“Barks was perhaps the most widely-read but least-known author in the world. Like other comic-book artists at the time, he was anonymous during the years he was producing his comics. At the same time, because his work was so exceptional, he developed a huge number of fans, who only knew him as ‘the good artist.’ His best work is ‘pure Disney’…and yet his work was so distinctive that it actually displaced the Disney vision in the direction of his own individual talent. His success thus depended on his anonymity as well as his autonomy.”
This insightful remark comes from Donald Ault’s introduction (more like a love letter) to this first in a series devoted to collecting Carl Barks’ Disney comics, over 6,000 pages from 1942 to 1966, reprinted in glorious color. This volume reprints tales from December 1948 through August 1949, when Barks was in high feather as a creator of breathless adventures and light comedies for his Ducks: Donald (handled by Barks as a resourceful Every-duck hero removed from his irascible screen persona), the billionaire Uncle Scrooge McDuck (a great creation of equal parts fantasy and frustration), the nephews Huey, Louis and Dewey, and supporting characters like the cursedly lucky Gladstone Gander.
After the stories come 20 pages of scholarly notes on each tale! For example, these explain how the zombie story “Voodoo Hoodoo” springs from a ’40s cultural interest in zombies tied in with the migration of southern African-Americans to northern cities, and how this particular zombie embodies the contradiction of racist visual stereotypes while also being the most sympathetic character in the story (“a mute victim of the power struggles between the imperialist Scrooge McDuck and the African chief”). It discusses how this story introduces the first citizen of Duckburg coded as black (complete with Amos and Andy dialect), and how the “villain” is at once a stereotyped witch doctor and a figure whose “outrage for the wrongs done to him and his people by Scrooge and his hired thugs is presented as entirely justified.”
Great pop culture, great analysis. Scrooge is always searching for more gold, and there’s plenty here.