Monday, January 20, 2014

"Donald Meets Baron Münchausen"

Apparently, the historical Baron Münchausen was less than thrilled that he was known exclusively for telling crazy tall tales--but hey, there are worse things to be known for.  Anyway, it's too late now!  He's known for what he's known for, and his fame was cemented when he featured in a duck comic, and now I've made an English version, and you can download it right here.

Yes, I have been a BUSY LITTLE BEE lately.  What can I say?  I love this story.  It's ZANY, but unlike most zany Italian stories, it's intentionally zany, which is a whole 'nuther thing.  I know a lot of the time when I've translated a story I'll sort of qualify my recommendations in a "whether or not it's exactly good is up in the air, but it's interesting enough to be worth reading" kind of way.  Not so here: this story is good AND interesting AND worth reading.  It's one of my favorite efforts from our ol' pal Guido Martina.  

Again, you really should read the story before reading anything I write about it, but if you don't, know that the reason that the panels I've grabbed don't seem to point to any coherent narrative is that there is none--the whole thing is more a series of vignettes.

We've certainly seen Barks stories in which Donald is angered at the kids' reading material "Super Snooper," "Stranger than Fiction").  I even reference a few!  What I especially like here is that bottom left panel, because who knows what the fuck is meant to be going on there?  The French version just says "Ça aussi?" ("this too?").  I get the impression that neither Martina nor De Vita had a clear idea.

I would also like to note that the reason "Munchausen" doesn't get an umlaut is that this font--SmackAttack--doesn't do diacritical marks.  If I stuck them in, the "u" would appear as plain text, which seems too distracting to be worth it.  Same reason "Léocadie" didn't feature an accent aigu in "Saturnin Farandoul."

What I like about this story in general is the way it so consciously veers away from any sort of would-be realistic mimesis.  This is an issue that comes up again and again in these classic Italian stories: shit happens that seems to make no sense, and you're not quite sure whether or to what extent this nonsense is intentional.  Here, it definitely is.  And it's so matter-of-fact about it.  It really creates a dream-like sort of atmosphere that I like a lot.

See?  Scrooge is upset, but he's not exactly baffled, or at least not in the way would be in a more realistically-grounded story.

Even in the original, I think that the direct quotes are meant to come from Rudolf Erich Raspe's Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which was the first English-language source for these stories.  I went through the book and found the relevant passages, anyway, and quoted them as closely as possible (allowing for necessary revising and editing-down to make them fit).  This business about the Baron getting down from the Moon on a rope seems to be straight out of the book, as does the bit about how he incapacitated a bear and held it in place until it starved to death (…that sounds quite unpleasant when I just say it like that).  However, I'm not sure what the sources are for some of the later business.  The Baron's speedy servant, for instance: this is definitely from somewhere, since the character appears in Terry Gilliam's Adventures of Baron Münchausen, and also in the crazy 1943 Nazi-produced movie Münchausen, but he's sure not in Raspe's text, and I don't know what the original source is.  And as for the tall-tale-y bits that don't seem to involve the Baron in any way--like the lion jumping out of its skin or the musical notes coagulating from the heat--I just have no idea.  Basically, the story seems to be a crazy mash-up of elements from a number of different source, plus probably some totally made-up stuff, plus new stuff that I introduced, advertently or not, in translation.  Somehow, that seems appropriate to the spirit of the character.

"Wifi," indeed.  I guess I've permanently waived my right to complain about anachronisms introduced into old stories, haven't I?  Well, as Don Rosa notes re the Eisner Award plaque in "The Richest Duck in the World:" "I will never, ever compromise the realistic aspects of my Scrooge stories, ever, not no time, not no how--until it's funny to do so" (though "realistic" is hardly a word one would use here).

I'm sorry; I know I shouldn't go on about my writing, because it just makes me look like a massive egoist.  But I think "fair-trade coffee" is my best joke in the whole thing.

You know--I tell you--augh.  So maybe I'm just having a spasm of liberal guilt here--and certainly, as these things go, this story is well down the list in terms of problematic cultural depictions--but I just feel the strong urge to apologize to someone whenever this crud comes up.  I can easily say "well, it's not a big deal; obviously no one meant any harm," and the second part of that is surely true, but it seems a bit much for me--a white dude from a privileged background--to just blithely assert the first part.  I suppose it's probable that, if you have Native American ancestry, you've developed a thick skin and an eye-rolling attitude towards stuff like this, but man…I really, really could live quite happily without it.

Of course, the nephews just giving up on the book like this makes little sense, given the way total hero-worship they had for the character earlier, but eh…at least it provided the perfect opportunity for a Barks call-back.

I also like that the story ends without making sense of things or declaring definitively that it really was just a dream or anything like that.  One cannot, however, deny that De Vita's art is, as ever, weirdly inconsistent in parts--like, in that middle-bottom panel where Donald's approaching the cannon, why does he appear to have a carefree smile on his face?  In general, however, the nature of this story plays to De Vita's strengths; occasionally out-of-place facial expressions mostly contribute to the overall atmosphere.

Anyway, please enjoy.  And a contemplative MLK Day to all.

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Anonymous Elaine said...

Nice to get a new-to-me duck comic stoy on the holiday weekend! I enjoyed this, but I think I lot of my enjoyment actually came from your script, which gave me many chuckles. I don't have much interest in completely fantastic duck stories...though I'd agree that intentional zaniness is far preferable to the usual "I didn't apparently put much thought into this ahead of time" zaniness of Scarpa & Co. That's one of the reasons why my favorite Scarpa story is "the butterflies of Columbus"--there, too, the zaniness (a different variety of zaniness) is legitimately the point of the story.

I liked Mr. Speedy being "too filled with élan to stop speeding." And does the meta moment where Donald comments on the narrative box come from Martina?

January 20, 2014 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The narration box thing comes from me, but "élan" was in the French version.

"The Butterflies of Columbus" didn't do much for me the first time, but it may be necessary to revisit it.

January 20, 2014 at 9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the translation, I always enjoy them hugely.

@ "The Baron's speedy servant", I think the source is, or is related to, a Russian fairy tale that Wikipedia calls 'The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship', where the fool is on a quest to marry the tsar's daughter and the speedy runner is one of the people he meets and subsequently help him with his tasks. He also meets an archer who always hits his mark, which is also a character in the Gilliam version. The servant in the Nazi Germany version amalgamates both characters, apparently. I have no idea whether this is the earliest introduction of the fairy or folk tale motif in the Munchhausen story.

According to Wikipedia, this tale influenced the Gilliam version., but no cites are given.

Coincidentally, I read a comic adaption of this folk tale, though not with the Ducks, unfortunately, in (the dutch) 'Donald Duck Magazine'.

January 26, 2014 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you liked it. You're probably right about the source for the fast guy; I've read that sundry formerly-unrelated stories became associated with the Baron.

As for the notion that this comic influenced Gilliam's film, I'm skeptical, but if true, HOLY CRAP. Someone needs to ask him about that at the closest opportunity.

January 26, 2014 at 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh sorry, Wikipedia calls the Russian folk tale an influence on Gilliam's movie, not the Martina comic.

January 27, 2014 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Whoops, that's my own dopey misreading. BUT WOULDN'T IT BE COOL?!?

January 27, 2014 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

There is this Munchausen Chech movie I strongly recomend. Gilliam's animation style in Monthy Python is strongly inspired by it...

September 6, 2014 at 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The horse and steeple bit is from when the Baron arrived hitched his horse to a pole that was embedded in the thick layer of snow blanketing the landscape. He then made camp for the night. When he woke up, he discovered that the (now melted or blown away) snow had been covering an entire town, and the pole was the top of the church's steeple. His horse was thus dangling from the roof of the church.

February 18, 2018 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks! Easy to see how that would've been difficult to explain in a tiny text box.

February 18, 2018 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger Ayrton Mugnaini Jr. said...

"as for the tall-tale-y bits that don't seem to involve the Baron in any way--like the lion jumping out of its skin or the musical notes coagulating from the heat--I just have no idea."

These bits are present where I first read about the Baron of Münchhausen, a Brazilian book of his tales, when I was a kid in the 1960s. I still have the book, and your post has prompted me to research about its origins.

August 4, 2020 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Carlos said...

As a big fan of the Baron, this was a great surprise! Most fans know that the Baron’s fave wine is Tokay. In the 1950’s & 1960’s this wine was a mainstay in every U.S. household. Now if you go to 30 wine stores, you may find one bottle! The Baron would be quite upset!

March 24, 2021 at 5:35 PM  

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