By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #11)
Amongst the other benefits to derive from the radical shake up of the American comics industry in the 1980s (specifically the creation of a specialist retailing sector that ended the newsstand monopoly by sale or return distributors) was a crucial opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. There was an explosion of companies with new titles that quickly came and went, but there was also an opportunity for older, wiser heads to get their product fairly seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.
Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing a selection of other Disney strips in classy oversized albums based on a format that had been popular for decades in Scandinavia and Europe. Reintroduced to the country of their birth the archival material quickly led to a rapid expansion and even resulted in new comicbooks being created for the first time since Dell/Gold Key quit the comics business.
That West Coast outfit had for decades published the lion’s share of licensed properties, delighting generations of children with their film, TV and movie comicbooks. One of their greatest wage-slaves was a shy, retiring and fiercely independent writer/artist named Carl Barks.
From the late 1940’s until the mid-1960s Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, based on and expanding the Disney stable of Duck characters. Almost single-handed he crafted a Duck Universe of fantastically memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961).
Throughout this period Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy as was all Disney’s cartoon and comicbook output), had been 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.
Undoubtedly though, Barks’ greatest creation was the crusty, energetic, money-mad yet oddly lovable dodecadillionaire Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck tale ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).
This book highlights another of the Money-mad Mallard’s spectacular battles of wits – and avarice – with nefarious criminal clan the Beagle Boys: another Barks confabulation who first collectively cased the duck’s ponderous holdings in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #134 (November 1951).
Printed in that aforementioned European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this captivating caper originally appeared in Uncle Scrooge #4 (December 1953-February 1954) and relates how the security-conscious Scrooge buys an island where he can safely squirrel away his acres of cash. Unfortunately the ever-rapacious Beagles get wind of his scheme and plan to intercept the moolah in transit, leading to nautical hi-jinks that would stun Jack Sparrow himself and jungle japes that captured the true mysterious glamour of the South Pacific…
Luckily Donald and his scarily inventive nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie are there to counteract the villains – as well as a decidedly supernatural presence derived from Barks’ scrupulous and exhaustive research. As well as a brilliant artist and inspired gag-man Barks was a fanatical armchair explorer and his addictive light adventure yarns always had some basis in authentic fact or folklore.
Filling out this volume are a clever Gyro Gearloose vignette from Uncle Scrooge #26 (1959) wherein ‘Krankenstein Gyro’ flaunts the laws of chemistry and biology as well as his traditional physi cs in an attempt to create life; all prompted by an ill-advised trip to a monster matinee and that lucky old duck Glandstone Gander gets annoyingly involved in Scrooge’s newest scheme to camouflage his cash in the farm-belt in an untitled Donald Duck yarn from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #126 (April 1951). Sadly, when Scrooge bought the farm nobody reminded him that the Mid-West is tornado country…
Dryly satirical and outrageously slapstick, Bark’s delightfully folksy observations on the frustrating responsibilities and ultimate worthlessness of wealth have never been better expressed than here and these captivating parables are among his very best.
Even if you can’t find this particular volume, Barks’ work is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. No matter what your age or temperament if you’ve never experienced his captivating magic, there’s no time left to lose. Read your way out of this financial crisis with a healthy helping of fiscally prudent fun fiction…
© 1988, 1959, 1953, 1951 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.