Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"The Lentils from Babylon"

Okay, I've been reading a lot of Romano Scarpa stories lately.  I know I've been very critical of the man in the past (and I maintain that "Anti-Dollarosis" is a really poorly-conceived/realized piece of work), but there's no question that the man could turn out a quality mouse story.  So, I decided to go back and check out some of his duckwork that I had previously dismissed, to see whether my sensibilities had changed.  I propose, here, to look at a number of his stories, starting with this 1960 effort, currently ranked twenty-four (!) on inducks, his second-highest-rated thing after "The Blot's Double Mystery," which was written by my old nemesis Guido Martina, and therefore is not really a fair measuring stick for how good the man is or isn't.

Well, let's not bury the lede too much here: yes, I've been finding more to like in Scarpa's work than I did previously.  If I didn't have anything to say beyond what I did about "Anti-Dollarosis," there probably wouldn't be much use in saying anything.  But that doesn't mean that I don't still find this story in particular problematic, and indeed emblematic of what's wrong with a lot of his work: there's good stuff here.  But the question looms large: just how much bullshit are you willing to tolerate to get to the good stuff?  Because let me tell you, there is a lot of bullshit in "The Lentils from Babylon," and it's not 'til towards the end that the good begins to predominate over the bad.

Let me briefly pause to recap the story's overly convoluted plot, because let's face it, it's so all over the place that even if you've read the story, you probably don't have a clear recollection of what it's about, and you're maybe not so keen on the idea of rereading.  The idea is that Scrooge is now a huge fan of lentils (having become bored of quail, apparently), and he comes across some imported Babylonian lentils that have that certain je ne sais quoi, even though everyone but him hates them.  So he determines to purchase the company that distributes them.  But what's this?  The company is owned by the Beagle Boys, who accidentally stumbled upon these ancient lentils whilst searching in the Middle East for more substantive treasure.  Scrooge buys as much stock in the company as he can, but for some MYSTERIOUS REASON, the Beagles don't want the lentils to become popular, and they refuse to sell him their own stock, thus preventing him from doing what he wants with the company.  So, he does the only rational thing, which is to trade the entire contents of his Money Bin for complete ownership.  But oh no, it turns out there aren't enough lentils left to fulfill demand.  So it's off to Asia to see what's what, which turns out to be that the Beagles have a Cunning Plan: there's this country called "Paylesh" that's buying the lentils, paying for them with the country's dirt, which, unbeknownst to the natives, is full of gold dust.  Then, the Beagles buy back the lentils for far less than the dirt is worth, trade 'em back for more dirt, and the cycle continues.  Also, your brain hurts.  Anyway, the truth comes out, and now Scrooge is kinda boned, except that the Beagles offer to return to him his money if he's actually able to make one of these lentils grow, which, as the story ends, he's about to do.  THE END.

Yeah…it certainly doesn't have simplicity in its favor.

This in media res opening actually works pretty well.  Scarpa likes this way of opening stories, but too often there's this OMG HOW DID OUR HEROES GET INTO THIS INSANE SITUATION?!? vibe that kinda makes me roll my eyes.  This is okay, though.  It's interesting in the way it establishes that Scrooge being poor is an ongoing thing that he's more or less just accepting.  That's not something you see often, if ever.

But one of the substantial problems with this story is that there's not just a lotta bullshit mixed in; it's that the entire premise here is based on bullshit.  As in: okay, after reading the story, we know what the Beagles are really doing with these lentils, and why they don't want them to become popular in the States.  So… are they even selling them there?  They could've saved themselves an awful lot of trouble by keeping the whole operation sub rosa.  You can't tell me they're smart enough to pull something like this off but too dumb to realize something this obvious.  Well, okay, you can, but it's not good characterization.

No!  Shut up!  That's nonsense and you know it!  You're just drawing attention to the problem by trying to explain it!  With the possible exception of Neil from The Young Ones, nobody in the world cares about lentils to the extent that they would comb whatever ultra-obscure, (presumably) Iraqi trade journals that might mention a business operating out of the country, and think, whoa--a new lentil distributor?  I gotta get me some of that!  And even in the bizarre event that they did, well?  As long as they're not Scrooge, presumably they'd hate them in any case.  So why bother?  Dammit.

And the most irksome thing is, this problem could easily have been solved by just having Scrooge stumble across the lentils while inspecting some business or other in the Middle East.  You might say, hey, why get so het up about this?  Sure, it doesn't make much sense, but it gets the story off the ground, which is what it's meant to do.  Calm yourself.  But the thing is, yes, okay, a certain amount of bullshit is tolerable in a story, but unless you're being intentionally absurdist (which Scarpa isn't here), you should do your best to err on the side of including as little bullshit as you can reasonably manage.

But, well, what happens happens, and we get this rather leaden and tediously predictable bit about stock manipulation.  As a lesson in economics, it's far from the level of Barks' "Financial Fable" or indeed Michael T Gilbert and William Van Horn's "That Ol' Soft Soap."  And one has to wonder: the Beagles decided that their company, to which they want to draw as little attention as possible, should be publicly-traded, because…?  To be fair, they do maintain enough stock on their own that they're not going to lose control, but it still seems really inadvisable.  One is tempted to be uncharitable and suggest that Scarpa didn't even know there was any other choice.  In any case, though, it's just another bothersome little detail.

And then--BIG FAT HUGE SIGH--we get the most unspeakably dumb and boring part of the whole story, as the Beagles attempt to squelch Scrooge's publicity efforts.

I mean okay okay, I'm well aware that "dumb and boring" is a subjective value judgment, but gosh…I'll admit that "Avoid Babylon lentils! They're cursed!" is sort of funny, but it's funny in such a dopey way, like something I would've come up with when I was ten, that my entire being just rejects the whole thing as misbegotten.

(Also: live commercials?)

And then, we get to the other absurdity: the idea that this lentil concern is going to triple his fortune--which, let us remember, consists of surely hundreds at least of mines, factories, and everything else.  But talk about lentils and ho ho boy!  Then we're really in clover!  Also note how the Beagles to all appearances (there's no indication that this is meant to be any sort of subterfuge) accept the idea that Scrooge's fortune would indeed be tripled, even though we know that the insufficiency of lentils is going to be a big problem, which leads to the question of why the hell they'd be willing to sell at all.

But they do!  For all the cash in his bin!  I suppose commenting on the total absurdity of this plot point would be superfluous?  I mean okay I can understand, kind of, being willing to just accept this kind of loosey-goosey approach to realism, but I just can't.  It's one thing to have plot details make no sense, but when you find yourself deforming well-established characters, you've gone too far for me.

…and it surely says something about the story that I--who am as opposed to corporate malfeasance as you can get--somehow can't help finding Donald and HDL's reaction to Scrooge's idea of finding other lentils elsewhere to just be insufferably self-righteous.  Get the hell over yourselves!  No one's gonna know, and it's not gonna have any negative effect on anyone!  Blargh!

Also, you know, maybe I'm just really slow on the uptake, but it took me quite some time and puzzling through things to figure out how this scam actually worked.  I can't help thinking there's just something fundamentally misconceived about centering a story around so incredibly convoluted a scheme.  I wonder how many small children reading this were able to really understand it.

Also, hard to say how the natives were unaware of the gold, given how obvious it is to even a layman like Donald.

I've been pretty negative here I know, but now we get to the part of the story that I unequivocally like, where the Beagles foolishly bet him his money back that we won't be able to make his ancient lentils grow.  His childish "but I WANT them to!" is funny in a character-appropriate way.

I also quite like the montage sequence of the ducks going all over the world trying to plant lentils in every conceivable environment.  It's really cool and epic.

Did I say "unequivocally like?"  Well, I have to take that back, alas.

It's okay to just say "he's lost his Money bin!  Now he's poor!"  If you just do that, we'll accept it, and everything will be fine.  But when you draw attention to the fact that the actual money in the bin is only a small percentage of his total fortune, the whole thing just breaks down.  What exactly does Scarpa imagine those "factories and buildings" are for, anyway?  If we're going to acknowledge that he has all these additional assets, we have to also acknowledge that he would still be extremely well-off even without the bin.  And to think: this would've been the easiest thing in the world to fix: just say that he had traded his entire empire with the Beagles, not just the stuff in the bin (which still would leave us with the wildly implausible plot point of him being willing to do this, but c'mon--I'm just trying to contain the worst of the damage.  You cannot ask the world of me).

I DO, however, like this pluckiness, even if it doesn't really go much of anywhere.  This might also be a good place to mention another cool thing about the story; namely, the way Gladstone commissioned not zero, not one, but two Don Rosa covers to go with it:

Not too bad, considering that the story isn't hugely visually dynamic.  That second one makes me wish that we actually got to see the Beagles living it up like that in the story itself.  That seems to be a rather odd omission on Scarpa's part.

And I'll readily admit that the ending is very well-executed, even if I can't help but think: wouldn't it be better if Scrooge regained his fortune due to, I dunno, some sort of actual effort on his part?  Still, credit where due for ending on such an unusual note.

So…there we have it.  The first time I read this story, I found it tremendously dull and not much else.  On rereading, my impression is certainly more nuanced: it's a hopelessly chaotic mish-mash of a thing, and yet, against all odds, it somehow manages to sorta-kinda work in the larger analysis.  Is it the twenty-fourth best Disney story ever?  Now that is a notion more bizarre than anything Scarpa ever came up with.



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Wow! I didn't know Rosa did covers for this one!

I myself like this one a lot, however I admit I had trouble geting the Bealge Boys plot. Way to complicated...

I think Yu, GeoX should at least appriciate that Beagles in Scara stores aren't stupid but clever and with multiply talents (heck, one was shown talented in reading aincient writing)
Note they are actually nice enought to warn Scrooge he makes a bad deal(in Polish translation any way) They appear to be pretty honest in this story...

I'm not hundret 100% sure on this one but there WAS a piriot when they did have live commercial on TV, so it wasn't as bizzare at the time the story was made.

Some interesting trivia I MUST point out on this story in it's non-american publishing history :

1) In oryginal story the local guy's Donald meet (the one on the picture where Huey give them cans and they give the ducks gold dust) where black... as in "offencive-stereotype-with-big-red-lips-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-Scarpa black". Those here are obviosuly re-drawn...

2) Now I can only speak for Polish version on this one, but in Polish version at least, Scrooge dosen't give the Beagles just the money in the money bin but... HIS ENTIRE FORTUNE which explians why he went broke so quick. True it's way more foolish on his part but then agian it makes more sence for the story to work...

Once agian another great review GEOX! Hope you wil review more Scarpa stuff soong ( "The Blot's Double Mystery" is actually a great choise...)

January 9, 2013 at 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

OK, Pan, you like this one a lot--WHY?? What do you like about it? It's a complete mystery to me why this has such a high rating on Inducks. I could put it down to nostalgia on the part of Italians who grew up reading Scarpa, but really, what about this story would appeal to a child? No adventure, no fantasy, no mystery, no steamshovels. I am mystified.

I can understand when there are high Inducks ratings for a genre I don't appreciate myself--literary parodies, for instance, or Mickey Mouse stories. But this story is just a mess.

This story's plot didn't make any sense to me when I first read it, and nothing about reading the story motivated me to try to figure it out. Even reading GeoX's valiant attempt at explaining it hasn't made it any clearer to me.

That said, I do appreciate Pan's comments about the Scarpa Beagles' cleverness, the excised racist stereotypes, etc. Pan, if in the Polish version Scrooge paid with his entire fortune, what is said in that prose panel GeoX shows where it talks about Scrooge having to sell off other stuff to pay his debts?

January 9, 2013 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

In polish version the text in the panel is actualy much shorter it simply say (in my own translation)
"Months passes and we finaly get to the very moment this story startet. Scrooge is having some hard times..."

As to the questio WHY I like it? Hard to tell. When I read it for the first time I was about 17 years old and it suck me in pretty quickly.

While it's not words greatest mystery it did enjoy the whole plot and how it ceep me guesing what will happend next (you don't lear what the Beagles plot is until the last 1/4)and while some would argue it's off charater I like how Scrooge wantet to hel Beagles with their company while they wanted him to go away. The way Scrooge manipulates the market was clever as well... I don't know I just like whole thing about running the company and the buuisnes maret etc.

Looking back I appriciate how complex Scarpa stories are (even if its gets over the top silly at the moments) s and how many direction it went in his stories. Plus for all its bizzarnes I like his type humor... So there!

(BTW - > Unlike some of you gus I actually enjoy most of Romano Scaras stuff so I have no "O no, It's by Scarpa..." reaction but quite the oposite so maybe it's a matter of aditute)

January 10, 2013 at 6:41 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks for saying what you like about this story, and about Scarpa in general, Pan. Clearly *many* people share your attitude. I find it a bit easier to understand liking his stories that have more adventure or great scenic venues, like Colossus of the Nile or Amundsen's Talisman. This one is all about confusing financial machinations, so it completely leaves me cold. So far the only Scarpa stories I've liked are his Robin Hood takeoff (I have the French "Donald des Bois"), "The Butterflies of Columbus" (where the absurdity is the whole point), and stories written by others: Being Good for Goodness Sake (Chendi) and Perfect Happiness (Cimino). I often appreciate his art, but not his storytelling.

But now the question arises: in the original, does Scrooge give the Beagles the contents of his money bin, or his entire fortune? Does anyone out there know?

January 10, 2013 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yes. Informative stuff, Pan. Interesting to learn how the "natives" were portrayed in the original. Of course, now they look more or less like white-trash stereotypes, which is pretty jarring in itself. Mayhaps there's no ideal solution.

As far as Scarpa stories go, Elaine, you might like the Marco Polo story that he did with Martina. It has its flaws, but I still like it a lot. Sort of an unusual travelogue-ish kind of thing that, unlike "McDucato," mostly works.

January 10, 2013 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Way, way back when I Americanized this story for Gladstone, I considered it one of the best things Scarpa ever did—and found the Beagles' complicated, convoluted plan utterly fascinating!
Maybe that's many readers' reaction in Italy, too? Most Scarpa stories have seen multiple reprints there, but "Lentils" is such hot stuff that it's been in multiple "best-of" type compilations.
From today's vantage point, I don't quite see why it's so great—or, indeed, why I once liked it so much. I mean, I like it well enough, but its complications work against it.

January 11, 2013 at 3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, reading this and your review, I think I discovered what Scarpa's creative process is for these Duck stories.

He comes up with an idea... and then he just starts drawing the comic. He doesn't stop to think about how the idea should work, or the way it should end beyond generally returning to the status quo, or any particular twists. He keeps drawing, and drawing, whatever he feels like drawing, with no real ending in mind, and when he's X number of pages away from the end, he resolves the plot. And why do I think this?

Because I have never read a single story of his where if you outlined that shit on paper, a human being would understand it or believe that it was a coherent story. Your ability to summarize it at all is a testament to the human spirit, because there is absolutely no structure to speak of. Who in the name of God heaven and Hell EDITED these comics when they were coming in, and were they just like The Pointy Haired Boss of Dilbert?

I will, however, give him credit for his art in this story. It's pretty damn good.

January 14, 2013 at 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Reviewordie, your comment made me laugh as much as one of GeoX's reviews does! I agree, I can't quite see Scarpa outlining the plot of this story in advance. In Amundsen's Talisman and in The Butterflies of Columbus, I'd say he definitely had decided beforehand on the final plot twist which concludes the story. But especially in Talisman, the course of the story seems determined entirely by Scarpa's saying to himself, "Hmm, what do I feel like drawing now?"

January 14, 2013 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I agree also. That's a perceptive comment; it's not an impression I get from ALL of Scarpa's stories, but "Lentils" becomes a lot more comprehensible (for certain values of "comprehensible") if you take that as a starting point. And I think that's even more true for "Anti-Dollarosis."

January 14, 2013 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I shudder to consider what Reviewordie would think of my personal “scripting counter-punch” to Scarpa’s technique (…or lack thereof, if you support Reviewordie’s position) of “Meeting Scarpa’s Madness Head-On”, as I’ve described in other posts here!

Though I can say, without reservation, that I analyze the story to the fullest extent allowable, before diving head-first into The Maestro’s pool of fun and weirdness. Whether HE ever did, or not!

…Now, back to the over-abundance of day-job work that has kept me unusually silent, throughout Blog and e-mail land!

January 14, 2013 at 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elaine, Geo, thank you for the kind words. :)

Joe, if I can be honest and I mean no offense to any person, I can't say I've ever read a Scarpa story I liked (though I've never read his mouse work). Partly because no matter how good the translator is, unless you throw out his work completely and start from scratch, it's still twice as long as it needs to be and a structural mess. The jokes aren't the important part for me, it's the story. But even then, if the jokes and script are really good, a big part of my problem with him is his art.

Oftentimes it just looks... well, bad. Lentils of Babylon might be the best I've ever seen him. But take a look at The Fifty Money Bins caper and you'll see what I'm talking about. This sketchy, off-model, baffling style that is just painfully ugly. No matter how good the script is, I can't stand bad art. I don't have it in me.

God I sound like a curmudgeon right now. Sorry about that.

January 16, 2013 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


I can’t honestly say I disagree with you… and that’s exactly WHY, when I had the opportunity with work with some Scarpa stories, I approached them as I did.

The arbitrary weirdness, when combined with a generally flat and conventional scripting approach, cannot work – so my only choice was try to run with him step-for-step.

Imagine the “lawyer’s office sequence” from MICKEY MOUSE # 309 in more traditional hands. Or the entirety of the story I called “The Pelican Thief”, in UNCLE SCROOGE # 403, without all the entertainment and political references – and my enhancing a very non-descript villain (at least he was in the flat Australian English translation I was given to work with) by making him such a consummate “Identity Thief” that no one knows his real name… Including HIM. He HAD a name, BTW… A very bland and uninteresting name, until I decided that I’d have “none of that”, and reworked him into something I hope was better than I received!

I’d like to think those stories turned out more enjoyable than they might otherwise have been – both because of my efforts, and despite Scarpa’s seemingly arbitrary weirdness. If “the jokes and script” are all I can do to make things better, then know I’ll always give my all to the cause!

But… Here’s where I disagree. Why single out Scarpa for what I see as the shortcomings of Italian Disney comic books stories in general?

Much of the stuff we see here suffers from (as you say) that “sketchy, off-model, baffling style”.

Why, for instance, is Giorgio Cavazzano so revered? If Barks is the standard by which all others are judged, he is absolutely horrible! And, he sure ain’t the only one drawing those skinny Beagle Boys! I’m still trying to forget Boom!’s “Ultraheroes”… for concept, art, script, and anything else you can name!

And, so much of the Italian stuff is “out-there” plot-wise (and meandering, to boot), requiring skilled translators with a sense of the characters, like David Gerstein, to make it in any way palatable. Boom’s early stuff was downright awful, but a knowledgeable translator could have gone a long way toward fixing it. Eventually, that IS what happened, but it was too little and too late.

You make many fair points applicable to Scarpa, but I’d add that the brush needs to become wider still.

And, to paraphrase the tag-line of a well-known beer commercial: “Stay curmudgeonly, my friends!” In the realm of American Disney comics, there’s plenty to be curmudgeonly about, so please do keep it up! No apologies necessary!

January 17, 2013 at 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And since I forgot a sentence there in that comment I just posted, I DO think the art is amazing.

January 17, 2013 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Let us note here that we may be in danger of conflating two different things: on the one hand, there's art that we may not like, but which nonetheless has a clear aesthetic sense and isn't just the result of artistic incompetence (like a lot of Cavazzano stuff); on the other, you have stuff like the aforementioned "Fifty Money Bins" story, where the art's just all over the place, with characters constantly going off-model in really weird and inconsistent ways. It's true that sometimes the line between these two things gets a little blurry, but there's still a definite distinction to be made.

January 17, 2013 at 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... *sigh* Okay, a very long, complicated post didn't go through, so I'm gonna retype it, but more concisely.

Joe, I appreciate you not minding my grumpiness. Geo, yeah, there definitely is a danger there but I promise you I am not going to fall in to the trap.

I don't actually have the base of experience to comment on Italian comics as a whole, when my experience has largely been Scarpa and Paperinik New Adventures (which has amazing artwork in the sketchier style, though I find it a bit cluttered for my tastes). I've seen some Italian comics here with art that I've loved featured on this very blog, so there's that too. Giovan Battista Carpi is an artist whose work I would love dearly to see more of in the States, and if there's more like him I want it!

I can't comment on the original work that's been translated here, because well, all I have is the translation. I am gonna go off on a tangent here though, so I apologize for that in addition to the curmudgeonliness, which I try to avoid when I can. I have failed miserably in this post, and for that I apologize.

I have a very different view of what translation is supposed to be in the context of Disney comics or, in truth, art in general: I believe it should be meant to represent authorial intent, and that the work must stand on its own. No matter how funny the resulting changes may be, it strikes me as artistically dishonest on the part of the publishers to bring something that needs to be 'fixed' by way of totally rewriting the plot or tone before it's considered a quality story.

It's employing people to use spackle, which is a waste of the talents of great translators, who are able to make a story feel like it was written in the language it's published in and let a reader experience something wonderful that they never would have been exposed to before.

Anyway. Geo's post on Lentils from Babylon was partly the reason why I wrote my own take on what I want Disney comics to be in my blog. It's frustrating to pick up a comic that promises work from a great and pick up Fifty Money Bin Caper, or for that matter, Lentils from Babylon. I'd sure as hell read Disney's War and Peace, or The Missing Candelabra, though.

January 17, 2013 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Reviewordie writes:

“I have a very different view of what translation is supposed to be in the context of Disney comics or, in truth, art in general: I believe it should be meant to represent authorial intent, and that the work must stand on its own. No matter how funny the resulting changes may be, it strikes me as artistically dishonest on the part of the publishers to bring something that needs to be 'fixed' by way of totally rewriting the plot or tone before it's considered a quality story.” “It's employing people to use spackle…”

Now, I’m not at all sure what you mean here and maybe I’m misreading you… but, honestly, how in the heck could I, or anyone in my position, ever know “authorial intent”, short of a conversation with the original author? And, in many cases, the two of us probably would not even speak the same language.

The fact of the matter is that someone like me is HIRED to “fix” things, in order to get them into shape for consumption by an American audience. It started with Geoffrey Blum at Gladstone, and continued thru the end of Boom! (Anyone think the original European authors conceived those Blum-scripted stories with opera and literary references? I’m betting not!) In WCD&S # 720, I was faced with EVERYONE in Mickey’s touring gang (including Brigitta and Trudy) being major celebrities in Italy. And why? Because, as an Italian commenter to my Blog later told me, they appear weekly there in TOPOLINO!

Really? What in the world was I supposed to do with that?! Could that major plot point really “stand on its own” without intervention? I sure couldn’t IGNORE it! If that was “authorial intent”, it was not something I could use for US publication and maintain the established characterizations that are / were the hallmarks of these comics! I came up with SOMETHING that would work, within the duration of that particular story, but would not alter the characters (or our perception of them) going forward. I wouldn’t call that “spackle”. In a way, it’s more like “plotting” because I also have to “make stuff up” to fit the story.

…Alas, there was no “forward” from that point. And, for that, we should all remain curmudgeonly.

Maybe, in your view, there should be NO “translations” or re-dialoguing of existing material, and only new stories should be created for these characters – each specific to their own country’s culture. Yeah, perhaps that should be… Just as it was in the great Dell and pre-‘70s Gold Key years in the USA. But, if you think it’ll be difficult to get the American comics back now, just imagine if every potential licensee was forced to create 100 percent new and original content. That hasn’t been the case SINCE Gold Key - -and even they used and reused their own reprints.

January 17, 2013 at 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you being hired to rework stories that don't stand on their own merits, rather than the way Asterix comics do when localized, is symptomatic of a lack of forward thinking on the part of the publishers. Reprinting I get, translating great comics I get: I just find reworking an entire plot and using the art a very distasteful practice.

Anyway. It was a tangent and I'd delete it if I had the opportunity because it's wildly off topic.

January 18, 2013 at 12:45 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

There really isn't a "topic," so no one need worry about being off it. That said, I don't think I really understand the objection to artistic license on the part of localizers, and to the extent I DO understand it, I'm pretty sure I don't agree with it. But, you know, let a thousand flowers bloom.

January 18, 2013 at 2:34 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“I just find reworking an entire plot and using the art a very distasteful practice.”

So, given that the story we called “The Treasure of Marco Topo” (in itself a title-homage to a ‘60s Barks story), in its original author’s concept, presented a major plot element that was irreconcilable with the previously established 70 years of American Disney comics lore, does that mean that the American audience should never see that story rather than endure a logical plot fix?
A plot fix, I might add, that most readers and critics may not even know occurred, if I was less intent on offering up occasional tidbits of “behind the scenes” knowledge. Just imagine the stuff we’d know today if there were Blogs for Carl Barks and Chase Craig comment on!

That’s the choice that seems to be given to the publishers in this debate. Darn their lack of forward thinking! Personally, I’d rather see the story as presented in the USA, than not see it because its original author went off on some unconventional, perception-altering tangent.

Again: “Stay curmudgeonly, my friends!”

January 18, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

And, finally, to lighten the mood…

Geo, since this has become a debate over scripting and translation, should it not be: “Let a thousand flowers BLUM.”

Okay, I’ll go away, now.

January 18, 2013 at 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Geo. My argument comes from want for things that aren't happening. Either for new material, or material that's worth translating to begin with.

But Joe... you're presenting a false dichotomy. Assuming the story is good, I say this. I actually think the story should be published without fixing it, since Disney comics can be completely disparate in their portrayal of setting, characterization, time, or who's doing what. Call it Disney Comics instead rather than Topolini, cause there IS no consistency or canon. There are only the characters, who feel as they do, and stories that don't fit the mold of the CHARACTERS should not published. I believe in localization, for dialogue and jokes and names at the like to make the translation seamless, so that's just not my objection. I look at "The Arcadian Urn" as an example of very smart changes in dialogue, like the Junior Woodchuck thing that Webby did. It made a certain kind of sense to tell the story that way. I've seen some amazing translated stuff... and believe me, as an anime fan, you see a lot of translations and pick up on how things are being changed. But my objection is the following paragraph.

I read a story, some DuckTales one near the tail end of BOOM!'s run with Glomgold I think, and it had very clearly changed the entire plot. The art didn't match the words, things sort of just happened, and you could tell it wasn't what had originally been published. There were some good jokes. But it had been changed pretty much from the ground up, with only the art from the original remaining.

Lemme tell ya, if I saw my work, no matter what it might be, translated that way? I'd be pretty insulted. It wasn't changed so the jokes landed better, it was just gutted and rewritten. That's my objection. That's a pretty lousy feeling for someone who slaved over a creative work, and it offends me as someone who paid for a comic that the translators didn't think was good enough to publish until they fixed it. Let them write a comic instead, since there's talent there. But if not? I'd rather have a reprint.

This is getting very close to my "Publishers are doing a terrible job cultivating talent" rant.

January 18, 2013 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“There is no consistency or canon”, where Disney comics and their characters are concerned?

Kindly explain the worldwide success of Don Rosa’s work. It is almost COMPLETELY predicated on there being exactly the sort of consistency that you deny exists.

The sort of consistency that my editors and (apparently most) of my readers appreciate in my translation and scripting work!

Furthermore, it’s clear that you do not acknowledge the concept of “work-for-hire”. As an author of Disney comic book stories, you do not own ANYTHING, beyond the pittance you received for handing in the work. Sure, you can be unhappy with alterations in your work… I get them even in my scripts, and sometimes they seem arbitrary to me. But, that’s not just PART of the game… it IS the game! Write your own Great American Novel, if you feel that protective… but don’t write for Disney comics, because you WILL be disappointed in the results.

Just remember, the publisher is ASKING for this because they feel it puts the best product on the shelves for the audience they are striving to reach. If a publisher asks me to do that job, I’m going to do it -- and do it to the best of my ability. If they ask me to do that job, they’re going to get proper characterization (born of decades of familiarity with how the characters are handled in American comic books), an infusion of the type of humor that prevents the product from reading as bland, and (as Carl Barks did) the crafting of a script that I would enjoy reading. Though, you would seem to ask less of me, standing behind “authorial intent”.

Please remember that “authorial intent” is not only less relevant in work-for-hire situations, but is not (and often cannot be) known. A story may go through a chain of publishers, editors, and/or countries before it reaches me. In many cases, the author may no longer even be alive. What would you have a publisher do in such a situation?

As for the DuckTales story you cite, that was mine -- and it was the blandest script I’d ever been handed. No DuckTales-specific characterization whatsoever. No humor. The “gutting” you referred to was what was ASKED FOR by the publisher – and online reviews of that particular story I’ve found point to the rewriting as a success. I was told explicitly by the publisher how much they enjoyed it… And the original author still got his name on it (credited as such), and (deservedly) got paid more than I did… so everybody wins – except the occasional curmudgeonly Blog commenter, it seems.

January 18, 2013 at 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not really your call as to what I don't understand, but I appreciate being talked to like I'm an idiot, it keeps the discourse from being polite and a matter of back and forth. I understand what work for hire is. Do you understand that Don Rosa's comics exist in the same line as the Donald Duck comics that are Pokemon takeoffs? I like them both. But they're irreconcilable.

My blame is signed squarely on the publishers, who I believe are doing the fans a disservice. My blame is on editorial team at Egmont who believe that paying for it, is fine: Because all they really need is the structure and art, and translators will fix it with the Marvel method. THEY are the ones whom I assign blame on, because they hire you to do a job that I find provides an inferior product.

It doesn't lead to good comics as the common thing in Disney titles. It leads to half-decent comics that have an occasional gem in there.

January 18, 2013 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

No offence is intended – and saying that you may not “acknowledge” the concept of “work-for-hire” is not the same as saying you don’t “understand” it.

I’ll agree to believe that you are not insulting my work, or Romano Scarpa’s for that matter, (despite how some of the comments read), and ask you to believe that I am not insulting you (despite how some of my comments might read). I’m only disagreeing, based on professional experience. What’s the point of insulting anyone over something that’s probably never coming back anyway? …We’re all unhappy in this together.

January 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is coming back... of that, I can assure you.

All will be well.

January 18, 2013 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Well, don't hold back now... Share something!

January 18, 2013 at 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaron Sparrow's twitter is what gives me the belief. He was the editor of the first arc of Darkwing Duck, and there have been NUMEROUS Darkwing Duck discussions, teases and the like about him and James Silvani working on the character again. I actually think they've started some work, but at the very least they're in preproduction.

A few snippets I've seen make me think that Disney's trying to set up their own imprint, using some of Marvel's resources. This time, though, they're recruiting talent rather than getting superhero editors.

What it LOOKS like is Disney Afternoon characters will be showing up at the very least. Classic Disney titles might not be hitting us right off the bat, but it's something.

That said, this is all rumor and speculation based off a twitter account, I'm privy to absolutely nothing. NOTHING. And with much of the old Disney talent at Fantagraphics right now, I couldn't begin to guess who the top level guys would be, because them leaving their jobs to work on Disney comics would, ironically enough, probably ruin the Disney comics they're working on.

I think they're coming back. I think it's going to be better than what it was in a big way. But we'll see.

January 18, 2013 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks. That checks with what I know... or don't know, as the case may be. My primary interest lies with the "Core Four" titles, and I feel that David G. MUST be involved with those, should they ever return.

January 18, 2013 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...


Shortly after "Gladstone II" was off the ground and running, I began regularly, incessantly nagging them about publishing previously-unseen-in-the-U.S. Romano Scarpa stories.

I'm sorry. Honest.


-- Ryan

January 26, 2013 at 8:26 AM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

Looking at those two cover scans ... I wish that I knew enough about graphic design and printing to be able to pin down why Gladstone II's covers looked so half-assed, when Gladstone I's are what to me were nigh perfection ...

-- Ryan

January 26, 2013 at 8:31 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

No apologies--this shit's nothing if not interesting, even when it doesn't work. As for the covers, are you talking specifically about the art, or more the layout?

January 26, 2013 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Let me also say that I'm sorta curious about why you were so keen on seeing more Scarpa: is this because of the stuff Gladstone I published? They ran some pretty solid Scarpa mouse stuff, so I can see why that would make you want more along those lines, but as for duck stories--did the likes of "Amundsen's Talisman" and "The Last Balaboo" really leave you craving more? This, I wonder about.

January 26, 2013 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Ryan Wynns writes:

“Looking at those two cover scans ... I wish that I knew enough about graphic design and printing to be able to pin down why Gladstone II's covers looked so half-assed, when Gladstone I's are what to me were nigh perfection ...”

The two-word answer to that question, Ryan, is: Daan Jippes!

All agreed?

January 26, 2013 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Actually--*glancing back and forth furtively*--I kind of hate most of Jippes' Gladstone I cover art. Don't get me wrong; the man's an extremely capable artist, and I like a lot of his stories, but he has a number of highly divergent artistic idioms in which he works, and the one on those old issues--which, thankfully, he's pretty much abandoned, as far as I can tell--is the one I like to call "hideous." To be entirely clear, I'm referring to stuff like this, with weirdly malformed character models.

January 26, 2013 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I like "The Last Balaboo" but the way Scarpa introduce Brigita was always very odd to me (she appear in a way like we seen this character in many stories while it was here 1st apperance)

I wish You review this GeoX :)

January 26, 2013 at 7:20 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I don't know whether I could decide on which of the publisher's runs I prefer overall for covers, but I certainly couldn't make that determination on the basis of Daan Jippes' covers. My two favorite Jippes covers are the infinity joke on WDC 518 (Gladstone I) and the piratical nephews scuttling Donald's ship-in-a-bottle on DDA-G 39 (Gladstone II). Of his covers for Barks stories, I like his Forbidden Valley (DD 248, Gladstone I) and his Ancient Persia and Pawns of the Loup Garou (DD 339 & 344, Gemstone), and dislike his Officer for a Day (WDC 628, Gemstone), Volcano Valley and Mystery of the Swamp (DD 256 & DDA-G 7, both Gladstone I). Oh, I also like his cover with Goofy making a ship-in-a-bottle, on the Dutch Donald Duck 1979-37!

January 27, 2013 at 12:08 AM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

Geo: Yes, it was *precisely* because of the Scarpa stuff that Gladstone I had published. In particular, at some point in that era -- I don't remember if it was in a letter from a reader or in an editorial remark somewhere -- but "Colussus of the Nile" was cited as a Scarpa classic. So, my repeated requests of Gladstone II for more Scarpa usually entailed me specifying that they MUST print "Colussus". I don't know this for a fact, but I think my harping on it may have had *something* to do with why they ultimately printed it.

Believe it or not, "The McDuck Foundation", "The Last Balaboo", and "Amusden's Talisman" actually had intrigued me to the point of having a craving for more such material. (Though at any point, I think I'd take Scarpa's Mouse stuff over his duck stuff with me to a desert island.) Maybe it's because at the time, I was only 8 or 9 years old, and because they were long and so, er, involved, they seemed especially exciting. Any of Scarpa’s Duck stories that I’ve encountered since, starting with Gladstone II, have left me underwhelmed … so the only way I can think to account for my enthusiasm for the Scarpa Duck stories that Gladstone I printed is that I was woefully young and impressionable. :D

Joe and Geo: Unlike Geo, I actually really like Jippes’ Gladstone I covers (though Geo’s assessment that Jippes “has a highly divergent artistic idioms in which he works”, and something well worth going into at some point, but is kind of a whole other subject at the moment…)

So, I’m with Joe … but with the strongly emphasized qualification that it’s not just the art: the title logos, the font used in the cover indicia (where the price, month, etc. is designated), the way the print ink and the inked art outlines and title logo outlines show because of the paper and printing methods used … I just find Gladstone I’s aesthetic very tasteful and seamlessly integrated. (This might be another age thing … perhaps because they were my first Disney comics, read in my formative years…) (It’s almost a fetish … *cringes* …)

On the other hand, Gladstone II’s covers have a very thrown-together, sloppy look. The title logos and indicia’s don’t “blend” with the art. I don’t think they yet had a handle on whatever coloring computer software they were using, or – quite possibly – the software itself was limited – the coloring just looks garish and tasteless. (As Sue Daigle was on board throughout both Gladstone I and II, all indications are that it wasn’t her, but the technological limitations of the time…)

I mean, those Rosa covers shown above, at the end of Geo’s original post, look atrocious to me … and I’d be the first person to defend Rosa’s art if it was negatively called out, so I’m thinking if more carefully presented, those covers would look much better.

-- Ryan

January 31, 2013 at 7:14 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

BTW -> Can You guys imagine the tile of this story sung to this song?

February 15, 2013 at 7:25 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...


After a long, long time I got a scaner and remebering this blog post I got time to dig up my copy of the story and scan it... :)


May 24, 2013 at 6:55 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks--that's interesting.

May 24, 2013 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Claudio Piccinini said...

with all the due respect, this story (flaws aside, which I can’t see as "flaws" anyway) is a small masterpiece.
Probably among the best Scarpa, and Disney comics stories ever, for all the things implied, and for how much it goes in depth in Scrooge's character.

This has little to do with nostalgia, as an italian I have read it as a young adult, and it’s probably my favorite Scrooge Scarpa story.
That “convoluted” quality is quite an hallmark of the work of Scarpa: if one does not like it, it’s pointless to discuss, but I have no pretense to make such an “analyisis” and prove “it’s not a good story” or “it’s so-so”. Again, which is the point of doing so?

You spent a good amount of time on this review to prove what? That it might not be the best working story for a children's audience? First of all, that was never the intent of Walt Disney himself, i.e. being "palatable" just to a specific audience: in fact, his whole poetics is based precisely on the abolitions of these distinctions: entertainment for children and parents alike…
Secondly, it is the first story that comes to my mind when I have to advise some non-italian reader for their childrens.

Sorry you did not like it, but honestly I am still wondering what your point is about. Do you realize what you have seen in the USA is just a microscopic portion of the incredible amount which is the italian production, right? And do you realize that you have seen it “out of time”, not in chronological order, chosen in a pretty much nonlinear way, with often horrible graphics (and lettering) adaptations, especially in the Disney period and in the second Gladstone period. For example, “Mickey Mouse and the Calidornia empire”, probably one of the best Mickey Mouse Scarpa story, is still unpublished, as far as I know.
And most Cimino stories are masterpieces as well, but I guess it mostly all depends on expectations, and on how much of a grasp you have on Walt Disney’s poetics at large…

April 28, 2015 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I think your main bone to pick is with me, the blogger, not with Elaine (although I only mildly disagree with her here at most).

Do you realize what you have seen in the USA is just a microscopic portion of the incredible amount which is the italian production, right?

I do realize that. And YOU do realize that I've read the great majority of what's generally considered Scarpa's "prime" (50s-60s) work via European imports, right?

And I stand by everything I've said about this story. It has its redeeming features, but it's pointlessly convoluted, and it contains a LOT of bullshit. I've said it elsewhere, and I'll say it again here: the fact that a lot of readers refuse to distinguish between good Scarpa and bad Scarpa (or even admit that the latter exists) is a good part of why it took me so long to warm to the man. Because when he's good, he's great, but when he's bad, he can be pretty dreadful. And I don't even think this one is all that bad--it's certainly no "Last Balaboo."

And "The Emperor of Calidornia" might be a pretty good story if not for the insultingly awful ending.

April 28, 2015 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger Austin Kelly said...

I know I'm late (VERY, actually), but wanted to leave this comment just for whatever reason.

I really like the ending here. It's not as particularly sentimental as I'm sure Scarpa intended it to be, but it's neat. I like Scrooge with a banjo. And even though the rest of the visuals are nice, I think the first 60 pages of this story are just hot garbage compared to the ending.

Anyways, I'll be re-reading Delta Dimension or Gigabeagle long before I touch this one again. At least Colossus of the Nile was good (which, GeoX, by the way, I'd love to see you talk about sometime).

January 11, 2022 at 12:43 PM  

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