Interview with Daan Jippes
From Carl Barks & Co isssue 8


This interview was made during the working session on "A Clean case of Competence" February 1977

CB&CO: - How did you get started working with animated comics?

DJ: - Oh, I had quite a number of comic-books when I was a kid. The dutch version "Robbedoes" of the Belgian comics-weekly "Spirou" was my favourite. I remember once I got the choice between a comic-book album and a bicycle — and I chose the album. I developed a weakness for the style presented in that magazine by the fine comic-book artist André Franquin. I used that tradition as the basis for my styling of my first album "Tea for Two".

CB&CO: - How did you get in contact with the Disney Comics?

DJ: - That was earlier. The first Disney magazine I recall seeing was the Belgian "Journal de Mickey" in a dutch version. I still remember the very first issue, where it was hanging on the inside of the door at our local magazinedealer. It started publishing before the publishing of the dutch Donald Duck which first appeared in 1952. (For its 25 years jubilee in October, issue 43, I’m doing a 10-pager "Festival of the Poor"). That magazine, too, was a weekly from the start. "Mickey Magazine" started in 1951. I was six years old at the time. I preferred the Belgian version as it had a more grown-up attitude. It featured the comic-strips distributed to the newspapers, and they had a different approach. Such as the Bill Walsh "Mickey Mouse" gag-strips, the Sunday-pages of Manuel Gonzales, Paul Murry’s "Panchito" and the strips with Eega Beeva by Floyd Gottfredson. The magazine was put together, so that there were two pages in colour, then two pages in black and grey, then two pages in colour, and so on. The duck-stories by Carl Barks were always in colour.

CB&CO: - When you were about 18 something new happened to you?

DJ: - Well, I grew more aware of the technical quality of the artwork. The things I saw — and had seen — were not "just" finished comics. I came to realize, that they were a product of a working process. I might not have realized in the beginning HOW big a part the artist played in the process, but I discovered, that it was not JUST a matter of black and white and the printing and so on. I started wondering: How does that guy accomplish a result like that? He must really have WORKED with it — and if I looked at my own snappy things I could see, that they could not at all stand the comparison. So I had to work like hell to meet that quality. I guess I did not realize, that these other guys might be 30 or 40 years of age and had lots of experience.

CB&CO: - Did you search for your own style?

DJ: - No, not in the beginning. It was purely a matter of quality. And in a way it was easier to work within a style, that had already been established, so that I could compare my own efforts with the things that were already THERE. Had I worked purely in my own style, I would never have dared saying to myself: Well, this is good quality. And I had no-one around to tell me. Of course my parents would say: Fine, fine!

CB&CO: - Then the highly animated style in your first album "Tea for Two" might not be the final development of your own style?

DJ: - No, if I should continue that series to-day the style would be less complicated. It took me quite a long time to finish that story. Every panel got to be an illustration of its own. I used to take up a "Lucky Luke" album to let Morris inspire me for simplicity!

CB&CO: - Judging from the album you could have been inspired by Uderzo, too, maybe?

DJ: - That’s right. I might have been in the last part of it. I even used some Milton Caniff brush-work. That does not mean I approve of those changes in style. I got to be quite panicky in the end, deadlines and all!

CB&CO: - Have you received any formal education?

DJ: - In comics, no. Mind you, I would have liked to be able to attend some lessons. The local Disney department ought to arrange such sessions. We need talents for Donald Duck, for that matter. It ought to be in their interest to stimulate that, so that new people get interested and the established ones get better.’’

CB&CO: - Did you start working with Donald Duck after the "Tea for Two" album?

DJ: - I did that while working on the album. I had always been fond of the Disney and Hanna-Barbera comics. I did not buy then just for fun but to learn something. I liked the layouts, so I was interested in working with these things. Now in those days the dutch Donald Duck editorial staff happened to share the same room with the editor of the magazine, for which I produced "Tea for Two", so the jump was not a big one!

CB&CO: - At a comics convention in Copenhagen it was put forth in a Disney-panel, that the European Disney artists and writers ought to be allowed to reflect the current society in the comics to-day. Do you feel that that happens in Holland?

DJ: - I think so. All the creators ought to follow their own conviction and not submit to rules placed before them. But I don’t think it is a good attitude to have it quite in front of your mind, when you are doing a story. A creator should make, what he himself thinks is funny.

CB&CO: - According to some people, some local European Disney licence-holders have reduced their relation to reality to a point, so that Duckburg no longer has any connection to an existing society.

DJ: - Well, it seems that they have succeeded in creating a Disneyland within Disneyland. A story should not just be about ducks going on a picnic, it should reflect, how the picnic influences the ducks. If you make up restrictions for the behaviour of the ducks and bypass some attitudes — maybe because some parents might object to them — you could as well take away all kinds of reactions, so you no longer had to worry about opposing some parents. Instead you could stick to stories consisting of a collection of loose activities around a theme. And such license-holders seem to have fallen for that sort of solution...

CB&CO: - When did the production of dutch Disney-stories start?

DJ: -The first came early — in 1956 or 1957 I believe. But it is only in recent years that wheels have started turning.

CB&CO: - Now you do print stories produced by other European licence-holders.

DJ: - Yes, there is a problem filling the magazine every week. Bottom is in sight. But that is not the only reason. Some of the material from abroad is quite acceptable, too.

CB&CO: - Is the lack of material the reason behind the heavy amount of Carl Barks reprints?

DJ: - Partly. But many of the Barks-stories have not earlier been printed in Holland — or Europe for that matter. That, and the general quality of the Barks-stories of course.

And it can take one to one and a half years for orders to be fulfilled from Burbank when ordering proofs for printing. By the way we send all of our magazines to Burbank, and sometimes we get pages torn off and returned with pencil-corrections on how we could have improved things. And quite often they are in fact better than our version, so all due respect for the guys in Burbank!

CB&CO: - Concerning the storytelling technique, are you influenced by the European tradition such as Franquin or more by Carl Barks?

DJ: - The Barks technique became more or less established in the 10-page formula. It was not his own choice, I think. The comics by Peyo and Franquin were meant for the Spirou magazine, where the reader only got two pages every week. So each set of two pages should more or less conclude a situation. That decides the storytelling-technique. Barks used his technique from the 10-pagers in his longer stories, too, because he was used to it. The form gets to be decisive, especially in the beginning of ones career. Later the technique might get to be more polished, but you maintain your approach to telling things.

CB&CO: - What is your own working methods on the visual side?

DJ: - First you try to get a picture in your mind, how the particular scene should be visualised. What should be in the picture. But to get it down on paper is the difficult part. Sometimes you reach the drawing-paper stage quite easily, but generally I’m quite uncertain, and then there are numerous attempts before the final solution.

CB&CO: - That might not be obvious to others, since the final result looks so "easy". One might think it had developed faster.

DJ: - Maybe, but it is actually a slow polishing process. It is not evident, that all alternatives can be used, but you have to try them to check if they work. What takes time are the characters. Of course there are standard poses, but if you only use those, everybody could be drawing Donald Duck comics. Problems occur, when you have completely new situations — for instance when Donald is pulling something and has to pour all his efforts into it — then YOU have to pour efforts into it as well! That’s when the real work starts. It’s not just a matter of showing the problems Donald might have, it is also a matter of keeping him within the bounds of a general composition. I also try to develop a clear silhouette of the motion.

CB&CO: - And before that there is the problem of general layout of the page, the placing of panels and so on?

DJ: - Yes, that, too, is a part of the polishing process.

CB&CO: - Since you are concerned about the key-poses of animated characters, hasn’t it been tempting to see them move. To shift to animated films?

DJ: - Well, there are no places over there, where that kind of animation is carried out. Besides, comics can be made with only a few sheets of paper. The job before you does not get overwhelming in your mind.

CB&CO: - Yes, even in comics you are hesitating getting into more steady production. Why’s that?

DJ: - If only I knew. I have difficulty getting started. I have to force myself into my working room. Not that it bothers me. If I really had had the urge to draw lots of adventures with my own character, I guess I would have started on that, in spite of the heavy work to produce the pages. So why do I not have that ambition? Well, there exist lots of other ambitions I haven’t got either.

CB&CO: - I am asking, because it is the mechanism that keeps comic-books alive. The principle of a steady stream of new adventures with established sets of characters. And it might be that, which appeals to the mass public, that they get new episodes every day, every week or every month with the same cast. But to keep that up, it requires another kind of mentality.

DJ: - Yes, but even if my comics-production is low, it is also quite a pleasure to compose elements for a cover, for instance. I still do that kind of work with animated characters that I like, but without being forced into a regular weekly production of a fixed number of pages.

CB&CO: - What are the combination of elements, which in your opinion gives a character like Donald Duck the great appeal?

DJ: - You get a kind of superiority feeling in relation to Donald Duck. As a reader you laugh at your own weak moments with that guy. Other animated characters don’t have that quality. For example The big bad Wolf is fixed on pigs. Well, I’m not. So I don’t recognize anything of myself in that character. Black Pete is mean — but with little motivation — Goofy is just silly. I don’t know if you experience your own silly moments with him?

CB&CO: - What is the difference between the Donald Duck of the screen and the one on the comic-book pages? Is there any?

DJ: - Yes, there is. In the films he was just another guy getting in team with Mickey and Goofy — or Goofy alone in the later years. His first task was to add a new visual element to the animated cartoons. When he was mad, it was just to show him jumping around with heavy fists. It was fun. Maybe his voice, too. But his motives, his frustrations before he got mad, played a lesser part in the films, but they were important in the comics.

CB&CO: - In what way do you feel that Barks enriched the Donald-character?

DJ: - With his mental and emotional background. At a certain point he got to fill a story each month. The first stories resemblance the films with a lot of action. Action mostly for the sake of the action. He "needed" more in comics. Motivation. There got to be more, and clearly exposed, before the action could take place. That was left out in the films, because it is not funny for longer periods just to watch somebody explain something in a cartoon. Comics might be more of an intellectual medium.

CB&CO: - In the building of his universe, Duckburg, Barks introduced a lot of things taken from his own society and styled visually in the tradition of the forties. Isn’t it old-fashioned to keep up that style to-day, when making new stories?

DJ: - Well, I believe it is possible to introduce things from our society to-day, but I see no harm done in keeping up the styling, that Barks introduced in the forties. Kids to-day won’t be bothered about such things, I believe. They might think: What a funny ashtray! Look at that funny bus! If we, like we do, draw a little old-fashioned kind of a bus, children won’t regard that as a bus from the forties, but as a Duckburg bus.

CB&CO: - If we broaden the scope and look at the comics as a whole — isn’t there a tendency, then, to stick to old kinds of gags, to use a traditional way of thinking, proven solutions — instead of wilfully introducing new things and themes from current society, which children of to-say could relate to? Doesn’t the Disney universe very easily become a parallel world with little reference to the society of our time? But maybe that is OK?

DJ: - I see what you mean, but I wonder, if the public of the forties looked upon the Disney comics of that time as presenting the problems of the forties? I don’t think we find that represented in the comics frequently. And that might be the very reason, why we can reprint those comics to-day without getting the impression, that they are too outdated.

CB&CO: - Isn’t there a challenge for a creative artist to try and comment on contemporary subject matter in such a way, that kids could understand it?

DJ: - Yes, if that can be done within the framework of a good entertaining funny story, then of course one should do it — and then it would just be exciting for the artist and the writer to do so.

CB&CO: - Here and there we do see a number of routine mass-produced animated comics these days, which must bore a qualified reader. What are the mistakes, if a comic fail to catch the attention of the reader?

DJ: - Well, one serious mistake might be, that the characters lack... character. They lack personality, do not get the chance of stepping out of the mediocre. If you can take away or add characters to a story without much difficulty, something is wrong. And you must give a character the opportunity to show his personality. The story must contain elements that give the characters the chance of acting according to their personality.

CB&CO: - Do you feel that Disney comics place restrictions upon you, with which you have difficulty adjusting?

DJ: - Only insofar that I ask myself, if I would have been able to understand this and that when I was 8-10 years old. When I read some comics later, I discovered quite a number of things, that I had not seen nor understood when I was younger. But the important thing is that I enjoyed the stories even then for some reason. So the stories must have been good.

CB&CO: - So the stories have elements for different ages?

DJ: - Yes, for children, adolescents, grown-ups — all along the stories present something of value — the best stories, that is.

CB&CO: - About the use of clichés: Do you sometimes get a bad feeling, when you present a caricature that is not quite flattering. That the stylized use of types becomes a little bit too easy?

DJ: - I think you turn to clichés when you want to communicate something fast. Something you don’t want to use a long time in explaining. That’s quite a tradition within humour, and it should just be understood in the right sense — main-characters are not always shown to their best advantage either!

CB&CO: - No, but you see MORE sides of the main-characters. Of the cliché-type walk-in characters you only see one.

DJ: - Well, in the meantime you have the action — the important thing — continuing without longer explanatory interruptions, but you are right, there might sometimes be a kind of laziness hidden there, too.

CB&CO: - But do we not always use these easy ways out to save time?

DJ: - Yes, but the animated comic is such a dynamic medium where everything is caricatured more or less. It is not just laziness and evil intentions on the part of the creators. There is something of the essence and soul of humour buried in there as well. Everything is simplified in the storytelling, not just the personalities. It all comes down to a question of responsibility and priority. People being too worried about whether this or that might offend somebody somewhere ought to seek occupation elsewhere. A valid story takes up human feelings, and handling those is the real bottom line of your moral story. If you fear offending someone in the storytelling process, you risk falling down between two chairs.

CB&CO: - So humour is quite a serious matter after all...

DJ: - Humour has something to do with emotions. That is the strange thing about laughing. Laughing is not serious, but crying is. To laugh is innocent and worries should be avoided. Yet they evolve out of the same things. To think that especially laughter is connected to infancy is ridiculous.

CB&CO: - If we take a character like Uncle Scrooge, he is often regarded as a symbol of capitalism. How do you use him, and why is he so popular?

DJ: - Why he is THAT popular is beyond me, because his character is very limited, if he has any at all. Like the wolf being obsessed by the thought of pigs, Scrooge is obsessed by money. He is greedy and a miser. But he is often just swimming in his money, so that is not very capitalistic. He has a vague character. In the beginning he was just a money-collector not wanting to control people. I prefer looking at him as a miser-type. Without the intentions of showing off. He displayed power against Flintheart Gloomgold, but there it was the money at stake, not his powerful influence.

CB&CO: - Could it be said, that the continuation of the old comics draws away attention from the development of new comics, where a change in tradition could take place?

DJ: - By that you might imply, that by developing comics of my own I might help changing the storytelling tradition in comics towards newer and better subject matter?
I suggest we keep our heads sober here. First a comic of my own would not be in a fundamentally new style. Secondly I do not believe that my work with Disney comics would influence the situation one way or the other.

CB&CO: - Are you not hiring out your talent, just so that the Disney comics might sell even better?

DJ: - I don’t think so. It is difficult to make out, what makes a comic-book sell good. There are so many aspects to that and I am only a small part of it.

CB&CO: - The comics industry is run to make profits. Isn’t it depressing, that a whole medium of expression is run by the basic motivation of making money? Money that is hardly ever reinvested in renewing nor updating the comics tradition?

DJ: - You are right, if the commercialism means a degeneration of the comics. Then the quality decreases. Then we agree. Down with degeneration! But comic-books were invented to make money. In the old days comics in newspapers could increase circulation — and so they put in more comics. Animated cartoons originated more or less through similar mechanisms.

CB&CO: - Talking about mechanisms, do they not inevitably create degeneration after a while? The principles ruling the mass-production of comic-books will automatically create routine-solutions taking up room for newer and better things that should have replaced them long ago?

DJ: - Maybe so, However the media is not to blame for that, but maybe the men behind it. Yes, I guess you might be right there. But it is very hard to cope with. Some people are assigned to run a show like that and if they don’t do it, the moneymen will just hire someone else to carry out the job that they want to be done.

That’s the business. Some people get the responsibility running things for a while and usually they accept, because all things considered it IS still something of a challenge, and maybe even an honor. In that respect I suppose all people are a bit ambitious, a human weakness.

CB&CO: - And you see no possibilities in influencing these conditions, so that comics get better possibilities of development.

DJ: - No, but for the time being I feel things work satisfactory here in Holland, and I just wish it may continue the way it does right now.