Saturday, November 24, 2012

Duck and Cover

The Carl Barks Library: Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes: written and illustrated by Carl Barks (1948-49; collected 2011): Writer-artist Carl Barks may be the most-read comic-book creator of all time. It may not even be close.

At its peak, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories -- the comic book in which Barks' tales of Donald Duck and friends appeared -- sold 3 million copies a month upon first publication and millions more in reprints over the decades. That number dwarfs anything the superhero sub-genre in America ever achieved. More importantly, Barks wasn't just popular: he was a tremendous storyteller.

This first volume of the Fantagraphics Carl Barks Library comprises a nice selection of three long stories, several shorter ones, and a few one-page 'gag' strips. Barks wouldn't settle on the final personalities of his versions of the Donald Duck characters for a while, but already they're distinctly different from the one-note cartoons, at least in the three long adventures. Huey, Dewey, and Louie are helpful and curious, and while Donald is frequently exasperated, he still makes for a surprisingly good adventure hero. Only Uncle Scrooge remains undeveloped -- it would be a couple of years before Barks would make him a crusty but loveable participant in the adventures, rather than the Ayn Randist asshat he is here when he briefly appears.

The stories are enjoyable and often enjoyably odd, with the Andes adventure being the stand-out here -- square eggs, square chickens, and an entire Native American civilization dealing with a case of cultural contamination from North Americans that's left them all speaking with parodies of Southern accents (!). The cartooning is clean, the colours vivid, and the incidental action occuring in the background and away from the main action quite witty in a way that would anticipate the more crowded panels of Mad.

All in all, this is a delight, and a testimony to one of America's finest all-ages storytellers in any medium, at any time. Barks was truly "the good Duck artist." Highly recommended.

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