Friday, August 29, 2008

Ginning the JWs (Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK FAMILY, THE DAAN JIPPES COLLECTION, Vol. 1 [Gemstone, June 2008])

I must admit to having been less than thrilled when the word got out about 15 years ago that Dutch artist Daan Jippes was engaged in redrawing Carl Barks' JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS scripts of the early 1970s. Granted, the original artwork could be described as uninspired at best and wretched at worst, though veteran artist Tony Strobl gave several of the earlier stories a smidgen of class. Jippes' assignment seemed rather like a "fanboy" project run amuck and a somewhat desperate effort to squeeze out a few more "new Barks stories," albeit by proxy. Well, Daan is just now finishing the last few "revitalizations" (credit Gary Leach for an ingenious turn of phrase), and I've finally warmed up to the whole notion, in no small part due to the legitimate excellence of Jippes' artwork. This volume, the first of a promised series of similar releases (akin to the ongoing BARKS-ROSA COLLECTION sequence), collects Jippes' first five redrawn scripts.

There can be no better way of illustrating the vast visual improvement in the "revitalized" stories than by a direct comparison to the originals. Here's a tier from Kay Wright and Larry Mayer's original 1972 rendering of "The Day the Mountain Shook," followed by Jippes' interpretation of the same scene from the original Dutch printing in 1992. Note that Louie is supposed to be playing the role of a Cassandra here.


As Wright and Mayer draw it, Louie looks more BORED and/or RESIGNED than anything else. Jippes' Louie, on the other hand, is definitely suffering from some SERIOUSLY bad karma – that expression in the second panel looks positively Charlie Brown-ish. (I'll set aside the whole question of why Louie has suddenly developed this peculiarity. I have a lot more questions about that idea than I do about, for example, Dewey suddenly rebelling against looking just like his brothers in the DuckTales episode "Duck in the Iron Mask." THAT trope was thought-provoking and ingenious; this one seems just plain weird.)

Barks' JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS scripts are best known for their frequent paeans to environmentalism, back when that term simply meant cleaning up the air, water, and land rather than locking one's mind into a prison of quasi-religious dogma. Appropriately enough, Jippes' cover to this issue depicts a snarling Scrooge preparing to flatten the Woodchucks' cabin with a wrecking ball while the Woodchucks breathe defiance. Oddly enough, however, only one of these five stories has a distinctive environmental theme, that being the aforementioned "The Day the Mountain Shook." Even in that case, Scrooge's desire to strip-mine beautiful Mount Greenglory has to share the stage with the additional theme of HD&L messing up the troop's pancake breakfast and subsequently being demoted to "mere Beanheads." The lead-off tale, "Duckmade Disaster," starts with a vintage early-70s protest march, but the goal is simply to get Scrooge to move his Money Bin off the site of Cornelius Coot's original home site; it has nothing to do with protecting the environment per se. (Since the homestead ends up being located elsewhere – and Scrooge had earlier been forced to move the Bin from its original site of Fort Duckburg [that noise you heard was Don Rosa harrumphing] for the same reason – one ends up almost feeling sorry for Scrooge.) The other three stories are far more conventional in terms of character dynamics and themes. "Bad Day for Troop A" finds HD&L's ultra-competent Woodchuck troop finally being upstaged by perpetually put-upon Troop K (wouldn't Troop Z have been more appropriate?). In "Storm Dancers," HD&L's latent (and, to me, perpetually irritating) dislike of school comes to the fore, as they and the other 'Chucks use rain dances in an attempt to wipe out the first day of the new school year. Needless to say, they do the job TOO well (or so they think) and the school building gets destroyed, but HD&L end up having to hit the books in the end. Finally, in "Traitor in the Ranks," the most "ten-pager"-like of the quintet, a fed-up Donald schemes to get the boys kicked out of the Woodchucks by posing as an inept rookie and sabotaging HD&L's efforts to indoctrinate him. Barks' best days were behind him by this point, of course, but, given the inherent limitations of the concept, Western Publishing's contemporary story formats, and the somewhat mechanical nature of the pro-environment message, his JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS stories still repay repeated reading. And, thanks to Jippes, we can now enjoy these stories on TWO levels.

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