been indexed.  But certainly not often or much.

I first heard of Bottaro a while back when some rather obstreperous individual showed up on the Disney Comics Forum to loudly complain about how, in his opinion (pretty sure it was a "he"), Bottaro's work is unfairly neglected compared to that of other artists.  Damn people, always liking what they like.  I'm telling you, there oughta be a law…this was also part of the reason he hated Don Rosa.  I don't know why it was necessary to drag Rosa into it, but there you go.

Anyway, as much as I think this person's concerns were maybe not one hundred percent rational, I'm certainly keen on rediscovering little-known(?) artists.  It appeals to my romantic side.  So let's do this, shall we?

(Confidential to the person who hooked me up with a handful of Bottaro stories and may or may not wish to remain anonymous: I thank you again.  I do plan to write about at least one of those stories sometime in the future, but this entry was in the pipeline before you sent me those things, besides which, given the higher printing quality of the Literature Classics stuff, this seemed like the best way to showcase Bottaro's art.)
I won't keep you in suspense: this 1959 story is pretty darned good, definitely the best in the Literature Classics series after those Carpi stories.  The plotting isn't as tight as it could be, but there's some very good art indeed, and some substantially awesome moments.  It's pretty laughable to try to claim--as the Literature Classics publication does--that this is actually based on Robert Louis Stevenson in any meaningful sense, though.  The title is about as far as it goes--though I suppose it you grant that we base a great deal of our pirate mythos on Treasure Island, I guess you could say that it is in spirit.  "Inspired by," let's say.  Whatever.

Anyway, you have to be charmed by the sheer joy the kids are taking in flooding the house, don't you?
Really?  Book-burning?  I know the biggest reason we have such a viscerally negative reaction to that is 'cause nazis, but that's as good a reason as any.  You will note, however, Donald's "grrr" face in the first panel there.  We'll see a lot of examples of this throughout the story: if there's one thing Bottaro does really well, it's draw the character in these fierce, gung-ho moods.


Yep so anyway: pirate ghost.  This stuff so far isn't necessarily that mind-blowing.  It really starts getting good when the time travel kicks in, as you'll see.
This is apparently a collective dream with Donald.  One thing you notice is that this thing can get quite violent by Disney standards.  Not sure whether shooting a Beagle Boy in the crotch with a musket would fly today.  At any rate, you see what I mean about Bottaro drawing really fierce characters well.
 Part of me thinks I should just remain silent about this to match its own wordlessness, but I must say: quite impressive.  I don't think I've ever seen a completely wordless full-page panel before.  Not even a sound effect.  And there'll be another one coming up, too.
…but here's the real star of the story.  The Beagles are working for Pirate Scrooge, who is awesome.  I mean, he really holds nothing back.  I know in the past I've complained about Scrooge being excessively mean, but that is not an operative concern in this case: here, he's just mythic.  Granted, to get the best effect, the story would need a better script that really played up the colorful pirate-speak to the hilt, but even here it shines through.  Really: "gun you down with rusty nails?"  I don't think I've ever seen a threat quite this hardcore in a Disney comic.

(No idea whether his sideburns are yellow in the original or if that's just a somewhat odd coloring innovation.)
 Nice atmospheric use of shadow there.  Again, the threat of bloody violence here seems unusual.

At any rate, this is a long-ish story, so let's skim a bit.  The pirates capture Donald and the kids, resulting in various botched escape plots.  And…
 …man, that octopus is not to be fucked with, clearly.  Bottaro definitely gives you bang for your buck, art-wise.  I wouldn't say I'm as big a fan of it as I am of Carpi's, but the quality is undeniable.  It has a simpler, cleaner feel to it; I suppose what you ultimately prefer just comes down to personal taste.
 Donald accidentally gets blasted to this scary skull island.  This is where the treasure is, as it turns out (see--I told you the plotting was a little sketchy).  But really, just look how good this all looks.
 Donald stumbling around through what he believes to be the netherworld?  Probably dancing on the line of what you're able to get away with in Disney comics (though obviously, Europeans are somewhat less puritanical about these things than we in the demon-haunted US are).
 Scrooge and the Beagles come along and find the treasure, and Scrooge apparently cuts off a Beagle's nose.  See?  See?  Unsurprisingly, the Beagles betray him and take the treasure.  Really your own fault, dude.  How the fuck do you expect to command the loyalty of amoral brigands if you're not willing to spread the wealth around?  All the best pirate/Hun/Mongol captains knew this.
 Oh yeah, the ghost that brought them here also shows up and does allegedly-comical stuff.  These bits are pretty much the weakest part of the story, as far as I'm concerned.  But why complain about that when you can have…
So they get eaten by the dragon and fight a duel in its stomach.  Part of me wants to say: that's a pretty awesome duel.  'Cause it is.  But another part of me wants to say: man, that's a pretty gruesome death.  'Cause it is.  Seriously, the poor sea monster.  What did it do to deserve this?

So on the island they find these guys, who are looking for a new captain for their ship.  They, like the ghost, are meant to be funny but really…aren't, particularly. 
…and I suppose there has to be something like this, so as to demonstrate the comic's weird Italian bona fides.  I like it, though when you get to thinking what something like this would actually entail, if it actually worked and wasn't just a plot to trap the Beagles, it's a little alarming.
Ships: sink.  Scrooge: goes down with--and that's about the end of the dream.  Not that Scrooge exactly has many admirable traits in this story, but that sort of badassery has its effect too, and makes this seem surprisingly melancholy.

…and the story blurs the lines between dream and waking.  How is it that they're actually in a lifeboat at sea?  Best not to ask.
Man, you just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?  Leaving Scrooge to his (presumed) death would've been way better.  Though what this really does is emphasize that even if he did somehow got away, presumably the sailors and Beagles did not.

And that's about that; not too much more to say.  When you come right down to it, it's an unpretentious little story: it promises you pirate thrills, and it delivers.  Just don't look for any great thematic resonance or poignancy and you'll be good.  This is the sort of story that would've been a great candidate for inclusion in Gemstone's digest books, if not for their general exclusion of classic material ('cept for that one Scarpa story).  The more I delve into this longer-form European stuff, the more it seems to me that it's a real problem that US Disney publishing (even when it, you know, exists) isn't generally set up to print this sort of thing.  Not that there isn't plenty of shorter material that's quite good, but strictly on the artistic merits, the longer stories deserve at least as much attention.

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Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Bottaro (and Chendi?) sure did a fine job with the basic structure Barks’ classic “Old California”, wouldn’t you say? And, in 1959, that was just a few years old. By the time it reached Italy, it could certainly have been some sort of inspiration!

It is a REAL pity that American Disney publishing has NEVER been set up to accommodate things like this. Maybe Disney/Marvel should, one day realize that they HAVE access to wonderful stuff like this and perhaps – instead of the monthly “traditional comic book (*still* my preferred form for the medium, BTW) – they should publish these long-form stories in a series of “Graphic Novels”. We know you can do it, guys!

But, they would HAVE to engage competent translators or dialogists! This stuff looks too good to read as badly as the earliest Boom stuff!

February 24, 2012 at 7:37 AM  
Blogger Kopekobert Dukofjew said...

Man, I love those old pirate stories from Bottaro (I TL 1140-AP, I AT 160-A...)! And Scrooge as a badass pirate captain is just priceless. You really don’t wanna mess with him! With that said I have to agree with you, GeoX: Bottaro was indeed pretty good at drawing fierce characters.
Another interesting thing about Bottaro is his obsession with Witch Hazel (“Nocciola” in Italy), a Barksian character he introduced to Italy and used on numerous occasions. Usually these stories revolve around the fact that Goofy refuses to believe in witchcraft, which for some reason upsets Witch Hazel, who therefore desperately tries to convince him of the opposite. I have to say, I always found Goofy’s skepticism kind of odd. After all, he’s the most gullible guy you could possibly imagine! Maybe Bottaro was inspired by Gottfredson’s “The Man of Tomorrow”, where Goofy refuses to believe in the existence of Eega Beeva. Any thoughts?
Anyway, I’m sorry for digressing. Nice entry, as usual, GeoX!

February 24, 2012 at 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I like it that Donald fears himself to be "in the hellish circle of the ill-tempered." But the fate of the sea serpent makes me very sad.

I do definitely agree, though, that it would be great if we were to have an American venue for long stories--*not* divided up into umpteen installments over as many months. For one thing, the loose narrative structure of many of the longer stories means that short sections of them don't work on their own. One can only enjoy the digressions if one is reading the whole story in one gulp.

By the way, I'm newly (only the last three times) having trouble posting here, in this way: when I get to the 'publish' box and type in the "not a robot" words, I can't see or scroll down to the "publish" button. Anyone else experiencing this?

February 24, 2012 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


Joe's right, the dialogue really DID leave quite a lot to be desired. I would have liked to have let him loose on this...

I know that there's a whole school, or group, of Italian artists who are famous for, shall we say, taking risks when it comes to depicting character violence. Bottaro appears to be one such artist, though the violence is usually too cartoony to be taken entirely seriously (cf. those all too neat holes that are shot in the sea monster).

Another logic break: why would Donald be sleep walking in his regular clothes? Unless he was napping in his chair, or something...


February 24, 2012 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The dialogue's certainly not great, but when you read through all of the books in the series, you come to positively treasure (haha) relative competence of this sort. Sometime I'll do an entry on one or another with really bad writing, and then you'll see what's what.

February 24, 2012 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine expresses some dismay over the hoops we dedicated followers must now jump through in order to post to Our Favorite Duck Blog. I’ve found the same thing to be true – not just here but on other Blogs I post to. Google must have upped their lever of security.

Though I now feel as if I'm taking an eye-test every time I post.

Honestly, if it further cuts down on Spam postings to my Blog – which is the reason I’ve long-ago enabled “Comment Moderation”, and advised Chris Barat to do the same – I’m okay with it.

But, there IS something particular to GeoX, in that you have to “jockey” your cursor around a bit to get the window to “roll down” to the “PUBLISH” button. That seems unique to this Blog.

Oh, and lest I seem too out of character… Great Dialogue Rules!

February 25, 2012 at 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yes, Joe, that last issue you mention about rolling down to the publish button is the problem I was raising. One time I was able to get down to it by "jockeying" the cursor, but once I just gave up, and this last time I found that if I went in to the message to "edit" after I had proved I wasn't a robot, then after I edited the publish button was visible. Anyway, I'm glad it's not just something stupid I'm doing wrong!

February 25, 2012 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Hmm. I have no idea what could be behind this commenting problem; I certainly haven't done any monkeying with the settings. I've switched to "separate window" comments now--does that make any difference?

February 25, 2012 at 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

This does solve the "can't get to the publish button" problem for me. Thanks!

February 26, 2012 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

In the opening splash, did anyone else notice the resemblance to the “little sailboat” that Don and the kids used on Carl Barks’ classic cover for WDC&S # 108 – and that was “tributed” in Boom’s more recent UNCLE SCROOGE # 397 with Scrooge, the kids, and Launchpad?!

Not to mention the sea serpent image from Barks’ “No Such Varmint” and “Secret of the Loch”.

With the aforementioned basic structure of “Old California” and all this, the story sure owed plenty to Barks!

And, yes… You seemed to have resolved the “cursor jockeying” issue to publish.

February 27, 2012 at 7:55 AM  
Anonymous Sim said...

Bottaro was one of the greatest Italian Disney artists and Barks himself did like his artworks very much in '60-70s.


March 17, 2012 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, I read some correspondence from Barks to Chendi to that effect.

March 17, 2012 at 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Sim said...

I was referring to that indeed.

March 24, 2012 at 5:53 PM  

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