Friday, December 22, 2023

"Christmas Down the Centuries"

It sounds unbelievable when I say it like this, but it's true: in the history of this blog, I have written about a grand total of one Brazilian story (this weirdo).  What can I say?  They just aren't published overseas with much frequency; truly, the undiscovered country of the Disney comics world.  I mean, for those of us outside Brazil.  I realize that that was an Amero/Eurocentric thing to say.  But it's still interesting to me!  There has to be so much that we could discover if we were able to delve into that world!  Case in point: today's story, which I have labored to translate into English for you all (this story did see a single French publication, its one appearance not in Portuguese).  I may not have written about a lot of stories this Christmas, but I have good news: I've decided that one translation counts the same as ten commentaries.  What could "count" possibly mean in this context?  It is a mystery!  But it really Goes to Show.  Show what?  Well, you'll know soon enough.  I must credit Elaine for bringing it to my attention.  You would not be reading this otherwise.

The story starts in a same ol' same ol' sort of way.  You wouldn't think it was going to be anything special, and indeed, you might think it seems kind of subpar.  Scrooge's motivations here are kind of murky and out-of-character.  When did he become obsessed with the idea that he should get more presents?  Sure, he wants OTHER people to leave him alone with their demands, but does it work in reverse?  Well, no doubt there ARE other examples of it.

Anyway: time machine.  Another thing that you might find ominous.  Nothing wrong in theory with that sort of thing, but it often lets novelty do the heavy lifting, in lieu of quality story-telling.

Now you start to see what is notable about this story.  For all the hundreds of Christmasy Disney comics out there, they've always been pretty darned militant about keeping religion out of it--to the extent that this tiny marginal picture of a Wise Man and Star in "Christmas for Shacktown" is kind of notable:

There's also this bit from Barks' "Silent Night," if you want to count it:

...I mean, it DOES mention the Holy Family, although granted, calling that "religious" would be pushing it a bit.  Also, it was unpublished for years, albeit for other and better reasons.  And hey, not a comic, but from an early Christmas Parade:

Kind of odd that Western would be cool with this, but super-not-so with it in their actual comics.  I'd like to know the editorial thinking.

But WHY AM I CATALOGUING ALL THIS STUFF?!?  It seems like a huge waste of everyone's time!  Well, my point stands: you do not normally see the kind of overt religious content in Disney comics that we do in today's story.  Well, I say that, but actually, my data is lacking: is it just this story in particular, or is this stuff commonplace--or at least not-ultra-rarecase--among Brazilian stories in particular?  I could believe it either way.  Really, it's possible that the most baffling thing here is how this ever got published in France.  And as we'll see, it goes much deeper than these panels.

Before we go on, though, I'd like it noted that "It's 64 AD, after the time of Jesus Christ!" is from the French text; it's not my improvisation.  The story seems to be making the popular mistake of thinking that "AD" is short for "After Death," which is weird, since that doesn't seem to work in a non-Anglophone context.  Still, I left it there 'cause it's kind of amusing to see.

Any of you in the audience who are Roman history buffs have probably successfully sussed out why this takes place in the year 64 specifically.  Foreshadowing!

But is this a good story qua story?  Or is just novelty? has its moments; I'm willing to grant it that.  But it also has weird narrative cul de sacs like this banana thing (well...not "cul de sac," since it technically does lead to the next plot point, but still).  Also, Scrooge speaks Latin?  Why?  We know he's a crazy polyglot, but that seems to all be based on places where he's done business or gone treasure hunting (and didn't Rosa kind of miss a trick in not devoting at least a panel or two in the Life & Times to him learning a new language?).  Why Latin?  Because of past time-travel escapades?  Seems like a dubious justification.

The guards' dialogue in the upper left panel was just profanity symbols (which, I just now learn, are called "grawlix." How delightful), so I decided it would be fun to have them swearing in Latin.  So I looked up Latin profanity, but a lot of the results were a bit too spicy for Disney comics.  So I went with THIS, which means, allegedly, "may you be assassinated by conspirators in the mall."  That's pretty fun.

The story keeps mentioning the "Porta San Sebastiano."  It's not just a one-time thing.  Do words mean things?  Can you discern "Saint Sebastian," who didn't live 'til hundreds of years after this?  Seems like a needless self-own, but you do what you have to do, I suppose.  

Interesting!  A Christian!  This is the closest you're likely to get to a Disney comics Quo Vadis, so enjoy it while you can!

As you can see, the story plays it cagey as to whether our heroes consider themselves Christians, though by the end of the story, it'll be hard to see how they could not.  Then again, if Rosa is to be believed, they should also be devotees of Finnish paganism, so take that for what it's worth and not a penny more.

Guy calls them Christians, but I think that's just his assumption.

Does he mean ten in the morning?  You kind of have to assume.  "Not even ten at night" seems like it would never be considered too early.  And yet, the fire in question happened at night, so...huh?

The art here is basically fine, serviceable, but GOOD LORD does this guy look weird in this panel.  Like some sort of lamprey-man.

Hey, did you know you can read about the history of firefighting and learn facts?  I know it's a bit dickish of me to pretend that Saidenberg had access to wikipedia while writing this, but what the hey.  Actually, the French text just says "firefighters;" I thought "fire department" made it sound a bit more anachronistic and therefore funnier.  I mean, not hilarious, obviously.  But you work with what you have.

Anyway, time to get a little heady here.  So right, the story is set in 64 CE (ha ha! Take THAT, Christmas!), which is indeed when the Great Fire of Rome took place.  This is Christmas, and it took place during the summer, but that's not really a problem because the date for the holiday hadn't been established as December at this point (the question of what TIME this is supposed to be is a bit vexed, but let's leave that aside as unimportant).  But, as we shall see in the other time-traveling sequences in this story, the time machine seems to be designed to take people JUST to Christmases.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it just takes you to the past at the same time of year as the present.  They're using it on December 25, so December 25 is where it takes them.  But wait, you see the problem if this is taking place in the summer.  It seems like the machine has to have some sort of, I don't know, holiday-detecting device...thing.  I mean, I don't know, maybe that's something Gyro would jive with.  But it also seems to mean that it can't take you back any further than this--when there was no such holiday or even the makings of a holiday.  Or maybe it also recognizes Mithras.  Who knows.  That's enough of this nonsense.

I must concede that this panel is rather poignant: this guy, almost certainly not going to come to a good end, wishing our heroes the best.  Not the kind of thing you expect to see in Disney comics.

Okay, and here's Nero, 'cause if you're gonna set a story in this milieu, ya GOTTA have some fiddling while Rome burns.  I'm kind of disappointed that he isn't a bird, though.  Let it be noted that his song was just generic "la la la" stuff in the original, so you're not losing anything with the rickroll.  Now, look at that "if the fire spreads here" dude.  As you will be aware, that last part is a paraphrase of Nero's alleged last words.  Given how awkwardly they're shoehorned in there, you'd probably be inclined to think that they're my addition to the story, but in this case, you are wrong: someone other than me shoehorned them in, so I kept them.  His expression absolutely does not match the sentiment.  Is he being sarcastic?  Huh?

Also, that woman on the right: is she supposed to be Poppaea?  I mean, apart from his mother Agrippina (who was dead by this point), there's no other woman closely associated with Nero.  And yet, as far as I know she never conspired against him, so who knows.  It would be a bit weird if it were just a random person saying that, though.

Right, we missed operawatch last entry, so here's a double: Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea and Handel's Agrippina are both baroque classics, so check 'em out.  The fanfiction approach that baroque librettists take with historical material is always a trip.

And now, this.  The Portuguese title of this story is "A Very Different Christmas;" the French edition dubbed it "Christmas Down the Centuries," which I like so I used.  But it has to be said, "centuries" seems to be an exaggeration; not counting the present-day parts, this whole thing takes place over a total of seventy years (also the French version removes a page and a quarter; I would kill to know what was cut out, even though it would probably turn out to be pretty trivial and then I'd feel guilty that I'd killed just to see it).

Nod also to "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which...I mean, I guess if it helped people it's good, but still kind of gross.  I personally prefer "Do They Know It's Halloween?"  Is that a real thing, or did I just make it up?  You will never know!  Unless you spend .1 seconds doing a web search, but really, who has that kind of time?

And you might think that "What you say!!" is a typo, but only if you are unaware of all internet traditions.  Look, I don't CARE if I'm the only one; I still find that funny.

I thought it might be conceptually interesting to have the ducks talk about the Germans in the terms generally reserved for non-white people.  Not that this is very far away from the original; I just punched it up a bit.

Oh, and also, I thought it would be, um,  conceptually interesting to include an NWA reference.  Inappropriate?  We can argue about that all day, but what's done is done.  Deal with it.

Seriously, though, sometimes you just have to do SOMETHING to add some zing to this dialogue.  It's the eternal question, innit?  "If the dialogue was good enough for the original-language audience, who are YOU to change it?"  To that, all I can say is [inarticulate mumbling].  But for the record, you didn't miss much as far as that footnote goes; the French text just glosses the meaning of "Valhalla," which seems extremely unnecessary.

Anyway, this section ends with our heroes getting chased away by wild boars.  It's a living!  But apparently I wasn't even interested enough in this section to cut more panels.  The reason this is supposedly Christmas-related is that it shows the people dancing around a fir tree.  That's it.

Anyway, please enjoy Duck Three Kings of Orient.  Now that's what I call change we can believe in.

Semi-off-topic, but that's really a great song.  And a source of hometown pride for me, too: the composer, John Henry Hopkins Jr., was a rector at a church in my very own hometown of Williamsport Goddamn Pennsylvania.  Put THAT in yer pipe and smoke it!  Is this a thing that everyone knows?  Maybe they do, but I still want to point it out: the verse about myrrh is goth as hell:

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume,

Breathes a life of gathering gloom,

Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,

Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

JEEZ, dude!  You must be fun at baby showers!

(I want to note that the kings here may not match up with their traditional gifts; I just went with the text, I wasn't going to futz around with rearranging names for something that zero people in the world care about.)

Also, I have no idea where this stuff about Melchior having contacted them before, or something, is supposed to be about.  I'm pretty sure that's completely made up.

Also, it's really not clear what exactly this means; there's no indication that Scrooge had brought any treasure with him.  He COULD have gotten it in the Rome sequence, but he didn't.  Also, why does he have a cloak for the guy?  And isn't he already wearing a cloak?  This is needless ambiguity after the fashion of many an Italian story, so at least they're copying from the best!  Or at least the most popular.

Anyway, Scrooge helps out with the Nativity.  Enjoy this sight, which you will not likely see again.  Would drawing a Duck Holy Family have been a bridge too far?  Maybe, but Nero was also drawn as a human, suggesting that it isn't necessarily ideological.

Oh, and while we're at it, why not recommend the relevant opera?  Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors may be the most-performed opera in the Anglophone world, given that it's short and in English and perfect for Christmas performances.  And really, it's quite charming.

And for the readers trying to follow along at home, I should explain that God fixed the ducks' time machine as thanks for helping with the Nativity.  There's a sentence you rarely find yourself needing.  I feel like some of your more censorious Christian sects might call this blasphemous, and while I absolutely disagree with their theology and politics, and will condemn them in no uncertain terms, I have to admit that in my quiet moments I don't think they one hundred percent don't have a point in this specific case.

Gawd, I didn't even include the panel where the boar came in the time machine with them.  It was such a brief thing; I did not think it was going to come up again.  But here we are!  And why do we think Grandma has any special expertise in taming wild hogs?  Just because she knows her way around farm animals?  This seems beyond dubious to me, I have to say.  I don't know why this weird narrative dead end was included in the story.  But, enjoy it in good health, I guess.


Okay, so this is slightly tricky: in the French text, he's saying it's as good to give as to receive; that doesn't sound idiomatic in English, if it does in French, but I don't get the sense that the story's trying to subvert anything, and besides, this way makes more sense in relation to the previous panel, in which Donald declares that Scrooge doesn't need any gifts this year.

So that's why I did it like this, and even though it's hard for me to imagine this was the intent, I love it as a really dark character moment: having witnessed this numinous moment, all Scrooge is able to do in response is spout this banal cliche.  He can't interface with it on any deep or authentic level.  Shades of Dos Passos' USA.

Still, there's a tableau, so I'm a fan.  END.

So there you have it.  I ask again: is this a good story, or is it a kind of middling-at-best story where the actual quality is quite beside the point?  I don't know; I could go either way.  It's not a deathless masterpiece, but after spending so long working on translating it, I guess I've developed a certain affection for it.  Your mileage may vary.  But I'm glad I didn't wait 'til Christmas to post this; doing it a bit early kind of takes the pressure off and gives us more time to, maybe, appreciate it.  Something else sometime next week?  Maybe.

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Blogger Pan Miluś said...

WOW! First of all, thank you for doing this translation, Geox! Can't wait to read it :)

I'm no expert in Brazilian stories, but I've noticed many surprisingly Christian references over the years popping up in different places. For example, there was a story where Jose Carioca and Rosita (his Minnie) help out a priest with some charity action. In another story, Jose dresses up as a priest for a costume party, and there's a tale where Dickie and her friends (Aracuan bird included) assist a local church with its broken bell. Other religious references include the Statue of Jesus in Rio De Janeiro appearing— one story takes place on top of it, and another story has Jose's cousin with a picture of the Virgin Mary on his wall. I also believe there were some stories based on The Bible with Feathry as Samson etc.

Brazil, as well as South America in general, has very few issues being depicted in Christian religion as part of daily life in cartoons, etc. Since like 90% of the population is Christian. Being from Poland, I can understand this as I'm yet to get any trouble for putting Christian or religious references in my own stories. A popular Brazilian comic book, "Monica's Gang" (drawn in a style similar to Disney comics), has made numerous references to religion over the years, featuring appearances by priests, monks, nuns, angels, God, and Biblical characters. One recurring character is even an angel who got his own spin-off comic book series.

Of course, they didn't shy away from showing the Nativity scene on the covers during Christmas. The series was also nonchalant about discussing death—having stories with Lady Death talking to kids about how to spend life in a beautiful way. South America, in general, seems to be much more relaxed about the topic of religion. As someone from Mexico once told me, the reason why Halloween didn't catch on there is due to the fact that Day of the Dead is a much happier holiday. They even have the cartoon character Catalina la Catrina appearing on TV, guiding kids on how to decorate the graves of their grandparents. This can also be observed in the fact that the only time I've seen Christian religion represented with a priest or nun character in Disney animated movies in the last decade was either taking place in Italy ("Luca") or all taking place in South America ("Coco," "Encanto," and for a non-Disney example, the movie "Ferdinand" that takes place in Mexico"). Since it's such a big part of the culture, it would be weird if it didn't feature it... as well as hypocritical, given they had no problem depicting the religion of Asian cultures they feature in movies like "Mulan" or "Turning Red."

So, I'm not that surprised if there was a Disney story around Nativity, it would be Brazilian.

December 23, 2023 at 1:29 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Woo! Thank you very much for the translation! (I've been plonking away for months at a Duck scanlation — not even Christmas-related — I know what an achievement it is to finish one on time.)

You say Nero was also a human, but he was a cartoonishly fat dog-nosed guy, which seems different from the backlit Mary and Joseph here, who seem to be fully realistic humans, with human noses and normal proportions and evrything. Joseph even seems to have five fingers instead of four, though it's a little hard to tell. So I do think it's very pointed and deliberate; reminds me of the way Rose depicts the Finnish deities in “Kalevala”, in fact.

December 23, 2023 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Missed joke opertunity: Have Nero sing "We didnt start the fire" :D

December 23, 2023 at 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

So glad to see this award-winning (check on Inducks!) Brazilian story! I do think it’s a good story, with Scrooge being converted from his normal greedy self to Nativity-keyed generosity. I *love* the fact that this rewrites history so that we now know that the king’s gift of gold was provided by Scrooge. I mean, I’m never going to look at a Nativity set again (and yes, I do have one in my house) without being happily aware of that.

I am currently visiting friends and won’t have access to my copy of this story until Tuesday. When I do, I will check up on a couple of the elements I half-remember. I thought it did say in the Rome sequence that Scrooge picked up some gold in Rome, and that’s the gold he later gave to the king who had been mugged by bandits. And I’ll look into the matter of Scrooge’s earlier meeting with Melchior.

I thought the Christmas-relevance of the sequence in Germanic lands was clear: a nod to the pagan origins of some of our beloved Christmas traditions. I thought it was cool Saidenberg included that, especially in a story which was so explicitly Christian.

December 23, 2023 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, he clearly does take some gold. It's not exactly emphasized in the text or images, but it's there, briefly. I still think the story coulda set things up a little more effectively.

December 23, 2023 at 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Lloke said...

FYI Scrooge is shown to be able to read Latin in Barks' "Fabulous Philosopher's Stone".

December 24, 2023 at 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Walt Disney Company's most notorious depiction of religion might be Fantasia's, where their analogue for the devil, Chernabog, is scared off by the bells of a church.

I believe there also was an old short about a little donkey who was present at the birth of Jesus.

Then, of course, there is the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which had at least one comic that I know of, a Kingdom Hearts crossover, of all things!

December 27, 2023 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That's all really interesting, because yeah, when you think about it, there ARE a number of religious depictions in Disney properties. But for whatever reason--at least this is the impression I've always had--they've been very reluctant for this to cross over into comics, for whatever reason.

December 27, 2023 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

"I believe there also was an old short about a little donkey who was present at the birth of Jesus."


«Before we go on, though, I'd like it noted that "It's 64 AD, after the time of Jesus Christ!" is from the French text; it's not my improvisation. The story seems to be making the popular mistake of thinking that "AD" is short for "After Death," which is weird, since that doesn't seem to work in a non-Anglophone context»

In Portuguese, we don't say "AD" but "d.C." ("depois de Cristo" - "after Christ"), meaning that "after the time of Jesus Christ" is roughly idiomatic

December 27, 2023 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The short about the Donkey is "Small One" (directed by Don Blut) which is great.

"Ave Maria" sequene in "Fantasia" is propably most religious thing in all of Disney and as a Christian I find it pretty amazing (then again "Fantasia 2000" has adaptation of Noah Ark with Donald Duck which is also great and fun). Also it's only Disney thing I know that takes PLACE In POLAND as Bold Mountain is an actual location here.

Interesting fact: As I learn from the DVD commentary "Ave Maria" part of "Fantasia" was going to end on image of Virgin Mary but Disney was afraid it will make it to on the nose. At the same time the sequence with the Dinosaurs was going to include depiction of human evolution but Disney was scared it will upset the Evangelicans - so I guess he was even handed not wanting to ofend either side.

Recently Disney short "Olaf Frozen Adventure" (spinoff of "Frozen") briefly shows Olaf in Church taking part in feast of St. Lucy day - a Catholic holiday that's celebrated near Christmas.

However possible the most religious thing I seen in Disney animation in recent years was the "Ghost and Molly McGee" had episode "Festival of Lights" which was Hanukkah special, when entire short is just characters taking part in the Celebration and they go tradition after tradition, including going into openly talking about religious and spiritual meaning, have character use Yddish and most suprisingly touch upon Holocoust as one of the character has a flashback explaining how her Family fled from Europe but religion help them go true harsh and dark times.

It was pretty amazing special and if I would like to explain to my kids who Jewish people are it would be a near perfect thing to show them to get the idea of their culture, tradition and strugles.

December 27, 2023 at 1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is also Friar Tuck from Robin Hood, who has appeared in several comic stories afaik. That's probbaly the most recurring church affiliated character Disney has.

December 27, 2023 at 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

There are two threads on Feathery Society which are relevant to the question of religious references in Disney comics: "Is religion allowed in Donald Duck comics?" and "What are each character's religious beliefs?" In the former thread you can find a reference to the Gorm Transgaard/Manrique story where a nativity set can be seen on Grandma Duck's windowsill!

December 29, 2023 at 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Walter R said...

Thanks GeoX, the blog is amazing!

February 2, 2024 at 5:33 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I choose to believe that the ghost of Walter R. Brooks, having gotten over his dislike of comic books, is commenting on this blog. Welcome, sir! I'm a big Freddy fan.

February 6, 2024 at 10:59 AM  

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