Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interview with Pat McGreal : "A Trip to Shambor"

Today, I want to propose you the interview I made with Patrick "Pat" McGreal, Disney writer since '90s, with his wife Carol.

Patrick has written some famous fantasy stories as "Shambor" and "Mythos Island", reprinted all over the World.

Good Reading!

Patrick McGreal was born on 9th May 1953.

In 1991, he started to script stories for Disney's The Little Mermaid, whose story he wrote until 1993 and, since then, he wrote stories starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck for the Danish group Egmont, coadiuvated by his wife Carol since 1996.

                              by Simone Cavazzuti

"I have to start off by saying that some of these stories were written quite a few years ago.
Although I’ll try to be as precise as possible, I can’t guarantee that my memory is 100% accurate.”

Patrick McGreal

You've used Professor Dustibones in some stories and you've invented his rival Wagstaff and other characters close to him, as Buck Calhoun and Sal, how were these ideas born? how have you invented these characters?

These characters were first used in a story called THE FOSSIL HUNTERS. The movie “Jurrasic Park” was coming out and I thought it would be fun to have Mickey tangle with raptor dinosaurs.

The twist would be that these genetically resurrected carnivorous prehistoric beasties had their DNA altered so that they were harmless and friendly vegetarians. In North America, many dinosaur fossils are found in Montana and Western Canada. During the 1980’s, I had participated on dino fossil digs in the badlands east of Calgary with the crew from the Edmonton Natural History Museum. This crew and their leader, Phillip Currie, went on to found the
Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. The Tyrell is a world-class paleontology museum devoted entirely to the age of dinosaurs. If you ever find yourself in that part of the world, treat yourself to a visit. You won’t be sorry.

They say write about what you know, so I set the story somewhere in the North American badlands, full of hoodoos and other strange rock formations.
I needed someone in a position of authority to lead my fictional fossil dig. I believe editor Byron Erickson suggested Professor Dustibones and he sent me reference from some of the classic Gottfredson strips. I m pretty sure it was the first time I ever used Dustibones.

This allowed Mickey to be on hand, helping out his old pal with the excavations. Next, I realized I needed a rival scientist to be competing with Dustibones, a character who would inject some sinister mystery into the story. So I created Professor Wagstaff. I took inspiration from an early ‘30’s Marx Brothers movie called “Horse Feathers”. Groucho plays the dean of Huxley College (rival of Darwin College) and his name in the film is… what else?… Professor Wagstaff. Great film. Really funny. Watch it.

In my story, it turns out that Wagstaff isn’t really sinister and he ends up as Dustibones’ collaborator. I also found it necessary to establish the owner of the property where the action took place, so I invented rancher Buck Calhoun and his trusty horse, Sal. Buck was a real western cowpoke and Sal was probably smarter than anyone else in the tale. I used them again and more significantly in two
sequels: HOLE IN THE WALL AT HOODOOYADOO and OUR DINOSAURS ARE MISSING. Both Dustibones and Wagstaff also appear in those stories.

The magnificent Cesar Ferioli illustrated all of the above and he did (as usual) amazing work. Ferioli drew the first Mickey story I ever wrote – BIO-DOME MOUSE – and we’ve collaborated a lot through the years. He drew the otherworldly SHAMBOR fantasy adventures, the MYTHOS ISLAND series, a
number of episodes of the MILLENIEM epic and – a personal favorite - the Mickey and Donald ON THE ROAD stories, inspired by the old Bob Hope & Bing Crosby “Road” films.

There was a fourth dinosaur story, REVERTING RAPTORS, featuring Buck Calhoun (I’m not sure about his steed, Sal). Dustibones and Wagstaff definitely weren’t in it. A 10 page Mickey yarn dealing with a advertising photo shoot and a lost little girl in California’s coastal redwood forest.

Noel Van Horn, a powerhouse in his own right, drew it.

You also invented, with your wife Carol, Blotman, Rodent, Goofus D. Dawg and Doc. Stat.

Talk about them. How were these ideas born?

For the record, my lovely wife Carol had been kicking in ideas all along. In 1997, she became official as far as Egmont was concerned, sharing credit and writing chores. Our collaborative efforts usually work like this: we plot out a story together; Carol writes the synopsis; I polish the synopsis and we submit it to Egmont.

Once the synopsis is approved, I break it down into script form and write the dialog. Carol then sweeps up behind me, filling in the panel descriptions. I do a final polish and send the sucker in. I say we usually work like this because nothing is fixed in stone. Sometimes Carol tackles the dialog and I fill in the panel descriptions. The aim is to deliver the best script possible.

As far as the Blotman stories go… I grew up reading DC and Marvel superhero comics. In the ‘60’s, DC introduced the whole alternate universe concept.

We thought it would be neat to apply this line of thinking to the Disney characters. What if the Phantom Blot – an odiously evil character in Mickey’s world - was a heroic crime fighter in a parallel reality?

We obviously designed Blotman as a parody of Batman… complete with a Blot Cave and Blot Signal.

Since, in this topsy-turvy universe, the odious Phantom Blot was the heroic Blotman, it made sense that the most unlikely Disney character should be his rich playboy alter ego. Who else but Goofy?

Thus he became Goofus D. Dawg, a sophisticated millionaire whose opulent mansion sits atop the Blot Cave.

Doc Static sent Mickey into this parallel universe in pursuit of our Phantom Blot.

We needed a super criminal mastermind for the Phantom Blot to team up with, so we created the wicked Doc Stat. In the sequel, the bad Doc Stat comes to our universe and – unknown to Mickey and Goofy - takes the place of our good Doc Static!

The most fun was inventing a parallel universe doppelganger for Mickey. We made this funhouse mirror-image mouse an irritable, irresponsible, slovenly little twerp named Rodent. He eventually becomes Blotman’s crime-fighting sidekick.

What kind of stories you prefer writing? Why?

We like writing all kinds of stories, from small domestic situation comedies to big sprawling epic adventures. Variety keeps things fresh.

That being said, I loved having the opportunity to write the six or seven lengthy ON THE ROAD stories featuring Mickey and Donald in their “early days”, when they were footloose and fancy free, supposedly before Pluto, the nephews, Minnie or Daisy had entered their lives. These yarns gave us a chance to take the mouse and duck to different exotic locales around the globe and cast their relationship in a new, humorous light.

What Disney character do you like the most?

Donald. That can't be much of a surprise. He's vain, arrogant, temperamental, selfish and cowardly.

But on occasion he’s also humble, self-sacrificing, witty and wise. He’s full of contradictions and flaws. Those qualities in a character make for rich story telling.

In your “Little Gyro In Quarkland”, Gyro goes in “Quarkland”, talk about how this idea was born.

LITTLE GYRO IN QUARKLAND was the very first story I wrote for Egmont. Funny you should ask about it. I’m not sure, but maybe Byron Erickson wanted to test me out by having me write a short story featuring a second string character. Or maybe I just had an idea for a Gyro tale and went with it. I really can’t remember…

Anyway, Gyro invents a shrinking ray that gets turned on him while he’s on his bed. Both he and the bed begin to diminish in size until he finds himself in a surreal landscape of molecules and atoms and subatomic quarks. The title and the fact that Gyro rides through this strange adventure on his bed is a reference to the great Winsor McKay’s incredible “Little Nemo In Slumberland” newspaper strips from the early part of the 20th Century.

The psychedelic conceit of this story is that Gyro continues shrinking until he finds himself in the Milky Way Galaxy, our own solar system and, finally, back in his workshop. A nod to the concept that wherever you go in the universe – up and out or down and in – you will find yourself a miniscule part of an endless, infinite cycle.

On the DCF (Disney Comics Forum) there have recently been many rumors about the real name of Goofy...

Some says his name is Goofy Goof, some A. Goof, some Dippy, some Goofus D. Dawg (yes the your one!), some says Goofy is a nick, other a name...

What's in your opinion the “real” name of Goofy?

I'm unaware of this debate. As far as I'm concerned, Goofy s name is "Goofy".

There may have been a character in the early cartoons first identified as “Dippy” but, come on, Goofy is Goofy. End of discussion.

Talk about your idea of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

Well, we’ve kind of covered this. Donald is full of flaws so he’s fun to write. Mickey is more of a straight arrow, so you’ve got to dig to make him more interesting.

Under Byron Erickson’s guidance, we strove to give the mouse more personality foibles. But I’m afraid some readers still find him boring.

Once again, those ON THE ROAD stories allowed us to make Mick a bit more of a scoundrel, consistently manipulating Donald so that the duck always drew the short straw, good naturedly outmaneuvering his pal for the attention of the girl or the promise of wealth. I like that chemistry.

How would you define Goofy and Fethry?

I’ve never written a story featuring Fethry and really know very little about him.

Goofy is a true-blue friend, a bit simple and disorganized but always trustworthy.

He’s a great foil for gags and slapstick comedy. Sometimes he can unintentionally impart a nugget of wisdom that affects the outcome of a tale. There’s a bit of the Buddha to our Goof.

In your “The Calisota Cup”, you use the name “Calisota” to define the state in which Donald lives.

Talk about your idea of Calisota (huge, popolation, cities...).

I had nothing to do with this. Back in the early ‘90’s, I was given an assignment to write an Olympics themed story to coincide with the upcoming international games. The script was titled “THE DUCKBALL OLYMPICS”.

In it, Donald and his team played a crazy local sport called ‘Duckball’. Gyro
had invented an unpredictable sphere that would fly in any direction once contact was made.

The object was to wrangle the wayward ball and score a goal!

The thrust of the story was Don trying to get the sport introduced into the Olympics and the resulting chaos the game caused. For some reason, the script got sidelined.

Months later, editor Unn Printz-Pahlson stumbled upon the script and liked it.

She renamed it THE CALISOTA CUP and, without much further tinkering, it was drawn and published. You’ll have to ask her what the ‘Calisota’ thing was all about. I think it had something to do with a Carl Barks reference, but I’m not sure…

I’ll always be grateful for Unn’s intervention because I think it’s a funny story.

Your last published story is “A Familiar Complaint”.

Talk about it.

Really? That’s our last published story? We’ve written a lot more since then.

It’s a cute, clever little tale. A Magica de Spell assignment. In traditional lore, sorcerers often have animal assistants, called ‘familiars’. Magica’s is her raven, Ratface. In this tale, Ratface and other familiars meet in secret to discuss their working conditions. It’s a take on the nature of unions and management, a bit socialist (anathema in the U.S. these days) in its leanings, and full of irony.

The questions got to an end, if you want to tell us something about your biography or about your career, you're absolutely free...

Check out some of the things I’ve done that aren’t Disney related. I’ve written three graphic novels that were published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint: I PAPPARAZZI, VEILS and CHIAROSCURO: THE PRIVATE LIVES OF LEONARDO DA VINCI.

They are light years away from the adventures of our favorite mouse and duck. I’ve also written some stories recently for Simpsons Comics and that’s a lot of fun.

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