The return of DuckTales (a wooo-oooo!) has brought about renewed interest in the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, his n’er-do-well nephew Donald and the world’s most famous Junior Woodchucks Huey, Dewey, and Louie. It may still be in its first season, but the new series has already received high praise, with critics citing as a major positive the reverence it has towards legendary comics writer and artist Carl Barks.
For those not familiar with his work, Barks is a Disney legend who originally joined the studio in 1935 as an inbetweener – an artist who creates the frames in between the key frames of an animated film to ensure a movement is fluid. He eventually came to contribute gags for Donald Duck shorts and this led him to the career that he’d make his name in: crafting Duck stories for a range of Disney comics and creating what’s arguably his defining legacy, Scrooge McDuck.
The new DuckTales has already crammed a season’s worth of Barks references into its title sequence alone, but there’s much more to the Duck-verse than just Carl Barks. Here, we run down some of the greatest Duck comic stories from Barks and beyond to whet your appetite for more of those tales of derring-do.
The Donald Duck newspaper strip (Al Taliaferro and Bob Karp)
One of Donald’s earliest forays into the comic book page was a daily newspaper strip, which began in 1938. Illustrated by Al Taliaferro and written by Bob Karp, the series introduced some major Duckverse players, including Grandma Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie and, some argue, Donald’s girlfriend Daisy (a Daisy-esque ‘Donna Duck’ appeared in the 1937 short Don Donald; Daisy proper wouldn’t make her bow until 1940’s Mr. Duck Steps Out).
As you’d expect from older stories, the strips are simple and at times out of step with modern values, but no less charming because of that. IDW started releasing them in collected hardback form in 2015, and with Taliaferro continuing until his death in 1969 and Karp sticking around until 1974, there’s plenty of fun to catch up with.
Lost In The Andes (Carl Barks)
One of the defining Duck stories, this 1949 tale was written and illustrated by Carl Barks and finds Scrooge, Donald and the nephews venturing to South America in the hunt for chickens that lay square eggs. Lost In The Andes is a perfect example of Barks’ tone, with comical futility underpinning the nonsensical fun, beautiful landscapes and silly wordplay (the story is set in the land of Plain Awful). Barks would go on to claim it as his best work, and many agree, including one of his most famous fans, future Duck artist Don Rosa, who’d reference the square eggs in his stories, The Son Of The Sun and Return To Plain Awful (both of which are also recommended).
But the influence of Lost In The Andes stretches further. There may not be any ducks or oddly-shaped eggs, but watch any modern adventure film and you’re likely to see the influence of this story at play. It’s a masterpiece and probably the best place to start for a Barks newbie.
The Seven Cities Of Cibola (Carl Barks)
If you’ve ever marvelled at the creativity of Raiders Of The Lost Ark’s beloved opening sequence, you have Carl Barks and this famous story to thank. Published in 1954, The Seven Cities Of Cibola finds Scrooge and the gang exploring the eponymous location in search of its famed riches. The Beagle Boys, of course, follow them, and it’s they who suffer the same fate as Indy, stealing a priceless idol (made of emerald this time, rather than gold) and then being chased by a giant boulder that was put in motion by the idol’s theft.
The use of this moment in Raiders was likely driven by George Lucas, who’s a long-time fan of Barks and has written the foreword to one of Fantagraphics’ hardcover collections of his Duck stories. “To me, Uncle Scrooge… is a perfect indicator of the American psyche”, he’s said, capturing one of the reasons for Scrooge’s enduring appeal. “There’s so much that is precisely the essence of America about him that it’s staggering.”
The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck (Don Rosa)
One of the great masterpieces of American comics, Don Rosa’s twelve-part epic tells the story of Scrooge’s life from beginning to end. The work was a labor of love for life-long Barks fan Rosa, who painstakingly analysed every Barks story, noting every factoid, piece of trivia and moment of historical significance to craft a rich, full and above all accurate timeline.
Scrooge meets Teddy Roosevelt, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, and Buffalo Bill during his adventures and Rosa takes the story up to 1947, shortly after the events of Barks’s brilliant first Scrooge story, Christmas On Bear Mountain. In that story, Scrooge is a blackhearted scoundrel who sets Donald and the nephews up for a fall. By contextualizing it (and all of Barks’s work) in a larger narrative, however, Rosa adds a melancholy that gives Barks’s signature character even more weight.
Mickey’s Craziest Adventures (Lewis Trondheim and Nicolas Keramidas)
Released by IDW at the end of 2016, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures is a fun (and incredibly persuasive) gimmick: a modern story dressed up as a lost adventure from the 1960s. Featuring Mickey and Donald as they undertake a wild journey in which they encounter dinosaurs, giant insects and mermen, the story is written and drawn in a larger-than-life 1960s style and even has missing and tattered pages to help sell the idea that it’s been lost in some moth-bitten attic for the last few decades.
It’s an unusual and intentionally experimental read that may not sit comfortably with hardcore fans of Mickey and Donald, who are drawn off-model and act out-of-character throughout. For everyone else though, it’s a wonderful adventure that makes you wish it really was a missing series you could discover more of.
Darkwing Duck: Definitively Dangerous Edition (Aaron Sparrow, Tad Stones, James Silvani and Sabrina Alberghetti)
The new DuckTales series will apparently bring the Duck universe’s main superhero Darkwing Duck into the fold, but those in the know have already been hooked by new Darkwing stories in comic form. Written by Aaron Sparrow and Tad Stones and illustrated by James Silvani and Sabrina Alberghetti, this huge collection compiles Boom! Studio’s revamped Darkwing books, which ran between 2010 and 2011. The series is playful, satirical, sometimes surprisingly dark and always immensely enjoyable.
Bringing together some of the biggest villains from the show and making a few little nods to DuckTales along the way, the Definitely Dangerous Edition is a must for fans of the Ducks and good comic books alike. Joe Books (who published this edition and are currently putting out a number of great Disney comics) continued the story between 2016 and 2017, but positive reviews from fans and critics couldn’t shift enough copies. Hopefully a DuckTales return will be enough to permanently revitalize interest in one of comics’ very finest avengers.
A Matter Of Some Gravity (Don Rosa)
If you’re a newcomer to the Duckverse, this 2010 comic is a great place to start. Not only is it written by Don Rosa, but it was released for Free Comic Book Day, so you can pick it up from Comixology at a price that even Scrooge would approve of. Best of all, it’s a great story that features Donald, Uncle Scrooge, and Scrooge’s most fiendish nemesis, the wonderfully evil Magica de Spell. Of course, with Magica’s powers in play, things go haywire (in this case, gravity gets screwed up) and Rosa has a huge amount of fun playing with the limitations of the comic book frame. A nomination for Best Short Story at the Eisner Awards followed, and while it didn’t win, it remains one of the very finest modern Duck stories and therefore a perfect place to start your adventures.
The Duck Avenger (Various)
Darkwing isn’t the only superhero in the Duck universe: remarkably, Donald’s one too. Disney comics have a huge following in Europe, and in particular Italy. To keep ideas flowing, Italian publishers were looking to make a Superman-style hero out of Mickey Mouse, but writer Elisa Penna believed it’d be more interesting to make it Donald instead. And so, by blending Donald’s Italian name (Paperino) and legendary Italian comic hero Diabolik, Paperinik was born.
Though the character has only intermittently made his way to American shores (he can be seen in some of the current comics being reprinted by IDW), he’s huge in Italy, acting in all the ways Donald normally doesn’t: heroic, selfless, moral. Don’t worry though. While he may have become a big-time hero, the original character was rather less pure. He went into superheroism only so Donald could avenge all the wrongs perpetrated upon him personally.
How many of these stories will be directly referenced in the new DuckTales?
That remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure. Without the wit and invention witnessed on the comic page, the show that millions of people around the world have come to love simply wouldn’t exist. We owe Barks, Rosa and all the other artists and writers who have contributed Duck stories a huge debt of gratitude.
This article comes from Den of Geek UK.