This summer, Fantagraphics Books released its fourth volume of hardbound Walt Disney Donald Duck comics by Carl Barks. Following on the heels of the preceding three: Lost in the Andes, A Christmas for Shacktown, and Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man, the latest is titled The Old Castle’s Secret, and features almost 200 pages of comics written and drawn by Barks.
Carl Barks’ start at Disney began in the Disney animation studio (he was a story man and worked on Donald Duck cartoons.) It was his comic books, however, that are his true legacy and sent the imaginations of a generation of kids flying. From the early 40s to the mid 60s, he produced an incredibly extensive amount of work, available at that time on newsstands in classic four-color comic book format.
Says Fantagraphics co-founder Mike Catron, “We’re being very careful with the use of color in these reprints. The comics are all specially restored and recolored for these editions by a crew of very talented people. The Donald Duck comics were originally printed on dull newsprint paper. Therefore, the color in these books pops a bit more because the paper is white. They’re visually a little more inviting engaging because they’re more brilliant — but not overwhelmingly so.”
He continues, “The Old Castle’s Secret is a collection of stories by Barks from 1948. The lead story is where Uncle Scrooge, along with nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, travel to Scotland to an ancient castle where they’re looking for their lost family treasure.
“One of the greatest things about all these stories is that they are enormously fun, and incredibly engaging. They’re filled with the joy of surprise and delight. They are clever and sometimes sly. And they are masterfully set up and paced. They are smart in the way that kids are smart about knowing stuff that their parents don’t know, or have forgotten, and that sometimes leads to trouble and sometimes leads to a way out of trouble.
“Any dad, mom, boy, or girl who loves a good adventure story will be enraptured by the escapades of Donald, Uncle Scrooge, and nephews. There are earnest quests, narrow escapes, exotic lands and landscapes, fascinating characters, and moments of pure comedy. If you read just one 10-pager with your kids at bedtime — whether you read to them or they read to you — I guarantee they will want another. Fortunately, there are also one-pagers.
“All of Barks’ stories were thoroughly researched. They were travelogues and adventure tales. The adventures he sent Donald, Uncle Scrooge, and the boys on were his way of traveling the world without leaving his studio.”
The fictitious world of Duckburg and its most adventurous and famous inhabitants — “They happened to be humans who looked like ducks,” Barks has been quoted as saying — were clearly a world of enchantment and escape for their creator. What makes the grand-scale global journeys that these ducks go on even more fantastic might owe to the fact that Barks never actually traveled to the places in real life. His far-away stories may be based on research, but they’re born out of a mind and spirit of longing. This makes them even more captivating somehow, more enchanting, filled with wonder and excitement.
Barks’ personal life was somewhat fraught with turmoil, which may point to why his artistic life was such a world unto its own. “Barks had had a difficult childhood,” says Catron. “He lost significant hearing after a bout with the measles. His mother died when he was about 15. His own father never seemed able to get ahead and ultimately suffered a nervous breakdown. Barks had to leave school after the 8th grade to help support the family. He certainly got his attitude about hard work and perseverance from his father and his own, similar experiences before he made his first steps toward making a living as a cartoonist.”
Barks went on to have two daughters. Unfortunately a troubled marriage to their mother ended with divorce and Barks placing the daughters in the custody of his ex-mother-in-law. Eventually, Barks remarried but that marriage ended in divorce also. A third marriage, however, to a woman named Garé, lasted almost 40 years, until her death in 1994. They were true partners, Garé ultimately worked beside him lettering his comics. Barks died in 2000 at the age of 99.
Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comics, specifically a certain 1954 Scrooge McDuck sequence, has famously been credited with inspiring George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s famous rolling-boulder scene from their 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lucas himself wrote the introduction for Fantagraphics’ Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man volume, and calls Barks’ comics “full of crazy ideas – unique and special and bizarre” and “very cinematic.” Writes Lucas, “I think the reason Carl Barks’ stories have endured and have had such international appeal is primarily their strength as good stories.”
Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, said in a previous Disney Dads interview “Probably the way my father influenced me the most was that he fostered a love of comics in me. He introduced me to these great Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics from the 1950s and 60s that were written by Carl Barks. I consider them to be the best form of storytelling I’ve ever read.”