Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The Golden Throne Legend"

Hey folks; sorry about the recent radio silence on this end.  I've had various non-Disney-related things to attend to (shocking, I know).  I do have some interesting stuff planned for the near-ish future, including those last two Gottfredson entries (though at this point, we seem to be ramming head-on into the fourth volume's release).  But right now, it is necessary to say one thing:

Happy Seventieth Birthday to Marco Rota!

(Seriously, how come Google doesn't have a custom logo for this occasion?)

I think there is a real case to be made that Rota may in fact be the single best Disney artist.  Like, ever.  This is not the same thing as saying he's my favorite artist, if you see what I'm saying, but his skill has to be acknowledged, and I do enjoy his work a hell of a lot.  His early art from the seventies isn't necessarily all that distinctive,  but at some point during the late seventies/early eighties he came into his own, and became one of the most instantly-recognizable artists out there (in a good way, of course).  'Tis not for nothing that Don Rosa has stated that if, hypothetically, he were writing more stories, he would want Rota to take on the artistic duties--the two of them could not have more dissimilar artistic styles, but I guess talent knows its own.

(I've always felt like there should be some significance to the fact that 'Rosa' and 'Rota' are one letter apart--just as I feel like it should mean something that one of the guys from Wings has a name one letter away from one of Paul McCartney's best-known Beatles songs--it seems like the universe just likes throwing in weird little congruences like that for teh lulz.)

Rota's writing is more hit-or-miss--sometimes, as in the well-beloved "Money Ocean," he can really knock one out of the park, but he's also prone to the same sort of vague, elliptical, slightly disorienting stylistic quirks that many Italian writers are.  Today's story doesn't exactly transcend his weaknesses--in fact, it has some quite glaring problems--but I wanted to write about it because it's an important one for me in terms of the development of my aesthetic sensibilities: I had kind of an aversion to reading stuff by people other than Barks or Rosa, but for whatever reason, I read this one, and it was the first time I thought, wow, this isn't by either of those two, but it's really good.  Maybe there's more to life!

Right from the start, we see Rota's facility for drawing dramatic storm scenes (the best example of which comes in "Night of the Saracen," of course).  We also see his somewhat more realistic (insofar as dogfaces can be "realistic") people.  This particular story is Australia-centric, which I like because it's uncommon in a treasure-hunt story, for obvious reasons: you don't find the sort of cultural context there that would be very conducive to such things.

Rota does manage to create a pretty good pretext for this to work, though.  Also: Magica!  Who as it transpires represents the largest structural flaw in the story, as her presence is one hundred percent superfluous: she shadows the ducks on their search, then gives up and leaves, and no one ever even knows she was there.  Hmm.  Still, she wears some cool disguises, so that's all right, and that picture of her in silhouette is neat.  Also, my mind is blown by the existence of this "Every Witch's Guide to Omnipotence."  How long has she had that?  Is it a variation of The Woodchucks Guidebook?  A rival guidebook from a different publisher?  The foundations of my world are being shaken here.

And then there's this whole confusion, which I find funny because it's so ridiculous: see, they went to Bangalore, in India, but it turns out they needed to go to Kangalore in Australia, because kangaroos, don't you see, yes, right, okay…the word for "kangaroo" is similar enough in many other languages that this absurdity would work.

There's no denying that someone dropped the ball here big time, though--maybe it was Rota himself, but in that case, the person responsible for the English dialogue, Annette Roman, should have caught it, since it would only have required different dialogue for one panel.  The problem, if it's not clear, is that if "an ancestor" sold off the original, then why the heck does Scrooge decide that he should gallivant off to Western Australia to try to find it, as though it had been lost in the initial shipwreck?  And why does this assumption turn out, in fact, to have been correct?  A very obvious mistake.

One thing that really does work, though, is the sense of community we get here--something that was made clear right from the beginning:

This sort of thing causes me to forgive a lot.

Just look at that.  Also, an apparent reference to Echo & the Bunnymen's classic single "Bring on the Dancing Horses," which is worth massive bonus points, even though I have to assume it was Roman's doing rather than Rota's.

I was and am really taken with this conclusion, which takes a different perspective on Scrooge's relationship to the treasures he looks for.  Ordinarily, he either gets his treasure or doesn't, but in either case it's all about him, whereas here he serves as a more or less incidental figure to these guys, helping them to recover their heritage without ever knowing it.  I find that really neat.  There's a sense in which, even though they don't get that much screen time, they're the real protagonists.  Are we going to rain on the parade by asking why, if they're so dang poor, they can nonetheless afford to just sit on this huge cache of gold and stuff?  We sure aren't!  We're just going to say, doggonit, we like this story.  The end.

It is of course the case that there's plenty of Rota material--written both by Rota himself and by others--that has never seen US publication.  It is devoutly to be hoped that, in the event that a new publisher ever deigns to show itself, this problem will be in large degree remedied.  But in the meantime, have a good one, Marco, and many more--you make duck comics classier.



Anonymous Elaine said...

Wait, wait! Kangalore is in India, too! It has its own rajah and all, rival to Bangalore's. It's *after* Kangalore that they go to Australia.

I'm also confused by your complaint about the implication of the info that the Kangalorian rajah's ancestor sold his throne.
There didn't seem to be any mistake there to me. Scrooge goes to India first to find out whether the Golden Throne really existed, or was just a legend. So, the Bangalore throne exists--good news. But because it is still in India, it couldn't have been on the ship, as reported. That's why Scrooge is depressed when the Bangalore throne is still there. But hey, there was *another* golden throne, which could be the one the reporter meant. If the Kangalore throne is missing, then it *could* have been on the ship, so we proceed on the assumption that the article was correct (aside from one incorrect letter) in reporting the ship's manifest and we take off for Australia.

All that said, I agree with everything else you say about this story. Yes, the fact that Magica's presence makes no difference and is not even discovered by the ducks is indeed a structural flaw. Yes, the sense of community of the descendents of the Queen's crew/passengers/prisoners is great, and I also love how Scrooge's treasure quest serves to connect them with the relic of their own history (the ship, not the throne, of course, which they've had all along). I also like how the ending focuses on them rather than on Scrooge. At the same time, I'm impressed at how Rota arranges that Scrooge *does* get something out of this--that their letting him sit on the throne (unawares) still does provide him with a rewarding experience, a memory of the Klondike and "feeling like a real king" (a feeling that a nephew reinforces by reminding him that he "rules the kingdom of finance"). When a quest ends with Scrooge not getting the treasure, it can be hard to make it a happy ending for Scrooge, and this story does a pretty good job at that.

September 19, 2012 at 1:30 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I also agree with everything you say about Mr. Rota. He is a really wonderful artist, and I have enjoyed every Rota-drawn story I've read for the art alone, whether or not the story worked for me. His writing is more hit-or-miss. Like you, I liked "Halloween Huckster"; his "Nightmare Ship" is even better, just a TERRIFIC story, in my estimation simply the best Disney comic ghost story ever. I also like some other stories for which he is sole writer as well as artist: the two Zampata stories ("The Legendary Dance Competition" and "The Return of Zampata"), and "The Perforated Dollar," which, like The Golden Throne, features a storm at sea, and which also leaves the treasure in the possession of the natives (though they don't realize the nature of the treasure). But I'm more likely to find the writing equal to the excellence of the art when others did the plot or the writing. I like three of the stories for which Paul Halas supplied the plot: "The Incredible Shrinking Duck," which, like "Nightmare Ship," is very high on my list of "great duck stories by someone other than Barks or Rosa"; "Rugged Island"; and "Screen-Struck" (where Donald encounters the director Steven Iceberg!)...also Gail Renard's "Molepeople" (sort of a subterranean version of "Island in the Sky," with a cool underground city as drawn by Rota), and the time-travel Western-world tour of "The Viking Voyage" (plot by Lars Bergstrom and Stefan Printz-Pahlson, script by Tom Anderson). (I haven't seen "Prince Iganov" yet, a later chapter in this time-travel series also drawn by Rota.) Even when the stories written by Rota are duds ("Nightmare on Duck Street," disturbingly creepy rather than pleasantly scary, or "The Talking Totem," even more embarrassing in its depiction of American Indians than the Seminoles with totem poles in the "Spanish Fort/Sacred Necklace" story), the art makes them well worth buying/reading. I would buy English-language archival collections of Rota's stories in a heartbeat.

September 19, 2012 at 1:39 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Clearly, you are correct about the Banga/Kanga business; I must have assumed that Kangalore was in Australia because, fercryinoutloud, it's called "Kangalore." All apologies to Rota and/or Roman, though I'm going to be petty and blame my confusion at least partially on the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

I haven't read many of the stories you mention; I'll have to check them out. I wasn't too fond of "The Return of Zampata" (haven't read the one to which it is a sequel), if only because the "OMG, the hot girl can't cook, but the one who CAN cook is FAT!" business. Bah.

September 19, 2012 at 2:31 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

True that--but I liked other aspects of the "Return of Zampata." That the girls get to be the most active and competent people in the plot; that they are *not* rivals over Z. (as they would be in Every Other Story in Popular Culture) but happy to cooperate in saving him; that Z. is such a terrible singer (which reminded me of The Screaming Cowboy); the funny business with his horse, and the musical-critic critters.

As for how many Rota stories I've read that haven't been published in English: yes, well, it's probably clear that one of the ways I've ordered French comics this past year is to get anything by Rota. The good news for you is that the ones I mention *have* all been published in French, so there's hope that you can read them in the foreseeable future. No matter what Marvel does or doesn't announce at the New York Con next month.

September 19, 2012 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I think that, after Barks (of course), Marco Rota IS the best Disney comic artist ever! After all, would Rota even HAVE such a style, if not for Barks?

There aren’t very many things I can suggest to make these reviews better still – but one might be to add the issue title and number, when discussing a particular story. (…And, if an oft-reprinted tale, use the original appearance – OR the particular issue you are getting the story from! It’s not necessary to list 20 reprints, etc.)

I thought about looking the story up and reading it myself, but could not recall which issue it was in – and did not wish to take the time to look through the entire Gemstone run of UNCLE SCROOGE. …Your thoughts?

September 20, 2012 at 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

It's in Uncle Scrooge 327. But one can always find the issue number on INDUCKS, right? That way you can find the first printing, if you want to know, even if that's not the one GeoX used.

September 20, 2012 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

It's a valid point, though--I do tend to assume that everyone is as inducks-obsessive as I am. In the future, for convenience, I'll try to remember to at least include a link to the relevant story's entry.

September 20, 2012 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks, Geo!

To paraphrase Gladstone Gander: “Consulting Inducks *IS* a form of work!”

It’s a telling statement that visiting Inducks is not my first thought—but rather to rely on my memory, the proximity of my collection, or my own accumulated knowledge of the runs.

That’s how we used to do it in the pre-computer days, ye whipper-snappers! …And we remembered ‘em SQUARE!

The solution of a link to Inducks within each review is a good one!

September 20, 2012 at 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I love your "we remembered 'em SQUARE" line, Joe! Well do I remember the pre-computer and pre-INDUCKS days, when publishers would *print in a comic book* an index of all stories by N. printed in that country so far, an index that would then immediately go out of date. I just had my copy of WDC 626 (1998) out, and noticed a letter from a Dutch man trying to answer another letter's question about a Loch Ness monster story. The Dutch writer had some relevant info (Strobl, the title in the German version), but not enough to actually find the story. Made me grateful all over again to all the folks who make INDUCKS work! Nowadays I can just plug in "Loch Ness" or "lake monster" and find such a story easy as pie. The polar icecaps may be melting, but Some Things Do Get Better.

September 20, 2012 at 9:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, that's keeping things in perspective! There's a very extensive Barks bibliography in Michael Barrier's Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book, and it's sort of poignant, because it's so obviously a labor of love that entailed massive effort...and these days, it's one hundred percent obsolete.

September 20, 2012 at 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

But, back on topic...I've been thinking a lot about your statement that the descendants from the Queen of the Sea are the real protagonists of the story. That is definitely the coolest thing about this story--that Scrooge's treasure hunt turns out to be significant because of the role it plays for this community, which the reader comes to like and care about, even though, as you note, they have little screen time. So I've been asking, How exactly does Rota do that? Mostly by what he communicates in the beginning and the ending of the story--and partly simply by the fact that the story begins and ends with the people on/from the Queen of the Sea. So the beginning is not just a historical flashback that sets up the missing treasure plot; it also makes the reader identify with these folks from the word go, and cues us to the fact that this story is really *their* story. I don't think there's anything quite like this in any other duck story I've read. We may care about the Tralla Laians or the Peeweegahs for their own sake, but the meaning of the story isn't placed in their hands in this way.

September 20, 2012 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I think the most similar thing I know must be the business with Rolando and Panchita in "Old California." That story is unique in Barks' oeuvre for making the ducks in some ways secondary to this Hollywood-movie-ish couple. That's not quite the same as this, however, since there we're just talking about two individuals, as opposed to the whole community we have here.

September 20, 2012 at 10:31 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine said… I love your "we remembered 'em SQUARE" line, Joe!

Thanks, Elaine! Part joke and part truth!

In the spirit of Scrooge, as I’m sure you know, once if you wanted an index you had to do it yourself! Extracting the nuggets of information from the unforgiving rock, with one’s own calloused hands! Kidding aside, each time you “discovered” something new, it was another thrill! The type of thrill that Internet browsing cannot equal, because – if for no more than a moment – you feel as if you’re the first and only one to come across your latest discovery… even if you know full well that you’re not!

I still go to some of those indexes I did all those years ago, first solo and still more with Chris Barat, as my first stop. They and my AR Hardcover Barks Library are my first sources of info, and are still behind me on my bookshelves as I write this – ironically on a computer to post on a Blog!

September 20, 2012 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, I can definitely understand the thrill of discovery. I don't know how many people here are videogamers, but there's a definite similarity here to the way, back in the day, finding a pivotal secret in a game was a real holy-shit moment--whereas these days, with internet faqs at your fingertips, the magic is gone.

Can't complain too much, though; there are loads of stories that I never, ever would have discovered if not for inducks. It's hard for me to imagine having to approach this huge mass of material completely blind.

September 20, 2012 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Yep, Geo… We can’t un-ring the cat’s spilled-milk back into the bell’s bagged bottle – or sumpthin’ like that!

Inducks is certainly a great resource and, as with IMDB, piecing things together without it would be damned near impossible by now.

Those “olden days” were fun… though ya hadda be there to truly appreciate ‘em!

September 21, 2012 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I so wish you would review more Romana Scarpa stories...I just read "The last Balaboo" and I would love to see yore rant about it


September 21, 2012 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


It's interesting to browse through the contents of old issues of TOPOLINO on Inducks. Rota did a LOT of covers for that magazine back in the day, and you can see why. They look great.

Among his numerous other positive attributes as an artist, Rota arguably drew the sexiest-looking Magica ever (though Branca gave him a run for his money on that score).


September 22, 2012 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Indeed; this Rota portrait of Magica as a pirate is to die for.

September 22, 2012 at 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Hmmm...cool portrait, indeed. But what *are* those earrings attached to?

September 22, 2012 at 11:58 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home