Sunday, January 27, 2013

"The Man from Oola-Oola"

And now, we continue our lackadaisical tromp through Scarpa territory.  This story didn't really leave much impression on me the first time I read it, but in rereading, I'm pleased to say that I found I actually really like it.  I think it helps that it's comparatively short and not that convoluted.  You DO have to get past the cockamamie initial premise--that Scrooge has a supercomputer that will only consent to be used by someone it "likes," and that the only person it likes is this hirsute south-seas native--but once you've done that, the whole thing runs mostly smoothly.

Like a number of Scarpa stories that Gladstone published, this one comes complete with an absolutely insufferable little essay by Alberto Becattini, ascribing a degree of thematic weight to the story that it in no way earns.  Fercryinoutloud, I like this story, but Becattini seems to be hell-bent on ruining my opinion of it with this compulsive need for it to be not just a fun story, but also deeply profound.  I mean, seriously, check out this belief-beggaring final sentence:

"The Man from Oola-Oola" makes us laugh, yet after reading it we are certainly more aware of what we are deep inside, and for this, maybe sadder.

Really?  Really?  Someone was somehow able to write that with a straight face? The mind, she is boggled.  Thing is, I can sorta kinda see in the story an echo of what Becattini's saying.  If he toned down his extravagant claims a little, he might have a perceptive essay.  But noooo…Scarpa always has to be a Great Artist capable of producing nothing but the most brilliant, perceptive masterpieces.  Hence, he writes things like this that are impossible to take seriously.

Still, if there's one thing I will say for it, it's that it becomes absolutely hilarious if you imagine it being intoned by Werner Herzog.  Viz:

Mr. Bunz stands for "difference" as opposed to the "normality" the Ducks are part of.  He is the "good savage" who lives outside the industrial, consumeristic, highly civilized, yet also morally questionable society in which we live.  He is the "alien," the disquieting presence that disturbs Duckburg's everyday life.

Trust me, if you'd ever listened to one of Herzog's audio commentaries, you'd be rolling on the floor right now.  If only I were good at vocal impressions, I'd make an audio clip.

Anyway: onward.


Pretty opening splash panel, though, as is often the case, this tendency of Scarpa to do this whole PREPARE TO HAVE YOUR MINDS BLOWN BY HIS BIZARRENESS OF THIS SITUATION thing gets old.


Actually, this whole framing device, though sound in theory, is pretty dodgy in practice.  And as far as the above goes: if you expect to find any other indication in the story of how Scrooge knows the octopus is named "Genevieve" or that she likes horseradish…well, you will be disappointed.  It must be admitted, stuff like this lends credence to Reviewordie's postulate in comments to the previous post that Scarpa just makes shit up as he goes along.  Maybe he was planning to explain this mystery but then just sort of forgot about it.


And then, alas, this whole "let's each tell part of the story!" bit--it's an elegant idea that is handled with total artlessness.  It could not feel more authorially contrived, and unless you're going for a particular effect, which Scarpa clearly isn't, that's not a good thing.  Bah.


Anyway, Scrooge has two groups of accountants.  I think it's funny the way the English script--written by the late Don Markstein, who does an exemplary job--tries to mask the fact that this story was written in 1959 with these "ho ho!  Technology was SO PRIMITIVE then!  It's far more advanced now!"  I also think it was unnecessary, though.  I like the quaint feel of the story, in which this enormous mainframe thing is the absolute bleeding edge of technology.


At the risk of having people say "you know, for a story that you allegedly LIKE, you sure do complain a lot about it," I have to complain here, to the effect that, while Scrooge's melodramatic attitude here is funny, this really doesn't make a lick of sense: the idea was that one of his accounting teams--he didn't know which--was twenty-five cents off.  So now that he's gotten rid of twenty-five cents…he still doesn't know which is right.  And if the one that provided the lower total was right, now they're both off.


…and I kind of thing that Markstein was aware of this, and therefore added that bit in the narration box.  Which is, I suppose, the best anyone could do under the circumstances.



Anyway, as noted above, the idea is that the computer won't work for anyone it doesn't "like."  Best not think too hard about this.  The title of Donald's book there is great.


And then we have a long sequence of Donald putting on different personae to try to get it to like him.  A bit overly drawn-out?  Perhaps, but it amuses me.  The above amuses me especially, since that last panel looks very much like Markstein taking a li'l shot at the inexplicable incongruence of Donald's costume and his pitch.


"Mr. Bunz seems comatose.  Did you notice?" 

I feel like maybe Scarpa originally planned some sort of sequence with Scrooge actually going to this island, which would've made "Genevieve" at the beginning make sense in retrospect.  But there sure ain't no such thing now!


Here's the part I always wonder about.  My assumption has always been that this whole "ceremonial attire" malarkey was added in by Markstein to try to justify the quite unjustifiable fact that Scrooge appears to have kidnapped the guy.  But then…I don't know.  Given Scarpa's, uh, eccentricities, is it possible that this is his own invention, as a kind of head-fake?  I still kinda lean toward the former theory, but I am unsure.  No doubt some helpful commenter will clear this up.  

AT ANY RATE: my only point is, if the former theory is correct, Scarpa fucked up pretty badly here.  Yeesh.


"A Fable about Friendship," the Becattini piece is called, which, like everything about the essay, is at best an overstatement.  Now, I like ol' Mr. Bunz.  I think it's a charming character design, and the gibberish Markstein puts in his mouth is inspired.  But the fact is, the story really doesn't do a whole lot in terms of developing his relationship with Scrooge or anyone else, which is unfortunate given how pivotal this relationship is.


…though, okay, I guess this is kind of nice.  Fair's fair!


The fact that these European digest stories have different length standards than American comic books means that a bit of awkward chopping up is usually unavoidable.  This story is rather short at thirty-seven pages, but it still was cut, albeit lopsidedly.  And the above, as you can see, is the end of part one.  But man--if they'd included just one more page in the first issue, they could've ended on this:


Think how much more cliffhanged you'd be that way!


The Terrible Truth is well-rendered, though; no doubt about that.


And, for the story arc to progress, Scrooge has to suspect Mr. Bunz.  But man--if Phoenix Wright games have taught us anything, it's that you need a motive for a crime.  What the hell would Bunz do with all this cash?  It's not like he can just disappear and blend into American society.  I know Scrooge isn't meant to be exactly rational here, but even so, this just seems like an overly convenient way to create a rift between the two characters.


But credit where credit is due: Scrooge's fantasies about the probable court outcomes of this case are flat-out hilarious, particularly the jury's sympathetic rage.


Of course, it turns out the Beagles are involved, although not hugely involved, given that they're introduced and apprehended in the space of seven panels.  I suppose there's nothing all that wrong with this, except that it kind of screws with your head: first you think, ah ha!  So that business where the computer has to like you to work wasn't real after all!  I knew it was too goofy to be true!  But oh no, wait, it is real, it's just…not as sensitive as I had previously thought?  Dammit, I thought there was a rational explanation, but obviously there's not!  It's still just this weird, vague thing.  One thing Scarpa is really, really not good at is avoiding unnecessary convolutions, and that's even the case in a simple story like this one.


Still, I think everything really kinda does pay off in the end, as this reunification heartwarms me regardless of what came before.


And that conclusion is sweet; no doubt about it.  Though I can't help feeling like Mr. Bunz is shortly going to undergo some serious trauma, once he realizes that without electricity, his "friend" is dead dead dead.  Markstein probably shoulda stuck in some line about Scrooge including a portable, solar-powered generator with it or something.  Ah well.

Man, reading back over all this, I'm really not sure any impartial jury would be convinced that I actually like the thing.  But I do!  I really do!  None of the problems that I've enumerated really bother me that much--it's just that they stick out so noticeably that it's hard to avoid dwelling on them.  But, even if Becattini's hyperbole is unhelpful, on its own terms, the story works quite well.  It's more cute and fun than anything else, and that is something that I will take!  I'd better take it, because I have the feeling that I'm in for some bumpy Scarpa rereading experiences in the near future.

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10 Comments:

OpenID reviewordie said...

Whoa! I certainly didn't expect to be named in the review, that was a pleasant surprise. And in what seems to be a good Scarpa story at that!

Your reaction to the Becattini essays is exactly the same one I have with some of the haughtier stuff in the Fantagraphics Barks comics. One of the greatest and most enduring qualities of Disney comics is their emotional simplicity. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, or to imply a lack of depth, just that they are elegant.

The best stories with these characters deftly lead you from place to place, emotion to emotion, even if it's just leaving with a little smile at the end of the story. That's my impression anyway. And based on your reaction I'd consider the story wholly successful by those standards, and your criticisms can certainly stand alongside that without a problem.

Man, I can see some translation hiccups in these panels though, despite the very well-characterized dialogue. What you took to be a clunky line could seem like foreshadowing after the fact with just a short change, "How old fashioned they seem now, with (better name for The Brain here) in the picture!", leaving the time period where it was originally intended.

And the number of times I saw a blatant "As you know" panels even in your review... yikes! But I can easily tolerate that kind of hiccup if it's in such well-drafted dialogue.

That said, if the horseradish bit from the octopus scene and the "Only a Poor Old Man" reference from the Beagle Boys' plan weren't added by the Mr. Markstein? I will pull a Rockerduck and eat my hat.

January 27, 2013 at 5:14 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

I wish there was a disney story about Geox so Uncle Scrooge could review it.... :)

January 27, 2013 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

@Reviewordie

What you took to be a clunky line could seem like foreshadowing after the fact with just a short change, "How old fashioned they seem now, with (better name for The Brain here) in the picture!", leaving the time period where it was originally intended.

I'd go for that if not for the last panel up there, in which he says that "today's computers are faster and less expensive." "Today" is what? A few weeks after he first got the big ol' mainframe?

Your reaction to the Becattini essays is exactly the same one I have with some of the haughtier stuff in the Fantagraphics Barks comics.

It's definitely a fine line to walk. Obviously I think there's a lot to be said about these stories, and there are often some fairly complex thematic concerns under the surface that bear drawing out. On the other hand, it is indeed easy to get carried away, like a kid writing a term paper about his favorite rock lyrics.

@Pan Miluś

Thanks. That's undoubtedly the most bizarre thing anyone's ever said about this blog :p

January 27, 2013 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

GeoX writes:

“I think it's funny the way the English script--written by the late Don Markstein, who does an exemplary job--tries to mask the fact that this story was written in 1959 with these "ho ho! Technology was SO PRIMITIVE then!”

…And, then he writes:

“…and I kind of thing that Markstein was aware of this, and therefore added that bit in the narration box. Which is, I suppose, the best anyone could do under the circumstances.”

And that illustrates my point (from the previous post) on the necessity to occasionally diverge from “authorial intent”, in greater service to the story one is hired to dialogue, better than a team-up of Carl Barks, Neal Adams, and Rembrandt! Hooray for Don Markstein! Well done!

…Riding-off now, on my not-so-dead horse!

January 27, 2013 at 5:58 PM  
OpenID reviewordie said...

@GeoX

I'm right there with you on the fine line. I love analysis, that's why I come here, but sometimes... well, jeez, like you said, sometimes you just gotta accept the joke is all. Nothing wrong with that in the least. :)

January 27, 2013 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger Domenico Ruoppolo said...

GeoX wrote:

"Here's the part I always wonder about. My assumption has always been that this whole "ceremonial attire" malarkey was added in by Markstein to try to justify the quite unjustifiable fact that Scrooge appears to have kidnapped the guy. But then…I don't know. Given Scarpa's, uh, eccentricities, is it possible that this is his own invention, as a kind of head-fake? I still kinda lean toward the former theory, but I am unsure. No doubt some helpful commenter will clear this up.
AT ANY RATE: my only point is, if the former theory is correct, Scarpa fucked up pretty badly here. Yeesh."

Hi! The whole thing is due to the American dialogue writer. It is completely different in the original version. Here what Scrooge and Donald say in the two panels you posted right before the quote here above (terrible translation of mine, of course):
First panel.
Scrooge: I found him in the middle of the jungle. But I can assure you he is meek.
Donald: ehm...uhm...very pleased to meet you.
Second panel.
Scrooge: I guess he learned to be civilized during his stay at professor Ticketaker.
Donald: ...and luckily he learned to be civilized! (this line being sarcastic, i.e. with reference to the fact that he still does not look civilized)

More generally comparing the original story with the panels that you posted here it looks like no single line was kept as it was. Not saying that it is bad, I do not like much Scarpa's duck stories in general, and his dialogues in particular. For instance the reference to "only a poor old man" by the beagle boys added by the American dialogue writer is nice. And the fact he tried to modernize the story (with the reference to the more modern and performant technology available) may look stupid, but at least saved the ending. Because the original final line in Scarpa's version was quite shitty (uncle scrooge just says something like "it's fine, the professor called me and told that he built for me a new machine that does not require a nice guy to work"). On the other way, some of Scarpa's lines are more effective. For instance instead of Donald's line "I didn't know there were any islands there" in the American version, in the Italian one Paperino gives us a wonderful "but...just a little further from there lives the devil!".

Anyway, now I feel so stupid for not having noticed by myself that the damn machine cannot work on the island without electricity! :)
Speaking of a more serious inconsistency, I do not like much the fact that the whole thing of the net under the money contradicts in a way Scrooge's habit of swimming in the mass of coins. How could he not realize the problem before? Why he sends the nephews to recuperate the anteater when that is HIS damn peculiar skill?

December 22, 2015 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Thanks for clearing all that up! I'm disappointed in Scarpa, though: that he wouldn't recognize how completely objectionable it is to have the guy have been essentially kidnapped.

December 22, 2015 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger Domenico Ruoppolo said...

Concerning Becattini's exaggerations, in the introduction to Oola Oola in the volume of the Italian library of Scarpa he even compares the narrative idea of the three tales to Rashomon. Which - with all due respect to the man, let me be clear - makes you inevitably suspect that he didn't quite get Rashomon.

December 23, 2015 at 5:36 AM  
Blogger Alberto said...

Hello there.

Only now have I come across your post about "The Man from Oola Oola," and I just wanted to thank you for not appreciating my "absolutely insufferable little essay." First of all, I would like to specify (which you did not do) that the mini-essay was written in collaboration with Leonardo Gori (who got a co-credit for it). Actually, Leonardo wrote most of it and I translated it into English. This does not mean that I do not share Leonardo's opinions about Scarpa's story.
Whereas I agree with you that sometimes comics readers (and reviewers) should not worry too much about a story's inner or hidden meanings, it is also true that analysing Disney stories in the light of one's own knowledge of Disney comics history and an author's personal history is more than admissible. As Oscar Wilde wrote, "All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril." Well, a critic's job is precisely to read and possibly interpret the symbol. Those who prefer having but a superficial view of a work of art can certainly do it. Also, what I have written about Scarpa and his stories has often been the result of my 20-odd-year-long friendship with him. Romano and I used to talk about what inspired him to create specific stories, and of course I would often use those enlightening insights in my articles and essays.
Then again, you are perfectly free to disagree with my (and Leonardo's) "exaggerations," thinking that "The Man from Oola Oola" is just another funny Disney story. To me, it has much deeper meanings. You know, a European's view of things (any thing) always seems to be deeper and more complex than the average American's. No offence, it's just a different way of approaching things. And again, to quote Wilde, "Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital."

Keep up the good work with your blog.

All the best,
Alberto Becattini

June 21, 2016 at 3:29 AM  
Blogger GeoX's Nemesis, the Mysterious XoeG said...

Well, all I can do is thank you for not being offended by my dismissive remarks! To be clear, I think that very few Disney stories are *just* "another funny Disney story." Hell, I wrote a Doctoral dissertation, so I definitely am not opposed to mining meaning out of things. In this instance, I just thought that you and Gori put more semiotic weight on the story than it was really able to bear.

Anyway, thanks for chiming in! Feel free to stick around.

June 21, 2016 at 1:49 PM  

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