Saturday, August 30, 2008

For Want of a Nail, Should We Lose the Gloves?

Joe Torcivia recently posted some musings regarding the peculiar omnipresence of white gloves on the hands of many Disney (and other studios') cartoon characters. (Notable exceptions to this "rule" are the Disney Ducks.) The piece put me in mind of the weirdest "glove moment" I've ever experienced in a comic-book story. From WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #75, December 1946, Carl Barks' "Turkey Trouble":

I think this even trumps Dwight Decker's recollection of a Beagle Boy filing his nails while wearing gloves. Note that the colorists made the mistake of coloring the Good Joes Turkey Shoot honcho's gloves in flesh tones. You know it's a mistake because, earlier in the story, a different character gets the white-glove treatment:

The nail-cutting scene must have perplexed the colorists to the extent that they figured Barks MUST have meant the guy to have bare hands, those telltale "glove lines" notwithstanding.

Friday, August 29, 2008

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is It "Bedtime" Again Already? (Comics Review: WALT DISNEY'S VACATION PARADE #5, May 2008 [Gemstone Publishing])

Eighteen years on, the influence of the Disney Comics title MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES can still be felt. Without MMA's reestablishment of Mickey Mouse as a truly viable adventure character -- no offense intended to longtime Mouse artist Paul Murry, but Mickey's escapades as a "private detective" had long since grown enervated and stale by the time Murry retired in the mid-1980s -- one can hardly imagine Mickey's dramatic comeback in the Egmont-produced comics of the late 1990s and early 2000s ever taking place. Thanks to Byron Erickson, David Gerstein, a passel of talented (and primarily American) writers, and a phalanx of artists (led by Cesar Ferioli and Noel Van Horn) who successfully married Mickey's contemporary look to an old-fashioned Floyd Gottfredson attitude, Mickey is once again a front-rank comics star.

Of all of MMA's many fine stories, none packed quite the wallop of the two-part 1990 tale "The Big Fall" and "A Phantom Blot Bedtime Story," in which Mickey faced off against The Phantom Blot in a full-blooded throwback to the original Blot story of 1939. This classic, written by Lee Nordling and drawn by Stephen DeStefano and Gary Martin, finally gets an overdue reprinting at (unfortunately) the back of the recently released WALT DISNEY'S VACATION PARADE #5. (Actually, we were fortunate to see it at all, as the 1943 Ken Hultgren adventure "The Seven-Colored Terror" was originally scheduled to run in its place.) In "The Big Fall," The Blot, arguably closer here to his 1939 persona -- with one intriguing exception (see below) -- than in virtually any other story one could name, matches wits with Mickey for possession of a valuable gem, only to be foiled in the end. Making his escape at the end of the story, The Blot seeks revenge, and what a revenge he cooks up -- a death trap that makes the "barber chair" and "footstool" death traps of the original story seem like children's parlor games. Dumped into a bizarre revolving maze that's a cross between an M.C. Escher print gone mad and the chaotic rotating stairwells of Hogwarts Castle, Mickey labors to save Pluto and Goofy from certain doom. The Blot would have gotten away with it, too, if not for the fact that the venom-emboldened villain tries one ruse too many. Legendary artist John Byrne provided cover art illustrating The Blot's labyrinth, but DeStefano and Martin do an even better job of bringing the maddening maze to ghastly life.

Lending a touch of pathos to this otherwise straightforward story is the introduction of The Blot's black-clad daughter. Yep, you read it right. "The Phantom Brat" (cf. editor David Cody Weiss in the MMA letter column) appears in the last panel of "Fall," sobbing over her Dad's apparent plunge to doom. It seems that The Blot meant to give the gem to her, all his stories about being forced to steal the stone to propitiate a kidnapper being so much Blots**t. The wee one's role in "Bedtime Story" is even more arresting. Already in custody at the start of the story -- but given a chance by Mickey to say goodbye to his daughter -- The Blot couches the story of his a-maze-ing battle with Mickey in the form of a fairy tale in which he ("The Good King") crosses swords with and ultimately falls victim to Mickey ("The White Knight"). This fairy tale isn't fractured, it's positively twisted beyond the point of recognition. Adding to the surreal feel of the framing sequence, "The Phantom Brat"'s toys all sport the same cloaked heads as "The Brat" and her Dad. "The Brat" -- now bearing the name "Alberta" -- appeared in at least one other Egmont story following her debut, but it's safe to say that this was the high point of her brief but memorable comics career.

As great as this narrative is, certain flaws are now apparent that were not so visible in 1990. The biggest of these lies in the characterization of Mickey. Oh, he's certainly not a weak character of the "happy bandleader" mold here; his characterization just isn't quite as distinctive as that of the Mickey that would blossom in the later Egmont stories. Mickey basically plays the stalwart hero, impressing The Blot no end ("How durable of you!" the villain responds after Mickey has evaded death yet again) but showing relatively little of the Floyd Gottfredson-inspired flavor that later writers such as Gerstein, Pat and Carol McGreal, Stefan Petrucha, and Noel Van Horn would emphasize. Of course, in the context of 1990, simply showing that Mickey could handle heavy-duty action and suspense and not only survive but thrive was more than enough of an accomplishment for Nordling, who would go on to pen "Space Mickey and the Throgg-Ray Wars," an epic space adventure, for DISNEY ADVENTURES DIGEST (more's the pity) before gradually fading from the scene.

The rest of WDVP #5 isn't too shabby, either. Carl Barks' 1949 adventure "Trail of the Unicorn" isn't usually put on the short list of his greatest stories, but it's full of action and good running gags (Donald: "Yes, Uncle Scrooge!"). Sent to the Himalayas to corral a unicorn for Scrooge's zoo, Donald and HD&L must fend off Gladstone, who, strangely, not only trusts to his famous luck but also actively tries to scam Donald into purchasing a worn-out nag instead. This could be considered a logic break, except for the fact that Gladstone himself regrets actually working to con his cousin and goes back to lying in the lap of Lady Luck. The story also features one of the Ducks' all-time great near-death experiences, as Dewey barely saves himself from being skewered by the rampaging unicorn by proffering a moss-covered rock to the (supposedly) mythical beast. A grateful Dewey totes the rock home, and, unsurprisingly, the souvenir ends up helping the Ducks trump Gladstone in the end. Might this story enjoy a better "rep" if Scrooge had come along, as opposed to simply using Donald and HD&L as gofers? Could be...

The Scrooge of Kari Korhonen's "Treasure Treachery" is perilously close to becoming a basket case -- ceaselessly badgering his employees and stressing out to the max. The Ducks cook up a bogus treasure quest to an exotic island in order to shake Scrooge out of the rut, but Donald, true to form, doesn't want to stop the good times from rolling and ups the ante by tossing a fake treasure map into the mix. Little does he know that Scrooge has gotten wise to Don's deceit and is planning a revenge scam of his own. It's another good, solid Korhonen effort with lots of character-based humor -- and, unlike "Fall"/"Bedtime" and "Unicorn," it actually has something to do with a vacation. So, too, does Jack Bradbury's 1955 LI'L BAD WOLF story "Back to Nature", in which Zeke tries -- and mostly fails -- to prove his mettle as a he-wolf during a camping trip with his son. Even the Dick Kinney/Al Hubbard DONALD AND FETHRY story "Preserve Psychiatry" contains a nod to summer fun (hmm, now there's a name for a Disney quarterly...) as Don heads for a hunting and fishing frolic in The Everglades, where he runs smack dab into newly-anointed "conservationist" Fethry. There's no doubt, however, that the highlights of this issue transcend any particular season.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome to my Brand Spanking New Blog!

Thanks, Joe Torcivia, for inspiring me to finally do this!

I first started NEWS AND VIEWS as a column in issue #2 of the Disney TV animation APA WTFB in 1992. I stuck with it until the mag's demise in 2003 but continued to keep my hand in with a regular column for Mark Arnold's Harvey fanzine THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES!. When my wonderful wife Nicky inaugurated The BaratCave, our Barat family home page, in 2005, I started posting reviews there. All my reviews from 2005 to August 2008 are archived there in perpetuity. Starting NOW, however, they'll be posted right here!

What can you expect to find here? Reviews of Disney comics, first and foremost. I used to write regular letters of comment to the Disney comics letter columns but ultimately chafed at the space limitations. In this format, I can let myself go (um, did that come out right?). I'll also post reviews of books I've recently read (both related to comics and otherwise) and DVDs I've recently perused (I generally do the latter while walking on the treadmill, so it takes me a good while to slog through a multi-disc set). Any other posts related to sports, politics, work, etc. I will keep to a minimum, but I'll include appropriate links where appropriate. Outright ranting and conspiracy theorizing will be conspicuous by their absence. I am, however, generally at odds with the sociopolitical views of most of my colleagues in academia and fandom, so expect the occasional shot across the bow.

My teaching schedule this semester (which includes mentoring a pair of students doing independent research projects) is rough, but I hope to post on at least a weekly basis. Please be patient, especially during the early shakedown portion of the school year. Comments are welcome at any time.

Thanks for visiting!