My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This volume reprints, in their entireties, issues #4 (1940) and #13 (1941) of the Four Color comic series published by Dell. Four Color issues were one-shots of a diverse variety of titles. These particular issues were the first two of the Four Color comics to contain Disney characters. In fact, Four Color #4 was the first all-color Disney comic book in English.
Four-Color #4 reprinted Donald Duck daily newspaper gag strips drawn by Al Taliaferro. Taliaferro began working at the Disney Studio in 1931 as an inker for Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse Sunday page. He started penciling and inking the Silly Symphonies Sunday strip in 1933. In 1936, he originated the first Donald Duck newspaper strip, which he drew until his death in 1969. Within that strip, he created many fan-favorite duck characters including Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The strips were primarily written by Bob Karp, with an assist by future duck legend Carl Barks.
Taliaferro’s version of Donald formed the basis of his character as a quick-tempered, immature prankster. The four-panel strips relied heavily on sight gags, often going without word balloons. The addition of Donald’s nephews created more opportunities for laughs, as now Donald became the victim of his nephew’s shenanigans. Some of the jokes don’t hold up well after seventy-odd years, but a surprising number of the strips are funnier than ever. For that reason alone, this facsimile edition is well worth reading. And, as a historical record of the early days of Taliaferro’s craftsmanship, it is a treasure for Disney duck enthusiasts like me.
Four-Color #13 was a comic adaptation of The Reluctant Dragon (1941) and related stories from the movie of the same name, complete with photos of Robert Benchley’s in-movie tour of the Disney lot. It also included a text adaptation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment from Fantasia. The art, largely copied from the movie’s animation cels, was by Irving Tripp and Jack Hannah. As a historical record of the first original Disney comic, this is interesting. However, the stories themselves don’t hold up well for modern readers. In addition, the layouts are stiff, with an odd combination of text narration and word balloons that does not flow well. Unless you are a Disney completist, I recommend skipping Four-Color #13.
BOOM! Studios has done a great job with their Disney reprints, with quality reproduction at an affordable price. Reportedly, they are discontinuing their reprint license with Disney, so there may not be any more volumes in this series. Perhaps Marvel, which is now owned by Disney, will take up where BOOM! leaves off. Taliaferro and other lesser known classic Disney artists deserve more recognition. In the meantime, Fantagraphics is continuing their wonderful hardcover collections of Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse dailies, and they are scheduled to soon begin publishing Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics.