Friday, February 14, 2014

"The Legend of Donald of the Woods"

Okay, at long last, here we go.  I don't know WHY it felt like this took so damn long, but here we are.  Now, this story has long been one of my favorite Scarpa ventures, particularly in the duck realm.  I wanted to translate it for a long time, but I kept holding off, on the theory that it's the kind of thing that would be absolutely perfect for official localization, were a new publisher to emerge.  Certainly more so than anything else I've worked on.  But…I don't see that new publisher exactly looming on the horizon, do you?  Besides, I liked it enough that I wanted to put words in the characters' mouths, dammit.  Anyway, you can download my translation right here.

(If there's one single, small moment in my script that you find seriously WTF?, it's probably because you're not getting my super-geeky China Miéville reference.  Don't worry about it.)

I'll freely admit that there are more than a few things here that don't exactly make sense--GOOD THING SCARPA DIDN'T HAVE TO PAY THE DUBIOUS PLOT TWIST TAX, AMIRITE?--and the ending could hardly be more howlingly insane.  Nevertheless, as I noted above, it's one of my favorites from Scarpa; I would go so far as to say that it's my single favorite duck story by the man.

There's this framing device--you may recall something at least somewhat similar in "Marco Polo"--where the ducks are allegedly all acting out the parts in the story, which parts are them but apparently, in some sense, not.  It's all very vague and pointless; cutting out the framing sequence would've lost the story nothing, especially since it never makes any kind of reappearance: after the "Donald of the Woods" narrative starts, that's it.  Note also: CLARA CLUCK!  Also as in Marco Polo, she makes a non-speaking appearance in a single panel and then ne'er appears more.  It's very strange.

Anyway, I'm not going to go over the whole plot or anything; you can read it for yourself.  I will note a number of things, though.  First, I'll note that it's not totally clear to me whether the idea is that there were no taxes under the old mayor, or that there were, but they were optional.  The exact text of the French version seems to indicate the former: "The mayor is so kind that he didn't have the heart to ask for money."  On the other hand, future events in the story seem to sort of maybe indicate that it's the latter.  It's a bit unclear to me, which I strongly suspect was also the case in the original Italian.  The former DOES seem to make marginally more sense (in the larger context of not making any sense whatsoever, of course), but I don't know.  It pretty much amounts to the same thing either way.

In any case, one of the things I like about this story is the fact that it so stridently resists any kind of coherent ideological message.  Yes, the taxes that Scrooge and Gladstone levy on the city are bad and oppressive and everything, but lest one should take this as some sort of tea party advertisement, there's also the rather obvious fact that the previous no-tax system was self-evidently totally irresponsible and unworkable.  I certainly did my utmost to play up this confusion.  The nutty-ass ending (which we'll get to, of course!) just makes things more baffling.

(I'll note here that in calling him "John McDuck," I'm following the French--in reference, of course, to King John of England.  On a totally tangential note, I recently watched The Lion in Winter with Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, and man--you would think that a movie that consists of literally nothing but political maneuvering by not-terribly-likable long-dead English people would be deathly dull, but no--that shit is riveting.  Recommended.)

PLEASE NOTE the fact that I found and downloaded a license plate font JUST for that plate there (it's blank in the French version).  Pwn'd!

Note also how little sense HDL's archery-contest cheating plan makes.  Unless I'm missing some vital nuance here, for this to work you'd have to have the filament attached both to the arrow and to the target.  Not too easy to set up to use in an actual contest, one would think.  Also, if you've ever actually shot a bow, you know that those strings are hard to pull; they have to be for the arrows to have any power--meaning that I think the most likely result if you tried this in real life would be for the bow to just be ripped out of your hand.  But that's a minor thing.

The concept of "exile" is more or less meaningless in the world as it currently exists--where are you going to exile someone to, exactly?--but it's an extremely resonant thing in a fictional context.  Any number of RPGs use it to very good effect, and it's one of the things I like about this story as well: exile followed by triumphant return.

This seems to be a common thing in these Italian stories: Donald giving himself a new name by which to refer to himself in the third person.  We saw it in "Saturnin Farandoul," "Donald Fracas," here, and in another story I'm toying with translating. 

Isn't the above SO COOL?  The tension is palpable, and the way it cuts away at the last minute is just perfect.  Very cinematic.  When Scarpa was On, he could do some impressive shit.

Yes, giving Donald actual tea party rhetoric might have been a bit much, but it fits in thematically with the story, as it does with his general grandiose loud-mouthedness.

…and of course, a shout-out to Daisy in drag rescuing Donald from Gladstone.  It's always good when she gets to do something active like this.

Hmm.  Yes.  Here's by far the most radical change I made from the French version.  In the French, the message in its entirety read: "The mayor [actually "governor" in French, but that seemed wrong] is our prisoner.  If you want to see him alive, send us: 8,230 packets of chewing gum, 875 alarm clocks, 6,002 boxes of tomato mackerel, 2,070 cucumbers, 1,021 pairs of shoes, etc, signed, Beni-Beni, Chief of the Gnam-Gnam Tribe, Black Africa."  Now…I don't know about you, but this whole business strikes me as kind of incredibly racist.  Oh, those child-like Africans, with their crazy demands!  BAH.  I will have NONE of this.  Of course, I could've changed it to anything; since we never actually SEE the Africans, or the ransom items, it would've been no problem.  But, ya know…as much as I love Disney comics, I sure don't love the engrained attitudes you see in many of the older ones, so I decided, fuck it--I'm going to change it to something with an explicitly anti-racist message, and I'll grant you that it may feel a bit tonally off from the rest of the story, but I did it anyway.  It might cause people to accuse me of "political correctness," but I take comfort in the fact that I don't care even a tiny bit.

(is it necessary for me to specify that there's a substantial difference between saying "there's a racist thing in this Romano Scarpa story" and saying "Romano Scarpa was a racist," and that I am only saying the former of these two things?)

Anyway, here's the batshit ending.  "Wildly irresponsible" is my editorial comment, but aside from that, it's just like the French--actually, the French might make it slightly worse, since there the mayor specifies that it will never again be necessary to pay taxes.  The first question is: do we really believe that  "John" was really secretly a swell guy all along?  Does the story play fair by only featuring him behaving in ways that could be retroactively reinterpreted along those lines?


Nope!  Not even slightly.  And…really, now.  What is this ending saying?  It was bad for Scrooge to bleed the townspeople dry--except no, wait, it was actually good, because now our town is in good fiscal shape!  As I've probably noted before, I never quite know with Scarpa when he's doing crazy shit how intentional it is--but I sure get the impression here that it's very intentional, and he's just muddying the waters some more.

Which…does not ultimately make the ending as satisfying as one might wish, alas.  Still a good story, though, recommended to kids of all ages.



Blogger Christopher said...

There's a lot to say here, but I'll start with the most shocking issue– WHY ISN'T CLARA CLUCK WEARING ANY CLOTHES? Everybody else is dressed. Is this a standard aspect of her character, that she just streaks all over town and everybody's all blasé about it?

February 15, 2014 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Not sure--it's possible that her original appearance was naked (remember that Clarabelle's original character design was topless), but it's definitely true that, standing there in a room in which all the other characters are clothed, her nudity can't help but stand out.

February 15, 2014 at 11:15 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I momentarily forgot this story when I said that The Butterflies of Columbus was my favorite Scarpa...this is by far my favorite Scarpa story (I have the nifty French hardcover). This in spite of the fact that I usually am uncharmed by the "literary parody" type of story, where the ducks play other roles. I am, in fact, mystified by how highly many such stories are rated on Inducks. But all just works for me. It helps that the "source material" provides only a vague set-up and one or two set pieces (e.g. the archery contest--which, as you point out, does *not* work). Thus the story can revolve around the characters of the ducks we know and love. I like how HDL figure out how to fool Gladstone into thinking Donald has outlucked him, and I like how Donald throws that victory away by doing something completely in character. I love how Daisy gets to rescue Donald. Indeed, it's seldom that Daisy gets to be so active and competent, and not have it undercut by any sort of gender-related commentary. And I find it amusing that the only sign that it's Daisy under that disguise is her eyelashes--the cartoon/comic book version of a primary sex characteristic! I also enjoy Gyro's ideas for taxation.

I much enjoyed your English dialogue here. You often make things funnier and smarter and at the same time convincingly colloquial. One can see this already in the scene with Clara Cluck, where you see what several people are thinking while standing at the TV station. I just passed over that quickly in the French, but your dialogue delighted me in the way it captures typical attitudes in a sentence or two. I'm fine with the tea party rhetoric, it doesn't seem out of place. And I'm relieved you have found a way to rid my favorite Scarpa story of its "that was then, thank God" belittlement of the Africans. You set that up well by making the mayor's trip a "good-will mission." So while your more serious version of the ransom demand can't be jokey-funny, it does count as satire of the photo-op good-will mission, and satire counts as comedy, too.

And speaking of current events...I do find it amusing that the ducks succeed by smashing through a *fence* into Jexico. I know, it's just a normal border gate, but still....

February 16, 2014 at 1:38 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Oddly the Inducks dosen't even mention Claras Cluck cameo.

My theory is that Scarpas Clara Cluck cameos were ment to be like hidden Mickey's in Rosa stories but it never cotch on as well...

P.S. Thanks for the story Geox!

February 16, 2014 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

By the way, it sounds nice, but "Donald of the Woods" wasn't the most sensical translation. "Robin des Bois" in French is the standard translation of "Robin Hood", possibly due to some medieval translator of dubious talent mixing up "wood" and "hood". Thus, this story should logically be called "Donald Hood".

October 30, 2016 at 4:52 PM  

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