Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: the Brittle Mastery of Donald Duck

By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #7)
ISBN: 0-944599-06-0

Carl Barks is one of the greatest storytellers America has ever produced, beginning his glittering career as a jobbing cartoonist before joining Disney’s animation studio in 1935. In 1942 he left to work exclusively and anonymously in comic books, working in productive seclusion until the mid-1960s, writing and drawing an incredible wealth of comedic adventure yarns starring the irascible Donald Duck and crafting a cohesive and utterly believable Duck Universe filled with memorable characters such as the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951), feathered Edison Gyro Gearloose (1952), and sinister siren Magica De Spell (1961) to augment Disney’s stable of established screen “actors”. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, ideal Benign Capitalist Scrooge McDuck. So potent were his creations that they fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for the licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio.

Throughout this period Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy as was all the company’s cartoon and comicbook output), was nevertheless singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” Whilst producing all that magical material Barks was just a working guy, generating covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when required. However, when his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material along with sundry other Disney strips in the late-1980s and this album is another one of their best. Printed in the European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this joyous compendium collects an occasional series of similarly-themed yarns: some of the best and funniest Duck tales ever crafted.

The Brittle Master series is the name given to a group of stories wherein the perennial failing, fiery-tempered and eternally put-upon everyman Donald displayed an excellence in some unique skill or service, winning the approval and veneration of all and sundry – only to have his own smug hubris bring about his ultimate humiliation and downfall.

The first untitled tale, from Walt Disney Comics and Stories #156 (1953) saw Donald as an airplane-piloting, cloud-sculpting Master Rainmaker and, as with all these stories increasingly outrageous requests from his adoring public lead him inevitably to disaster – in this case the creation of a full-blown, devastating Ice-storm.

Next, from WDC&S #222 (1959) comes the tale of the Master Mover, as Donald displays the uncanny ability to transport anything anywhere, only to come a crushing cropper when he guarantees to shift an entire zoo to a mountaintop in one afternoon!

‘The Master Glasser’ (yes, we’d call him a glazier) from Donald Duck #68 (also from 1959) is a wickedly satirical glimpse at small-town America as the arrogant artificer, at the height of his fame attempts to repair the aged fascia of Duckburg’s giant clock. Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to do it live on TV…?

The fourth tale is one where I suspect Donald actually found his true calling. The ‘Master Wrecker’ WDC&S #264 (1962) is the go-to-duck if you need something demolished with no muss or fuss, and even in this hilarious yarn Donald doesn’t actually fail. The target is utterly razed: it’s just not the one he was supposed to wreck…

This delightful collection ends with the satisfyingly sharp ‘Spare That Hair’ (WDC&S #272, 1963) as Donald the Master Barber finally wins one for a change, even though he mistakenly shaves a gorilla and inspires the ire of a rowdy circus ringmaster…

Barks was as adept with quick-fire gag stories as epic adventures; blending humour with drama and charm with action, and even if you can’t find this particular volume, most of his unforgettable work is readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. So if you want to be a Master Reader, you know what you need to do…

© 1988, 1963, 1962, 1959, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.