05 January 2012

Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes

Introduction by Alan David Doane:

Oh, I wanted to review this one. But with a new job and intensive training all this week, and my wife needing rides in the middle of the night after working crazy overtime, believe me when I tell you it's a miracle I got these posted at all.

That said, I do want to chime in briefly and say I did read (devour, really) Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes from cover to cover, and the two things I have to note are that it is definitely one of the best-designed comics collections I have ever held in my hands, and also that Carl Barks is every bit the comics master you've always heard.

This series of book collecting his Ducks comics is pretty much the Barks project I have waited all my life for. As long as I've been reading comics (hint: Nixon had yet to resign the presidency when I started) I've been hearing about "the good Duck artist," and the samples I've read here and there always seemed to validate that claim. I can remember, however, not being terribly impressed by the oil painting recreations he did that were sold as prints in the 1980s. With a little more understanding of comics (and Disney) under my belt now, I am glad Barks was able to get some reward for his work in whatever way possible, as messy as his latter-day personal life may have become.

You'll learn about all of that and more in the text pieces that are included in this volume. More importantly, though, if like me you've never seen Barks's work presented the right way, you'll come away with delight for his seemingly effortless storytelling skills, and wonder that one hand could create so very many pages of absolutely flawless, brilliant comics. I thanks to everyone at Fantagraphics Books who helped bring this project to fruition, and I envy anyone who is about to read this book for the first time. Wonders await.

Roger Green:

If you've been to my Twitter link, you know that the logo is a duck version of me drawn by my friend, the late Raoul Vezina. Why did he dub me as a duck? Perhaps it was that I did a fairly bad imitation of an angry Donald Duck back in the 1980s, when we worked together.

There's something about the Disney ducks that is in my DNA. When they were made available, I bought several volumes of the Carl Barks Library between in 1983 and 1988; sad tale of why I don't have them now. Regardless, when I started buying comic books as an adult, I shunned the "kiddie" comics, yet was always drawn to Uncle Scrooge and his family. Truth was, I didn't know the name of the guy who wrote and drew the stories, only that I still liked them as an adult.

As Donald Ault wrote in the introduction to the Lost in the Andes collection, "Barks was perhaps the most widely read but least-known author in the world. Like other comic book artists at that 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.'"

The book mixes the 20- to 30-page adventures, filled with incredible detail, with the shorter (8-10 pages) stories and some one-page gag strips. As Ault and other editorial contributors noted, the long form allowed Barks's imagination to roam; the tales are practically NatGeo documentaries of places that never existed. If I'm slightly less entranced by the long pieces, it may be a function of the evolving characters of the major players, which changed to fit the story needs. Also, the 'Voodoo Hoodoo' story uses caricatures of black people that are slightly off-putting, though nowhere nearly as problematic as Barks's contemporaries' work. Still, 'The Golden Christmas Tree' is a sweet tale of love.

The short pieces, which Barks found to be more work to write, tended to be jokier. The casual reader might find them, and the single pagers, a bit more accessible. I found the extensive editorial content almost as enjoyable as the comics themselves.

This is a fine collection, enhanced by the blend of story types included.

Joseph Gualtieri:

Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes magically transported me back my earliest days as comics reader. Like many children of the 1980s, licensed comics provided my gateway into comic books -- GI Joe, Transformers, Batman (OK, not licensed, but the '60s cartoon was a regular part of my after-school TV watching when it aired at 5PM on a pre-Spanish channel 27), and Disney duck comics. I was lucky I picked up my first Disney comics when I did, at the tail end of the first period when Gladstone printed Disney comics, prior to the Disney briefly trying to run their own comic company. The results of Disney handling their comics in-house were unpleasant, to my memory, though I may have been past the target age group as well, I think not because I loved the Gladstone duck comics at the time despite a general aversion to Disney films and TV shows, aside from the then-running Duck Tales and a couple of films. Duck Tales, of course, was heavily influenced by Carl Barks, which I learned from Gladstone mixing reprints of Barks’s work in with newer material and their back matter made sure Barks and Don Rosa were two of the earliest comics creators’ names I knew.

I get away from the point I was headed towards. Reading these stories 20+ years after my initial exposure to many of them, I’m not as swept away by many of them as I once was. The issue isn’t Barks’s penciling, which is amazing, but rather the writing, and more specifically the plotting. Too often the stories really on just one thing after another happening, utter absurdities (the square chickens and bubbles of the titular story), and deus ex machina endings (OK, the last one is really just in “The Golden Christmas Tree”). A few of the stories do work, and quite well (“Race to the South Seas” and “The Sunken Yacht”), but they are in the minority for the collection. I suspect that a younger reader (such as ten year old me) would be more willing to just go with the stories, unfortunately, I would hesitate before handing this particular collection to our hypothetical youth, as several stories feature depictions of minorities that are very much of their time. The most problematic story in the collection in this regard is easily “Voodoo Hoodoo.” “Race to the South Seas” does have Donald assuming some Pacific Islanders are cannibals, but he’s also shown to be wrong. In contrast, “Voodoo Hoodoo” has characters drawn like Ebony White and an evil, Voodoo-practicing witch doctor. Now I am in no way condemning Fantagraphics for reprinting these stories; in fact, I think they deserve praise for doing so, and Disney for allowing them to be reprinted. By contrast, a few years ago DC scuttled a Monster Society of Evil collection, supposedly because of concerns about the racially sensitive material it would have contained (never mind that they had already reprinted said material over several Archive editions). It’s important that this material be preserved and presented as a part of comics history. Unfortunately, that does cut down the potential audience somewhat.

Scott Cederlund:

I think I missed a key developmental stage of my childhood where I should have learned to read funny animal comics. There’s a world of differences between Carl Bark’s brand of funny animal stories like those found in Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes and the books I was stuck reading: Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew (which I only stuck around for the first few “collectible” issue) and Cerebus. Captain Carrot was close enough to the superhero books that were my world at that point and Cerebus was pretentious enough for the art/English major I would become. Funny animals for the sake of funny animals is something that still eludes me.

I think what I really miss is more of an appreciation for the Carl Barks art. He’s the most well-known classic Disney artist but when I look at the stories in Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes, I see more of a generic house Disney style than anything else. I can’t pick out my Carl Barkses from my Don Rosas. It’s all Donald Duck and his nephews looking like I remember them from Disney’s old Sunday night movies. Somehow, Barks’s work in this book registers to me as stories but not necessarily as comics.

What I enjoy about Barks (and his spiritual descendant Don Rosa) is that he doesn’t tell stories about cartoonish ducks but he tells them about characters who happen to be cartoonish ducks. The stories themselves, from the adventurous and titular “Lost in the Andes” to the screwballish “Plenty of Pets” and even to the one page gag strips, are built around characters. Donald Duck is the loyal but easily flustered hero. He seems to be all about himself and how everything affects him but he’s always doing things for his nephews or his uncle out of a strong love that exists among these characters. Even as characters lose their tempers and get mad at each other, there’s never a sense of spite or selfishness around these characters. Donald Duck is like Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners. He’s quick to anger but there’s hardly a bigger heart around.

Around this unique family (a duck, his nephews and his uncle), Barks builds these fun adventures as Donald travels to South America in search of square eggs or travels the oceans looking for his marooned uncle. There’s a surprising amount of adventure if all you expect from your funny animals is laughs and gags. Barks fills the pages of the longer epic tales (20-30 pages equals the epics) with adventure and danger on almost every page. And he gives all of his characters an ingenuity to be able to get out of the danger. It’s a cartoonish world that has its own logic and rules of physics but Barks makes it all logical and it makes sense that this is how it would work in the world of Donald Duck. Of course there would be square eggs laid by square chickens. And if there are square chickens, it only follows that there would need to be square roosters.

Barks creates some fun, entertaining stories so I guess they’re right when they call him the “good” Duck artist. Barks’s actual art and storytelling becomes a bit invisible behind the stories and maybe that’s the way it should be. The power of the characters and the rush of the stories is what the art is communicating. With little other experience with other Disney comics, it’s hard to tell just how good this stuff is. If you had given me any one of the comics that’s reprinted in this book, I guess I would have just naturally assumed that this is how well put together all of the other Disney books were. It’s strange not to know what the bad stuff is like because it makes it that much harder to tell how extraordinary the good stuff is.

Buy Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes from Amazon.com.


  1. Oops, missed the deadline on this one! Oh well, perhaps I can send something in by Monday. I'll probably review this for Popdose, too.

  2. Ultimately, I think that the characters who are all but human, but drawn as ducks; that's the charm of these tales.