I have always loved Donald Duck! His nearly-indecipherable speech, his choice to wear a sailor's outfit while rarely ever on a boat, his hilariously short temper; what is not to love about Mickey Mouse's feathered friend? But never did the duck reach beyond the shadow of Walt Disney's magnanimous mouse than he did under the guide of Carl Barks, "The Good Duck Artist".
I remember the first time I had ever heard the name Carl Barks. It was not from a documentary or from a college professor, but from a film that I hold very dear, Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco. In the film, Robert Sean Leonard's character tells Chloë Sevigny's character that he collects old Uncle Scrooge comics and that the creator — Carl Barks — was considered a genius. That scene was forgotten about by most after Sevigny's Alice says her infamous line, "There's something really sexy about Scrooge McDuck," but the message still stuck in my mind. Now, when I first saw the film at age 11 or 12, I did not even know that Disney characters were ever realized in the medium of comics. To me, this was something to investigate. But, Carl Barks' duck comics were not yet collected in the States and all I had to go on were whatever snippets I could find while trolling the Internet. But now, Fantagraphics is remedying that error by releasing the Carl Barks Library of his Disney Duck comics! And boy, are they a sight for a comic reader's sore eyes.
This volume of Walt Disney's Donald Duck comics by Carl Barks is titled Lost in the Andes, after the name of the first story in the book. While Barks had been writing and drawing Donald Duck comics since 1942, Fantagraphics began with Volume 7 of The Carl Barks Library, where Barks had really hit his peak with Donald Duck. "Lost in the Andes!" has Donald and his nephews — Huey, Dewey and Louie — traveling to a hidden city within the fog of the Andes Mountains to find some square eggs. If you have never had an opportunity to read a Carl Barks Duck comic, this would be the perfect story to get a sense of what Barks did with a character which was previously seen as just a duck with a bad attitude. He crafted these wonderful adventures for these ducks to go on and made these characters something to compete with the then blooming superhero titles that were cropping up. Donald Duck had never flown higher! Especially since he couldn't really fly much at all.
My favorite story is called "Donald Duck's Worst Nightmare" where Donald, after a series of horrendous nightmares night-after-night, is prescribed to do something that he hates: crocheting doilies. When it doesn't work, his doctor said he will need to be faced with something that frightens him far beyond anything he has come across in his dreams (and his dreams are pretty extreme). His girlfriend, Daisy Duck, finds out and gets her Needlework Club to find him to crochet something for their upcoming exhibit. When we you see the amount of terrible things he faces while trying to run from his girlfriend and her posse, you cannot help but laugh and laugh some more.
The book has four long adventures (which are roughly 30 pages each), followed by nine short stories (about 10 pages each) and ends with 7 gags (or one-pagers). Each story published between December 1948 and August 1949, each very different from the last and equally hilarious! But not only did Barks give us funny stories of Unca' Donald in many a battle of wits with his nephews, but the grand tales with Donald as an adventure in the same scope as Hergé's Tintin or Lucas and Spielberg's Indiana Jones.
The stories are presented in a beautiful hardcover that along with recolored pages and notes on each presented story at the end by Barks scholars and enthusiasts, like Donald Ault and R. Fiore. Don Ault also provides a long introduction to open the hardcover that is both a detailed history and proverbial swan song to the Great Duck Artist.
The first thing that is brought up in Ault's introduction is how the infamous rolling stone sequence from Raiders of the Lost Ark was a reference to an old Scrooge McDuck comic by Barks. The references certainly do not stop there. One realization that I came to is that Unca' Donald and his myriad of jobs around Duckberg could have been an inspiration to Uncle Ruckus (no relation) from Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks, who has a different job around Woodcrest. Is that where McGruder got that from? Maybe not. But I saw it!
Jokes aside, Barks truly was a master at the medium. We all have been hearing this for so long and for those who have not yet read any of his comics, this book and the rest of the upcoming series should put all those doubts to rest. Carl Barks used ducks to shine a light on the human condition and make jokes while also making commentary on us all. Despite these stories being published in 1948 and 1949, they truly stand the test of time. But what was truly amazing about his work was that it appeals to both children and adults. I would recommend this book to any of my comic- or Disney-loving friends as much as I would to my almost-four-year-old nephew's parents to read to him.
While they may not be publishing the volumes or stories in chronological order (they will be chronological by volume, after they are all released, but the stories will be separated into chapters and sorted by relevance), the fact that they are doing this alone is worth noting. And, in true Fantagraphics fashion, they are putting the books out in a pristine format that would look great on anyone's book shelf. That said, do not forget to get it for your own and for that Donald Duck fan that you know's book shelf, as well.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at @nitroslick.