Friday, February 17, 2012

"Sandoduck and the Pearl of Labuan"

The Duck Comics Revue institute of Giovan Battista Carpi Studies is proud to present this, a 1976 story based on the work of Emilio Salgari, a late nineteenth-early twentieth century Italian writer of adventure novels.  Huge in Italy, apparently, but I must admit, I had never even heard of him before reading this story.  Some of his stuff is available in English translation, but he doesn't have much cultural cachet in the US.  In particular, this is based on his Tigers of Malaysia series about a band of heroic pirates led by a fella named Sandokan.  It's true that, not having read Salgari, I may not be the ideal person to write about this, but I'm not worried: I'm sure that if this unfamiliarity causes me to miss anything, someone in the audience will let me know in comments.
Your first and most pressing question: so, is this story actually any good?  Yeah, it's not half bad.  Not exactly on the level of "Candelabra" or "War and Peace," but it swashbuckles along quite agreeably--though as we will see, it has its problems too.
A boat crosses the Sea of Borneo!  Is it a pirate ship?  No, just a Transatlantic liner.  But on board, we find Uncle Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews!

("Transatlantic?"  Somebody seems to be unclear on the location of Malaysia.  It's interesting, though, that there really aren't any comparable words to describe crossing other oceans.  Sure, you could say "transpacific," but it sounds odd and you probably wouldn't find it in a dictionary.  I guess it's indicative of our historical and cultural development that the Atlantic took all the glory in this regard.)

Maybe the art's a bit less sophisticated than in the aforementioned stories?  It's still pretty nice, though, even if Carpi indulges less often in cool splash panels.  I like the way the tiger is wearing glasses for no discernible reason.  But the real question is, why is this French edition entitled "The Black Pearl?"  Yes, the story features a giant pearl, but it's not black, nor is it ever referred to as such outside the title.  It's really weird: someone went to the trouble of designing that whole title, complete with a picture of an actual black pearl, when it has nothing to do with the story itself.  "Pearl of Labuan"--the original title--is much more to the point.
Yanez: I've been waiting for you for centuries!
Donald: Uh…who are you?
Yanez: I'm your faithful Yanez, Sandoduck!
Donald: My name isn't Sandoduck
Yanez: No?  The resemblance is striking.
Yanez: I've been waiting for you to return after all your plundering and pillaging…
HDL: Plundering?  Pillaging?  Tell us more!
Yanez: This is the Island of Mompracem!  Island of…
Yanez: …pirates!  Their fearless leader was named Sandoduck!  He was known far and wide as the Tiger of Malaysia!

I stated in the "Candelabra" entry that Yanez was the "regular" version of the character who appears in that story as Javert; I was mistaken--Yanez is actually a character in the original Salgari novels, Sandokan's partner in crime.  Carpi's only embellishment was to make him into a crow.

From this framing sequence, there are a few questions you'd expect to see answered: how do our heroes escape from the island?  How did Yanez  get separated from Sandoduck?  Why has he been waiting for "centuries?"  What ultimately becomes of him?  Well, be patient and none of your questions will be answered, because there is no ending to this framing sequence.  Seriously, Carpi appears to have just forgotten about it.  Very strange and a not a little dissatisfying.

(I should note that to save space, the French version compresses the three-tiered pages of the original into four tiers, except when three-tiering was necessary so as not to chop up a splash panel.  I assume nothing's been cut out, but this change means that there's no easy way to compare the page count to that of the original on inducks to know for sure.)
Narrator: On this particular day, he was scanning the horizon.
Sandoduck: Grrr!  Yanez has been gone a whole month!
Sign: No Pirates' Enemies Allowed

You can see that, even in the seventies, Carpi had some artistic ambitions that surpassed those of most of his peers.  This is pretty cool, innit?
Donald: Gallons of pearls, precious stones…
Donald: Whoa!
HDL: Who's that in the portrait?
Yanez: Ada, Lord Scroogik's niece!  Known far and wide as the Pearl of Labuan!

So anyway, not-that-long story slightly shorter, Sandoduck becomes enamored of Ada based on that portrait.  As we'll see, there are certainly gender issues here, and true to form, Carpi doesn't provide a whole lot of development to this romance, but also true to form, there are actually some pretty good moments related to it.
Guard: Vishnu will protect us!
Scroogik: He'll have his work cut out for him!
Aboard a ship en route to Labuan…
Captain…rejoining my uncle…let met tell you…happened to me during…these months…
Ada: Have I already told you about the time an elephant attacked me?
Captain: The poor beast!
Ada: You've forgotten?  Let me remind you!
Sailors: No!  I'm all in!

That's right: it's the usual damned "wimmin talk too much and drive men crazy" thing (Scroogik is throwing a fit because she's coming to stay with him--though I do like the way the guard is rolling his eyes; clearly, he thinks this is as silly as I do).  You know, in addition to everything else, one thing that drives me crazy about these tropes is that they're just so lazy.  It's just a standard go-to thing that requires no thought whatsoever.  Can't you at least be original?  Well, I guess not, because that would require putting individual thought into these things, which kinda goes against the spirit of lazy, boring stereotypes.  Meh.
Sandoduck: The flying tiger salutes you, O Pearl!
Ada: Flowers?  For me?  How romantic!
Sandoduck: Think I'll take a little trip belowdecks!

Sandoduck tries to intercept Ada on her way home and gets caught.  I have to admit, if nothing else, Carpi certainly draws Daisy well.  I never cease to be amused by her pose in the bottom panel.  I don't know why, but "C'est romantique" strikes me as quite funny, whereas "how romantic" isn't funny at all.  I suppose you could use that in the theoretical English version.
Scroogik: Argh!
Scroogik: As if I didn't have enough to worry about with the Thugee Boys, these pirates also want my pearl!
Note: Be careful!  Pirates are after the Pearl of Labuan!
Scroogik: Gotta act quickly to save it!
Scroogik: This marble orb gives me an idea!
This little switch will fool the bandits!
Scroogik: I'll just put it in my vault…
Scroogik: …and send the real pearl to Singapore!
Scroogik: Don't let anyone find out!
Captain: I'll be discreet!
Scroogik: And so, my problem is solved!

(Man, I know it's cumbersome to stick my English translation below like this, but actually altering the art would take me a thousand times longer, so this is what you get.)

This confusion between the pearl that's a pearl and the "pearl" that's Ada is a factor in the story.  Note that it's necessary to rephrase the note he receives because you can't obscure the distinction between "it" and "she" in English like you can in French.
Ada: I know someone who will be a captive audience!
Ada: You have the time to talk with me, don't you?
Sandoduck: Yes!  My love!
Ada: I'll start!  One day I was…blah blah…
Sandoduck: Yes!  Tell me!
Box: Much later!
Ada: Tell me about yourself!
Sandoduck: I am known as Sandoduck, the Tiger of Malaysia!
Sandoduck: I attacked this ship to take you away and make you my queen!
Ada: Such a noble heart!  I had thought that all pirates were rogues!
Ada: You've listened to me for six hours without batting an eye!
Dandoduck: Marry me and I'll listen to you twenty-four seven!
Ada: Nobody's said anything like that to me before!
Sandoduck: Just help me to escape!
Ada: Yes…I'll help you!
Sandoduck: Take that key and open the cell!
Ada: Yes, my lord!
Sandoduck: As soon as I find my tigers, I will return and take you away forever!
Box: A little later…
Sandoduck: Onward!

I know we're supposed to think that Sandoduck can only deal with her constant talking because his love enraptures him so, but if we wanted, we could posit that in fact everyone else in the story is falling prey to the common sexism of their age, and it's only Sandoduck's feelings that allow him to see past it.  Sure, why not?  I actually think this bit is kind of sweet, in spite of everything.

(But are we really supposed to believe that she sat there talking to him for six hours and nobody came down and caught them?  Hmm…)

On a personal note, when I was studying in Montreal some years ago, I lived with a French Canadian couple.  They acquired a dog at some point while I was there.  It had a name, and I could certainly say said name, and I knew that it meant something like "rogue" or "bandit," but for the life of me I could not figure out how to spell it, in spite of looking up anything that sounded like it might be right in my French-English dictionary (I guess I could've done something insane like asking, but, well…I didn't).  It's only now, some nine years later, that, thanks to this comic, I learn the answer: the dog was named "Voyous."  Mystery solved!  No, I don't know how I could've missed that.  But I did, dammit!
Captain: Don't shoot!  What do you want?
Sandoduck: The Pearl of Labuan!
Captain: I'll toss it to you!  It's in this chest!
Captain: Catch!
Sandoduck: Eh?
Sandoduck: Oof!
Yanez: Putting a girl in a chest?  How bizarre!
Sandoduck: It's to protect her from the water, no doubt!
Sandoduck: Her coruscating eyes, for instan--what?!?

…and then, he finds the wrong enemy ship.  An obvious misunderstanding, sure, but still pretty funny to my eyes.  I like how the captain just instantly gives up the treasure he's been entrusted with with no coercion whatsoever.
Sandoduck: This isn't the Pearl of Labuan!
Yanez: There must've been a misunderstanding!  But we can't complain; this is a priceless pearl!
Sandoduck: I spit on this so-called pearl!  I want Ada!

Gotta hand it to Sandoduck here: his commitment to Ada is absolute.  Nice image of him head-butting the mast.  Shows off the dynamism that Carpi is capable of.  Meanwhile...

Box: However, the Thugee Boys are cooking up devilish plans!
Leader: The great Rali claims Lord Scroogik's pearl!  What say you, my brothers?
Thugees: To hear is to obey!

 I think "Thugee Boys" is the appropriate translation here.  I'm not really sure why the story uses a slightly modified name for Kali, given that it referred to Vishnu in the normal way.  I suppose because it actually shows her, and she certainly isn't the same as the regular goddess.  And…she's an actual, incarnated deity, apparently, which raises all sorts of theological questions.  I could go on forever about her bizarre array of accoutrements.  I guess some of them are meant to sort of denote old-maid-hood, maybe?  But what's with the Flavor-Flav-esque neckwear?  Really strange stuff all 'round.
Thugee Boys: Scroogik will pay!  Vengeance!  Vengeance!  Yes…a terrible vengeance!

Scrooge's subterfuge works to the extent that they steal the fake pearl, enraging Rali.  And man--have you ever seen the Beagles looking this murderous?  Pretty intense.
 Box: On the ocean…
Sandoduck: To Laban, me hearties!
Yanez: What are we going to do there?

And this is going on.  It's too bad that this panel was featured on a shrunk-down four-tier page, because it's pretty nice.  Note the accordion: between this and "Candelabra," Carpi seems to like those.  Me too.
Scroogik: Get to work!  These cursed pirates are demolishing the place!
Yanez: We're running out of ammo, Sandoduck!
Sandoduck: Then launch the provisions!
:Sandoduck: The anchor!  The dishes!
Sandoduck: …and, of course, this!
Louie: Oops!

Really, you gotta hand it to Sandoduck: he genuinely does not give a fuck about anything other than Ada.  Pearl worth millions of rupees?  Pfft, whatever--just more ammo!  The guy is sincerity itself, which I find quite admirable.
Box: Alas…
Sandoduck: The Thugee Boys took her?!?
Scroogik: Yes--in exchange, they want my giant pearl!
Sandoduck: Grrr!  Those bandits are going to pay!
Sandoduck: I'll hang them high and low!  I'll slice them to ribbons!
Louie: Calm down!
Louie: Just pay them the ransom!
HDL: The real pearl is on board the ship!
Sandoduck: That's right!

I really do dig his implacable rage here.  Note also that this story is unusual in that Scrooge plays a substantially subservient role throughout--usually, he's either obviously on top, or at most he and Donald play as equals.  But here he doesn't do much except bemoan while Donald swings into action.  Interesting to see such a different dynamic.
 Thugee 1: Could someone explain what's happening?
Thugee 2: The evidence suggests that we have a problem!
Thugee 3: Rali is not going to be at all happy about this!

Long story short, the Thugees try to cause more trouble, but thanks to HDL, this happens.  If that image of Rali doesn't suggest a Mad Magazine influence, I don't know what would.

Scroogik: Where are you?  Come back to your old papa!
Ada: The poor man is laid low!

The idea is that he mistakenly retrieved the fake pearl from the hideout before the blow-up, and the real one was blasted god knows where.  I don't usually feel sorry for Scrooge; Donald, yes, but it isn't really in the nature of Scrooge's character to evoke sympathy like this.  A lot of the time he's being a jerk, and even when he's not especially, when one of his treasure hunts fails (for instance), it mostly feels like it's his fault somehow and he shouldn't have been so damn greedy anyway.  But here…well, he hasn't done anything morally wrong throughout the entire story, and now he's lost his prized possession.  So I do: I feel bad for him.  The situation just plain sucks.
 Sandoduck: Don't worry!  I'm sure he'll find it eventually!
Scroogik: Nooo!  Sob!

What makes it worse is Sandoduck's amazingly callous reaction: no kidding, they just leave Scroogik here, searching desperately for his pearl.  Real cold-blooded.  I kind of tend to think Carpi probably didn't mean for this to come across as mean as it does.  It's an odd comic that ends by inverting our usual sympathies, but…
Huey: Can we throw her overboard?
Yanez: Sandoduck would die of grief!
Yanez: Put a little wax in your ears!
Box: And…
Huey: Finally!  Peace!  Thanks, Yanez!
Yanez: Ulysses' old trick still works, even if she's not a siren!
Ada: And it's…meanwhile…why yes…

…and yeah, we end with this ol' bullshit, no big surprise.  Blah.

I don't know how obvious it is, but in spite of my various complaints, I really do enjoy this story a lot.  Even if it has rough patches, you can still definitely tell that Carpi had skillz, and it should've been no surprise that he was destined for greater things.

Now, Carpi did another Tigers-of-Malaysia-based story years later, in 1988, called "The Two Tigers."  Surprisingly, though, it's not actually a sequel; it features the same characters but in completely different contexts.  Most notably, Ada isn't Sandoduck's love interest; instead, she's engaged to a new character played by Fethry.  I suppose you might not be phased by this if you read them at a twelve-year interval, but reading them back-to-back, it's hard not to feel a bit disoriented.

In "The Two Tigers," once again the Thugee Boys--led by this here other "tiger"--have kidnapped Ada, this time to make her a priestess of Rali, and the Fethry character wants Sandoduck to rescue her.  They go through this jungle that's actually a nature preserve owned by Scroogik and designed to bilk tourists, there's some slapstick hijinks, and Ada is rescued.  Then the nephews, having decided that pirating is going out-of-style, convince Sandoduck to open a pizza joint instead.  No joke.

I was kind of hoping that, being written so much later, this story would be better than "Pearl," but it's actually quite a bit worse.  The art may be a little more sophisticated, but the story in general is kind of meandering and dull, and Sandoduck is depicted as much more vain and buffoonish, making you--or me, at any rate--long for the return of the earlier version.  And honestly, I find the intrusion of the modern world, with Sandoduck essentially becoming a tourist attraction, kind of depressing.  But the story DOES jettison the "Ada talks too much" bit, so it's got that going for it.  Also, I suppose I should showcase this bit, which does something kind of unusual and cool:
Yanez: And so on this romantic note, our love story concludes!
Sandoduck: Stop!
Sandoduck: Not yet!  My mighty victory has driven the Thugee Boys from the park!
Sandoduck: Bring the prisoners to Lord Scroogik!  I want my reward!


In any case, it's been fun.  Don't be too terribly surprised if you see more Carpi here in the non-so-distant future.  Feel free to recommend stories…but, uh, if they're not available in French, they're not really gonna work for me--a substantially limiting factor, I know, but what can you do?  Yes, if I'd known when I was deciding what language to study that I was going to end up knee-deep in Disney comics, I would've chosen Italian!  But I didn't!  Well, maybe someday when I have more spare time.  Still, French wasn't actually a terrible choice in that regard; even if they don't produce much themselves, it's still a robust comics market, and browsing inducks, you realize there are a surprising number of stories that have only been published in Italy and France.  Enough material to keep me going for some time, at any rate.



Blogger Kopekobert Dukofjew said...

Hi, this is my first comment although I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now. First of all: I really enjoy reading your entries even though we’re not always on the same page, especially when it comes to the evaluation of italian comics. I think that this is at least partly due to the fact that I grew up with the italian stuff (I’m from Germany). Given your rather critical attitude toward italian artists, I’m thrilled to see that you like some of Carpi’s work. In my opinion, “Il mistero dei candelabri” and “Guerra e pace” are masterpieces (BTW: I would love to read a blog entry about Carpi’s pastiche of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”). There are a number of other great stories from Carpi (I TL 553-AP, I TL 1396-AP, I TL 1425-AP, I TL 1452-AP, I TL 1810-AP), but unfortunately most of them haven’t been published in France yet. One last thing: I think that Carpi is great at illustrating emotions. It’s always a bit over the top, but that’s what makes it so funny and dynamic.

February 18, 2012 at 5:20 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

"War and Peace" is on the docket, as well as a few other stories. But we'll also be varying it up with some other people so as not to get too repetitive.

February 18, 2012 at 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I was struck (positively) by the particular Daisy pose you highlight even before I read your comment. Yup, some fine drawing here. And thanks for showing us that bit where Donald kicks the "end" sign!

February 18, 2012 at 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an Italian reader of this great blog,posting for the first time.
I must say that calling "Ada" the character in "Sandoduck and the Pearl of Labuan" like the one in "The Two Tigers" is a mistake by the French translator.
In the Italian version her name is "Paperanna"(Duckanna),from "Marianna" in the original novel. Moreover, Ada in "The Two Tigers" isn't really Daisy (look at her eyes!).
Kali was Kali in the original "Sandopaper e la perla di Labuan" and Yanez smoked, but in "Le due tigri" the goddess became Rali and Yanez didn't smoke anymore. Political correctness became strong in Italian Disney Comics after 1980!
This fact didn't stop the production of great stories, but must be remembered.

February 19, 2012 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Oh, so Sandoduck/Donald stayed true to his Duckanna/Daisy (confusingly/wrongly named "Ada" in the French version), and the Ada in The Two Tigers is someone else entirely, have I got that right?

February 19, 2012 at 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, you got that right.
About Carpi's drawing style,the crazy details in his panels are probably inspired by Benito Jacovitti:

February 19, 2012 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for the clarifications. I still don't think it makes much sense to see the two stories as part of some sort of continuity, but what you say makes things a bit clearer. You're right; rechecking them, it's obvious that the character in "The Two Tigers" isn't meant to be the same as the one in "Pearl."

February 19, 2012 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I *liked* Carpi based on the 3 sixties-era stories of his that I worked on (one of those remains unpublished), but your delving into his later works has given me a GREAT appreciation for what he does /did!

It seems that, unlike many artists who “leveled-off” (if not outright declined) as they went on – and, yes, that includes Barks and Gottfredson, much less Murry, Strobl and others – Carpi GREW as a designer, and clearly continued to push the envelope on his work, as seen in this example. To be fair, though, maybe those “other-era American guys” were NOT encouraged to do so (maybe even DISCOURAGED) by the systems they worked under. Barks appears to indicate that in interviews.

Vicar may have become “less static” and livelier as he went on – but Carpi truly “transformed”!

Sigh! If only we could see more!

February 22, 2012 at 3:50 AM  
Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

I think the crow is supposed to be Ellsworth, a character that appears often in those comics but only two stories that I know of were reprinted in the U.S. - or is Yanez another name for Ellsworth.

February 22, 2012 at 8:21 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That is almost certainly correct. Inducks doesn't identify the character who plays Yanez/Javert with Ellsworth, but it probably should.

February 22, 2012 at 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, he's not Ellsworth. Ellsworth is much smaller, can fly and is a minah bird, even if often mistaken for a crow.
In Italy his name is "Gancio".

February 23, 2012 at 3:15 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That's what I thought too, but then I looked at the inducks gallery and saw that he seems to have gotten a lot more anthropomorphic in his later appearances. At the very least, I'd be surprised if Carpi wasn't inspired by the character's design.

February 24, 2012 at 1:56 AM  
Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

Ellsworth's size tends to fluctuate - it would be odd to have two characters with similar designs - unless they were twins or triplets.

February 24, 2012 at 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

I could recommend a LOOOOT of stories. I'll start off with the ones that could've been, but were never published in France or the US.
There's the epic "The Seven Wonders of the Duck" (Topolino 1800), which is a tale of how the seven wonders of the world - Duck versions, of course - came to be.
The 347-page epic "The Quest for the Zodiac Stones" (TL 1780), the longest Disney story every published and in a way that's its main problem. It's too long.
The tale "Uncle Scrooge's Fake Treasure" (TL 1807) by Italian master Barks imitator Carlo Gentina reads as Barks' Uncle Scrooge stories. But it very cleverly subverts the ordinary treasure hunt.
Now stories which have been published in France, starting off with Corrado Mastantuono stories. He's great. Mickey Parade 226 introduces us to Bum Bum Ghigno, Donald's grumpy neighbor (TL 2172).
Mickey Parade 241 has a sequel to Steamboat Willie, of all things (TL 2243). It focuses on the relationship between Mickey and Pete.
In Mickey Parade 319 you can find the brilliant "The Millions of Marco Topo" (TL 2758) in which Mickey takes place of his doppelganger, Italian explorer Marco Topo (Marco Polo) to find a treasure.
Another great Mastantuno story, unfortunately unpublished in France, is “The Starving Artist” (TL 2501). In this story, a painting falls of the wall of the house of Bum Bum’s sister, while he, Gyro and Donald are painting there. They track the artist down to ask him to make another painting, but he lives in Lyon. By accident, they end up exactly there. Trying to find him, they keep being disturbed by hilarious parodies of Tintin characters. It has a twist ending.
Another Bottaro pirate story, IMO better than this one, is “The Black Pirate” (TL 1140). This story not only has Pirate!Scrooge and Pirate!Beagles, but also Pirate!Daisy, who I like better Regular!Daisy. You can find it in Le Journal de Mickey Aventure 7.
And last but not least, “The Lost World” (TL 2041). This story is an adaption of “The Lost World” (obviously, and it may remind you of Barks’ “Forbidden Valley”) but this time with Donald, Scrooge, Fethry and Ludwig von Drake. Fethry and Ludwig are at their best here, so if you don’t like the characters, these are their quintessential Italian versions. You can find this story in Le Journal de Mickey Aventure 6.
There are much more (like “Daisy Holmes and the Study in Red”, TL 2068, Minnie Magazine 29 in France), but these are the ones I could think of first. You should look these up on Inducks some time.

March 7, 2012 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Some info that could make you understand more the stories is the relationship with their sources.

In the first of Sandokan's books, Salgari tells about Sandokan' falling-in-love with Marianna Guillonk, the Pearl of Labuan, by seeing a portrait of her. Then, the story goes on with a completely different plot (ending with the death of Marianna).

In another book, called "I misteri della giungla nera" (the misteries of the black jungle) Salgari tells the story of the hero Tremal-Naik and his struggle tomsave Ada Corisant, a girl kidnapped by Thugs to make her a priestess for Kali. He finally rescues her and they fall in love.

In a third book, called "Le due tigri" (the two tigers) Sandokan meets Tremal-Naik and helps him to save Darma, the daughter he had with Ada Corisant.

Hope it helps :)

May 3, 2014 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for clarifying! I keep meaning to try out one of those books one of these days.

May 4, 2014 at 9:15 AM  

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