Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: DONALD DUCK: LOST IN THE ANDES by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics, 2011)

If this first volume is any indication, Fantagraphics' "THE CARL BARKS LIBRARY: The Next Generation" (my designation, not theirs) bids fair to become the CARL BARKS LIBRARY for not one, but several, generations of delighted readers to come. Impeccably produced in a sturdy, reader-friendly, slightly-smaller-than-comic-book-size format, intelligently organized and supplemented, these books will appeal to both the young reader who "just wants to read the stories" (or, for that matter, have the stories read to him or her) and the serious adult collector who wants some analytical "food for thought" on which to nibble after perusing each tale. Giving it to a family with an interest in comics but no prior exposure to Barks might therefore be an ideal way to get everyone in the family interested in Barks' world.

Another Rainbow's oversized black and white CBL was organized chronologically according to publication (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES, DONALD DUCK FOUR COLOR, UNCLE $CROOGE, etc.). FG's approach -- using a mixture of adventures, short stories, and gag pages in each volume -- is less rigid and more "modular" in nature. While stories will still be published chronologically -- LOST IN THE ANDES is volume #7 of the planned 30-volume set, covering material that originally appeared during the period December 1948-August 1949 -- they will be rearranged to give pride of place to the most noteworthy story in each individual volume. Thus, "Lost in the Andes," the third of this book's four adventure tales in order of original publication date, gets the leadoff slot it so richly deserves. It's not yet clear whether the same practice will be applied to the short tales. They're printed in original pub. order here, but that could easily be adjusted as circumstances warrant. Barks' "ten-pagers" were at or close to their peak of quality at this time, so I can readily believe that FG found it hard to identify one short tale as markedly superior to the others.

The "Story Notes" here land on the good side of what might be called the "Donald Phelps Line," the marker separating straightforward, WSYIWYG analysis from incomprehensibly muddled quasi-academic musings. Happily, FG didn't simply reprint essays from the Another Rainbow CBL but instead commissioned entirely new comments from American and European Barks scholars. And, yes, even the one-page gags get a once-over. Indeed, the most insightful comment in the "Story Notes" section comes from Jared Gardner in his discussion of "Tunnel Vision" (aka: "The One Where HD&L Fight Over A Good Seat From Which to Watch TV, Forcing Donald to Drill Peepholes in The Wall"). It had never occurred to me before that Barks was so far ahead of his time with this gag, which originally appeared in the Spring of 1949, well before television itself, much less the "watching etiquette" of same, had been established in more than a relative handful of American homes.

If you think that this series of albums is just another excuse to peddle the umpteenth reprint of Barks stories, then you've got another think coming. They are "must" buys.

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