Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: The Money Well

By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #14)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-914-3

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, growing up in the rural areas of the West where during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. 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 the newborn field of comicbooks.

With cartoon studio partner Jack Hannah (himself an occasional strip illustrator) he adapted a Bob Karp script for an animated cartoon short into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (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.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s Barks worked in self-imposed isolation seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers, creating a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged septuagenarian and the harassed, hard-pressed star of this show.

Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked and contributing story to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and this fabulous and spectacular tome is another of the very best – as they all seem to be.

So potent were his creations that they inevitably 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. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales heavily based on his comics output of the 1950s and 1960s.

This album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) -although dedicated collectors should also seek out the publisher’s superb line of Disney Digests and comics books that grew out of these pioneering tomes – and features one of the most madcap and wryly funny yarns Barks ever concocted.

Taken from Uncle Scrooge #21 (March-May 1958) this is one of the most ingenious campaigns by the Beagle Boys to divest the Billed Billionaire of his ocean of cash and  kicks off when the ever-vigilant miser spots the canine crooks attempting to pump his stupendous money-bin dry with oil-drilling technology.

Determined to find a completely secure home for his money Scrooge consults experts and electronic brains but eventually outsmarts himself by hiding the loot in a place where the Beagles can actually take it legally! Happily, Scrooge is mean yet honourable and always ready to take advantage of a situation when the opportunity arises. Therefore he’s able to reclaim his hard-earned horde when the crucial moment comes…

The lead story is balanced by ‘Quest for the Curious Constable’ an anonymous saga produced by Disney’s European packager the Gutenberghus Group and translated and rewritten by Barks historian Geoffrey Blum. Here Donald and the nephews Huey, Dewie and Louie become embroiled in the decades-long rivalry between Scrooge and rival magnate Flintheart Glomgold and find themselves travelling back in time to obtain bragging rights to a lost art masterpiece, courtesy of Über-inventor Gyro Gearloose.

This fast-paced, whacky romp is a fine continuation of and addition to the Barks canon as the ducks rampage in a quest against the clock through the foggy, cobbled meta-fictional streets of 19th century London in search of treasure and adventure. Of course there’s a little sting in this tale too…

Barks’ work – as well as the best of the rest – is now readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets. No matter what your age or temperament if you’ve never experienced this captivating magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine.
© 1988, 1958 The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Archie & Friends All-Stars: Christmas Stocking

By Dan Parent & various (Archie Comics Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-57-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for all the Good little girls and Boys who deserve something extra-special this year 8/10

My good lady wife and I have a peculiar ritual that I’m not ashamed to share with you. Every Christmas we lock the doors, draw the shutters and stoke up the radiators before settling down with a huge pile of seasonal comics from yesteryear. There’s a few DC’s, a bunch of Disneys and some British annuals, but the huge preponderance is Archie Comics. From the 1950s onwards this seldom-mentioned comics institution has quite literally “owned Christmas” with a gloriously funny, charming, nostalgically sentimental barrage of perfect stories capturing the spirit of the season throughout a range of comicbooks running from Archie to Veronica, Betty to Sabrina and Jughead to Santa himself…

For most of us, when we say comicbooks people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm of late. Throughout the years though, other forms and genres have waxed and waned but one that has held its ground over the years – although almost completely migrated to television – is the teen-comedy genre begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the common blend of funny-book costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips, although Pep did make some history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag (see America’s 1st Patriotic Hero: The Shield)

After initially profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights crowd Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) were quick to spot a gap in their blossoming market. In December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were supplemented by a wholesome ordinary hero, an “average teen” who would have ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. It all started with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion (see High Camp Superheroes), but the company now seems content to simply license them to DC whilst they concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

Archie is a well-meaning boy but lacks common sense. Betty is the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, and she loves Archie. Veronica is rich, exotic and glamorous; she only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him, though. Archie, typically, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This family-friendly eternal triangle has been the basis of nearly seventy years of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution. So pervasive is the imagery that it’s a part of Americana itself. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the battalion of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (+ one) has the foundation of decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Each social revolution was painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting the young  in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years) and the addition of new characters such as Chuck, an African-American kid who wants to be a cartoonist, his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such a spoiled home-wrecker-in -waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario.

Archie Comics has always looked to new formats for their material and this volume is the sixth in a line of albums blending old with new and capitalising on the growing popularity of graphic novels. This sparkling volume collects some of the best Christmas stories of recent years as well as an all-original Yule adventure which delightfully shows the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art to captivate an audience of any age.

Beginning with ‘Have Yourself a Cheryl Little Christmas’, this volume sees the gang head off en masse for a winter break, not knowing that Queen of Mean Cheryl Blossom is intending to spoil all their fun. Luckily the ever-vigilant Santa knows who’s going to be naughty or nice and dispatches his top agent Jingles the Elf (an Archie regular for decades) to foil her plans…

‘The Night Before Christmas’ adapts the perennial 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” attributed to Clement Clarke Moore into a handy introduction to the Riverdale stars before culminating in a clever and heart-warming family moment for Archie and his long-suffering parents, whilst Jughead’s family take centre-stage in the mini-miracle ‘Playing Santa’.

The stresses of having two girlfriends finally overcomes Archie in ‘A Not-So-Cool Yule’ whilst Veronica’s hard-pressed dad once more gets the short end of the stick in ‘Santa Cause’ before the rivals Betty & Veronica succumb to another bout of insane competition in ‘Tis the Season For… Extreme Decorating’.

That darned elf returns in ‘Jingles All the Way’ trying to pry Archie out from under Betty & Veronica’s shapely thumbs, but faces unexpected opposition from that pixie hottie Sugar Plum the Yule Fairy, and we get a glimpse of the kids’ earliest experiences when Betty digs out her diary for a delightful trip ‘Down Memory Lane’ after which this sparkling comic bauble concludes with another tale based on that inescapable ode in ‘The Nite Before X-Mas!’

These are perfect stories for young and old alike, crafted by those talented Santa’s Helpers Dan Parent, Greg Crosby, Mike Pellowski & George Gladir, and polished up by the artistic talents of Parent, Stan Goldberg, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, Bob Smith, Al Milgrom, John Lowe, Jack Morelli, Vickie Williams, Jon D’Agostino, Tito Peña, Barry Grossman and Digikore Studios.

These stories epitomise the magic of the Season and celebrate the perfect wonder of timeless children’s storytelling: What kind of Grinch could not want this book in their stocking?

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge in Hawaiian Hideaway

By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #11)
ISBN: 0-944599-10-9

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.

Bone volume 1: Out of Boneville

By Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
ISBN: 978-0-96366-094-7

Jeff Smith burst out of relative obscurity in 1991 and changed the comics-reading landscape with his enchanting all-ages comic-book Bone. The compelling black and white saga captivated the market and prospered at a time when an endless procession of angst-ridden, steroid-breathed super-vigilantes and implausibly clad “Bad-Grrls” came and went with machine-gun rapidity.

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Ohio, Smith absorbed the works of Carl Barks, Charles Schultz and especially Walt Kelly from an early age, and purportedly first began producing the adventures of his Boneville creations at age ten. Whilst at Ohio State University he crated a strip for the College newspaper: ‘Thorn’ was another early incarnation of his personal universe and a proving ground for many characters that would appear in Bone. A high school classmate became a Disney animator and Smith subsequently worked in the industry before striking on his own, mastering the graceful slapstick timing and high finish that typifies his art style.

He founded Cartoon Books to self-publish 55 delightful black and white issues (to be accurate ten of them were put out under the Image Comics imprimatur, but reverted to Smith’s company with #29): a fantasy quest yarn that owed as much to Tex Avery as J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as his holy trinity, Barks Schultz & Kelly. The bold thrilling and fantastically funny saga progressed at its own unique pace between 1991 and 2004. Since then it has been collected into nine volumes from Cartoon Books (with two further collections of prequels and side tales), reissued in colour by Scholastic Books and even reprinted in Disney Adventures magazine.

At series’ end Smith issued a monumental one volume compilation (more than 1300 black and white pages) which Time magazine dubbed “the best all-ages graphic novel yet published” and one of the “Top Ten Graphic Novels of All Time.”

Smith has won many awards including 11 Harveys and 10 Eisners. In 2003 he turned his magic loose again and revived the World’s Mightiest Mortal for DC with Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil. The project took three years but was worth every moment…

His latest work is the science fiction tale RASL.

As you can see there are plenty of versions to opt for but purist that I am I’ve plumped for the original Cartoon Books collection where the action commences in Out of Boneville, which re-presents the first six episodes.

Fone Bone is a strange, amorphous, yet decent little bald guy, a thematic blend of Mickey Mouse and Asterix who has been run out of the town of Boneville along with his tall and not-so-bright cousin Smiley Bone. Well to be exact they haven’t, but their dastardly, swindling cousin Phoncible P. “Phoney” Bone has, due to the kind of irregularities, misdemeanours and malfeasances that bring down presidents – and he running for Mayor at the time…

Crossing a deadly desert and near death the trio are separated by a storm of locusts and Fone finds himself in a lost valley: an oasis of pastoral beauty hidden from the rest of the world. Along the way he is adopted by a dragon he doesn’t believe in, stalked by ghastly rat monsters and befriended by a talking leaf-insect (like a stick insect but flat, not long – and very talkative…)

The little refugee is forced to spend a harsh winter living wild in the deep forest where he befriends many of the small creatures who live there, but as the thaw approaches he meets the beauteous and oddly compelling human girl Thorn. It is Crush-at-First-Sight…

She invites him to stay with her and her grandmother Rose until he can find his lost cousins, but soon regrets it when Phoney turns up: rude, duplicitous, greedy as ever and determined to be a real pain…

Phoney’s insatiable drive to steal, cheat and fake a buck makes life pretty uncomfortable for the besotted Fone Bone, but trouble is brewing in the deep woods. An ancient evil has stirred, driving the rat creatures into a frenzy. An old, cold war is heating up again and for the humans of nearby village Barrelhaven the stakes are really high. The dark creatures have only been waiting for the arrival of their prophesied one – a small bald creature with a star on its chest remarkably similar to the one on Phoney’s shirt…

The assembled horror-hordes attack Thorn’s cottage but their chosen one is long gone. Phoney has scented money and gone to Barrelhaven in search of easy marks. Gran’ma fights a desperate holding action as Thorn and Fone flee through the forest to warn the villagers. After a nightmarish retreat the pair are rescued by the dragon – sworn foe of the rat things and their master. They return to the cottage to find that Gran’ma has survived: moreover she and the Dragon are old acquaintances…

As the Dragon returns to the deep woods the humans (and Bone) relocate to Barrelhaven, where Fone discovers that Smiley has been there all along, working as a bartender in the local tavern. Phoney is there too – working off a tremendous bar-tab…

This volume ends on a happy note as the cousins are finally reunited, but malevolent forces are gathering all around them and there are dark days ahead…

I’ve talked a lot about the influences that informed this wonderful series and there’s one more that cannot be ignored: if you squint your eyes just right you can hear the dulcet deceptions of Bill Watterson’s Calvin (see The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. Just Do. It’s wonderful and so are all the other collections) leaking in to flavour this equally marvelous, child-friendly extravaganza…

Bone is a truly perfect comic tale and one that appeals to kids and adults equally. Already it is in the rarefied rank starring Tintin, Pogo, Rupert Bear, Little Nemo and the works of Carl Barks. It is only a matter of time before it breaks out of the comic club completely and becomes kin to the likes of Wind in the Willows, the Moomins and the Oz books.

If you have kids or can still think and behave like one you must have these books…

© 1996 Jeff Smith. All rights reserved.

Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers – A Hardback Graphic Novel

By Nick Park, illustrated by Bill Kerwin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-5238-6

Here’s another superb cartoon adaptation of the world’s most animated British heroes. Hard though it is to believe, Wigan’s Finest have been delighting us for over twenty years and this delightful commemorative edition celebrates the fact, adding major mirth and mild menace to the malleable mix in a follow-up edition to last year’s science fiction fantasy Wallace & Gromit in A Grand Day Out.

In fact this magical comic strip adaptation is only coming full circle. Nick Park originally created the ingenious, quintessentially English cheese-loving duo as an art school graphic novel, before the lure of movement and sound diverted the concept into the world of animation and the olfactory, morphic joys of Plasticine.

Bill Kerwin’s moody watercolours aptly capture the pecuniary peril and muted menace of the dauntless duo as they struggle to make ends meet and poor Gromit is summarily ousted from his home to make room for a penguin lodger.

The felonious fowl then proceeds to steal Wallace’s filial affections and even appropriates the wonder dog’s birthday present from his cheese-loving master. What possible use could a penguin have for a pair of robotic techno-trousers?

Gromit must discover the reasons behind the actions of the ruthless, flightless sea-bird before Wallace is lost forever in this spellbinding rollercoaster romp, which perfectly captures the slapstick madness and utter glee of the original film. Lovingly rendered, perfectly timed, the skilful blend of low comedy and whimsy is every bit as effective on paper as on screen and this book is going to make a lot of kids – of all ages – deliriously happy.

Is it ever too soon to start recommending what to buy for Christmas? If not then consider this an essential “must have” – and don’t forget the first utterly excellent excursion A Grand Day Out while you’re about it and completists might also want to track down the 2004 Wallace & Gromit: The Whippet Vanishes. More Crackers, Gromit?!
© and ™ 2010 Aardman Animations Ltd. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Adventures: Voodoo Hoodoo

By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #16)

ISBN: 0-944599-15-X

Carl Barks was the greatest armchair (and drawing board) adventurer of his generation. A dedicated and voracious researcher who loved exploration and thrived on local colour and detail in his work, he seamlessly blended history, geography and the natural world into his rollicking rip-roaring light-thrillers. All Barks’ spectacular yarns were screened through a mesmerising lens of wonder and excitement and executed with riotous bursts of outrageous comedy that appealed to fun-starved fans of all ages. They still do.

From the 1940’s to the1960s Barks worked in seclusion, concocting a timeless treasure trove of golden myths and fables (ostensibly) for kids; forging a cohesive Duck Universe stuffed with memorable and highly bankable characters such as Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose, and Magica De Spell to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio, but his most exciting work always involved the rowdy, know-it-all nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie and their irascible, excitable, indomitable “unca” Donald Duck.

The boys’ assigned roles were as sensible, precocious and just-a-little-bit snotty counterfoils to their guardian whose intemperate nature caused him to act like an overgrown brat most of the time, but they often fell prey to a perpetual and natural temptation to raise a ruckus as well: clearly something in the genes…

West Coast publishing giant Dell/Gold Key held the license to produce comic-books based on Disney properties from the 1940s, generating a vast treasure-trove of graphic wonderment before grinding to a close in the early 1980s. Fan-based publishers Gladstone began re-releasing Barks material and a selection of other Disney comics classics at the end of the decade and this album is one of the best.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks considered himself just a working guy, drawing eye-catching covers, illustrating other people’s scripts to order yet still setting the bar for his compatriots with utterly perfect tales that added to the burgeoning canon of Donald Duck and other Disney properties. His output was incredible in terms of quantity and especially in its unfailingly high quality.

Printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this chilling departure into the realms of the unknown reprints one of his eeriest masterpieces with the lead tale from Dell Four Color Comics #238 (August 1949) and sees the author once more accessing darker themes via the sinister delights of horror movies – albeit seductively tempered with Barks’ winningly absurd humour (for more of the same see also Donald Duck Adventures: Ancient Persia).

Duckburg is all in a tizzy when a hulking undead brute begins loitering around town. Eventually Bombie the Zombie delivers a poisoned devil-doll to Donald which apparently makes him start to shrink. Zombies aren’t particularly smart and he/it had been trying for years to deliver the potent vengeance of his witch-doctor master Foola Zoola to the duck that swindled him … and unfortunately Donald looks a lot like Scrooge McDuck did seventy years ago!

Not believing in curses Uncle Scrooge is less than sympathetic but after experiencing the pester-power of Donald and the nephews he grudgingly funds an expedition to Africa to set things right. And only then do their troubles really begin…

Wacky and deeply satirical this tale was the subject of some controversy after it was first published, with Barks’ evolving drawing style skirting jarringly close to some pretty prejudicial and unwholesome racial stereotypes of the time, and considering the target audience it is a pretty scary story in a lot of places, but as ever, the wildly over-the-top madcap humour keeps everything addictively comforting and compelling.

Filling out this volume is another spooky fantasy fable starring Donald and the boys with a far more prominent role for their Bajillionaire relative as the entire family check out his latest acquisition. Scrooge has bought a castle in Scotland because a legendary treasure is hidden within it, but ‘McMerganser Macabre’ (from Donald Duck #26 November 1952) proves the old adage “buyer beware” as the old pile also seems to have an extremely agitated ghost as an unwelcome squatter…

However even when running for their lives and dodging certain death Huey, Dewey and Louie are pretty sure all is not as it seems…

Breathtaking and supremely hilarious this is a sheer graphic treat for fans of comics in their purest and most enticing form and still readily available from a number of online retailers, but even if you can’t find this specific volume most of Barks’ work is readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets.

As everything he’s ever done is well worth reading, no matter what your age or temperament, you’ve nothing to lose and all to gain by tracking down Barks’ captivating creations; so please do do – or experience the repercussions of the Voodoo Hoodoo…
© 1989, 1949 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Brambly Hedge Treasury

By Jill Barklem (Carnival)
ISBN: 978-0-26167-207-9

Britain has always led the world in illustrated children’s books, from Beatrix Potter and Arthur Rackham to Raymond Williams, Roger Hargreaves and Quentin Blake. Carrying on that splendid tradition is Jill Barklem, who began in 1980 to produce stunningly beautiful rural, ecologically sound fantasy fables about a delightfully engaging tribe – or more correctly hamlet – of mice thriving in the resoundingly English thicket of a Bramble Hedge somewhere in this wonderful country of ours.

Beginning with Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story and Winter Story Barklem’s gloriously enviable miniscule community presented a tiny world of huge rustic delights engrossingly reminiscent of the idealised environs of Alfred Bestall’s Rupert stories, with the land beneath the bushes easily the equal of Nutwood: placid, enticing, enchanting and when necessary, just hazardous enough to provide the element of mild danger necessary for all dramas – even small ones.

An instant global hit with children and their book-providers, the meticulous, miraculous artwork and wry, genteel tales spawned a number of sequels and spin-off tomes including a pattern book, (designs for making one’s own mouse household), a poster book, a collection of tunes for the recorder, address books and all the usual merchandise from shampoo to tableware (what I wouldn’t give for a Brambly Hedge Teacup…).

In 1999 County Books collected the fifth and sixth tales – ‘The Secret Staircase’ and ‘The High Hills’ into a large-sized, spectacularly printed compendium which included a stunning introductory section introducing the extended cast, (nearly two dozen distinctive and adorable mice), maps of the area, cutaway paintings and locations of interest all accompanied by Barklem’s beguiling prose.

The nominal stars of the stories are children Primrose Woodmouse and Wilfred Toadflax, and in ‘The Secret Staircase’ they are both eagerly anticipating the big party at Old Oak Palace, the sprawling stately mansion of Primrose’s father, Lord Woodmouse. As the adults pitch in to prepare the great hall for the evening’s festivities the kids go looking for costumes in the immense domicile and discover hidden passages and a wonderful secret ballroom…

This magical Christmas allegory is filled with incredible illustrations, poems and rhymes perfectly capturing the young’s fascination with discovery and exploration.

‘The High Hills’ features Wilfred in a rather thrilling exploit. Chafing in the Weaver’s house as they make blankets, he dreams of being a grand Explorer like the legendary Sir Hogweed Horehound. When his mother collects him Wilfred convinces her to let him accompany Mr. Apple when he delivers the finished blankets to the Voles who live in the distant High Hills.

The same hills first explored by Hogweed Horehound and where the great man discovered gold!

Filling his rucksack with all the paraphernalia listed in the Great Adventurer’s journal Wilfred looks forward to recreating the historic trip, but the lad has no idea that he’s headed for a unique experience all his own…

A complete compilation of the Brambly Hedge stories was released in 1999, but seems to be out of print and astonishingly expensive to acquire these days. Surely it’s time for another edition of such a timelessly beautiful book? These are tales that every child will love and are a great way to get youngsters into reading, comics and the environment. How cool is that?
© 1983, 1986, 1990, 1999 Jill Barklem. All rights reserved

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.

Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird

By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-917-3

Cartoonists have more than their fair share of individuals with a unique perspective on the world. Elzie Segar, Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Steve Bell, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Norman Dog, Gary Larson – the list is potentially endless. Perhaps it’s their power to create entire sculptured worlds coupled with the constant promise of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw.

Born Scott Richardson, Tony Millionaire clearly loves to draw and does it very, very well; seamlessly referencing classical art, the best of children’s books and an eclectic blend of pioneer draughtsmen like, George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray as well as the aforementioned Segar and Herriman with European engravings from the “legitimate” side of the ink-slinging biz. He especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as formative influences.

As well as assorted children’s books and the fabulous Sock Monkey, Millionaire produces a powerfully bizarre weekly strip entitled Maakies which delineates the absurdly rude and surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his alcoholic nautical comrade Drinky Crow (see Drinky Crow’s Maakies Treasury for further details).

In 2007 he produced the acclaimed and award-winning Billy Hazelnuts, the salutary tale of a Golem built from garbage by oppressed, vengeful rats and mice. Originally a ghastly, fly-bedecked monstrosity Billy was rescued and redeemed by little girl scientist Becky who gave him Hazelnut eyes and a fresh-baked confectionary body, and they went through a series of uniquely fantastic adventures.

Now he’s back in another strident, striking, fantastical folktale voyage. Irascible, good-hearted, fiery-tempered and super-strong, Billy is adapting to life on Rimperton Farm but has a few philosophical problems with the natural world: notably everything in it is icky, oozy and wants to eat everything else in it.

After a titanic tussle with the farm cat and an owl, Billy reluctantly takes responsibility for a newly hatched owl chick – an ugly, vicious, violent baby brute that keeps consuming whole chunks of his baked body…

After consulting the confectionary conjuror and all-around wise man Rupert Punch, Billy resolves to return the chick to its lost mother, undertaking a hazardous and utterly surreal journey through Millionaire’s incredible signature land-, sea- and sky-scapes, with the malevolent and opportunistic farm cat “assisting”, but he’s got to hurry: the ungrateful baby bird has already eaten the back of his head and an entire arm…

Rendered in Millionaire’s captivating black and white line, this darkly frantic race against time is a charmingly belligerent fantasy yarn with the requisite happy ending that will appeal to kids on any age, full of action, wonder, imagination and good intent, clearly promising that the author will soon be the worthiest contemporary successor to Baum, Sendak, the Brothers Grimm and Lewis Carroll.

Brilliant, scary, poignant and lovely, make Billy Hazelnuts a part of your leisure-life now.

© 2010 Tony Millionaire. All Rights Reserved.

Moomin: the Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip volume 1

By Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-89493-780-1

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) Tove became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the war. Intensely creative in many fields, she published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood), a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

A young over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books. She had also started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

The lumpy, big-eyed goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood was relatively unsuccessful but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own benefit as any other reason, and in 1946 the second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators believe this terrifying tale is a skilful, compelling allegory of Nuclear destruction, and both it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952, prompting British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet surreal creations.

Jansson had no prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature and Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her family across the world. In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moominsagas that captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the strip ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited her brother Lars to help and he continued the feature until its end in 1975.

Free of the strip she returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera, and another nine Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as thirteen books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Her awards are too numerous to mention but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency? She died on June 27th 2001.

Her Moomin comic strip has been collected in seven Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly have translated the first four of those into English for your sheer delight and delectation.

Tove Jansson could use slim economical line and pattern to create sublime worlds of fascination, and her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols. In this first volume the wonderment begins with ‘Moomin and the Brigands’ as the rotund, gracious and deeply empathic hippo-like young troll frets about the sheer volume of free-loading visitors literally eating him out of house and home.

Too meek to cause offence and simply send them packing he consults his wide-boy, get-rich-quick mate Sniff, but when all the increasingly eccentric eviction schemes go awry Moomin simply leaves, undertaking a beachcombing odyssey that culminates with him meeting the beauteous Snorkmaiden.

When the jewellery-obsessed young lass (yes, she looks like a hippo too – but a really lovely one with long lashes and such a cute fringe!) is kidnapped by bandits, finally mild-mannered Moomin finds his inner hero…

‘Moomin and Family Life’ reunites the apparently runaway Moomin with his parents Moominpappa and Moominmamma – a strange and remarkable pair. Mamma is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances whilst Papa spends all his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth. Rich Aunt Jane however, is a far more “acquired” taste…

‘Moomin on the Riviera’ finds the flighty Snorkmaiden and drama-starved Moominpappa dragging the extended family and assorted friends on an epic voyage to the sunny southern land of millionaires where the small-town idiosyncrasies of the Moomins are mistaken for the so-excusable eccentricities of the filthy rich – a delightfully telling satirical comedy of manners and a plot that never gets old…

This first incomparable volume of graphic wonderment concludes with a fantastic adventure ‘Moomin’s Desert Island’, wherein a family jaunt leaves the Moomins lost upon an unknown shore where ghostly ancestors roam: wrecking any vessel that might offer rescue. Sadly the greatest peril in this knowing pastiche of Swiss Family Robinson might well be The Mymble – a serious rival for Moomintroll’s affections. Luckily Snorkmaiden knows where there are some wonderfully romantic bloodthirsty pirates…

These are truly magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and mature wit that enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or biped with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be unaware of them.

© 2006 Solo/Bulls. All Rights Reserved.