Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Shellfish Motives"

“Shellfish Motives!” An historical moment, as Scarpa's first turn in the driver's seat, from 1956, (original title: "Donald Duck and Shrimp Stew”—not too euphonious) is finally to be seen on US shores. I had previously read and enjoyed this story in French, but boy, having it in Jonathan Gray's sparkling English translation was a real joy.

First we'll talk about the character of Gideon McDuck, and then we'll talk about the story as a whole. Got it? Good.

Pretty gutsy of Scarpa to just straight-up give Scrooge a brother like it weren't no thang, right there in his first story. He conveys this giddy (whoa ho!), hyperactive atmosphere quite well.

Now we get to the crux of the biscuit. It should first be noted that whenever you see him refer to himself as a a McDuck, or talk about characteristics of McDucks or whatnot—that is all courtesy of that English script; it's nowhere in the original (okay, I guess I can technically only say it's nowhere in the French version, but I think that's a pretty straight translation). And it goes even farther than that: it may surprise you to know that in the original (I'm just going to say that, okay?), he doesn't even refer to Scrooge by name in the second panel; he just generically says that the siren is “an alarm to all the riffraff who infest the world.”

All of this really helps the story immeasurably; in the original Gideon really just comes off as Some Guy, and if someone told you he was related to Scrooge, you would probably just shrug and say, okay, if you say so—but so what? The two of them being brothers is more like a novelty than anything else; it's not something you really feel. Whereas this translation takes pains to draw attention to Gideon's McDuckness and parallels between the two characters while making their rivalry explicit.

This all is not wholly unproblematic, though: if Gideon is honest because he's a McDuck, and Scrooge is also honest because he's a McDuck, and yet the two are opposed to one another...well, you see the problem. For them to be at odds in any meaningful way, they have to be different to a substantial extent. Not that you couldn't square this circle with some deft character work, but...well, we will get to the story's vague, semi-effort to to just that a bit later, but suffice it to say, I do not find it even a tiny bit convincing.

Even though this story itself doesn't go very far with the concept, Gideon in theory actually makes a great rival for Scrooge. Unlike the usual suspects who go up against him, he's a good guy. Usually, when Scrooge needs some to serve as his conscience, there are his nephews, but Gideon could play that role in a more antagonistic way. The only problem here—which I have to imagine is the reason that he hasn't caught on as a character—is that it requires Scrooge to be portrayed as more evil than most readers, writers, or editors are likely comfortable with. must be said, though, as much as I generally like the additions to the script, that “just like Scrooge” business is negated by the end of the very sentence. Because it's not true that his readership is equivalent to Scrooge's money, is it? It says it right there: “I've failed them.” He doesn't just want readers for their own sake, as Scrooge does money; if that were the case, he could just pander to them with sensationalistic, gutter-journalism stuff (as Donald accuses him of at the beginning; this may just be Donald being Donald, but it surely points to an alternate way that Gideon could have gone). He wants to inform readers. Sure, you can make parallels between him and Scrooge: they're both stubborn, obsessive, monomaniacal, &c—but this direct comparison just isn't gonna hold water, I'm afraid.

In any event, I would certainly be super-keen to see more of Gideon; flesh out his relationship with Scrooge a bit. Unfortunately, I am somewhat skeptical of the odds of that happening. Yes, he is, technically, a recurring character, but not recurring in the sense of Brigitta or Trudy, who have both appeared in hundreds of stories. Gideon has appeared in a total of fifteen, making him more akin to Atomo Bleep Bleep, and of these fifteen, only one other is actually written by Scarpa. The others are by people you likely haven't heard of (I hadn't), and while there's technically no reason, I guess, why they could not nonetheless have crafted some solid stories, well, there's probably some reason why they're not better-known. Don't hold your breath 'til you're blue in the face, is all I'm saying. My feeling is that Gideon's potential remains mostly potential.

Right, so let's move on to the story itself, for now. I must say...I guess I didn't remember it all that well, or maybe reading it in French impeded me from fully grasping it, but after absorbing the English version, I have to say: my goodness this story is a mess. Doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, more or less—it has a lot of energy, and it's not (with notable exceptions) offensively stupid the way "The Last Balaboo" is—but boy, does it have issues. I suppose it just wouldn't have been appropriate if Scarpa's debut didn't feature some of his trademark nonsense, but man. He could definitely have done better, is all I'm saying.

So, the story: there's this mysterious foreign scientist guy whom Donald is supposed to tail, who ends up getting kidnapped by sinister forces. So far so good. It's kind of interesting because this sort of mystery plot would typically revolve around Mickey and friends.

(Sidenote: HOLY CRAP do I love the oblique reference to "Editor-in-Grief.")

So...look at the mastermind behind this kidnapping scheme. LOOK AT HIM. JUST DRINK HIM IN. Obviously, if you've read the story, you know perfectly well where I'm going with this, but it MERITS being gone there, dammit!

As far as this sequence where Donald falls asleep on the plane and ends up going back to Duckburg, I don't actually have a problem with the fact that planes in this world are like carnival rides, where you can get an extra one for free if you can somehow evade the minimum-wage employee's notice. That's easy enough to roll with. But as for the fact that, phew, crisis averted! It turns out the scientist was on the plane going back to Duckburg!...well, I guess it's not a plot hole so much as it is just an belief-beggaring coincidence, but it certainly doesn't help anything. If you're going to get super-ridiculous, you should probably at least have the things that could easily make sense make sense. I think I've made that point elsewhere. But hey—Scarpa's gonna Scarpa!

Not to belabor the point, but notice the way one of these goons brains him with his gun and renders him unconscious. NOTICE IT!

There's also a lot of this stuff with Donald going to see other scientist to see whether they have anything to do with these here doings what are afoot. None of it leads anywhere. This really isn't surprising, and hell, possibly my favorite Scarpa story, “Mickey Mouse in the Delta Dimension,” features a lot of goofing off of this nature. It comes from Scarpa's love of Gottfredson serials, where there would be punchlines strewn all over because that's just how the daily strip worked. But here, it really feels inconsequential.

The actual investigation is carried out by the kids. Which is fine as far as it goes, but this part just drives me nuts: the essential, dispositive clue that they unearth is that when the dude was kidnapped, he was in a candy story, only he already had some of the candy he was buying, and therefore didn't “need” any more.

ARGH SHUT UP. Seriously, what are you, his mother? Who are YOU to say how much he “needed?” Much less present this as decisive, damning evidence of something or other?

To give Scarpa credit, if you look at the scene back in the first part of the guy being driven away, you can sorta kinda make out that he seems to be smiling. To not give him credit, why the heck is this supposed to be such a difficult thing for HDL to figure out? Seems like it would be pretty obvious, really. Also, I can make neither heads nor tails of “Mr. Mike's” line there. It's similarly inscrutable in the French version.

So why does Scrooge kill the lights and hightail it out when it's revealed that, DAH DAH DAH, he was involved with this whole scheme? Your guess is as good as mine. Seems melodramatic for its own sake.

...but yeah, then there's this. OH HO IT WAS ALL THE PLAN ALL ALONG. As a reminder, here's how those good ol' U.S. Federal Agents treated him during the kidnapping:

And here's the kindly, benevolent mastermind behind the whole scheme:

Yes. The guy cackling megalomaniacally to himself was actually on the professor's side the whole time! Who could've predicted it? NO ONE, because Scarpa DOES NOT PLAY FAIR, which to me is the worst thing. You can have plot twists as cockamamie as they come, and they can often be to some extent forgiveable, but when your “mystery” relies on LYING to readers in order to work, that's when I have to call bullshit. And perhaps the most galling thing is that the opening panel to the second part of the story features Mysterious Guy being mysterious. If he were just in the FIRST part, then you could at least give Scarpa the excuse that, oh, probably he just didn't KNOW what he was going to do in the second—but that's clearly not the case! He continues to BEG you to think that Unseen Dude is mysterious and sinister! Bugger this for a game of soldiers, is what I say. Would it have been possible to write the initial Mystery Man scene in such a way that it looks like they're unambiguously bad guys, but when you look back, you see that, knowing what you know now, there was reason to doubt? Sure, why not? But Scarpa did not go that route, to the story's detriment.

After that, I feel like complaining about small things on the outside may be gilding the lilly, but I can't help noting that this part confuses me as well. My impression was that the government agents left the ransom demand and then refused to accept it to throw the Gourmandian government off the scent. But now...I guess HDL are implying that it was actually some sort of ploy to get more stuff for the guy to experiment with? I have no idea what's going on.

Well, at any rate, we end on a happy note, with the brothers having reconciled over Scrooge turning out to be such a great guy. BUT WAIT: sure, in this one instance he turned out to be on the side of the angels, but are we supposed to have just forgotten that he's still trying to destroy independent journalism in Duckburg, and has been for years?

I'm not sure—because Scarpa, pretty clearly not having thought through these issues himself, is extremely vague—but I think the above might be the supposed solution to this mess. That is—I think it's saying something like “HA, Gideon just didn't realize that Scrooge was on his side the whole time, and if he'd just let his big bro help him out by buying his paper, he'd be able to continue to do all the hard-hitting investigative journalism he wants with no conflicts of interest—win-win situation!” In this interpretation, we're apparently genuinely meant to believe that Scrooge and all his holdings are always and forever above suspicion, such that Gideon would never have any legitimate need to investigate and get in his brother's way, an idea that does not pass the laugh test.

Well, you can imagine what I think of all that, and the answer is: “[unprintable].” And if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a pretty high threshold for what I consider printable. And even beyond the unfortunate political message there, it sure does take away all of the friction and therefore interest of the two characters' relationship. As I say, I'm just extrapolating; it's possible I'm just raging against something I made up, and looking mighty goofy doing it. And, as I said, even if I'm not, it's likely more the result of Scarpa not thinking things through than any conscious intent. Still—BAH.

(It's also, I should note, possible that the English script—as much as I like it!—is adding to the confusion a bit by emphasizing the rivalry in a way that the original didn't.  Making the story more interesting may have had the result of rendering it less coherent, not that I think it was very much so in any case.)

Man, I started by praising this story, and then I ended up kinda tearing it a new one, which I feel bad about. I certainly don't want to discourage IDW from printing significant material like this (I'm happy to see any and all Scarpa material, no matter how problematic), and I remain very glad that they did in this case, in spite of everything. Actually, there's kind of a divide in how I feel about it: the actual story—pretty badly flawed. But the character of Gideon, and the possible story paths he could open up—that just sets my mind on fire. His presence goes a good way towards pushing the story as a whole from a “no” to a “yes” for me. But goddamn, Scarpa sure does his utmost to undermine that good will. The man has been responsible for a whole lot of irritation and exasperation over the years, but I've gotta admit: Disney comics would be much less interesting without him. That's by no means a bad legacy to leave.



Anonymous Chicken Chicken Chicken said...

What's confusing about Mr Mike's comment? The way a film projector works, you're shining a very bright, very hot light through the film. As long as it keeps running, each frame is exposed for a short enough time that it doesn't heat up too much, but if you stop it so you're exposing the same bit continuously, the film will quickly melt or catch fire.

October 1, 2015 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


Lots of good, or otherwise interesting, points to be found here – some of which echoed my own, particularly those concerning Scrooge – and his titular “Shellfish Motives”.

However, to be completely cricket, you must more explicitly concede that reading a French translation of the story does not exactly provide you with perfect insight into the original.

As Jonathan would have worked with this, he would have received the Italian story and art, and proceeded to translate and Americanize directly from that. So, neither you nor I have seen Scarpa’s original story, nor have we gleaned his original intent, but Jonathan has.

That said, your points still “float”. Just maybe not against the “actual” original story, as such.

On the plus side, I predict that “Scarpa’s gonna Scarpa” will take on a life of its own among our fandom group! I love it!

A very enjoyable effort, and I look forward to your working your way through the IDW run, with so many great issues ahead!

In particular, I’d be interested in seeing your review of “Duckburg 100” (UNCLE SCROOGE # 3), in my view a very well-constructed effort by Scarpa – that was contemporary with Barks’ “End of Dell” era work. I’d like to see you contrast this, structurally, with “Shellfish Motives”.

And, not that I’m making an effort to push you in the direction of my own work, but I’d really enjoy seeing you revisit “The Perfect Calm”, (DONALD DUCK # 4) since you wrote of it LONG before it was ever given to me for dialoguing.

Also, consider reviewing the Casty / Cavazzano Mickeys! As a non-Mickey fan, your perspective would be interesting.

October 1, 2015 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Fair point re the language thing. I'd love to hear Jonathan's perspective, if he's reading this. All the stories you mention are definitely on the radar!

October 1, 2015 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

I have more to say in response to your post but right now I don't have the time for a detailed comment so until then I'll leave you with this.

October 1, 2015 at 9:01 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Only one other Gideon story was written by Scarpa, and I note that Scrooge doesn't appear in that story, so it presumably doesn't do much to continue or clarify or resolve the rivalry between the brothers. The only characters listed for that story are Gideon and Paperetta Ye-Ye aka Dickie Duck, a character likewise created by Scarpa who has had a much more successful career in terms of having stories written about her. I do wonder whether Paperetta/Dickie will show up in the pages of IDW Disney comics, and if so, what story they'll use to introduce her. (I'm not counting her appearance in Brigitta's daydream in "Stinker, Tailor".) I harbor the probably vain hope that if she does show up, the IDW folks will give her a better name in English than "Dickie Duck," which just sounds so stupid. Plus, we do *not* need another character whose last name is "Duck." Donald's family (HDL, Fethry), Daisy and Belle are Quite Enough. Plenty of characters have had more than one name in a particular country; I don't see any reason to stick with such a poor choice.

But back on topic: Gideon had possibilities as a character and a non-villainous rival of Scrooge. Though to develop that further, one might need to do as Rosa does in terms of keeping the stories in the 1950's, since the role of the city newspaper has changed so greatly. And how many cities still have more than one newspaper? According to this story, Duckburg has at least two, Scrooge's Duckburg Chronicle and Gideon's County Conscience.

October 1, 2015 at 10:51 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

…To say nothing of that evergreen source of news, information, and plot points known as “The Duckburg Times”, after which was named the fanzine that unleashed me on an unsuspecting world in the early ‘80s.

I’ve used that wherever possible for the Ducks, including the upcoming UNCLE SCROOGE # 7. And “Mouseton Monitor”, from the cover of Disney Comics’ MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES # 3, is the paper of choice for Mickey. You’ll see that in MM # 6.

October 1, 2015 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

About the various newspapers of Duckburg: a very long-running Brazilian series of ten-pagers is about Scrooge's paper, which hires Fethry and Donald as journalists, and Rockerduck's one's constant rivalry.

October 3, 2015 at 4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scarpa's habit of bringing in new characters "just like that" wasn't much different from what Barks did - it was the relations to the regulars that were quite unique. Barks usually brought in distant relatives and villains; Scarpa added a brother and not-love-interest for Scrooge, a girlfriend for Pete and a granddaughter for Goldie.

But I think it seems more weird from today's perspective, where we view Barks as the rightful creator and "owner" of the Duck universe, the one who established a canon of sorts (though Barks himself sure didn't view it like that). Nowadays writers probably wouldn't feel so comfortable (or would be outright prohibited by the editors) doing that. But Scarpa didn't have that reverence for Barks, because he wasn't aware of him until the sixties, I think.

(Of course, Scarpa's stories are much closer in spirit to Barks than what the other Italian writers of their time did, like Martina and the Barosso brothers, even if those didn't event brothers for Scrooge.)

October 6, 2015 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Monkey_Feyerabend said...

Why Scarpa would not be aware of Barks until the sixties? Each Barks's story appeared in Italy a few months after the US publication (starting from the end of WWII of course, not from 1942...). Barks is probably in the list of reasons why that man decided to put a pencil in his hand :)

October 11, 2015 at 6:18 AM  
Anonymous Enrico Polimeno said...

Scarpa cannot be aware of Barks because in Italy the Disney story were pubblished without the credits to the artist. All after the seventy they start to credit the artist.
Scarpa started to work as animator in the 1945, even if Scarpa were over twenty years younger of Barks their came in the italian market with only a few of years of difference, so to Scarpa, Barks were only a colleague, not a "maestro".
The addition of new characters as relatives was a need for Italian authors .
In those years Italy created more than 70 % of the comics with Disney characters worldwide .
Because of this, not to make the stories repetitive , they had to increase the family of the ducks and not only.

October 13, 2015 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Whether or not it was a good idea to introduce new characters, I cannot go along with the idea that it was somehow necessary to avoid boring people. There have been stories--from Italy and everywhere else--featuring only the core characters for years, with no sign of stopping, and they're no more repetitive, as a group, than stories featuring Brigitta or whomeverthehell. New characters can open up new possibilities, but they're hardly a necessity.

October 13, 2015 at 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the French version include no reference at all to Gideon being Scrooge's brother? If not, it seems equally likely to me that the French editor just removed that aspect of Gideon's character to avoid confusing readers with this strange sudden appearance of a never-before-seen McDuck sibling. After all, if Gideon's family ties with Scrooge had not been in Scarpa's original conception at all, it'd be odd for him ever to get acknowledged as Scrooge's brother by subsequent Italian artists, as he seemingly has been.

I had heard of Gideon, but despite reading many Italian Duck stories as a kid, I have NEVER come across a story with him in it. The fact that the character never really caught on adds to the awkwardness of him being such a close relative, methinks. When Van Horn introduced Rumpus McFowl, he at least came up with a reason for why we'd never heard of him before, which makes his scarce appearances a bit less jarring.

Speaking of which, despite the "continuity" of the Duckiverse obviously being very malleable, it would be potentially interesting to see someone attempt to make a story involving all of these disparate McDuck siblings. Can you imagine Gideon meeting Rumpus, let alone Matilda and Hortense? I suppose if you wanted to reconcile Gideon's existence with "Life and Times", you could imagine that he's significantly younger than Scrooge, and was only born after Scrooge left for America. Then I guess he'd left home by the time of "Billionaire of Dismal Downs" to work as a journalist in Glasgow.

October 14, 2015 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger Monkey_Feyerabend said...

Still concerning Scarpa and Barks. If Scarpa started to do animation in '45, as Enrico said here above, then maybe I was wrong in my statement "Barks is probably in the list of reasons why that man decided to put a pencil in his hand". I thought Scarpa had started to draw in the early 50's.
And of course, I also agree that maybe Scarpa considered Barks only as a colleague, not as a master (that was rather the case of Gottfredson in his view, I guess).

But I do not believe that
Scarpa cannot be aware of Barks because in Italy the Disney story were pubblished without the credits to the artist. All after the seventy they start to credit the artist.

Come on, all readers were able to discern Barks's stories from those of other Dell's authors (the "good artist" thing, right?). I would not believe not even for a second that the young Scarpa was enable to recognize Barks's stuff, no matter if he knew his name or not.

(By the way, I also suspect that he did know his name since ever...didn't Chendi have a mail correspondence with Barks already in the fifties or something like that? Twenty years before (non-disney employees) fans would discover his name).

October 16, 2015 at 5:18 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Please, that's a minor detail, but is the name "Roscoe Harboil" in the first panel an allusion to anything ? His Italian name is "Edgar Spallace", in allusion to Edgar Wallace, and his name in the 2009 french translation is "Donald Eastlake", and allusion to Donald Westlake, so I suppose that it is an allusion too, but I can't get which one.

November 7, 2015 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

"Hardboiled" is a word for the genre of detective fiction that people like Hammett and Chandler were writing; I could not tell you whether "Roscoe" is a specific allusion.

November 7, 2015 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

As far as I can read from your review, I think that the translation/americanization led to a misunderstanding of the story, that is better than you perceived (even if it's not definitely the best of Scarpa, in my personal opinion).
Here some comments about the differences between the Italian and the American text:

>>it may surprise you to know that in the original (I'm just going to say that, okay?), he doesn't even refer to Scrooge by name in the second panel; he just generically says that the siren is “an alarm to all the riffraff who infest the world.”

Yes, there is no reference to Scrooge or the McDucks in the original script. We know that Gideon is a relative only because he is called "uncle" by Donald and HDL.
You writes of a "siren", as if it's the noise that bothers Donald; in Italian the noise is caused by the rotary machines.

>>Whereas this translation takes pains to draw attention to Gideon's McDuckness and parallels between the two characters while making their rivalry explicit.
[...] must be said, though, as much as I generally like the additions to the script, that “just like Scrooge” business is negated by the end of the very sentence.

There is no rivalry in the Italian text: Gideon is just a honest, hard-working citizen who wants to keep people informed. No desire to build an empire or something like that: what he says in that window-scene is only that he's afraid to betray the confidence of his readers.
And Scrooge... he's the greedy, stingy guy we know, and IT is the reason why he ends up in being a rival of Gideon in this story, as we'll see after.

>>the essential, dispositive clue that they unearth is that when the dude was kidnapped, he was in a candy story, only he already had some of the candy he was buying, and therefore didn't “need” any more.

In the original script the dude says to the seller he wants to buy some candies because he had run out of them. And the seller tells it to HDL, inclusive that it was a lie.

>>why the heck is this supposed to be such a difficult thing for HDL to figure out?

I don't understand your point... HDL have begun to suspect there's something unclear in the kidnapping but, as they previously said, what happened with the candies is not enough to draw a conclusion.

>>As a reminder, here's how those good ol' U.S. Federal Agents treated him during the kidnapping

I think it was only a good performance to deceive the onlookers.

December 22, 2015 at 2:52 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Thanks for that. These things are always more complicated than I assume.

December 22, 2015 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger TheKKM said...

I think this'd be a great context to advance into more explorations of the extended duck family the italians did. I don't think Italy themselves are going to do this, with how many years it's been, and Brazil, who were the ones most invested in a lot of the stuff Italy introduced but didn't use, is mostly just Joe Carioca stories nowadays, so I do hope IDW will eventually start making their own stories and take the chance to play with these new "toys".

For an example, as you mention, I'd love to see an attempt to connect Gideon with Life and Tales. Not out of some obligation with canon, but because if well done I think it'd genuinely be an interesting story- if we're to assume we didn't see Gideon because he was born after Scrooge left for America and was gone by the time he returned, that means we've got a potential story about the real "last of the McDucks", leaving his house even earlier than Scrooge, and ending up as an adult the leader of a Duckburgian newspaper- what adventures must've happened meanwhile! Especially considering all the amazing history of Journalism in the early 20th century and late 19th!

January 4, 2016 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

TheKKM —> Surely it would be an adventure, but still, I don't believe in the "born after Scrooge left Scotland" theory; even though as Teresa said it's not the case in this story's original version, there is at least one Italian story with Scrooge and Gideon I remember that implies that they spent their childhood together, are not very distant in age and have been rivals ever since they were little boys.
And, why wasn't he in "Life and Times" then ? No official explanation given yet, of course, but I've got the theory that Gideon was simply at school. It's extrapolation, of course, but I can see Fergus and Downy noticing how wee Giddy loves writing stuffs all over the place, and decide that if they're going to spend some of the very little money they have on sending at least one of their offsprings to school, it'll be Gideon who could get a good career from that… while Scrooge was off shining shoes for the benefit of his brother. Very Rosa-ian, I'd say, when it comes to familial melodrama and historical plausibility.

January 21, 2016 at 4:33 PM  

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