Friday, February 25, 2011

Comics Review: DONALD DUCK #363 (February 2011, Boom! Kids)

(Hey Joe, you'll notice that I spelled "February" right the first time this time around. I read "Secret of Hondorica," too -- not to mention your recent post on the subject.)

I think it can now safely be said that the "Daan Jippes redraws Carl Barks stories" enterprise has "jumped the shark." Oh, it's not that Jippes' 2010 "reimagining" of "Somewhere Beyond Nowhere" -- a tale spun by John Lustig out of a Barks story outline and drawn by Pat Block under the heading "Somewhere IN Nowhere" (Gemstone DONALD DUCK AND UNCLE $CROOGE One-Shot, November 2005) -- is actually poor. Indeed, as those who have read Barks' typewritten precis will attest, it is a more literal translation of Barks' original suggestion than was the earlier version. The problem is that "SIN" was a markedly better, and even markedly more Barksian, effort than is the putatively more faithful "SBN." Let us count the why's:

(1) "SIN" had a much stronger "philosophical underpinning," so to speak. Donald's desire to prove that he can, too, be a success despite his faults, and the corresponding wager with Scrooge that leads to him taking a job in far-off Bearflanks, Alaska, makes perfect sense in light of what we know about Barks' Donald's character. In "SBN," by contrast, Don tires of his sidewalk-inspecting job and searches for more excitement in... Bearflanks, Alaska? It is easy to think of a hundred far more accessible places in which Don could have tested his courage to the fullest.

(2) Bearflanks postmistress (and would-be freezer tycoon) Sourdough Sally of "SIN" is a far more interesting character than any of the ephemeral supporting players in "SBN." Sally is fully worthy to stand with the likes of Katie Mallard and "Ducky Bird" of Barks' "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad" as a female one-shotter who really ought to have been given another chance.

(3) Donald's chaotic first day as mailman in "SIN" is not only more believable than his slick-as-a-goose opening-day performance in "SBN," it quietly stirs up pleasant memories of a Barks story from the late 50s. Likewise, Donald's odyssey in "The Frozen Nowhere" brings to mind the Ducks' Arctic ordeal in Barks' "Luck of the North." These homages seem quite appropriate in what, after all, was meant to be a sort of coda to Barks' career. In a similar vein, Block's cleaner, more traditional art style compliments the story's strongly nostalgic tone in a manner that Jippes' action-packed, "busy" art does not.

(4) HD&L appear in "SBN" but basically encumber the ground, whereas "SIN" is entirely Donald's show -- which is as it should be. The core of this story is about Donald trying to prove his mettle against all obstacles, both self-imposed and otherwise.

(5) "SIN" features a healthy slug of what one might call the "Barks weirdness factor." Not that Barks went out of his way to be off-the-wall, but a number of his stories -- especially the $CROOGE adventures of the 60s -- feature odd plot contrivances that cause the head to shake on occasion. (Think about those 17-foot-tall Venusian teenagers.) Suffice it to say that "blubbersicle tycoon" Hamalot McSwine's scheme to stop Sourdough Sally from selling freezers to Eskimos in "SIN" is considerably closer to the "classically weird" tradition than is "banker" Hamfist McSwine's desire to foreclose on Widow Brokepenny in "SBN." Hamalot's over-the-top, almost ridiculous ruthlessness also rings truer, in a Barksian sense, than Hamfist's point-to-point greediness.

(6) Donald's return to his sidewalk job is more satisfying in "SIN" than it is in "SBN," because it is his own decision to go back to the tried and true. This nicely completes the circle which began with Donald tiring of his constant failures and pressing the issue with Scrooge. "SBN," by contrast, ends with the familiar "Don-gets-run-out-of-town" business, which is especially hard to take here in light of the fact that Donald's troubles are not really of his own making.

Over time, I've grown to enjoy Jippes' redrawings of Barks' scripts for HD&L JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS, and I'm sure I'll like Jippes' revamping of Barks' last DONALD DUCK script, "A Day in a Duck's Life," which has just appeared in this week's WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES. "Somewhere Beyond Nowhere," by contrast, feels... well, pointless. I don't know the whole story behind this do-over, but I honestly doubt that I'd change my mind even if I did know all the details. And it strikes me that redrawing a long Block story is more than a little insulting to Block.

Carl Barks was also very much on the mind of Geoffrey Blum when he wrote the 2009 Egmont story "The Saga of Captain Duckburg." This story, illustrated in accomplished style by Carlos Mota, could be considered the more cynical (shading into bitter, in fact) flip-side to the sunny, idyllic "Uncle $crooge and the Man Who Drew Ducks." Here, the Barks-physiognomened "Temecula Sam," the hermit-like, legendary "Captain Duckburg" artist whom Donald is tasked with interviewing for Scrooge's gossip magazine (!), wants less than nothing to do with reporters, fans, and other pains in the rear. He's even tricked up his house in "San Jacaranda" with all manner of anti-snooper devices, many of which bear suspicious resemblances to gizmos from comics and cartoons on which Barks worked. It wouldn't surprise me if Barks himself had a couple of "I-feel-like-Sam" moments during the more-troubled-than-they-had-to-be last few years of his life, the era of The Carl Barks Studio and the lengthy pilgrimages to Europe. It's hard not to interpret Donald's convincing Sam into returning to comic-bookery -- a plan that backfires on Don in a BIG way -- as a comment on the whole Barks Studio experience. Fer gosh sakes, Blum even makes reference to Barks' unhappy second marriage and posits that "Temecula Sam" quit the business because he couldn't think of a way to end Captain Duckburg's version of the "square eggs" story. I recall that Blum's "World Wide Witch" (UNCLE $CROOGE #320, August 2003), with its audacious blend of Wicca and the Internet, received a great deal of comment -- some of it quite sharp -- from "old sourdoughs" of the "Would Barks ever have done THAT?" persuasion. If there's any justice -- not to mention enough room in the Boom! letter columns -- "The Saga of Captain Duckburg" will receive as much feedback, and rightly so. It's a most intriguing commentary on the whole "Barks industry" and at least some of its discontents.

Speaking of That "Old Duck Man" Himself, Barks gets the back of the book with the reprinting of "The Mystery of the Loch" (WDC&S #237, June 1960), a quiet little palate-cleanser of a story in which Donald commandeers HD&L's newly-won underwater camera and drags the boys along with him to Scotland to attempt to snap a pic of the legendary, never-before-photographed "Loch Less" Monster. The casualness of Barks' approach here is summed up by the fact that the totality of "local Scottish color" on display consists of one grocer wearing a tam who sells haggis. No heavy perusal of back issues of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC on this job, I deem. It's still a pretty good story, with an unusual ending in which dogged Don wins at least a partial victory -- make that "sustains a less painful loss than usual" -- when HD&L describe his ultimate defeat to the reader in words, as opposed to Donald's being smacked across the face with the loss. Don Rosa provides a good cover illo, as well. But I do think that HD&L whined about wishing that they'd gotten the "electric head-massager" at least one too many times...


Ryan Wynns said...

I understand where Lustig is coming from. The Carl Barks Studio has a dubious reputation, and once he realized that he'd been misled, his regrets and desire to rectify the situation is completely natural for a good-natured human being.

Given the shady, murky circumstances in which Barks' original synopsis was developed into "Somewhere in Nowhere", I'm a bit conflicted about feeling that as a whole, it's better-conceived and -plotted than "Somewhere Beyond Nowhere". Like you, Chris, I feel that Sourdough Sally was a well-developed character that was seamlessly integrated into the plot. I can't say the same her "SBN" equivalent. The widow and her small children were introduced way too casually and dropped out of sight way too soon. I really thought at first that they were just some kind of "insert varied personality/residence type here" entry in a montage of Donald's customers on his first day! (And in Barks' synopsis, the entity whose fate hinges on Donald delivering their check is "the local Bearflanks oil claim", so the whole objective of this "remake" is rendered null.)

I enjoy Jippes' art as much as anyone, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with Block's. This is a messy, unfortunate situation, and I don't presume to know anything remotely close to the whole story. So, I'll look at it like this: I'm grateful to have enjoyed both versions. (And yes, I did enjoy the newer one, in spite of the ways I've said that I felt it came up short next to the earlier one.) Each was clearly a labor of love for all talent involved. I just hope that time recognizes and honors this.


John Lustig said...

Chris, I'm certainly not going to argue with you if you liked the first "Somewhere" better. (How can I when I scripted both?)

However, I do want to make it clear that "Somewhere Beyond Nowhere" was never intended as insult to Pat Block.

As Ryan Wynns correctly notes, the development of the first "Somewhere" was murky. Uniquely murky!

The managers of The Carl Barks Studio paid me to turn Carl’s synopsis into a script. So I had to answer to them rather than to my usual editor at Egmont.

Unfortunately, one of the managers made a very unfortunate suggestion—which I felt obliged to follow—which caused the story to get much longer and veer away from Carl’s original concept.

(I was not allowed to talk to Carl about this directly at the time and I was informed—I now believe falsely—that Carl was in favor of the change.)

I did my best to accommodate that and Sourdough Sally was one of the characters and plot points that I created to move the story along in the new direction.

Now a lot of people really liked “Somewhere in Nowhere.” (Tony Isabella even picked for his book 1,001 COMIC BOOK STORIES YOU MUST READ.)

But several Disney creators I respected didn’t care for the story—at all. (Granted all of them had beefs with the managers of the Barks Studio. So that may have colored their opinions.)

But I have to tell you that I know that Carl wasn’t completely satisfied with it. He felt it diverged so far from his original synopsis that it wasn’t really a Barks story.

Clearly this wasn’t what Carl intended “Somewhere” to be and so when the chance to redo it came, I did.

By the way, I did tell Pat Block that the story was being redone—long ago. And he seemed fine with it. He understood that going back to Carl’s original synopsis was a point of honor for me.

And Pat was no longer working for Egmont. So he wasn’t available to do the new version. So no disrespect was ever intended.

Chris Barat said...


Thank you for the very enlightening comments. I still prefer the earlier version, but, knowing what I know about the Barks Studio mess, I can understand why a more faithful "redo" was felt necessary.