Saturday, March 24, 2012

"They Call me MISTER Duck!"

(That title is just my extrapolation of what Gemstone almost certainly would have called it had they released it stateside, given their proclivity for movie references.  The French version is just "Call Me Mr. Donald;" the original Italian, per google translate, is the uneuphonious "Donald and Honors."  If you don't get the impression that anyone was trying very hard here, wait'll you see the story itself.)

So…is this 1952 story only the third Italian-produced Donald Duck story?  Well, obviously not, given all those Pedrocchi stories, if nothing else.  But according to Inducks, YES.  Hey, don't get me wrong; I think inducks may well be the best site on the internet, but, as expected for such a massive enterprise, it also has its share of weird quirks.

Fact remains, though, this is a very early Italian story.  Also, Luciano Bottaro's first Disney art (it was written by someone called Alberto Testa--his only Disney story, per inducks).  So I was curious to read it--and whaddaya know, if inducks is to be believed, it's been published outside of Italy exactly once--and, it just so happens, in a language I can read, more or less!  What luck!

Well…maybe.  Fact is, this is a drunken, lurching, mess of a story, historical interest notwithstanding.  However, I feel it is my sworn duty to present it here in all its, uh, glory.

Donald: Give me the letter!  Was there something else you wanted?
HDL: We just couldn't help but notice that all your letters are addressed "to Donald."
Donald: Well?  That's my name!
HDL: It's weird: everyone else is "Lord" this or "Count" that or "Your highness…"

Did I mention that, in addition to everything else, this is some fairly hideous art?  'Cause it is.  Obviously, Bottaro would get better in the future, but here, man.  I think I detect a Taliaferro influence, but the whole thing's much uglier.

Anyway, the story revolves around Donald being all upset that he doesn't have some sorta hifalutin title.  I suppose that's a characteristic concern (even if the execution is questionable), though this desire for a hereditary title certainly marks it as a non-American story.  Not that an American story couldn't get goofy and include such things, but none immediately occur to me.*

*I would presume that "the Mad Duke of Duckburg" was either exiled foreign nobility or merely a self-styled duke--you know, what with being mad and all.

Donald: They're right!  I'm nothing!  No one even calls me "mister!"
Donald: You've brought dishonor on your family!
Donald: Woe is me!
HDL: Poor Unca Donald!  He's really feeling it!  We have to help him!  No doubt about it!

…but what's weird here is that he's upset that nobody ever even calls him 'mister.'  Er…er.  I mean, I guess you could explain this in a sort of perennial loser, I-don't-get-no-respect kind of way, but the story never does.  It's just, nobody ever refers to Donald as 'mister,' in spite of the fact that it's the default thing you refer to men as!  And that's all there is to it!  Don't question it!

Note also him crying there, something that is an uncharacteristic reaction coming from any version of the character.  That's common in this story: characters behaving in ways that are inscrutable and/or counter to how we know they're meant to.

Gladstone: Hey!  Wait a moment!  My hair!  My tie!
HDL: Promise you'll help us!
HDL: …and we thought that, with your friends in high places, you could get a title for Donald!
Gladstone: I see.
Gladstone: A special title, eh?  Well, I suppose I

Gladstone: …even if my cousin really isn't anything special.

Yeah, the inclusion of Gladstone (and Scrooge) shows that this story is technically Barksian--but it certainly isn't so in any very sophisticated way.  I don't know how far behind the curve Italy was in terms of the printing of Barks stories, but this certainly doesn't seem like the Gladstone we know and "love."  It's hard to tell exactly how Testa was trying to conceptualize the character--one suspects he didn't have a particularly coherent idea in mind.  There's no mention of his luck; just this vague idea that he's well-connected and can therefore wrangle some sort of title for Donald.  Nor is he particularly reminiscent of the earlier version that was basically Donald's equally-loudmouthed double.  He's just kinda generically greedy and unpleasant and poorly drawn and good lord is it creepy the way HDL are molesting him in the first panel there.

Gladstone: Let's see…for a countship, it'll be a thousand francs!
HDL: A thousand francs…ugh!
Gladstone: Marquis are cheaper…say, five hundred.
HDL: Too rich for our blood!
Gladstone: Forget it!  A barony for two hundred?  You can't even afford this pittance?
Gladstone: Twenty bucks for a knighthood.  Take it or leave it.
HDL: A plain ol' "mister" is good enough for Unca Donald.
Gladstone: Just a pathetic "mister?"  We'll see…for ten francs.
HDL: Thanks!  We'll be back with the money!

This whole overly convoluted trail starts here, with them having to scrape together money to get Gladstone to effect this promotion for Donald by mysterious means.  I just can't get over it, though: "mister?"  What the hell?  That's not a hereditary title!  You can't "earn" it or be granted it like you can those other ones!  And it's not a term of approbation anyway!  Any random jerk can have it!  I'd gladly use it to refer to my worst enemies!  Maybe this is just a problem in the French translation, but it just makes no sense, dammit.  And no, "monsieur" isn't different from "mister" in that regard.  When I was in France, complete strangers would always address me by that grand exalted title.  Hmph.

HDL: It's terrible!  A grim fate awaits you!
HDL: We'll tell you all about it for a hundred francs!
Scrooge: This is blackmail!  Get out of here!  You want to profit off the back of a poor zillionaire?
HDL: Oh well!  Too bad for you!  You'll never know the robbers' secret plans and clever tricks!

Now, we clearly have only the colorist to blame for the fact that Scrooge has yellow sideburns.  But for everything else about the character's depiction, it's all Testa.  That's not a compliment, as we'll soon see.  The fact that this whole thing revolves around this nonsense scheme that HDL have to make Scrooge think there's some sort of heist in the works doesn't do anything to convince me that this plot wasn't thought up in an alcoholic haze.

Box: We suddenly understood that they were talking about our dear Unca Scrooge!
Thugs: Two barrels of dynamite!  Twenty assault rifles!  Plenty of knockout gas!
HDL:  Brrr…it was blood-curdling!  Horrible!  Thanks for the franc!
Scrooge: Thanks for the tip--I'll alert the police!
Scrooge: By the way, that franc I gave you is an old, out-of-circulation coin!  It's worthless!
HDL: You laugh!  The cops won't help you!  Fat chance!  Because as we looked in the window, we also saw…

(I can't figure out what that word is supposed to be in the forth speech bubble in the top panel.  "Baciu?"  "Bacil?"  "Bacid?"  None of these are French words.  I could presumably figure it out if I were more fluent, but…)

Here, we see Scrooge being an unbelievable asshole in a way that's pretty much unprecedented.  Granted, Scrooge could be pretty nasty in early Barks--but nothing quite so blunt as "ha ha!  I cheated you!"*  I mean okay, the kids were trying to deceive him, so I suppose it's morally kind of a wash, but I would not say that them behaving out-of-character really excuses him doing the same.  And he's not even being mean in a fun way.  It's just "wow, what a shithead this man is, with no redeeming qualities."  Seriously, dude, how would he have ever become popular in the first place, if that's all there was of him?

*His worst behavior towards his nephews in Barks is, I would say, "The Sunken Yacht."  But at least there there's a certain brio to his treachery; not that this excuses him or makes him likable, but at least it makes him interesting.  What point is there to a character who's just a boring asshole?

Box: …the Chief of Police in person!
Chief: We'll look the other way, as long as you give me a share of Scrooge's loot!
Scrooge: I don't believe it, but…what if it's true?
Scrooge: Find a way to protect my money and I'll pay you for real!
HDL: For a mere ten francs, we could get you infallible protection!

Okay, I'll admit it: it's kinda funny the way they just stick the police chief in there to beef up their story.

Hopefully, you'll forgive me if I skip over the tedious bullshit where HDL go to a carnival barker who offers to sell them a special invisibility potion only they don't have the money so they tell Donald they want to contribute to a charity for the poor to get him to let them sell their bikes and "party clothes" so they can afford the fucking potion to give to Scrooge to protect his fortune from the made-up burglars so they can pay Gladstone so he'll pull strings and get his friends in high places to confer the title of "mister" on Donald.  Does that description do an adequate job of conveying how pointlessly convoluted and annoying this story is?  It's like the worst RPG fetch-quest ever.

Scrooge: Here--take it!  A lovely ten-franc note!  Naturally, it's invisible too!
Scrooge: Go on, go on!  I gave you your money!  Get out!
HDL: A banknote made of wind!  We've been had!
HDL: We've been cheated!  We wanted a real banknote!  Open up!

See what I mean about Scrooge?  Unbelievable.

Donald: [They're] unhappy!
Donald: They're poor and generous and…
Donald: This won't stand!  This time, I
will convince Scrooge!
Paper: "The Outlaw Jesse James."

This is the only part of the story where Donald comes across as at all appealing or indeed like himself.  Mostly he's just haplessly mooning around and breaking into tears 'cause no one will call him "mister."  The portrayal of the characters here--if that's not already clear--is just the worst.  You could clear that up to an extent with extensive script-rewriting, but that only goes so far--after all, they still are what they are and do what they do and their eyes have these alarmingly huge irises.

Donald: What's going on here?  The door is open!
Scrooge: This is gonna be a laugh!
Donald: What…what was that?  What's happening?

It's not clear if Donald intends to rob Scrooge, or if he's just wearing the feeble disguise in an effort to look intimidating.  Regardless, it doesn't work, naturally--Scrooge having rendered himself invisible with this magic potion, you see.

Donald doesn't get what's going on, but he takes these super "atomic vitamins" to make him tough and goes back to sort things out.  I was gonna say "insert Super Snooper reference here," but since that story was published in 1949, I suppose this could already have been inspired by that.  Just don't ask why he has the stuff sitting around in his medicine cabinet.

Box: Three robbers in search of work stop before the open door…

Are these guys early Beagle Boys?  I cannot say whether that's possible without knowing when the story was actually written.  If so, I suppose it vaguely anticipates the malign Ducktales idea of giving them all different builds and personalities.

Why is Scrooge floating out there?  Well, you see, the medicine wore off, and he'd used too much of it, so it made him float.  It just did, okay?  And not only that, but it somehow launched him out the window.  No use in thinking too hard about nonsense like this.

Hokay--I'll concede that Donald beating them up is, at any rate, the most visually dynamic thing in the story.

Scrooge: I'll tell the paper about your heroic exploits!
Donald: Heroic…

(Just lookit that rain: objective correlative!)

The end of this story is just one long series of stuff that I don't understand.  So as we see here, Scrooge shafts Donald yet again by, in lieu of a reward, offering to tell the papers about his heroic deeds.  Cheap, right?

Doors: "The Duckburg Crier--editor;" "The Police Gazette--editor"
Box: And finally…
Paper: A Courageous Citizen: Nighttime battle with the Scarface Joe Gang

…and yet, HDL have to force him to do that anyway?  Are we really meant to infer that he's that much of a dipshit?  Well…I guess that's reasonable in terms of this story itself, if not in any others.  But how would word not get out anyway, given that the gang was presumably arrested after Donald subdued them?  I'm not getting anywhere thinking about this.

Guy: Long live Baron Donald!
Donald: I am
not a baron!

OR THIS!  I mean, what the hell now?  Everyone admires Donald, so…the guy refers to him as "Baron?"  That's not something you just do to some non-baron person you admire!  It makes no sense!  And then Donald gets all pissed off about it?  Even though earlier he was sobbing 'cause no one would call him by such a title?  If we're meant to assume that he feels this way because he's just now realizing that the title is empty if he hasn't "earned" it, the story has done exactly nothing to even hint at this possibility.

Gladstone: A black suit?  I can just lend him mine!
HDL: Yeah?
Gladstone: It's for the mayor's reception, is it?  So have you given up the idea of getting your uncle a title?
HDL: No…not as such…but you don't have to…
Gladstone: Gimme!  By tomorrow, Donald will be a member of the Order of the Black Dragon of Solferino, as notarized by the Grand Chamberlain!
Box: Meanwhile, Donald is receiving the compliments of all his neighbors…
Donald: Thanks…but it was really nothing special…

I guess it's not that I don't understand Gladstone's motives here--he just really, really wants that money (which the kids got when it turned out the "worthless" coin Scrooge gave them was, big surprise, some sorta collector's item).  But the presentation is so bizarre.  Gladstone just doesn't get that desperate for stuff, even in really early Barks.  His facial expressions combined with the sweat droplets make him look like he's a junkie desperate for money for his next hit.  It's all very strange and unpleasant.

Meanwhile, Donald's unexplained ambivalence about his newfound fame continues apace.  I almost want to suggest that this story is intentionally elliptical--but no, I'm pretty sure it's just really poorly written.

Grandma: We have to talk, Donald!  I think your newfound glory has gone to your head!  You couldn't find the time to answer my letters?
Donald: What letters?
Grandma: Never mind--I'll tell you myself.  I had sent them to let you know that the genealogical research that your grandfather started is finally complete!
Donald: Genealogical?  Oh, right, I remember--you wanted to know if there was any blue blood in the family.
Grandma: That's right--it took thirty years of research, but we learned that one side of the family is descended from Donaldus, a knight who fought in the First Crusade and received the rank of Marquis from Richard the Rabbit-Hearted!

Just imagine--if only Donald had answered his mail in a timely fashion, this entire story could have been avoided.  A sobering cautionary tale for us all.

CUE DEUS EX MACHINA INFODUMP.  So, is this "Donaldus" the same as "Donaldo?"  Got some continuity going here, do we?  Things are suddenly starting to get interesting!  Wait--no they're not.

Anyway, so Donald's been a marquis all this time.  I'll bet you did not know that.

Donald: Who's missing a title on his door now, cousin?
…and it's back to knocking over liquor stores for Gladstone.

And that's all.  There's really no excuse for a story this bad, given that Barks was present as a model--and even if he hadn't been, those Pedrocchi stories are still eighty times better than this.  NOT MAINTAINING A PROUD TRADITION.  I was really hoping, when I first came across this story, that it would be something weird and interesting and different.  And…I guess all those words do apply; fair's fair.  My own fault, I suppose for not specifying that I meant them in a good way.

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Anonymous Sim said...


it seems to me that you don't love this story, eh eh!

I think Bottaro will grow up in the later years and, what about Testa? I never found him in the web, so I think he could just be a nick. Maybe Guido Martina could be the writer of this. Some parts of the story reminds me of "Paperino al Giro d'Italia" and some expressions and words are usually used by Martina. I also think there is a prototype of the Duck Avenger here, when Don gets in Scrooge's building. What about you?


March 24, 2012 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I believe that "Un tas de bacil les assorties" means SOMETHING like "a bunch of assorted bacillus". Given that canisters of poison gas are already present in the scene, the crooks are probably preparing biological warfare!

One would like to think that the use of Gladstone and Scrooge indicates that the writer had some appreciation of (or at least some general knowledge of) Barks' stories. If so, then he obviously wasn't paying very close attention, as this seems very much like a 10-page plot (and not a very good one, at that) stretched out to an unconscionable length.


March 24, 2012 at 10:04 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Sim: I really couldn't tell you re Martina, but he had written at least one earlier story under his own name, so I'm not sure why he'd go for a pseudonym this time. As for the Duck Avenger business, I wouldn't absolutely rule it out, but I kind of doubt it--his disguise here is pretty generic.

Chris: Ah, right, good call about the biological weaponry--shame on me for missing that!

March 25, 2012 at 1:00 AM  
Anonymous Sim said...

Maybe to justify his drunkenness! Haha

In this cover, anyway, referred to the story, Donald seems to me to be very close to the later Paperinik:

March 25, 2012 at 6:18 AM  
Anonymous Sim said...

Furthermore -- as far as I know, Testa has never been credited in Italian issues. Well it could be one of these (, but I don't think so.

Anyway, these are the first Italian Donald-featuring stories:

March 25, 2012 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Sometimes it looks like Taliaferro (especially the beaks) and sometimes it looks like Barks of the “Mad Chemist” and “The Dirty Little Ducks” era.

But, ultimately, it becomes a big bunch of neither!

And, even the “revered” (on your Blog, anyway – he notes with some sarcasm) Vic Lockman did the Donald wants desperately to “be somebody” thing far better than this mess.

March 27, 2012 at 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMHO "signore" should be translated as "Lord". In fact "Signore" means: 1) "Mister" 2) "Lord", and Donald wants a nobiliar title. But anyway this story (that I don't own) seems to be an inconsistent mess.

In the 1950s each story was credited to Walt Disney, so in every print or reprint the real authors (Testa and Bottaro) were never credited. Only at the end of 1980s italian issues began to credit the new or reprinted stories to their actual authors. Why Guido Martina should have used as pseudonym "Alberto Testa" if the story in its first reprint was credited to "Walt Disney", not to "Alberto Testa, Luciano Bottaro"? I suppose that the story was credited to "Alberto Testa" in the 1980s by some scholar (perhaps Fossati?) who found out, after long researches in the archives, that this story was written by "Alberto Testa". But perhaps this scholar could have make some error in his research, and the writer of the story is uncertain. Consider also the error "Al Levin/Floyd Gottfredson" made by an italian scholar in the 1970s. This is an excerpt from an interview to writer and scholar Castelli about this error:

BSJ: You spoke of Disney influences. I have sources telling me you are an avid Disney fan - so much so that you once fooled Italian fans and critics - as well as a Disney editor - into believing there was a Mickey Mouse illustrator named Al Levin, when in fact, he was fictitious. Tell us about that debacle.

AC: Mmm... Not a thing to be proud of... Back in 1965, I was the co-founder of the first comic fanzine in Italy, "Comics Club 104." One issue was devoted to Disney characters and their authors. Nobody, at the time, had the slightest idea of who the American artists who drew the Disney characters were! I succeeded in identifying Carl Barks (sad anecdote: Barks was so kind to send me an especially drawn and signed self-caricature, the widely reprinted one in which he has Uncle Scrooge's head, and Uncle Scrooge has his head --- Well, it was lost at the engravers' some year later!), Paul Murry, Tony Strobl, and many others. But I wasn't able to identify Floyd Gottfredson, so - God, forgive! - I INVENTED a name, Al Levin, and attributed to him Gottfredson's stories. I was then in contact with many early American fanzines (I wrote a long article about them in "Linus"): "Alter Ego," "Rocketblast Comicollector," "Vanguard," "Capa Alpha," the late Edwin April's reprint line, etc., so I sent the Disney Issue to Mike Barrier and Malcolm Willits of "Funnyworld". They corrected my errors and gave me the exact data, and I corrected my information as soon as possible.

Perhaps the scholar who credited the story to "Alberto Testa" could have made a similar error, and the actual writer of the story could be Guido Martina. But I'm not certain.

March 27, 2012 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

Actually, that's not Scrooge - it's his sister Matilda in drag. And that's Gladstone disguised as Grandma. I hope that clears everything up.

Well, I could argue that "Scrooge" is actually Quagmire Mcduck, in his first comics appearance and the colorist made his coat the same color as Scrooge's, but then I would want credit for translating the story if Marvel prints it.

March 29, 2012 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger F Willot said...

This story is acc. to Inducks the 13th Italian story featuring Donald (excluding gags). This is the listing using the advanced search page:

The listing in teh link you provided sort stories by *storycode* not by first publication date. To have more control on what the search engine gives, one has to use the (more cumbersome) advanced search page.
It just happens that the story's storycode (starting I AO = Albi d'Oro) is one of the first in lexicographic order. But that's a coincidence.

April 6, 2014 at 7:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I thank you profusely! That's the kind of information I'm always grateful for.

April 6, 2014 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Specialist Spectrus said...

This has finally been released in German - as the only real buying incentive in a large-sized hardcover Donald Duck birthday book! (Well, there's some other interesting points about this book, one of which belongs in the discussion to another blog post, the other being that ANOTHER Bottaro story ended up in it...perhaps to show people he quickly evolved from this?)

And, you may ask, what's my verdict on all of it now that I've *finally* had a chance to read it...?

It's fully in colour.

That's all.

November 5, 2019 at 6:13 PM  
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March 18, 2020 at 11:29 PM  

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