Posts Tagged ‘Carl Barks’

Ranking the Masters


Friday, February 18, 2011

Read Comments (24)


Gary Groth twitted: “The greatest artists who worked n commercial comics? My vote (in order); Carl Barks, Jack Kirby & Harvey Kurtzman (tie), John Stanley.” The list seems on target but the ranking can be argued with. These are all superb cartoonists and as such, their writing/art needs to be seen as an integrated whole. Still, some of them are stronger on the writing front, others as visual artists. And of course Stanley, Kirby and Kurtzman all did a lot of collaborative work, including some of their best work.

So if I were ranking them as visual artists I’d say Kirby, Kurtzman, Barks, Stanley. If I were ranking them as writers I’d say Stanley, Kurtzman, Barks, Kirby. But what if writing and art can’t be separated? What if I had to rank them simply as cartoonists? A really tough choice. Purely a personal matters but I’d say Stanley, Kirby, Kurtzman, Barks. But that’s a ranking that could easily change at the drop of a hat. Fun factoid: three of these cartoonists (Stanley, Barks, Kurtzman) were doing their best work at the exact same time, circa 1950-1955. That was the real Golden Age of commercial comics.

Labels: , , , ,

If I Could Write


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Read Comments (4)

Exceptional one-person comic strips like “Little Nemo,” “Krazy Kat,” and “Peanuts” were among the first to be championed as high art partly because standard industry practices such as “ghosting” and assembly-line production obscure idiosyncrasies, freeze evolution, and desiccate scholarly and fannish narratives. Our impulse to uncover a human source — to project from reproducible artifact to traceable performer, so that we might begin to speak of cinematographer “John Alton” as we would of “Humphrey Bogart” — isn’t just a taxonomic convenience. It also reflects frustrated feelings of gratitude and intimacy, as evidenced by the career of Walt Disney comics artist and writer Carl Barks. Although Barks wrote, drew, and inked his own work for decades, his employer blocked fan mail and withheld contributor credits on the theory that sales would decline if children thought anyone other than Walt Disney was involved in the comic books. As a result, Barks wasn’t successfully contacted by readers until 1960, and his first interview (conducted in 1962) was only allowed publication in 1968. Given no clues other than style, loyal fans identified and collected Barks as “The Duck Artist,” “The Good Duck Artist,” or simply “The Good Artist,” the last eventually inscribed on his gravestone.

—From “High, Low, and Lethem”, a just-posted, confidence-killing essay in which the great Ray Davis takes nearly every subject I’ve written about for Comics Comics over the last five years—from Steve Gerber and Carl Barks to Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown and the auteur theory’s connection to comics, among others—and writes something actually worthwhile, intelligent, and stylish about them. He shows me up as a lazy halfwit actually. The funny thing is that I’m fairly certain he’s never heard of me or Comics Comics at all, and the confluence of thought is purely coincidental. Oh well, I guess I need to try harder.

Labels: , , , , , ,

The Auteur Theory in Comics: A Beyond Half-Assed Series of Ruminations


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Read Comments (45)

First off, if you’re in Montreal, don’t forget your plans for tonight.

Second, intervening events have prevented me from being able to write the review of Alan Moore’s The Courtyard I promised would start up the CCCBC today. But I will get it up soon!

In the meantime, let me resurrect a post I almost wrote last February. (You have been spared about a dozen almost-posts this year alone.) I don’t remember what I had originally planned to say exactly (my surviving notes are sketchy), but mostly I just wanted to link to this really amazing, lengthy interview with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, which offers a stiff dose of Auteur-Theory polemics. (I’m not actually that big of a fan of Dobbs’s actual films—at least those that I have seen—but this is great stuff.) Eventually this will all work around to a discussion of comics, I swear.

Here’s a sample:

The Auteur Theory is clearly the most practical and, as you say, self-evident way of looking at or “reading” movies, and it’s mind-boggling after all these years to still have to listen to screenwriters rail against it without the least notion of what they’re talking about. It’s so funny/sad their undying belief that only an Ingmar Bergman can possibly be an auteur because he “writes and directs his own scripts.” “No one ever made a good movie from a bad script” is their other favorite cliché — now and forever blind to the power and the glory of Sam Fuller, Edgar Ulmer, Douglas Sirk, and countless sows’ ears made into silk purses by distinctive, individualistic directors, including many movies that have no script at all except — in Writers Guild parlance — “as represented on the screen.” (more…)

Labels: , , , , , ,



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Read Comments (5)
Feiffer on the left, Mayer on the right…

A couple recent items have sparked my comics fancy. First, The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. This 350-page, full color book is a brilliant anthology by two masters of the form. I haven’t seen much about it in the comics press, so I thought it would be worth mentioning here. The book collects a few dozen stores from the 40s and 50s by well known cartoonists like Barks and Stanley as well as lesser known figures like Milt Stein and Jim Davis, not to mention complete unknowns like Frank Thomas and Andre LeBlanc. The promotional aspects of the book are pitched at children, as it should be (after all, the work is exactly what I wish I had as a kid), but the beauty of the organizing conceit is that many of the best cartoonists in the world were making “children’s” comics, so what the book really is is an anthology of masteful drawing and storytelling — the kind that informed cartoonists as diverse as the Hernandez Bros (Bob Bolling, Al Wiseman), R. Crumb (Barks and Kelly) and Seth (Stanley). And Spiegelman and Mouly don’t stint on the background material — the biographies of the artists are snappy and well-researched and the historical introduction nicely contextualizes the stories that follow.

Even for an obsessive (and fellow anthologist) like me there were stories that were near revelatory, like Walt Kelly’s “Never Give a Diving Board an Even Break” (composed entirely around a see-saw) and the aforementioned Frank Thomas’s “Billy and Bonny Bee”. Part of it is getting to read a single story at a time by someone like Barks, Stanley or Bolling. Making it bite-sized, without the weight of 10 other stories in an anthology or 3 others in a comic book, allowed me to just focus intently on what Barks was doing, as opposed to what, say, Milt Stein was doing. It’s good to see the “giants” amongst the unknowns — it feels like an accurate context.

All the different sensibilities here, most fully developed and deployed, are staggering in their diversity. And the other part of this book is simply the pleasure of looking: The production quality is ideal: the original comic book colors are intact and printed on uncoated stock against an off-white tone. Ahhh, perfection.

Anyhow, as a collection of near-flawless cartooning, this book can’t be beat. Go get it and learn from it.

The other item is less an item and more a stray idea: No one has really mentioned that Robert Williams has been chosen to participate in the 2010 Whitney Biennial (warning: obnoxious web site) It’s not the first time someone “outside” the mainstream art world has been exhibited — Chris Ware and Forcefield both exhibited in 2002 — but it nonetheless marks an important moment: Williams’ penetration into the curatorial world that Juxtapoz so despises. It may or may not have any real ramifications, but it would be nice if it meant there was some real curatorial interest in someone like Williams (and extending beyond him, in collecting and preserving other non-mainstream artists). I loved walking between his show and Mike Kelley’s a month or so ago and I think the work will kinda throw everything else into stark relief. In a good way. Context, baby. It’s all about context.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Quite hits: Barks and Tomine


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Read Comment (1)

1. I’m a regular reader of The New Left Review and a constant re-reader of Carl Barks’ duck comics. So I was naturally delighted to see in the latest issue of NLR has a long disquisition by the German belles-lettrist Joachim Kalka on the disappearance of money as a material object, reflections that lean heavily on the writing of Leon Bloy and the comics of Carl Barks. Kalka’s essay can be found here.
An excerpt:

Carl Barks’s comic-book stories of Uncle Scrooge—a spin-off from the Disney cartoon series—offer a canonical encyclopaedia of libidinous relations to money. His Scrooge is obviously related to Dickens’s miser and kindred topoi of European comedy from Molière to Antiquity; but he far surpasses these classical embodiments of avarice. Uncle Scrooge’s famous money-bin contains a hilly landscape made out of coins, interspersed with banknotes, in which he spends his time. He likes to announce the ritualized programme of actions the money-drive imposes on him with reiterated phrases: ‘I dive around in it like a porpoise—and I burrow through it like a gopher—and I toss it up and let it hit me on the head.’ Clearly recognizable in this trio of money joys are three movements of any playful child: leaping into the pond, rummaging under the duvet and—the earliest gesture of delight—tossing toys high up into the air. The impressive massif of Uncle Scrooge’s money, the backdrop and punch-line of so many of Barks’s stories, might by its sheer volume obscure the crucial fact that for Scrooge McDuck (‘world’s richest duck and darn well going to stay that way’) all coins are individual. This gigantic accumulation of ‘dough’—to use the idiom of Scrooge’s disrespectful antagonists, the Beagle Boys, a gang of safe-crackers for whom indeed only its volume counts (which, according to the magical laws of this narration, in the end prevents them from pulling off a successful robbery)—is for Uncle Scrooge a concentrate of intimacy, in which every item is
saturated with memory.

2. This Canadian Business article has already received some attention from the comics world. I just wanted to point out that for any Adrian Tomine completists out there, the print edition of the magazine is worth acquiring since it has a fine full-page Tomine illustration of Chris Oliveros, a portion of which I’ve pasted above.

Labels: , ,

The Dark Vision of Carl Barks


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Read Comments (28)

“Human beings are a bunch of maggots consuming the body of the earth.” – Carl Barks.

You can talk all you want about the misanthropy of R. Crumb, the bleakness of Chris Ware, or the flesh-crawling creepiness of Charles Burns but if you want to read a cartoonist who really has a dark vision of life go no further than Carl Barks.

“What the hell!?” Readers may ask. “Didn’t Barks do bouncy and buoyant adventure stories featuring talking ducks? He was a Disney artist wasn’t he? How could he have a dark vision?”

“I think of death as total peace – you’re beyond the clutches of all those who would crush you.” – Carl Barks.

It’s true that Barks drew stories about Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. But read those stories. As Art Spiegelman has noted, they reveal that Barks had a fundamentally “flinty” view of life. All his characters are at heart selfish: profit-maximizers to use the language of economics. Scrooge is a successful, hard-working profit-maximizer, Donald a would-be profit-maximizer whose plans all go blooey, and Gladstone Gander is so lucky profit comes his way without the will to maximize. Being young, Huey, Dewey and Louie are maximizers not of money but of Junior Woodchuck merit badges.

“We’re like a weed – you see it and trample it to the ground and don’t think anything about it. We’re like that weed – we have our little life and when we’re gone, we’re gone.” – Carl Barks.

Barks’ world is an affectionless one. It’s hard to recall a moment where one character feels any genuine friendship or fellowship for another. Huey, Dewey and Louie, it could be argued, work as a team but they are not really separate personalities: They seem like clones. It’s a Darwinian universe where everyone is looking out for number 1 (and Scrooge for his number one dime).

The most harrowing comics-related reading I know is Donald Ault’s Carl Barks: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi, 2003). That’s the source of the quotes used above. The final interview in the book was conducted just two months before Barks death in 2000. The cartoonist had lived nearly a century and it showed. This interview reads like a Samuel Beckett play, a pure distillation of despair. After reading it, you want to pick up Kafka’s The Metamorphosis to get some good cheer.

Labels: ,

Best of…


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Read Comments (5)
Kick-ass Tom Sutton cover. Santoro, take notes.

It appears to be “year’s best” time, when people begin soliciting for one’s “top ten” comics of the year. In honor of that tradition, I give you:

The Outstanding Graphic Stories of 1967, as printed in Graphic Story Magazine #9, Summer 1968.

Will Eisner
The Spirit 2

“Master Time and Mobius Tripp”
George Metzger
Fantasy Illustrated 7

George Metzger
Graphic Story Magazine 8

Lee and Kirby
Fantastic Four 66 and 67

“The Aliens”
Russ Manning
Magnus, Robot Fighter 17-20

“Luck of the North”
Carl Barks [Heidi must be relieved–ed.]
The Best of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge 2

“The Gifted Cockroach”
Will Eisner
The Spirit 2

“Showdown on Hydra Island”
Jim Steranko
Strange Tales 156-158

“Project: Blackout”
Jim Steranko
Strange Tales 160-161

Prehysterical Pogo
Walt Kelly

“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”
Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino
Strange Tales 205

“Mr. A”
Steve Ditko
Witzend 3

Gee, times haven’t changed that much. Funny how most of this stuff is still considered classic– I gotta check out that Arnold Drake story. And, whatever else anyone says, that Steranko period is full of fantastic, retardo Kirby and Op-Art pastiches….man, I knew I shouldn’t keep my “collection” in the office. Ok, back to work. Honest.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Our Invasion of the Nation’s Cultural Consciousness Begins


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Read Comments (5)

In this week’s issue of the trade newspaper Advertising Age, “Media Guy” Simon Dumenco has astutely chosen this publication as his current “Pop Pick”.

‘Comics Comics’ ($5 by Internet order) is a new mini-mag that “aims to document contemporary and past comics, from a pluralistic, affectionate, but critical standpoint.” If that sounds a little heady, well, it is–and things get equally quasi-scholarly at, where you can find loving meditations on the artistry of greats such as Scrooge McDuck father Carl Banks [sic]. But you don’t have to be a comics nerd to get inspired by the beautiful art. … Comics Comics shares creators and contributors with The Ganzfeld, an art annual … that shares a similar passion for thinky illustration. Check out and roll your mouse over the letters of the logo to view a supercool animation by Flash genius Patrick Smith. And then amuse yourself further by visiting his web site,

Now we just sit back and wait for the flood of advertising requests from Courvoisier and Aston Martin, anxious to get in on this whole “graphic novel” craze everyone’s talking about. (Actually, come to think of it, if we were really that smart and marketing-savvy, we should have called the magazine Graphic Novels Graphic Novels.)

Also, sometime soon we will begin presenting actual, not just self-promoting material again. We felt like we needed to give you a chance to catch your breath and rest your mind a little first. We’ll start learning you again but soon.

Labels: , , , ,

Quick Barks Follow-Up


Thursday, June 8, 2006

Read Comments (3)

Bryan Munn was recently kind enough to link to this site, and he had some kind things to say, for which I’d like to thank him.

He also took issue with my invocation of Robert Louis Stevenson in the post about Carl Barks:

Barks did manage some interesting social satire and his storytelling and dialogue are very sharp, but Robert Louis Stevenson? Maybe it’s just because one of my old perfessors was an editor of the Complete RLS, but I don’t see the complexity of plot or theme in the decidedly adult work of Stevenson mirrored in Barks. Now when we compare Stevenson’s drawing to Barks…

I have two quick things to say in response.

One, I did write, “in some ways”…

And two, I did not intend to compare the complexity of Barks’ work directly to Stevenson’s, which is why I wrote, “In some ways, Barks’ place [italics added] in comics is similar to Robert Louis Stevenson’s in English literature.” Meaning that the grace and apparent ease they display in their story-telling leads many to misunderstand or underestimate their work.

I certainly didn’t want to imply that Barks’ duck stories are as complex as Stevenson’s writings. Though I’m not altogether sure that they aren’t. I’d have to think about it a lot more than I have heretofore.

In any case, generally, I’m not sure if it is really wise (or fair) to directly compare the work of two artists working in such different media. Making comics is different than writing prose, and the techniques involved (and the responses generated) are probably too divergent to make a one-to-one comparison. What they are trying to accomplish is simply too different. Likewise (to use a different art as an example), it would probably not be very fruitful to take, say, Goya’s war prints, set them side-by-side with Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War stories, and proclaim, “Goya’s more complicated”, or vice versa.

Well, it’s all too complicated for a quick post like this one. Food for thought, as they say, and thanks again to Munn.

UPDATE: No one say anything about the (unwise, unfair) Hergé/Tati thing below. I don’t want to hear it. Just pretend it never happened.

Labels: , , , , ,

The Good Duck Artist


Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Read Comments (5)

This won’t be a comprehensive essay on Carl Barks, but I do want to begin by saying that if Barks isn’t part of your personal pantheon of great cartoonists, you really owe it to yourself to check out his work.

Barks wrote and drew more than five hundred comic stories about Donald, Scrooge, and the other famous Disney ducks, and is directly responsible for much of the lore surrounding them. (In fact, he created Scrooge McDuck personally, though he never signed his stories, and only belatedly received credit for his role.) Many of the stories are among the greatest humorous adventure stories of all time. And amazingly, Barks didn’t start working as a comic book artist full-time until he was in in his forties.

The story I want to focus on (briefly) is from a 1956 issue of Uncle Scrooge called “Land Beneath the Ground”. As you might guess based on the title, it’s a Hollow Earth story, loosely in the tradition of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

It begins when Uncle Scrooge reads a newspaper article about an earthquake in Chile, and worries that a similar quake may endanger his beloved money bin. Check out this rather shoddy scan of an early sequence:

I love how relaxed his story-telling is. Barks’ tales move with an impressively swift pace, but flow so smoothly that it’s easy to underestimate the grace and skills necessary to craft such a natural-seeming story. (On his good days, Peter Bagge displays a similar, seemingly artless story-telling ability, albeit within a much more profane milieu — part of the reason he’s so often underrated, in my opinion.)

Barks rarely shows off, but his technical mastery is almost always evident. A little later in the story, after Scrooge and Donald disappear into an exploratory underground tunnel, Huey, Louie, and Dewie descend to look for them. They come to the end of the trail and the page …

At the top of the next page, Barks turns things around:

That’s just beautiful, though the effect is a lot more dramatic and effective in context (if that doesn’t go without saying).

His sense of space is outstanding, and helps him to create a feeling of awe all too often absent from most of today’s “mainstream” adventure comics, no matter how many planets and universes are destroyed in them.

I’ll let you discover the rest of the story yourself. For the most part, this isn’t complicated, theoretical stuff that needs a lot of explication to understand, anyway. In some ways, Barks’ place in comics is similar to Robert Louis Stevenson‘s in English literature. They’re both so masterful that sometimes they’re taken for granted, their contributions to our culture overlooked or dismissed as children’s stories. Examine their works closely, however, and their qualities are manifest.

Apparently, Barks originally had aspirations to create more realistic, “adult” adventure comics, a la Hal Foster‘s Prince Valiant. Though Foster was no slouch, for my money, Barks, despite all of the many restrictions he worked under as an anonymous cog in the Disney machine, was able to create a world of danger and splendor even stronger and more enduring.

Someone needs to reprint (again) Barks’ best stories in the durable format they deserve. For now, eBay and cheap collections will have to do.

Labels: , , , , , ,