Friday, October 23, 2015

Rhymes With 'Karl Marx'

The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library Volume 11: A Christmas for Shacktown (1951-52/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 presents some of Donald Duck's most Marxian adventures in this volume of stories from 1951 and 1952. And by 'Marxian,' I mean Karl and not the Brothers. 

Every story herein seems to be about the absurdities and inequities of capitalism. Writer-artist Carl Barks is such a fine and entertaining storyteller that no one at Walt Disney seems to have noticed the critique of Capitalism in pretty much every story. At point, it's a lot like Das Kapital with talking ducks.

This is another beautiful volume of reprints from Fantagraphics Books in the Carl Barks Disney Library. Barks' smooth, funny and often beautiful cartooning comes through on every page. The colour reproduction is sensible in its replication of the four-colour tones the comics were drawn for, the biographical and critical notes useful. 

As to Capitalism and Ducks... well, in the course of this selection of 1-page, 10-page, and 32-page adventures starring Donald, Huey, Louie, Dewey, and Uncle Scrooge, money dominates. We see a quest for a rare (and real) stamp that takes our heroes to the lost city of gold, El Dorado, where an obsession with acquiring silver dominates: too much gold has made gold valueless and silver a prize beyond all measure. 

We see Scrooge McDuck hire Donald to help him spend money fast enough to keep his money bins from exploding, leading to a week of wretched excess that ends with a bizarre and hilarious twist that reveals the all-devouring nature of Scrooge's wealth, a wealth he is increasingly the servant of. 

We follow the odious Gladstone Gander, luckiest duck alive, as he falls into wealth after wealth after wealth while the hard-working Donald and nephews repeatedly find themselves screwed over.

I mean, it's astonishing. Maybe the critics in this volume dwell too much on the Barksian critique of capitalism. But the accumulation of these stories reprinted here and in other Barks Disney Library volumes makes an overwhelming case for Barks' often horrified bemusement at the American pursuit of money and the falseness of such beliefs as 'Cheaters never prosper' or 'Hard work always results in financial reward' or 'Rich people are wise and benevolent job creators.' That last one sees its refutation in Scrooge McDuck, hoarder and skin-flint supreme, but also in an assortment of other rich people who are absent-minded buffoons or malevolent tyrants. 

But because Carl Barks is  dealing with funny stories about talking ducks and other anthropomorphized animals, he can throw a blistering social critique like "A Christmas in Shacktown" at his then-massive readership of millions of children without anyone in the adult world noticing. It's an astonishing, on-going act of subversive popular story-telling. And it's the immensely entertaining and beautifully drawn world of Carl Barks, master storyteller. With ducks. Highly recommended.


Uncle Sam: written by Steve Darnall and Alex Ross; illustrated by Alex Ross (1997): This blistering, satiric attack on the corruption of the American Dream is probably the least-popular work ever illustrated by beloved comic-book painter Alex Ross. That's too bad, because Ross and scripter Steve Darnall deliver a beautifully and sometimes disturbingly illustrated graphic novel that jumps through the history of America as viewed by what appears to be a living avatar of Uncle Sam. But this Uncle Sam has been driven insane by his country's atrocities and contradictions. The ending peters out a bit, but the overall effect is quite remarkable -- a scathing satire and jeremiad done up in Ross' photo-realistic art. Recommended.

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