By Sam King
This is the third volume collecting comic strips based on Walt Disney films. This is also the first volume of the collection that I’ve read. The volume concentrates on comics that ran during the 1950's and 1960's, so it features stories that are not as familiar to modern audiences as those done during the “Disney Renaissance.” Instead, this volume pulls together 101 Dalmatians, Swiss Family Robinson, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and several others that are less recognizable to the average Disney fan.
This collection features fourteen films in comic strip film, with notes about each production preceding each set of strips. These preceding notes also talk about the artists involved and critiques of the comics. The notes at times seem a little harsh, but generally seem to hit the nail on the head as far as translation from film to comic goes. These volumes are put together by the Library of American Comics and it is the first time that many of them are being collected into a published format altogether.
Out of the fourteen movies presented, I have watched five: 101 Dalmatians, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, The Parent Trap, Swiss Family Robinson, and Toby Tyler. I’ve been working through a complete list of Disney films with the goal of watching every single one, but I have yet to accomplish that goal. Toby Tyler I watched just last month and the rest I’ve seen repeatedly over my 23 and a half years of existence, so I feel really familiar with those specifically.
This is a really neat volume for BIG Disney fans, particularly those with an interest in the older films, and for people interested in the history of comics. What this volume really does is show how comics used to translate from movies, as a form of entertainment and possibly even marketing, and how comics used to be done in the late 50's and 60's where comic strips are concerned. As far as the stories go, the comics here are pretty bare bones. They present the general storylines of each film, but because of the limited amount of space, a lot is obviously lost from film to page. In some cases, it is worse than in others. It is an interesting exercise in seeing how they had to recap the story from week to week and to know how the strip ran in relation to its film's original theatrical release. Since videos were not home owned as they are now, having comic strips to read of the films was probably the next best thing after watching it in the theater or reading the books for the films that were books first (ex: Pollyanna & Kidnapped).
While the comic version of Sean Connery’s character in Darby O'Gill and the Little People looks nothing like Sean Connery, there is no banshee present, and the Irish setting is not fully realized in the comic, it stays very true to the main storyline and presents a solid translation. Is it as magical as the film? No, but given the parameters they were fitting, I can see how those things could get lost. Most of what gets cut seems to be details and subplots that bring charm to the films but aren’t inherently integral to the story. In Swiss Family Robinson, the tension between brothers over Roberta is not as present in the comic as it is in the film, and little Francis does not have a pet tiger. While not realistic of course, the tiger and tiger pit, as well as other wildlife in the film, are part of what made the movie so humorous, fun, and exotic feeling so their absence is noticed within the comic strip.
Toby Tyler is about a boy who runs away from his aunt and uncle to join the circus for a few weeks. During this time, he works for a selfish concessionaire named Mr. Tupper and after a rough start befriends a chimpanzee named Mr. Stubbs. The comic presents the general story but rearranges and alters a few plot points. It removes most of the sneaky behavior and rudeness that Mr. Tupper exhibits towards Toby and it doesn’t show Mr. Tupper chasing after Toby when he leaves to rejoin his family. It also fails to capture the film’s charm that comes from the relationship Tyler ends up having with Big Ben the strong man and other circus performers, like the clown with a bunch of dogs. None of that is here, so the comic story feels severely lacking by comparison to the film.
I started Kidnapped, but haven’t finished it quite yet. I can say that the beginning is very different and the comic of it here did not do much to make me feel like I actually understand all of what is happening. If this is a result of the story itself, or just the cuts made due to available space, I’m not entirely sure. The character development here lacks significantly and it is hard to really get into the action. It is an intriguing story, but it feels more like a trailer for the film than a comic to enjoy on its own. I’ll have to watch the movie to see what is actually going on there because the comic is not that helpful. It provides only the barest of bones, maybe with a femur or two missing in the structure that should’ve been present to hold the whole thing together in a coherent way. Kidnapped, Moon Pilot and Bon Voyage seem to me as being the least interesting and clunky stories in the collection. In Search of the Castaways makes decent sense as far as general plot goes, but it feels a bit rushed, so it ultimately isn’t that satisfying of a comic compared to Third Man on the Mountain or Pollyanna. 101 Dalmatians is pretty good, but we get no Cruella de Vil song snippet (just one bit of it in the background of a panel would’ve been nice since it such an iconic part of that film), and very little of Cruella. She isn’t driving like a hell demon after the puppies, so she feels largely absent from the story apart from one initial appearance and two quick mentions by Perdita and the henchmen (Horace and Jasper).
The art is what you would expect from comic strips in the 50's and 60's. It looks very vintage from a modern viewpoint, and the color choices are different from what would be used now. Each entry is styled in its own way, but they all are appropriate for the art style of the period they were a product of. The quality of the strips within this format are exceptional though. There is no wear and tear to them, nor are there any signs of age (no yellowing, blemishes, fading, nor wrinkles). They all look as if they could have been fresh off the press yesterday, albeit with an older art style and older language within the characters’ dialogues. For collectors of comic strips, vintage comics, or vintage Disney materials, this is a top-notch piece. Each volume is $50, so the quality is definitely there and this seems designed to be more of a collector’s piece for a home library than a book for the average comic reader.
After reading the volume, I eagerly want to continue with my film goal, so that I can see what the actual movies for some of these stories really look like, such as Third Man on the Mountain and Nikki, Wild Dog of the North. Some of the translation work is not as good as it could possibly be, having to skip over a lot of exposition due to space, but it is a good look at what happens when those kinds of cuts have to be made. I think Frank A. Reilly did the best he could as a writer, as well as the rest of the staff involved, given what they had to work with. These stories could have been captured more directly and wholly had they been allowed full issues to work with instead of weekly 3-panel wide strips, but it was a different time when it came to comics, publishing costs, and audience. For insights like that this is a really interesting volume, but the average comic or Disney fan probably won’t find much of interest here. I would not say its only for die-hard Disney fans, but you have to at least have an appreciation of older film and comics. That is who would get the most enjoyment out of it. If the translations were a bit better as far as the films go, I might have kicked it up one more rating due to the actual stories and entertainment potential, but to be honest, it may be better (and more cost-effective) to just watch the original films themselves to get the full charm of the stories. The collection in of itself is great as far as quality goes, but the limitations and quality of the actual comics pull it down from its full potential to readers just looking for complete, entertaining stories.
Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales vol. 3