Review by Frank Plowright
Romano Scarpa is little known to English language comic readers, but due to his long career working on Disney titles in Europe he has a formidable reputation, primarily for his Mickey Mouse and Uncle Scrooge stories. Enter his name in Amazon Italy’s search engine and over 2000 results come up, including hardover box sets and collections of his work anthologised by year. In English a small selection of his inventive strips have been translated for comics, but never collected in book form.
In addition to producing comics, Scarpa also had periods working in animation, enormously influenced at a young age by Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and these four stories showcase that love. As he did with the worlds of Mickey Mouse and Uncle Scrooge, Scarpa isn’t afraid to make additions and modifications. His seven dwarves are brothers, and the wicked Queen, restored from her demise in the film, is named Grimhilde, beholden for her powers to an ancient witch.
Scarpa produced these stories in the 1940s, and ‘Menace of the Witch’s Ruby’ matches the tone of the original Snow White animation by having moments of dark desperation contrasting the joyful antics of the seven dwarves. Thereafter the mood is lighter. Scarpa’s cartooning is superb, busy, detailed, and brightly coloured, calculated to delight any child who reads it. He supplies animation style slapstick jokes, but very concisely, having a masterful sense of how to compact the action. He’s equally good at plotting, introducing the limitations that will later play a part early, and working well with an environment where magic is commonplace, but there are restrictions to ensure the stories have some tension.
He’s not shy about mixing in characters from other Disney films, common to European material. A parrot similar to Pepito from the 1943 Donald Duck animation Saludos Amigos plays a pivotal role as Dopey’s friend in ‘Menace of the Witch’s Ruby’, while Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio features in ‘The Seven Dwarves and the Throne of Diamonds’, offering himself to Grimhilde as her official conscience. Dopey seems to resonate, as both Scarpa and Guido Martina give him heroic roles in the stories they write, and it’s interesting how Snow White is very much a passive character. She’s tormented and captured while playing second fiddle to the Queen and the Dwarves and assorted guest stars. She has a slightly larger role in ‘The Secret of the Eighth Dwarf’. Her friends’ heads turned by the return of their brother, now rich and successful, and, again, only Dopey considers something may be wrong.
This is a wonderful, timeless collection that any young child should enjoy, and will provide equal pleasure for the adult reading it to them.