Carl Barks is one of the greatest storytellers America has ever produced, and was finally beginning to get the recognition he deserved when he died in 2000, a few months shy of his hundredth birthday.
His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks worked as a animator at Disney’s studio before quitting in 1942 to work in comics. With studio partner Jack Hannah he adapted a Bob Karp script for an unmade cartoon short into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold which was published as Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 in October of that year. Although not his first published comics work, it was the story that shaped the rest of his career.
Until the mid-1960s Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast collection of comedic adventure yarns for kids, creating a Duck Universe of characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), the Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Flintheart Glomgold (1956), John D. Rockerduck (1961) and Magica De Spell (1961) to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio. His greatest creation was the crusty, paternalistic, money-mad bajillionaire Scrooge McDuck.
So magical were his creations that they actually influenced the animation output of the parent company itself, although his work was actually done for the licensing company Whitman/Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for Disney.
Throughout this period Barks was blissfully unaware that his work, uncredited by official dictat as was all the companys output, was nevertheless singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began. As well as only being fair it meant that an awful lot of great work was now able to be conscientiously reprinted, by an adoring and grateful band of well-intentioned aficionados.
Gladstone publishing began re-releasing classic Barks material, and a selection of other Disney comics work, in a variety of formats beginning in the 1980s and this album is one of my favourites.
In glorious oversized format it reprints Uncle Scrooge #5 (1954) wherein Donald and his nephews are bullied and bamboozled by the miserly mallard into finding the sunken city of Atlantis. It’s a stirring blend of timeless slapstick comedy and fanciful Boy’s Own adventure that entrances and captivates, and it supplemented by a couple of single-page gag strips that still deliver a chortle today.
These are followed by the contents of Donald Duck Four Color #256 from 1949. “Luck of the North” features another duel of wits and fortitude between the irascible Duck and his good-for-nothing but preternaturally lucky cousin Gladstone Gander, which leads to the pair going treasure hunting to Alaska: with Huey, Dewey and Louie in tow to keep the grown-ups from acting too childishly.
This is a epic yarn fit for Indiana Jones himself, full of action, hardship, fantastic discoveries and rip-roaring spectacle – all delivered in the mesmerising line style that so elevated Barks above his peers. Topped off with another gag-short from Donald Duck Four Color #178 (1947) this album perfectly shows why Barks is so revered and influential.
Thankfully even if you can’t find this particular volume, Barks’ work is now readily accessible through a number of publishers and outlets. So if you’ve never experienced captivating brand of magic, no matter what your age or temperament you can easily experience the wonder of what Will Eisner called “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics.”
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