Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Junior Woodchucks

By Carl Barks and others (Gladstone Comic Album #18)
ISBN: 978-0-944599-18-4

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 the opportunity for small publishers to expand their markets. A plethora of companies with new titles quickly came and went, but there was also the chance for wiser or luckier heads to get their product seen by potential fans who had for so very long been subject to a DC/Marvel duopoly.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Disney strips in oversized albums based on a format 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.

Carl Barks was born in Oregon in 1901 and reared in the wilder parts of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He had many jobs before settling into storytelling with pen and brush. He drifted into cartooning in the 1930s, joining the Disney animation studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the fresh field of comicbooks.

Destiny called when he and studio partner Jack Hannah (also an occasional strip artist) adapted a Bob Karp script for a sidelined animated short feature into the comicbook Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (Dell Four Color Comics #9). Although not Barks’ first published work, it was the story that dictated the rest of his career.

From the late 1940’s to the mid-1960s Barks beavered away in seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedy-adventures for kids, based on and expanding Disney’s Duck characters stable. Practically single-handed he built a cohesive feathered Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters such as Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) and the great granddaddy of all money-spinners Scrooge McDuck who premiered in the Donald Duck Yule yarn ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Colour Comics #178 December 1947).

Throughout his working career Barks was blissfully unaware that his efforts (uncredited by official policy as was all Disney’s comicbook output), had been singled out by a discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated devotees finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

So potent were Barks’ creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his 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-1960s, particularly on the exploits of the hilariously acerbic boy-scouting skits featuring Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie – capable members of the unflappable “Junior Woodchucks”…

This irrepressible catalogue of delight opens with ‘Operation Rescue Saint Bernard’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #125 February 1951) in which the kids, ever-hungry for Woodchuck merit badges and the concomitant glory they bestow, decide to train Donald’s useless, snow-fearing couch-potato dog in the fine art of Alpine Rescue. It would have gone so well if only Donald had not decided to take charge of the program…

Barks’ inestimable and lasting influence was felt around the globe, as the next tale, produced by the criminally anonymous Scandinavian-based Gutenberghus Group laconically reveals.

In ‘Protective Cacophony’ Woodchuck Supremo S.Q.U.A.C.K.B.O.X. (a running feature of the ersatz scout tales was outrageously faux titles and obscurely verbose acronyms for assorted ranks; thus Subliminal Quieter of Unctuously Athletic Caterwaulers and Kiboshers of Bombastic Oratorializing Xenophobes) orders the lads to ensure that a rare bird nesting in Duckberg remains undisturbed. However, when sometime twitcher (that’s birdwatcher to you and me) Donald insists on helping, his overenthusiastic participation almost gives the nervous avian a coronary.

Fun, fast and fanciful, this fable is a perfect example of the Barks method in action…

From Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #132 (September 1951) comes another memorable Barks original. ‘Ten-Star Generals’ is a wry and raucous romp wherein the rank-hungry duck boys attempt to win even more badges and attain high status among their fellow wilderness pioneers. Donald, whose own boyhood scout troop “the Little Booneheads” were far less stringent and ethical, wants to aid them in any way possible, even cheating on their behalf, but decency and Woodchuck moral fibre wins out in the end – as Donald learns to his cost…

The highly competent Gutenberghus Group also crafted ‘Course Play’ as the boys seek the admiration of their diminutive peers in a pathfinder competition only to once more suffer for Donald’s less than scrupulous meddling. As always, however fair play and quick wits win the boys their undeniable due in the end.

After a sharp single-page entrepreneurial gag starring the nephews from Donald Duck’s appearance in Four Colour Comics #408 (July-August 1952) this jolly jamboree ends in a classic confrontation in the eternal battles of the sexes.

‘The Chickadee Challenge’ (from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #181, October 1955) finds the lads and the entire Woodchuck troop compelled to defend their prowess, pride and manly craft skills after an insulting dare from the rival Little Chickadee Patrol. Bristling under the implied insult of being challenged by mere girls the Woodchucks haughtily accept but nothing goes right for them…Donald, as always, thinks it best if he lends a surreptitious underhanded hand…

As always 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 the comicbooks which grew out of these pioneering tomes for more of the most madcap, wryly funny all-ages yarns ever concocted.

Dry wit, artistic verve and sly satirical punch made Carl Barks supreme among his very talented contemporaries and one of the most important anthropomorphic storytellers in fiction. No matter what your vintage or temperament if you’ve never experienced the captivating magic of Barks, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your credit cards to any search engine. So why don’t you…?

© 1989, 1955, 1952, 1951, 1950 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.