By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
Carl Barks is one of the greatest storytellers America has ever produced, and was just getting the public recognition he’d always deserved when he died in 2000, a few months shy of his hundredth birthday.
His early life is scrupulously well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but in brief, Barks started as a jobbing cartoonist, then worked as a animator at Walt 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 array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, creating a Duck Universe of characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), the Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952), 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, even though 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 company’s output cartoon or comicbook), 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 justice being served it also led to an awful lot of great work now being 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 another one of my favourites. Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working Joe, producing covers to spec, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary as well as contributing story and art to the burgeoning canon of Donald Duck and other Big Screen characters.
In the wonderfully enlarged but increasingly scarce European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this glorious little gem reprints the contents of Four Color Comics #108, probably best known as Donald Duck and the Terror of the River!! (1945) wherein The Duck and his nephews accidentally buy a houseboat and decide to experience the dream-adventure of an idyllic holiday down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. After many typically Donald-like mishaps their dream finally starts to come true – only to be threatened by a gigantic and voracious river-serpent!
Barks always excelled at blending comedy with drama and charm with action and this is one of his very best as the feisty kids solve the mystery (this story is a perfect template of what’s kept Scooby Doo in yummy snacks for all those years) of the predatory sea-beast whilst “Unca Donald” gets to be a fairly respectable hero as well as the irascible old goat we all know and love.
From the same comicbook comes the 10 page full-on gag feature ‘Seals are So Smart!’ as Huey, Dewey and Louie discover a trained seal when out beachcombing, but ever cocky and always avaricious Donald sees a chance to make a fast buck, and the book finishes in style with Donald as ‘Camp Counselor’ (from Walt Disney’s Vacation Parade # 1, 1950), an 8 page laugh-riot as the kids’ smug camping superiority (they are, after all, superior products of the Junior Woodchuck scouting program) gets a little dented by their uncle’s rather cruel practical joking
Thankfully even if you can’t find this particular volume, Barks’ work is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. So if you’ve never experienced his captivating brand of magic, no matter what your age or temperament you can easily experience the magic of the man Will Eisner called “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics.”
© 1987, 1950, 1946 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.