Saturday, October 17, 2015

Evolving Ducks

The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library Volume 5: Christmas on Bear Mountain (1947/Reprinted 2013): written and drawn by Carl Barks; edited by Gary Groth and J. Michael Catron; editorial material by R. Fiore, Donald Ault, Rich Kreiner, and others.

The Fantagraphics Carl Barks Library really is a joy. Its main content, the Disney comics written and drawn by Carl Barks from the 1940's to the 1960's, are masterpieces of all-ages comics storytelling. The editions themselves are marvelously produced, with crisp artwork and sensible, period-faithful colouring. Carl Barks was (and is) one of the giants of popular American comic books, and indeed American popular culture.

Thankfully, this series doesn't bowdlerize some of the rougher edges of Donald Duck and company's adventures. Here, all the stories are from 1947. Some of the racial caricatures are embarrassing, none moreso than what appear to be cannibalistic Australian bushmen. There are some pretty awful caricatures of lazy Hispanics as well. Ay caramba!

Nonetheless, the storytelling is tight and beautifully paced, the artwork delightful, and the characterization of Donald Duck and nephews Huey, Louie, and Dewey an increasingly nuanced production. The four have not quite become the seasoned adventurers they would be in the book-length (30 pp) adventures of the 1950's, but they're getting there. 

And while the eponymous long story plays things entirely for laughs (and introduces Uncle Scrooge to the Disneyverse), the last of the long-form stories reprinted here, "The Ghost of the Grotto," foreshadows the adventure stories that would come, in which comedy serves the thrilling and the perilous. At one point, the Disney comics that introduced and then reprinted these stories were far and away the best-selling comic books in the United States and Canada. Carl Barks almost certainly had as much of a formative influence on film-makers that include George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as any other artist -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom even cribs a number of sequences from Carl Barks. 

More important than influence, though, is effect. These are great, accessible, funny, beautifully written and drawn comics. They actually make one care about perennially sputtering Donald and his originally obnoxious nephews, giving them moments of heroism and regret that they never got in animated cartoons. Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment