My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fantagraphics Books has obtained the rights to republish the body of work of Carl Barks, regarded as one of the greatest cartoonists in history. Barks worked in obscurity for most of his career because comic book policy throughout his tenure precluded creators from being acknowledged with bylines. Only after his retirement in 1966 did most fans realize the “good duck artist” was Carl Barks.
Although Barks didn’t create Donald Duck, it is his interpretation that probably resides in most people’s memories. Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, where Barks’ duck stories were primarily told, was the top-selling comic book in its heyday. Donald in the animated shorts was a hot-headed buffoon. Barks’ Donald was an actor called upon to play whatever role Barks needed: from exasperated parent to worldly adventurer.
It was Barks’ duck comics that spurred my early interest in sequential storytelling, and probably my love of reading in general.
The first volume from Fantagraphics presents one of Barks’ favorite stories, “Lost in the Andes,” three other long stories from 1948-1949, “The Golden Christmas Tree,” “Race to the South Seas!,” and “Voodoo Hoodoo,” plus nine 10-pagers and assorted one-page gag strips. This is the beginning of Barks’ strongest storytelling period, just after he had created Scrooge McDuck and Gladstone Gander. Along with the stories, the book includes introductory text and detailed story notes that broaden the appreciation for Barks’s background and what he accomplished in each story.
Barks got his start as an artist and story man on dozens of Donald Duck cartoons. He and his animation partner Jack Hannah wrote and drew the 1942 story “Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold,” and soon Barks was writing and drawing the ducks on a monthly basis, having almost complete autonomy to produce what he wanted without interference from the comic book publisher or from Disney.
Fantagraphics has gone back to the clean original drawings and recolored them in a way that closely matches Barks’ original intents. “Race to the South Seas!” is seeing its first pristine reprint from recently re-discovered originals.
“Lost in the Andes” concerns Donald’s quest to find the source of rare square eggs. Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie eventually find a hidden Peruvian culture that speaks English with a heavy Southern accent as a result of a previous visitor’s influence, one Professor Rhutt Betlah. Donald and the boys figure out in a few minutes what the natives haven’t in centuries, that the square eggs come from square chickens that look like rocks.
The other notable story is “Voodoo Hoodoo,” where an African witch doctor sends Bombie the Zombie to kill Scrooge. However, it took something like 70 years for the zombie to reach Duckburg, so it mistakes Donald for the young Scrooge it remembered, and hijinks ensue as Donald and the boys valiantly try to set things straight.
All of the other stories are well worth reading, although the very best duck stories are yet to come. I am eagerly awaiting future volumes in this series.