Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Reform and Void"

Okay, HAPPY HALLOWEEN. Sorry to not have something more appropriate for today, but frankly, I think I've covered about all of the seasonal stories of much note that are available in English. There are a few that haven't been published in English that I'd like to get to (Elaine knows the ones), but my hope is that I'll be able to do them when IDW publishes them, AS THEY'D BE CRAZY NOT TO.

So apparently, sometime in the nineties, somebody who was working on the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip (Floyd Norman, I believe) convinced the syndicate to let them go back to doing serials, after a forty-odd year break. I KNOW I read an article on this somewhere.

At any rate, this happened. FINE, the syndicate said. You can HAVE your stupid serials. But NO LONGER THAN THREE WEEKS. We can't have total anarchy here. So there you go. Since these newspaper stories were never reprinted anywhere—you'd have to find a newspaper that had carried the strip and comb through their microfiche if you wanted to find them—so they had a certain mystique. Someone—I think it was Mathias DeRider of the possibly-defunct Review or Die
(who hopefully hasn't chosen the latter option)—was absolutely obsessed with the idea of seeing these things reprinted. Well, HERE ONE IS. In IDW's third issue! one seems to really have paid it much heed. Well, I say that, but thinking about it, I'm not really sure where I'd expect that “heed” to come from. Joe Torcivia makes note of it here.

But regardless of who may or may not be paying attention, it is truly cool to see something so rare be reprinted! It's drawn by the late Rick Hoover, who did art for various Disney-published comics in the early nineties, and written by Colette Bezio. Who?  This is who—she benefits from having an extremely googleable name.

As for the story itself, it features the return of Professors Ecks and Doublex from “Blaggard Castle.” Well, they already had returned—but not in the US, let alone in newspaper form! Or at least, that's what I was going to say, but inducks reveals that they had already been in post-Gottfredson newspaper strips, including a few written by Bezio. And yet, this one indicates that it's meant to be the first time Mickey is meeting the professors since the original story. The chronology here seems screwy. I suppose we can just call this a prequel to those earlier follow-ups—though it kind of neuters whatever suspense there may have been in their alleged reformedness (okay, so there was never actually any suspense—but more on that later).

And what happened to the legendary Professor Triplex? Well, that's for me to not know and you to not find out. Best guess is that it was just considered unworkable to have three separate guest characters all at once in the confines of the newspaper real estate of the nineties (which was of course much more limited than what Gottfredson had to work with). But looking on inducks, I can see that this isn't the first time the third professor has been excluded, so maybe there's more to it. This seems like a bit of a stretch, but perhaps some editors somewhere were skittish about the possible porny overtones of the name.

Anyway, we get some gag strips of the professors helping, or “helping,” Mickey. It's all decent fun—I really enjoy them insulting his cooking there—and Hoover renders them well. Obviously, the restraints of the modern-day comics page—and those imposed by the syndicate—precluded any sort of really epic storyline, but if you had been an old-school fan seeing these in the paper when they first came out, I think it is fair to say that you would have been well chuffed.

In this segment, though, Mickey certainly doesn't get any points for his ostentatiously rude attitude. I mean, I know this is just doing the MICKEY IS ADVENTUROUS thing, where writers feel compelled to go HOLY SHIT MICKEY IS ADVENTUROUS; HE IS SO FUCKING ADVENTUROUS THAT IF YOUR FEEBLE MIND WERE CAPABLE OF GRASPING THE FULL ADVENTUROUS EXTENT OF HIS ADVENTUROUSNESS IT WOULD JUST TURN IN ON ITSELF AND SELF-DESTRUCT CREATING A CHAIN REACTION THAT WOULD DEVOUR ALL MATTER IN THE UNIVERSE FROM SHEER DISBELIEF THAT THIS LEVEL OF ADVENTUROUSNESS CAN EXIST. DID I SAY “ADVENTUROUS” YET? In fairness, this started with Gottfredson himself; everyone else is just following his lead. And yet, it has always seemed clumsy and forced to me. Show don't tell, guys. Or at least make the telling a little subtler.

At any rate, the point is that here that aesthetic has led to our hero behaving rather dickishly. He's just trying to show you a fun time, dude. You could try to seem at least a little appreciative.

Aww. I mean, seriously, aww. Don't you just want to give them a big ol' hug? They come across as genuinely likable here, which is kind of too bad, given what we know is going to happen...

Note also that for a story created in such a constrained space, there's quite a good level of detail here.  Good on Hoover.

Aw, that's fun! And even in-character for the professors, if you remember then playing “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” post-reform in “Blaggard Castle!”

...and yes, well. I must admit, there were a few brief fleeting moments when I thought that maybe this wasn't an inevitability, but, of course, it was. I am not one hundred percent certain whether the “cleaning ray” they had in the beginning is meant to have been foreshadowing (they mention a “dry cleaning ray” a few panels after this, but is that the same thing?); still, I choose to believe it was. Well done there. It's too bad, though, and not just for the reasons I'm about to get into, but also because Ecks and Doublex are so darned likable before this happens. But I think there's a very large extent to which a writer—any writer; I'm not just picking on Bezio here—would, in a case like this, simply be unable to conceptualize what the point of the story could possibly be if the former villains don't revert to villainousness. There may be a certain collective failure of imagination here.

Now...we could easily get very deep into the weeds here, but it's probably fair to say that there has never been a major Disney-comics character who has not at some point had his or her personality altered by hypnosis or being bashed on the head or some dern thing or other. And in all of this, no one ever seems to be aware that this is a heavy philosophical question: if you're—for instance—“bad” and your brain gets scrambled so you become “good,” are you nonetheless still in some foundational, bedrock sense “bad?” Anyone writing a story relying on this trope is, however consciously, putting forth an argument—and that argument is pretty much invariably “yes, you still are bad. No one can truly change.” Yes, of course, there's an obvious reason for this that has nothing to do with philosophy: pragmatically, you can't just go around permanently changing regular characters' polarity willy nilly. Maybe that bespeaks a certain fundamental conservatism in the genre (paging Dorfman and Mattelart).

This is especially noticeable with the professors, because at the end of “Blaggard Castle,” Gottfredson argued: yes, they are permanently changed (yes, no doubt he felt free to do this in part because he wasn't thinking of them as repeat players, but I like to think it still bespeaks an admirable level of humaneness)—while every single future writer to use the characters has shouted in unison NO THEY'RE NOT (in all fairness, I don't actually know that this is the case, not having read every single thing they've appeared in, but I'd bet dollars to dalmatians that it is). So in this case, it's not just a matter of returning to the status quo as established by Gottfredson; it's actively overturning it, and even if the reason is more a matter of “these guys make fun villains” than anything deeper, it still sends the message it sends. It's not a position I agree with, and I find the inevitability of something like this denouement kind of depressing. Still, given how totally expected it is, I suppose I can't ding the story too much for it—for being what it was never not going to be.

And...the bad guys lose due to zero effort on the good guys' parts. Look, I understand the exigencies of working in this format, but regardless of the context, there's nothing that's going to make this non-lame. I'm also disturbed that—with this and “The Mysterious Crystal Ball”—the apparent theme of this issue is “Mickey is useless and engages in no meaningful action.”

Still, this isn't really an adventure story, so the lack of action on the protagonist's part doesn't really hurt it like it does the other, and, in spite of my philosophical differences, I would be all set to label this story a trivial but amusing oddity. Unfortunately, I find I can't really say that after its remarkably mean-spirited ending, which makes the whole thing kinda turn to ash in my mouth:

So...we are aware that—unless you're in solitary confinement, a deeply cruel punishment that literally drives people insane—prison isn't a medieval-dungeon-like place where you are allowed no entertainment, right? This doesn't seem like terribly esoteric knowledge, even if it is what you believe when you're eight years old. You can almost certainly read and write and play sports and, yes, videogames, too.  At the very least, shouldn't we all have some idea of this from the many times the Beagles have used skills gained in prison for villainous purposes?

Of course, you can point to plenty of stories that end with the villains unhappily behind bars that certainly look like they have nothing to do except rot away. But there is a very big difference between those and a story that goes out of its way to say “haw haw—they thought they were so smart that they were going to have FUN in prison, like those stoopid libruls want [unwarrantedly political?—well, maybe, but a large part of why this bothers me is the way it resonates with the philosophy of the “tough on crime” crowd], but we MADE SURE they'd get the full punishment they deserve! Stupid criminals not so smart after all!”

Just LOOK at those goddamn vapidly-smiling faces in the last panel.  LOOK AT THEM.



That is literally the stuff of nightmares for me—our genial, authoritarian Officer Friendly and his like-minded crony taking delight in crushing their victims—and expecting the audience to be complicit in this delight. This is not a light in which I enjoy seeing these characters, to put it mildly. You know, I'm probably loading more symbolic weight on this sucker than it can really bear, but the fact that Gottfredson's story ends with the bad guys turned good, whereas this one ends with the alleged good guys revealing their true nature and being imprisoned in this sadistic way as punishment—well, it's noticeable, is all I'll say about that.

LET IT BE NOTED, however, that, in spite of everything, I would be extremely interested to see more reprints of these latterday MM serials. I just hope they turn out to be a bit less, uh, problematic.

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Blogger Achille Talon said...

Good review, and it was interesting to see glimpses of this story I've never seen and probably will never see published in France.

About the whole "reformed but not really"… Yes, that's true that it's kinda depressing when one thinks about it. However, what would you say of an alternate ending that would replace this last strip you dislike so much (and understandably so, though as a standalone it's still pretty funny in a nonsensical way), and in which Gyro would instead invent a device that re-hypnotize them, but in a way that still allows them to take bath without getting back to their evil way ? The story would then be about a "glitch" of the reformation process that needed to be fixed for the characters to be permanently reformed. Though there are still some issues about a character's morality being just about an electronic device working or not, it would be a bit better, wouldn't it ?

October 31, 2015 at 6:04 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Good idea, though of course it depends how it's handled--the last thing I want is to seem overly preachy or saccharine.

October 31, 2015 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger joecab said...

You remember correctly about strip continuity:

October 31, 2015 at 7:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Ah, thank you. I was hoping someone would find that and link to it. I'd love to see some of the Norman-penned continuities if IDW wants to publish more in this vein.

October 31, 2015 at 7:34 PM  
Anonymous Review Or Die said...

I aten't dead. Not yet anyway.

I'm glad to see the review for this up! I am indeed the obsessive one, and this gives me incentive to buy the Mickey comics from IDW. I actually DID locate the strips by calling the syndicate and libraries, but... well, I would have needed to contact a Disney fan in the area who would be willing to deal with them, because they are in fact on microfiche and it's not feasible to use interlibrary loans for this purpose. Because exactly ONE library in the United States archived a paper that seems to have the full run. (If you're curious, only Fantagraphics can publish single-artist Disney runs, such as Don Rosa and Carl Barks, but the 90s Mickey strips are... screwy... to say the least. IDW may indeed be able to publish this run). Norman made mention of his work in the first Fantagraphics Mickey collection, which is where I became interested, and probably what you remember reading.

As to the story itself, I'm rather impressed that they managed to fit so much in to such a small space. Three weeks is the amount of time it takes to sip a cup of coffee on Apartment 3-G. The dialogue looks well done for the constraints of a newspaper strip, and as you said, the detailing on the art is pretty great. I'm glad people are enjoying IDW's output so much. I still feel a bit down Joe Books didn't get the license, but the more Gladstone-esque approach they seem to be taking at IDW is producing some enjoyable work. I hope to see them get enough traction to see some original content soon too!

For what it's worth, I'd put Don Rosa in Review on hold while waiting for both the Fantagraphics collection and the third Don Rosa Classics collection, which turned out to be a huge mistake for the latter (its delayed release is ridiculous, and I am incredibly unhappy). But... since you mentioned it... why not. The next review in that series will go up tomorrow.

Happy Halloween, Geo. Even if I don't comment, I'm always reading your work.

October 31, 2015 at 11:01 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Good to see you around! And great news about the resumption of the Rosa reviews. The insane delay of the third Rosa book is indeed regrettable.

October 31, 2015 at 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd honestly completely forgotten that Gottfredson's story ended with the professors reformed. However, I'd like to point out that having your villain be brainwashed into becoming good people is itself a pretty problematic concept. It kinda negates their free will, doesn't it? For that reason, it doesn't really surprise that most (all?) writers aren't comfortable with keeping the ending of Gottfredson's story, where the professors are forcibly transformed into totally different people. If you actually wanted to have the professors permanently good, a better alternative to having them be re-hypnotised would be to have them first revert to their evil ways, and then after a while realise that they were better off helping people than causing mischief; ultimately giving them true redemption by their own initiative, rather than having it forced upon them.

November 1, 2015 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That's a better idea, definitely. No question. But to clarify--and I didn't get into this in the entry because it's a thorny issue that's been argued forever, but I guess I should have if I was going to address the question at all--I don't believe in "free will" in the sense that you're using it; as something separate from your brain. Your brain chemistry--influenced by environmental factors and possibly some higher power, depending on your theological beliefs--is who you are. And if you believe THAT, it doesn't make sense to say they "chose" to be evil (or that anyone "chooses" to be anything, but now we're REALLY getting into the weeds--and possibly the weed, as this undeniably sounds like stoned philosophizing).

...though I AM aware, of course, that that doesn't make for the most edifying of storytelling.

November 1, 2015 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


When Mathias DeRider says “I still feel a bit down Joe Books didn't get the license…”, and if it is strictly because he wishes to see original American content for what I call the “Core Four” Disney comic books, he may as well direct that disappointment elsewhere, because the economics of the situation, the virtual lifetime backlog of “Unseen in the USA” stories, and the general logistics of any licensee’s coordination with Disney would probably preclude this from happening – regardless of the publisher.

The necessity that might exist to do so with the Darkwing Duck characters simply does not exist for classic Scrooge, Donald, and Mickey.

I can’t speak to Joe Books’ publishing record, as I do not follow their properties, but IDW does an incredible job at getting out its four books per month – every month, without fail or the undue delay exhibited by other publishers (some of those publishers being pretty major) – and does so with the highest quality and with professionalism that is unsurpassed. Trust me, as I can see it from the inside!

The fact that IDW would go the extra mile to even publish the “strip story” that is the subject of this post (not to mention the older British work also in the same issue), when some old Paul Murry or Jack Bradbury story from the ‘50s would have equally and sufficiently “filled that space” speaks volumes for the sometimes underappreciated effort IDW routinely exhibits.

The IDW MICKEY MOUSE title, with its championing of contemporary era efforts by Giorgio Cavazzano and Casty – including a great one from Casty COMING THIS WEEK is enough to have me cheering AS A FAN, even if I were not part of their team of contributing professionals.

Whether or not I end up supporting them, I wish Joe Books well in their efforts. The more successful Disney comic book publishers we have, the better. And all the better they remain in the hands of independent publishing licensees, rather than under the Marvel banner.

But, (as the comments at my Blog continue to indicate) given the quality of content and the professionalism of its editorial and creative personnel, IDW is the perfect home for UNCLE SCROOGE, DONALD DUCK, MICKEY MOUSE, and WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES!

November 1, 2015 at 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yes, the ending is mean-spirited. But this story made me laugh more than the average story of its length. The panel about the "no-longer-reformed-tie-up-o-matic" makes me laugh every time I see it. It's the "Ooh, nice name!" that gets me.

I like to think that "these guys make fun villains" is the main reason they were repeatedly restored to villainy. It's true that the "bad guys" and "good guys" who are regular characters in stories written by multiple people over many years are likely to retain their essential b/g character. Not sure whether that necessarily sends a socially conservative message, though. It does help if the good guys have faults and screw-ups and occasionally forfeit the moral high ground--as is certainly true in Barks' world. And it helps if some of the "bad guys" are allowed to be humanized and rounded out, so you can sympathize with them. This has happened with Magica, for instance, as her world has been elaborated by the Italians and others, adding family and friends and storylines not centered on the obsessive search for the #1 Dime. Mim is a rather different case. She did hang out with other villains (the BBs, but also villains from various other fictional worlds) in some early American comic stories, but she never seemed particularly villainous herself. Nor is she particularly villainous in "The Sword in the Stone," for that matter. And she has also been featured in stories where she's more on her own, and her motivations are just idiosyncratic or downright helpful. She helps children in particular. Even Magica helps children in at least one story (Amelia fatina per un giorno). Another instance of humanization I can think of is the sympathetic portrayal of the Baduns, Cruella De Vil's henchmen, in Floyd Norman's newspaper strip story reprinted as "Cruella's Very Furry Christmas".

This has got me thinking of the whole range of villains in Disney comics. Donald is often his own worst enemy, and his strongest antagonist is Gladstone, who is completely infuriating but hardly evil. Scrooge has antagonists who are out to get his money, not out to murder puppies or beggar old women. And as you have often pointed out, it's debatable whether Scrooge himself is any better than they are, since his record for "making it square" is inconsistent. The movies often have a villain who is Evil with a capital "E", but not the comics. Comics can have one-shot villains, evil scientists and the like, but they don't often get reprised (unless they're as much fun as the professors). The nearest I can think of to a continuing bad guy who's really fairly bad is Pete. My deep dislike for Pete as a character contributed to child-me's general anti-Mickey-stories stance. Can one ever sympathize with him, as one sympathizes with Magica in her frustration? No. Does he highlight the less savory characteristics of the hero, as the doppelganger Glomgold does? No. He's just a standard-issue Bad Guy. Sans the comic relief of the Beagle Boys.

One of the faults of many of the Barks-written-but-not-drawn JW stories is their moral oversimplification, with Scrooge as the bad polluter vs. HDL as the defenders of the natural world. That’s why my favorite of those stories is the Vitamin Z story, where the JWs realize in the end their own complicity in the polluting industrial economy. Back to Barks at his best: everyone's human.

November 1, 2015 at 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, I think it's fairly clear that you and I have very different desires for what is good or interesting from Disney comics: namely, diametrically opposed ones. Further, I said nothing but positive things about IDW in my post and wished them even more success. That continues to be true.

That said, if you maintain an absolute certainty that supporting IDW cannot lead to original English comics being published at some point, I have zero interest in supporting them as a reader or someone interested in comics. I was happy to support what they were doing as a stopgap solution before they began producing original material, but if they are content to serve as a reprint house, I don't have any interest in them. But I sincerely hope, and suspect, that you are wrong.

I'll direct my disappointment in those interested only in treading water wherever I please, and have no need or want for your suggestions as to where it is best directed.

November 1, 2015 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


You are, of course free to direct your “disappointment” as you see fit.

Just remember, as I say in every one of my IDW Blog posts, I do not speak for IDW, so do not let your distaste for my comments reflect on their fine efforts.

Now, unless you call pull the quote where I explicitly said that I “maintain an absolute certainty that supporting IDW cannot lead to original English comics being published at some point”, I will ask you to stop distorting my comments. What I said was true of the last three licensed publishers of these comics – NOT IDW in particular. And I openly defy you to show me where I said otherwise.

Oh, wait… I’ll pull it for you. “… the economics of the situation, the virtual lifetime backlog of “Unseen in the USA” stories, and the general logistics of any licensee’s coordination with Disney would probably preclude this from happening – regardless of the publisher.”

…regardless of the publisher does not say IDW!

Having exposed that clear distortion, I will withdraw from this discussion and allow you to continue to express an enthusiastic fan’s perspective, as you have no regard for my perspective as having been involved with several such publishers. Please appreciate IDW for what it does so well and continue to support them, regardless of what you clearly think of me.

And, personally, I hope I’m wrong and that some publisher somewhere (IDW, Joe Books, or someone new and unexpected) DOES produce new Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comic book material created by and for Americans. We haven’t really seen that since Disney Comics of 1990-1991… that’s a LONG TIME! And, that the very talented Jonathan Gray, Thad Koromowski, and I get to produce them. My experience merely shows that it is very unlikely to happen (certainly on any sort of regular basis) – and that’s all I ever wished to express to you.

I’m out…

November 1, 2015 at 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Facetiousness appears to elude you when I mention your beliefs as to how comics will proceed in the future. You are, however, correct: I have no regard for your perspective as a zealot, as you regard for my perspective, which has knowledge you lack. You 'allow' me nothing.

November 1, 2015 at 10:40 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Call me old fashion but I'm all for prisoners WORKING in prison so they would actually contributed and pay back their debs to society rather then just sit there and think about what they did (with brakes to play video games as well :) )

My theory is that Professor Triplex is so insane that they put him in Mousetowns version of Arkham Asylum.

November 2, 2015 at 7:28 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Okay, but they can't be paid sub-minimum wage the way prisoners in the US often are. Really, though, as critical as I was of this story, I'm not demanding that it present a comprehensive plan for prison reform. :p

November 2, 2015 at 4:24 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I personally am not concerned about this "new material or translation" story since I, personally, will probably never see as a frenchman. I will so say my opinion once, and I'll have nothing to add: from my point of view, as a french reader, I would only see repercussions (under the form of translations) if new material was produced. But it's not like if I lacked new good stories to enjoy in France, so I'm not thirsting for that. In the absolute, I'd say IDW's job is good to you Americans because it allows you to discover all those Italian stories; but on the other hand, I keep being displeased with them making changes in translations, rather than doing translations very faithful to the true material (the main reason being that I as a fan want to have a "canon" version of the fact down to the details, and that this canon version can only be the one the author(s) intended). Since there is at least one official translator around here reading this text, and another unofficial one, I want them (you) both to know that I don't want to hurt your feelings; your work is good. Very good from what I saw; it's just canonically speaking very problematic to me. So my proposition (though I know it has no chances of being used) is as follows; since those translators are so good at making new gags and capturing "the voice" of the characters and whatever, and since some of you want US-made stories, well MAKE THE CURRENT "TRANSLATORS" WRITE SCRIPTS FOR ORIGINAL STORIES INSTEAD, and hire faithful translators to do the translating job, with each issue containing half original material, half translations.

THAT BEING SAID, back to my answers to other comments:
GeoX, I think about this "choosing to be evil" business that you're somewhat wrong at least about Disney comics. There are of course some villains of the "insane" or "thinking they're doing the right thing" kinds, which are the ones you're trying to suggest, but there is also a bunch of what TVtropes call "card-carrying villains": villains who know they're the villain of the story, and like it. Think Madam Mim in her original Sword and the Stone appearance, or Ratigan for a less insane example. Those are the villains who tell the whole world that they're EVIL, and love it. The villains who do evil laughs all the times. You know the ones. Well, those, though I know there are (…)
The rest in a separate comment.

November 3, 2015 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

very few if none in real life, are a perfectly real reality in Disney comics, and they did choose to be evil, and conformed their actions on this basis.
And indeed, you're getting into thorny material when talking about "brain chemistry", because you do not include religion enough. I personally am an atheist, but most religious people strongly believe in something called the soul, that is stocked in the brain but "is" not the brain, and which is where "right" and "wrong" are judged, where important choices are made on the moral level. In one word, where moralities and free will reside. For religious people, only logics are based on "chemistry", not moral sense. From that point, your argument won't work for many people.
Now personally and real-life-speaking, I agree with you when it comes to real persons. But we're talking about "in-universe" here. We are bound to accept that "the should" exists in the Disney comics, as well as an afterlife, not as a mere belief that some characters have in the comics like in our world, but as a reality (thanks to some comics such as or for that matter any story by Rosa that features the McDuck ghosts). And if we do agree that there are souls in the Duck universe as a real, measurable fact, then there IS a sense of "right and wrong" and a "free will" that goes farther than mere brain chemistry, and you can't argue about characters being unable to "choose" to be evil.

November 3, 2015 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, yes, this is the kind of argument I wasn't looking for, but in brief, I think this notion of brain/soul duality is nonsense, nor do I think that this has to abnegate the idea of religious faith. And that's all I'll say about that.

As far as translations go, you have definitely made your position on the matter clear. Nobody can possibly question where you stand. But the thing is, I read basically nothing BUT French editions of Disney comics--that, presumably, have the sort of translations that you approve of--the whole year I spent in Morocco, and the looser English versions of these stories--those that exist--are simply BETTER. You are going to have a hard row to hoe if you really want to argue that comic scripts should be less entertaining in the name of conceptual purity.

(And yes, I'm aware that the above sentence isn't really fair, since by stipulating beforehand that they're "better," I'm begging the question--but I don't think you'd find many people hereabouts who would dispute that judgment).

November 4, 2015 at 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've mentioned my feelings on translations in the past, regarding purity of art being the more important part than rewriting for the sake of translation... but I will also say that I prefer Digimon Adventure's dub, the Digimon movie's dub, the original English version of Kiki's Delivery Service with additions, believe Dragon Ball Z's anime is only entertaining in a dub that radically altered the soundtrack and script, could only enjoy Lupin III's Adult Swim dub, love (some) Power Rangers, I prefer City on the Edge of Forever's TV version to the script, the Special Editions of Star Wars are terrible, and not a damn one of those are anything like the original creators' vision. And I've even found myself enjoying the Uncle Scrooge stories that have come out of IDW, under certain circumstances (largely when Jonathan Gray is doing the scripting on the less loose art, if I'm honest). It is absolutely, 100% hypocritical. I'll cop to that.

But I have that initial resistance to such changes anyway when I continue to see them. And I suspect it's because I'm asking myself, "If you didn't think these stories were good enough on their own, why are you reinterpreting them, and is it worth doing?"

I really would love to give a pithy answer on that, because pithy answers are easy and make you look very smart by using a rhetorical question to set them up. But it gets in to the deeper question of the purpose of art and how it should be viewed in the eyes of society, treated, and observed. I'm not going to go on a very long screed here. I've enjoyed your translations and notes explaining why you made the choices you did, and we've talked in the past about the desire for such comics to come to the US - which I think we agreed was a positive thing, and that the style which you employed was absolutely the right one. To preserve the spirit of the original work and provide the kind of jokes that you were likely to see in an American Disney comic.

But I also know that German translations of Carl Barks by Erika Fuchs, who took the great works of Carl Barks and interpreted them in a way which not only altered the jokes, but changed the German language itself through the osmosis of those terms: most assuredly not the kind of thing Barks had in mind. But I have never once heard people say they prefer the original English stories to her German ones, if they had the chance to read them.

It is a frustratingly grey area, and strikes me as a battle between ideals and practicality, purity versus quality (because I think we can all agree no one likes a straight up bad translation). So the answer is probably a more personal one. I know mine is the absolute wishy-washy 'depends'. Would I have more objections to a more venerated piece of art, creating a stratification within art itself as I define it? Is it purely personal taste? Is it a matter of the degree to which one modifies something? I'm going to go ahead and say I don't know, and also that it looks like I lied about the screed thing, which I feel bad about now. But at the very least I think that's why the argument comes about, and that its complexity means it is unlikely to ever be resolved wholly. It's still an interesting topic as a matter of philosophical or intellectual debate, however you'd frame it.

And if you'd rather not read all that hooey I just wrote, I think you do good work and admire what you have shown with your very dedicated efforts, as a translator and reviewer. Rock on.

November 4, 2015 at 2:53 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I finally got some time to read some comments here and I like what Elaine said about humanizing the villains.

I've seen many Italian stories that gave Magica De Spell some deep (heck, there where some stories that just concentrating on Magica's everyday life as a witch - problem's with trying to buy a new broom, dealing with pesky tourists etc.) and Rockerduck who is currently more like Scrooge's Gladstone rather then actual treat (but you can argue he was barely a bad guy in Barks story anyway)

I think it's for the better as it makes character more authentic and natural rather then feel like caricatures who are incapable of waking up without thinking what nasty deeds they are going to make today. In real life no body is this way.

I probably like the most when you have a villain who actually believes his doing good but is misguided. Best example would be professor Von Gooswing from the British count Duckula cartoon who is 100% sure that the main character is an evil vampire like his ancestors and is constantly taring to kill him. He's not evil, from his point of view he thinks he's doing humanity a favor. In fact whenever his not shown plotting against Duckula he is quite gentle person.

Growing up, one of my favorite villains of all time was the Penguin from Tim Burton's "Batman Returns". Yhe, his main goal is to kill children of innocent people, which is as low as you can get... but there is something about the whole "His parents rejected him for being born deform and ugly and even try to kill him and he was cast away from living in a rich family and reduce to having a life of a lonely circus sideshow freak and spent his Christmas in the sewers" that no matter how despicable he got you couldn't stop feeling sorry for the guy. Yes, his evil but you know where that evil is coming from and how it root in him. There is something poetic about it, but also something frightening... This is something I liked a lot about the 90's Batman series where a lot of the bad guys where sometimes ordinary people who life got screw over against their will and you could honestly tell they aren't evil as much desperate. And not in some cartoonist way, they actually gone out of their way to give them believable tragic backstories.

...On other note - as much I love Disney movies - prefer when villains in kids comics/cartoons AREN'T scary looking people (you just take one look at his mug and you can tell his a bad guy) since it can gives the children a wrong message. I really appreciated in the new My Little Pony, where Flim and Flam - recurring villains, a duo of con-artist - are two handsome looking unicorns. In real life nobody will try to scam you by acting all devilish and nasty, they will act nice, sweet and charming to fool you. Heck, this is what I appreciate about Scooby-doo, where often the most suspicious, creepy looking character doesn't turn out to be the sociopath dressing up as a monster.

I like what they did in the Swedish comic book series Bamse where after many, many years of one-dimensional villainy and returning to status-quo at the end of every story the series main bad guy Vargen (wolf) slowly reform as well was given a back story explaining why he was a criminal in the first place and at the moment he became one of best friends of the main hero Bamse. I think it's important for kids to know that anybody can reform, but I can't imagine a Mickey Mouse story where The Pantom Blot would reject his evil ways on the end of one story and from now on it's nothing but honest life for him... there is to many different writers and comics being created at once to make something like this to happen (plus I don't think the fans would like it ;) )

November 4, 2015 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

The Phantom Blot has been humanized, though. What with his problem at seeing people die in front of him ? He was given an official backstory in an Italian comic that he is the son of a wealthy aristocratic family who could not bear the pression of politeness and the punishments he was given when he got his pretty white suit dirty. He fled from home at a fairly young age, and started to wear the black suit as a "take that" to the parents who blamed him whenever his suit was anything else than white. He proceeded to build a fortune.

According to another Italian comic series, the Phantom Blot is in fact Mr Blackspot, boss of the Mousetonian newspaper "The Morning Blot". In the series, he is never the villain; he appears kind of like Shere Khan is portrayed in "TaleSpin" — a snob businessman who doesn't care about the law and considers himself superior to others, but doesn't commit crimes "for the fun". Presumably, after that, he agreed to become a one-time spy for this "stolen camera" business that he's doing in the first MM story. The goal ? MONEY. But when Mickey unmasks him at the end, literally, his real identity is exposed for everyone to see and he loses everything he had. He only becomes an all-time criminal after he escapes prison, and assumes the identity of Phantom Blot, master thief, because he's got no way of getting back the life he had as Mr Blackspot. And since he becomes too well-known a criminal to hope to ever stop to be chased, he starts planning big… like conquering the world.

November 4, 2015 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

@Review or Die

I know we’ve been around and around on this, but I DO take the force of the “why are you translating them AT ALL if you think they’re not good enough on their own?” argument (though I think “not good enough on their own” is overstating the case—I think unadorned scripts of the sort that Achille Talon would prefer would be significantly better than nothing). It’s something that’s really hard to conceptualize because there’s not much to compare it to. I suppose to video games, to a certain extent, but the text in those generally feels like a smaller percentage of the overall experience than it does with comics. It’s very difficult to articulate a defense of these localizations without sounding like you’re insulting the original writers. I WANT to articulate such a thing, and I don’t want to insult anyone at all, but…how is that even possible? There’s definitely some unexpressed dissonance here.

And, you know, I read a lot of novels in English translation, and in those instances, I want the translators to do their best to capture the substance and spirit of the novel; I very much do NOT want them to add a bunch of extra crap. You can note that a difference here is that in comics, the text is only half the story…but half is still a lot. Let’s not fool ourselves.

MAYBE—or maybe not, but at least it provides us with a different frame to think about the topic—we can square the circle by noting that this concern with extreme textual fidelity in translations is a rather recent thing, dating from the nineteenth century (not that I’m an expert on translation theory, but I think that’s right). Before then, people really didn’t think of texts as sacred objects in the way that we tend to—so see, for example, the many, many old translations of Don Quixote, often done by people with rather shaky Spanish. This didn’t seem to bother anyone, though, and the novel was very popular in the Anglophone world. Or—to take an obscure example that I only bring up because I’m familiar with it—look at Edward Fairfax’s seventeenth-century translation of Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme Liberate (Jerusalem Delivered) (and damn right there’s a duck version). Fairfax’s translation, as I understand it, took pretty extensive liberties, adding sundry bits of text to fill out lines and the like. BUT, it’s also generally acknowledged as a masterpiece of translation, and it’s certainly superior to the contemporary translation that I paged through for purposes of comparison. And yet, I don’t think anyone would accuse Fairfax of disrespecting Tasso, or implying that he wasn’t worth translating otherwise (though in fairness, it should be noted that a part of the reason I’m okay with this is most definitely that it was so long ago—I don’t want to see people doing idiosyncratic translations of this sort NOW). Of course, you could STILL say “I don’t WANT the embellished version; I want it to stand on its own!” and there’s not much I could say in response.

What I am apparently suggesting, however, is that it may be possible to get outside the typical contemporary mindset where absolute accuracy is the greatest virtue in a translation. Worth thinking about, at any rate.

November 5, 2015 at 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It absolutely is worth thinking about. The curious thing is that in many ways we seem to agree regarding more liberal translations that have occurred in the past - and that we would ideally not see such things today, looking at them as something from another time and mindset. And most of my post was confessions of hypocrisy, where I decry a lack of fidelity despite loathing the more accurate translations or interpretations of works that were, in my eyes, better that the original.

I would rather have the spirit of the text (a pun in Italian translated to a pun in English) translated rather than to have it come across utterly straight and make no sense, to have the rhythm of the humor intact. In this I also think we agree. And Fairfax's translation of Tasso - I suspect that if I were at all familiar with the work, I would agree with everything you stated there. Including that it is a practice I would rather not see today.

It's a fascinating cognitive dissonance: I despise, for example, Kiki's Delivery Service as originally presented in Japanese. I think it missed its own point completely, and the first dub managed to surpass the original material, with additional music, dialogue, and one character's fate at the end of the movie. And yet I could never condone the practice if I had that power, even if I found the movie unwatchable in its original form. It is, as I said, absolutely a form of hypocrisy born of, as you said, an unexpressed dissonance. Or at least an unarticulated one.

The only area where we might disagree is the idea of even unadorned scripts being better than nothing, which is entirely a matter of taste about what constitutes good Disney comics in general that we have discussed extensively before. (I promise that I have gone to comic conventions looking for the Mickey Mouse comics you described way back when, though with little success I think I saw one issue going for at least ten dollars during the last con I was at, Jesus.) That, however, is entirely a matter of taste.

The long and short of it is I can't really refute the points you're making, since I agree with pretty much all of them. It's been turning over in my head for the past several days as I look at certain works, and I've had some debates with friends of mine about the topic - and trust me, none of us came up with what we felt was the Absolute Right Answer. Just that same level of dissonance, where protecting the work of the artist by presenting it in the spirit which it was originally intended is a sacrosanct thing... right up until there's a translation that changes things and it's much better as a result, and that there's no good way to draw a line. I admit that much of my curiosity is geared towards why I feel that way to begin with at all. But acknowledging my hypocrisy and dissonance will, hopefully, lead to a more open mind when looking at other works... and discussions and thoughts about such works.

November 5, 2015 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I perfectly admit that it's worth thinking about it. All your points are good !

I just came up with a possible answer that doesn't solve everything because a businessman would never engage in such a thing, but here it is anyway: to publish for each translations two versions. A version that's very faithful to the original, with as-similar-as-possible grammar structures and so on, and credited as a comic counterpart to "director's cut" or "diamond edition", that would constitute the canon that future writers must use in their stories. It could also be sold at a higher price to classic Disney comic fans like you and me. And then, there would be another translation, made for most of the audience, the one sold in newspaper shops, that would be an embellished version with as much changes as the writer feels necessary, that would be there for people to read "for fun" but wouldn't be canon.

November 6, 2015 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I'm having trouble with this idea of "canon" that you have. Presumably, ANY story that was published by an official Disney publisher is "canonical" unless specifically labeled as an imaginary story--and yet, as you well know, it would be basically impossible to find a story that doesn't contradict some other story. So whence "canon?" I also don't get this idea that "future writers must use [this canon] in their stories"--first, see above about contradictory stories; second, how often is this even an issue, outside of Don Rosa stories?; and THIRD, we ARE aware that Rosa's body of work could not exist if he were required to treat Scarpa as "canon?" Seems to me that draconian rules like this would be unenforcable and have no effect other than to limit writers' creativity.

November 6, 2015 at 11:22 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I don't like contradictory stories, and I like to try to get them to cease being contradictory using theories and the like. I don't see how Scarpa specifically contradicts Don Rosa, however. Unless you're referring to his story saying that Scrooge was born in 1898. I don't see the problem with the others… As you see, I try to mentally limit the contradictions, and I'm glad to say I found solutions to most contradictions I discovered so far.

To explain my "future writers must use this as canon": the idea would be that if in a future story a writer wants to make a Don Rosa-style allusion to the events of the translated stories, and that his allusion requires a detail that was not the same in the original and in the embellished version, it's the original-language detail that he'll have to use. If you really want an example, let's take it from your "Donald Faustus" translation: the wide-audience story would include the "we Ducks are artist… except that Donald broke his guitar last time he tried to sing for Daisy" bit you used, because it's the one that will be the more funny to an American audience, but if Donald is questioned about the origin of the mandoline in another story, the "official" history is that it belonged to Pier Donaldo Caponi, Italian ancestor the ducks.

November 7, 2015 at 4:10 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Geox: this is not about the subject at hand, but would you like me to translate some of your reviews in french on the french Picsou Wiki ? I've seen in your blog archives you already liked a translation in… I think it was Portuguese, so how would you like to do that again ? Some people on Picsou Wiki who don't speak english have expressed interest to read your reviews.

November 7, 2015 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Really? You think it’s reasonable to suggest that Rosa’s Scrooge has a brother? And also a crazy woman with a crush on him who’s always dogging him but who we never ever see or hear? I mean, you can SAY, oh, yes, oh course, but you KNOW you’re just making things up. How does Van Horn’s Uncle Rumpus fit into this, out of idle curiosity? Or how about all the innumerable one-shot relatives to appear in random Western stories? There’s nothing wrong with establishing a personal canon—we all do it, no doubt—but you’re setting yourself an impossible and, as far as I can tell, pointless task if you really want to make some kind of effort to reconcile all the tens of thousands of stories that have been written over the years. And if you’re even going to go so far as to say that every little throwaway detail has to align perfectly with everything else…I don’t know what to tell you.

By all means, I would be flattered to see this nonsense translated into other languages.

November 7, 2015 at 7:34 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Thank you for your authorization of translating. I'll start with the "Shellfish Motives" post because the page about the story has recently been created on Picsou Wiki, so people will have the story on their mind… About a title for the series of review, I had thought of "La Revue des Canards", that's both the Ducks Revue and a pun because canard is a slang world for newspaper and revue also means magazine. What do you think ?

November 8, 2015 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Here it is: first a little presentation of you and your blog:—_Présentation

Then the translation of the "Selfish Motives" review:—_Présentation

Since you can read french, could you check them and tell me if my translations are OK ?

November 8, 2015 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Wait, the second link's wrong, that's:—_%22Mystère_en_Sauce%22

November 8, 2015 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Listen now (well, you can hardly listen to written text, but still): i'd very much like to see your opinion about that translation I did. At least an acknowledgement that you have seen it, or something. Just don't keep silent like you've been for one month now. I want feedback !

December 16, 2015 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Sorry, got distracted. I'll look at it when I get back from vacation, but you know my French isn't THAT great, right? I'm not likely to notice stylistic nuances, say.

December 16, 2015 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

RIGHT, I enjoyed your translation. Seeing my words, more or less, in another language like this makes me laugh. You sort of see things from a different perspective. I hope people have enjoyed it.

December 23, 2015 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Thank you.

"I hope people have enjoyed it": they certainly have ! On Picsou Wiki we have a monthly voting session to award the best blog post of the month, and my translation of the "Shellfish Motives" review won it hands down.

December 24, 2015 at 5:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Oh wow--that's super cool. I am flattered.

December 24, 2015 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I'm neither here to re-launch the debate on translations (I consider it closed) OR to speak about the "Revue des Canards" project: I'll stop the off-topic for now and give you this little idea that came into my head recently about the idea of an alternate ending to "Reform and Void" where the professors realize that, regardless of the hypnotizing machine, they were better off being good anyway. And so, ladies and gentlemen, here’s my PETFE (Possible Ending That Fixes Everything):

Panel 1: The Professor are looking at each other, looking as though they’re inspired a bit sad, too.

« You know what, professor Ecks ? I think we were better off playing Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

— I think so too, professor Doublecks. »

Panel 2: One of the Professors has taken a kind of weird, laser gun out of hammerspace and disintegrates the cell’s wall with it, and through the whole we can see one lovely countryside.

« So, what about we try my new Reformed-For-Good-Escape-o-Matic ?

— Yeah, let’s do it ! »

Panel 3: They are dancing away in direction of the sunset as two jolly black silhouettes, singing Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.


Okay, you can stop crying now.

(I know it sounds kind of corny a happy ending, but I think that with the Professors’s faces saying the text it would seem funny due to the sheer dissonance between these villain-of-the-week Halloween-mask faces and the dialogues.)

January 7, 2016 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Thanks !

January 7, 2016 at 5:14 PM  

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