Saturday, May 7, 2016

"In the Footsteps of Jules Verne"

Ben Verhagen! A Dutch artist who drew a number of stories in the eighties and nineties--and who maybe, possibly, is still active, though certainly not very active. He's never been very prolific, but he's overrepresented in US comics since someone at Gladstone I decided, whoa, getta loada this guy! and started publishing all his stuff they could get their hands on. This month's WDC happens to feature a Verhagen-drawn short, which made me think I should spotlight one of his stories. Not the newly-printed one; it's fine, but it's short and I don't have much to say about it. We could look at "The Last Voyage of Ringtail Van Dukke," often regarded (by me too, probably) as his best story, but, while we may get to that someday, for now, instead, we are going to examine "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne." We have our reasons! It's a long (thirty-nine pages!) story written by Jan Kruse, who seems to have written most things.

Is it obvious what I'm going to complain about here? Seriously, are you thinking "come on, I KNOW what's after the jump, just get it over with?" I am genuinely curious about whether other people notice the same thing I do about Verhagen's art, so let me know in comments if it is.

So...right. Cards on the table: for all that Verhagen's work does have it's virtues, there's just















Okay, COME ON NOW, BEN, WHAT'S THE DEAL? This is incredibly weird-looking and distracting and you constantly do it. In fairness, it should be noticed that at a certain point someone seems to have pointed it out to him, and in his later stories the problem is basically fixed (and it's a good thing; otherwise I can't imagine "Ringtail Von Dukke" would be remembered so fondly). But fair or not, it's the first thing I associate with his work.

If you can get past the way he frequently makes his characters look like flatworms, there's actually a certain amount to recommend in this story. It's easy to see why Gladstone decided to publish it. The above, for instance: this idea of Donald pitting his hypothetical boat against Gladstone's actual one is both funny and very Barksian. It harkens back to the oldest conception of the character, whose main trait was being loudmouthed rather than especially lucky. Though, inevitably, the luck will play heavily into this story.

Okay, so granted, the whole Eighty-Days structure isn't too creative or original, but that doesn't mean you can't do something interesting within it! I do like Daisy's limited appearances in this story. Not takin' a whole lotta guff.

That...doesn't sound like much of a journey. Seriously, a round-the-world trip has a grand total of two destinations (India-analogue and China-analogue)? In addition to being not terrible epic, how does that even work? How do you completely avoid both Europe AND Africa (you can skip one, but not both), as well as the entire American landmass? Even if you make the VERY generous assumption that duck-geography as conceived in this story isn't supposed to exactly correspond to real-world geography--Howduystan is like India, but not India exactly--this still seems untenable. It's made quite clear that this is definitely supposed to be a circumnavigation of the globe (though the "eighty days" thing is forgotten about immediately), but to me, it looks more like it consists of this:

If you want to believe that, in the face of all logic, it has to go all the way around the world, it would have to look like THIS:


While there is of course a certain suspension of disbelief in just about any story, this one reeeeeally pushes up against the limits of what one can accept, if it doesn't break through them entirely. To me, it just comes across as kinda poorly thought-out and lazy.

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE again, nice flashback! Once again, quite Barksian.

I'm not going to go through the whole journey, though; to be honest, it's not that interesting, and that's where the story breaks down. Donald and HDL travel around and Gladstone travels separately and blah.

Also, the narrative leans entirely too heavily on Gladstone's luck (which is irritatingly telegraphed in bits like the above). People need to not do that, I feel. Barks was able to get away with it on occasion because A) he was Barks, and B) the character was new enough that it wasn't such a predictable cliché. Here, it's just WELCOME TO YAWNSVILLE, POPULATION: YOU.


Yeah, that's a pretty great image, and it gives us some of the orientalist local color that the story desperately needs more of if it's to work on its own terms.

[irritated muttering]

...are those statues meant to be tanukis? That's a pretty cool detail, although, let's face it, this is China-analogue, and although you do find raccoon dogs in China, they're far more associated with Japan. Just saying.

It's a fairly clever ending, though. Interesting that Gladstone's luck apparently wasn't familiar with the contest's rules.

...why does he not have a thing? When he was borrowing money at the beginning, he was totally cool with the interest, noting that he'd "just take out a mortgage on Gladstone's boat." The boat may be wrecked, but at the very least he should still get Gladstone's car. Seems unfair to me for Scrooge to just be able to do this drive-by all-your-money-are-belong-to-us.

Also, as much as I like when things go Donald's way, it's hard to see what he's done in this story that should let him sit so pretty in Daisy's esteem. He just sorta bumbled along as usual; there wasn't any kind of moral component to the trip.

While I suppose I'll agree that "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne" was good enough to localize (and the script by Dwight Decker is quite good), it doesn't really live up to the potential coolness of its title. I think it's a good example of the principle that Gladstone was often less interested in printing the best stories than it was the ones that were most reminiscent--in terms of art and/or plot--of Barks. And maybe they weren't wrong to do this; you've gotta maintain your audience, and bombarding them with weirdly unfamiliar material may not help, even if my personal preference would be for something more daring. Still, I have to end by pointing out that, though not without its flaws, "The Treasure of Saturnin Farandoul" is significantly superior, both as a story and as a Jules Verne tribute. It's actually only four pages longer than this, but it crams in WAY more variety and incident.

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Anonymous Elaine said...

Re: Daisy's esteem--well, Donald did make it around the world while keeping the contest rules, right?

I love, love, love your two maps. The fact that Kruse could only fit in two stops in 39 pages can't help but remind me of Barks' "Around the World in Eighty Minutes" (aka Rocket Race around the World), a childhood fave. Donald and Gladstone hit each continent, in only ten pages!

And yes, those cross-eyed nephews were hard to ignore in the Melon story. Sure glad Verhagen got over that before Van Dukke.

May 7, 2016 at 7:49 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Shoudn't a story titled "In the Footsteps of Jules Verne" tecnicaly be about Donald becoming a book writer?

It's interesting he only give the cross eyes to the nephews (but then agian I can notice one panel when Gladstone have them as well) He also appears to be changing the eyes size, like in the panel when one of the boys is showing the photos. Very, very odd and make the art look amateurish. I would asume he stop doing it cose he improve as an artist rather then somebody pointed him out it looks creepy.

And yes -- these two maps are pretty sweet.

May 8, 2016 at 12:51 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...


May 8, 2016 at 12:55 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Wow, I'm glad that the maps meet with general approval!

Verhagen actually DOES do the cross-eyed thing with adult ducks on occasion, but he does it way more often with HDL, and it's substantially weirder-looking.

May 8, 2016 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Review or Die said...

This is a cool looking story - I think I'll make a special point of looking for this issue in my Gladstones.

I will say on an art perspective that the triplets, somehow, seem to be the character I see drawn the most inconsistently/poorly from the Disney Duck cast, and it's almost always eye eyes! Doesn't excuse it, but it's an odd pattern. And that list had me cracking up. :)

And hey, the timing of this post was doubly good, since Saturday is Free Comic Book Day here in the states! So kudos for timing that on the right weekend where we get to eat the traditional CMYK frosted cake and celebrate comics.

May 8, 2016 at 1:59 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

But alas, no Disney comics on FCBD! you not love us, IDW? :( :( :(

Some years back, Ryan Wynns had a much more positive take on this story than mine, so clearly, one's mileage may vary.

Come to think of it, Dick Moores--one of my least-favorite vintage duck artists--also had trouble with eyes, and especially duckling-eyes. I'm sure it's harder than it looks, and that there are factors that are not at all obvious to the layhuman. You can find plenty of art by good artists of ducks whose eyes are, technically, crossed--and yet, they don't look weird. But somehow, Verhagen just gets it really, really wrong. So what is it?! Something to do with the positioning of the eyes themselves, I'd guess? Interesting to think about, anyway.

May 8, 2016 at 2:24 AM  
Anonymous Review Or Die said...

I will readily admit that my artistic skills are limited, but I study this stuff for fun in animation and comics. Character design is a thing I love working with, so I'll give this a try for fun, and see what causes issues of Duckling eye problems (ba dum psh). Not a definitive statement, but I'll do my best not to talk completely out of my ass.

So just doing some cursory glances at the one best suited to drawing them - Carl Barks, of course - he does something that is pretty critical for the the nephews, and you can see it here in his model sheet.

Barks does not draw them with pie eyes. They have significantly smaller scleras than Scrooge and, since the pie-eyes aren't going to show up (while the model sheets do not show pie-eyes, the stories I've read - including the Land of the Pygmy Indians - do have them with pie-eyes), they're given the simpler dots. Because of the smaller area to work with, they're usually centered unless they're specifically looking off to the side (nervously, of course). The eyebrows do most of the emoting, along with the open bills and general body language (the slumped walk, standing tall, etc.)

Every single example I see in your montage has them with pie-eyes, tilted sclera, eyes that are just a little too close together and made worse due to the tilting, and raised eyebrows in a pretty non-specific emotional position. This is also true of almost every shot I see here where HDL's eyes are open and both eyes are on panel (excepting the last image you posted). The acting, which is otherwise quite good, is lost when the facial expression isn't... doing literally anything that a face does.

Daisy does something similar here, where I'm not sure what the hell expression is meant to be on her face if I remove the word bubbles.

This artist, whom I love, has similar problems drawing the nephews eyes. They're too far apart and too low, which creates problems all by itself. That's I think the most common problem with artists who really don't handle HDL well is eye positioning.

Donald's stretchiness, and Scrooge's larger takes that you can give him in a panel and the more nuanced emoting, make them significantly easier to draw. You can't easily squash and stretch something which is much more obviously spherical, so you're stuck with this very specific way of handling the emoting which is made more difficult by the more subdued personalities and characters they have.

I don't think there's any character in Disney that I recall which requires that they be 'on model' more than HDL for this reason, and why it's so difficult for an artist to get the hang of those tricks.

May 8, 2016 at 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Huwey said...

That Donald is the lucky guy in this story is probably perfect! I didn't read the story though, but I think it's one of the great classical stories. Great, except some unlogical sequences!

May 8, 2016 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

This map problem is pretty egregious, but I think you could work a way around that: there are plenty of races around the world where one of the points is that not only you're making your way across the glob fast, but also with as few stops as possible. Of course, you could ask why the heck the two stops are in two very close places, but it's still more plausible that way.

May 8, 2016 at 11:32 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

@Review Or Die

Great analysis! Thanks for that.

May 8, 2016 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger oldhatnewleaf said...

I just came across this blog, and I already really enjoy your posts! I'm just starting to delve more into the world of Disney comics-especially the duck ones-as I've been a fan of their animated media, but mostly just collected the issues based on those until recently. I just picked up my first WDC&S issue yesterday, actually. This blog is super insightful and helpful so far, and I'm definitely going to bookmark it! I also love that your posts come across as so professional but still have personality in them.
Anyway, on the subject of this issue, it's nice to see one where Gladstone's luck is flipped around more and his portrayal is less annoying in turn. I'm very interested in his character, and it's good to see him be featured, but not so much that it relies solely on him and thusly makes the story less intriguing. Of course, though, I still haven't read many where he's that overbearing yet.

May 8, 2016 at 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Off-topic, but on the topic of how to draw Ducklings' eyes: I observe that Rosa gave all child-Ducks eyes that did not extend down to their beaks. Eyes like HDL's, or Gladstone's, not like the adult Donald's or Scrooge's. So, child-Scrooge, child-Hortense, child-Donald and child-Della all have space between their beaks and eyes, even though as adults they do not. (Matilda *does* have non-beak-contiguous eyes as an adult; so do HDL, in the "Scrooge's grave" cartoon.) On the other hand, Donny Duckling in the European stories of Donald's childhood is depicted with beak-contiguous eyes (though I have to say, his face does look a little weird to me, like an adult face on a child's body). And in the animated cartoon "This Is Your Life, Donald Duck" baby-Donald also has beak-contiguous eyes, right? Here's the question: Has Rosa ever written anywhere about this artistic decision re: Duckling eyes? Did he try to draw some of these youngsters with beak-contiguous eyes and decide it just didn't look right on children? In any case, I assume we're Not Supposed to Think about the process of the sclera extending downward as the Duck matures. A heretofore little-known aspect of Duck puberty (but only in *some* Ducks).

p.s. I just checked, and the baby photo of Grandma Duck, in the 1950 story where she is first named "Elviry", shows baby Elviry with non-beak-contiguous eyes. So Rosa wasn't the first artist to do this.

May 8, 2016 at 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Gyro's Helper said...

@Elaine: As another datapoint, Barks himself drew child Scrooge with non-beak-contiguous eyes in the six-pager "The Invisible Intruder".

May 8, 2016 at 11:02 PM  
Anonymous That Duckfan said...

Hey GeoX, now that we're talking Dutch Vernesque travelogues from the 80s, let me recommend Jan Gulbransson's "The Bengal Tiger":, in which the Ducks take a train ride from Paris to Calcutta. It's never been published in English, but you might be able to get a hold of it. If you can't, I might be able to provide you with some photos of my copy.

May 9, 2016 at 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Ah, thanks, Gyro's Helper, I thought of checking "The Invisible Intruder" but couldn't find it right off the bat (couldn't remember the title, for one thing). Maybe that itself explains Rosa's artistic decision...although child-Scrooge in "Intruder" is in other ways not a "realistic" depiction from Rosa's (or anyone's) POV, with his specs and baby sideburns. Still, he's an argument from the master for the "all Ducklings have non-beak-contiguous eyes" side.

May 9, 2016 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

@oldhatnewleaf Welcome, and thanks for your kind words! I hope you enjoy the world of Disney comics, as well as this blog. Feel free to chime in anytime.

@That Duckfan Thanks for the recommendation--looks interesting.

May 9, 2016 at 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Here's the question: Has Rosa ever written anywhere about this artistic decision re: Duckling eyes?"

I think Don Rosa wrote many short messages about how he draws young ducks' eyes, but at the moment I cannot find them. I won't complain, however, as I easily found this long text that I read three years ago

which is surely his most complete take on the subject.

May 10, 2016 at 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Thanks, Anonymous! That does certainly answer the question, at least with regard to Rosa's drawing of child-Scrooge. Here's an excerpt, for those to busy to go to the link and read the whole thing:
"I was compelled to "create" the look of the shoeshine boy $crooge from scratch for chapter 1 of the "Life of $crooge". There was no Barks version to base it on, at least none that I trusted. So, I drew him as a shaggy-headed Huey (or Dewey or Louie) with those same floating oval eyes. I decided that as these characters grew older (be they talking ducks as some people see them, or caricatures of humans as I see them) those floating eyes would grow larger and attach themselves to the "beak" during... um... puberty?"

May 10, 2016 at 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are welcome, Elaine! Though, reading it again, I noticed that Don talks about "newly anchored eyeballs" for Scrooge in chapter 2 of Lo$. This is an oversight, as Scrooge's eyes already reached his beak in chapter 1, page 8: in panel 1 his eyes are still separated from his beak, in panel 2 we cannot see his eyes as they are closed, and in panel 3 his eyes are shown for the first time as having reached his beak.

May 10, 2016 at 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also wonder which country is mentioned in the original instead of Howduystan, assuming this Barks reference is an addition by the translator.

May 11, 2016 at 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Baar Baar Jinx said...

With regards to the floating eyes vs contiguous eyes debate, I always thought that all adult male ducks necessarily had contiguous eyes (maybe like facial hair in humans?) whereas it was only a possibility in the females (maybe like facial hair in humans?)... until I realized that Gladstone has floating eyes too. There goes that theory.

May 14, 2016 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Baar Baar Jinx: remember that Gladstone GANDER is not a duck, he's a goose/duck hybrid. That could have conceivably messed up the genes on that point, since adult geese seem to have floating eyes (take Gus).

May 15, 2016 at 10:40 AM  
Anonymous That Duckfan said...

@Anonymous: In the original Dutch printing, the two countries the ducks go to are Verweggistan (Farawayistan), a recurring foreign place name in Dutch comics, and Djengolië (Gengholia), specifically made up for this story.

The Dutch translation of Howduyustan in Statuesque Spendthrifts is Hoedoejoestan, which is pretty literal.

May 16, 2016 at 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Tinker said...

I think it should be noted here that in European Duck comics, the location of Duckburg tends to move. In Dutch comics, which I grew up with, Duckburg (Duckstad!) was in the Netherlands, meaning that the supposed journey across the world actually does go through Europe, because Duckburg is in Europe!

June 22, 2016 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

This is a cool story! The best part, I think, is Verhagen's visualization of Not-Quite-China, with its many copies of The Beloved Leader's little hat, including the letter symbols painted on the walls! The large splash panel portraying the entrance gate to the capital city owes a bit to a similar scene in Tintin's Blue Lotus.

Did you realize the flashback has $crooge providing money to finance what amounts to China's Communist Revolution? Quite a bold move! Not the kind of thing that would have flown in American comics back in the '50s! (Either Jan Kruse is very cynical, or he didn't quite think this through.)

Certainly the worst part about this story is how none of the photographs that prove Gladstone's cheating could actually have been taken by the nephews! For the most part, they weren't around, and I think Verhagen should have provided their camera with an obvious tele-lens to make the last photograph (GL on a yacht) plausible.

July 4, 2016 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Lieju said...

I always thought this story was Barks! Granted I haven't read it in years but...

March 15, 2017 at 10:23 PM  

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