Carl Barks Donald Duck Library
Donald Duck in Comic Book Land
There was a time when Donald Duck was as well known from the comics as the character was in film and television. Back at a time when comics were written for and purchased by kids, there were the comics that were the ones you raced to the local grocery store to buy every month, and those that your mom sometimes brought home for you. In the former category were the superhero comics which were usually great to read, and in the latter category were the Disney and Harvey type comics which were usually dull and lifeless. You couldn't trade them to other kids either. The exception to that rule were the Donald Duck comics. They were head and shoulders above the other Disney books. The stories were interesting and the drawings fired the imagination.
At the time I had no idea who the artist was that did these Donald Duck comics. The Disney company for many years didn't list the artists that put together the art and story. All I knew is that I enjoyed them as much as the superhero comics. Now that I'm an adult I can see why. The stories in these books had a sense of wonder about them. Unlike the other Disney comics which were pale imitations of the cartoon characters, the Donald Duck comics were just as good and sometimes better than the cartoons. The art in these books was well thought out and brought the characters and the locales they visited to life, whether they be real places or imaginary ones. The longer stories were well thought out, and Donald's world was fleshed out more than the cartoons would allow.
The Man Behind the Scenes
The man who explored new territory with the Disney Duck characters was an artist named Carl Barks (1901-2000), who took the basic Donald Duck template from the cartoons, and adapted it to a much broader world which Barks had created especially for Donald and his nephews. He took them to exotic places and strange locales which were fully realized with great art. The comics became so popular that they began influencing the parent company who adopted many of Barks characters in their television and film work, notably Uncle Scrooge who became a highly popular character.
Barks wrote and drew the Duck comics from 1942 to 1966. The books were extremely popular, but Barks was an anonymous author and was not credited on the books. He was probably the most popular unknown artist of his time. Although readers may not have known his name, they knew his work. He was known to generations of readers as the good artist. Barks work stood out to the point that readers would seek out his comics over other similar works. His work varied between the shorter ten page gag pieces, and the longer stories he preferred, and which allowed him to stretch his imagination. Oddly enough, Barks was unsuccessful whenever he tried to expand his talent to other projects, which could be partially explained by his relative obscurity during his creative peak. Carl Barks passed away on August 25, 2000.
The New Books
A few years ago a company called Fantagraphics which specialize in collected editions announced that they were releasing a Carl Barks Disney series of books which would collect his best work. Collectors keenly anticipated the series hoping that they would be done right. Well to put it quite simply they have been. The books are beautifully done, and the Donald Duck stories have never looked better. I bought the first in the series (Lost in the Andes) on a nostalgic whim, and discovered that not only is the art as good as I remembered, but the stories hold up and are even better than I thought they would be.
Now that other books in the series have been released, we can see just how good these stories are. Children still love them of course, but even adults can enjoy them for the imaginative storytelling and wonderful art. It's one of the best purchases I've made, and now I look forward to the new releases of Barks Disney Library.