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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

"What's New" Archives: November 2015

 

November 26, 2015:

Thanksgiving Greetings from 1942

 

November 25, 2015:

Back on the Barks Beat

 

November 26, 2015:

Thanksgiving Greetings from 1942

New Funnies October 1942

 

November 25, 2015:

Back on the Barks Beat

LondonPhyllis and I went to London for ten days earlier this month to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It was our first visit to England since 2004, when I interviewed Richard Todd and other worthies for my Disney biography. We returned home this year just a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, and also, as it happened, just a few days after my 91-year-old father-in-law fell and broke his hip. A steady stream of translantic phone calls left no time to visit the British Museum or, more relevant from the vantage point of this website, to visit the Cartoon Museum or the Forbidden Planet bookstore. Maybe next time. For now, my father-in-law's health takes precedence.

That's not to say there's no time for other matters of consequence, like the lingering question of how and why Carl Barks's late-1950s stories were damaged by the inferior paper that Western Printing provided. We're closer to answers, thanks to Joakim Gunnarsson. You can read about this latest development by following this link to my page devoted to corrections and additions to my book Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books.

(Speaking of that book, it has just gone into a second printing by University of California Press. The new printing corrects errors I've identified in the first printing.)

Barks is my favorite cartoonist, and also a cultural figure whose name and work have become familiar enough that they can be cited in a wide variety of contexts with no need for a lot of apologies or explanations. The Fantagraphics reprints, which are looking better and seem to be selling well, to judge from the amazon.com rankings, are presumably contributing to that broad awareness of Barks and his work.

Patrick Garabedian sent me an editorial from the November 2 issue of Barron's, the weekly Dow Jones magazine, titled "Duckburg Economics." In warning of the danger of price controls, the editorial cites the lead stories from Uncle Scrooge No. 5 and No. 6, both published in 1954, and identifies Barks as their author. Those are the stories, you'll recall, in which the ducks visit two mythical lands, Atlantis and Tralla La. The editorial's author, Thomas G. Donlen, trusted too much to memory when writing about Tralla La—surely he owns Fantagraphics' Uncle Scrooge reprints!—but his summary is close enough.

Barks's best stories are endlessly rich, as I was reminded when for some reason my thoughts turned to the "Donald Duck" lead story in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories No. 109, October 1949. That issue was, as I wrote in 1982 in Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book, the first issue I received on the subscription to Walt Disney's Comics that was a ninth-birthday present. That "made it something special. Perhaps that was why I noticed that the ten-page Donald Duck story ... stood apart from the others.... I was very much aware of the specific California setting of the story, with, for example, its references to the Los Angeles aqueduct and desert hot springs."

The aqueduct enters the story because the nephews are trying to prove to Donald that their witching stick really can find water. When the stick tells the ducks to drill in the desert, they do so; Donald is trying to wean the nephews from their obsession, and he has attached what he calls a "power digger," one of Barks's wonderfully solid and authentic-looking tools, to the rear of his car. But when Donald does drill into water, it's by piercing the aqueduct.

As I failed to note in 1982, that was undoubtedly a criminal act when the story was published, but Donald's response is not to try to explain his mistake to someone in authority but to get away as quickly as possible ("We daren't go back to the highway! Cops will be swarming this way like flies!"). Not the honorable thing to do, obviously, but exactly what most people would do in those circumstances. And when Donald is finally persuaded of the stick's powers, he responds not by apologizing to the nephews for his skepticism, but by appropriating the stick for his own uses, and shutting the nephews out of his new business.

Would that story, with its unmistakable lapses in the behavior of its principal character, pass muster with today's moral guardians if it were being offered not to adult collectors but to children? I doubt it. But even though there's nothing particularly admirable in anything that Donald does, there's much more substance to him in this story, and in many others by Barks, than there is to any other comics character I could name. In a medium that has always been dominated by shallowness and falsity, Donald is that great rarity, a real person.

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