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“The Good Duck Artist”

Fantastic news today to kick off the new year, as Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth revealed in an interview that the company has obtained the rights to re-print the legendary works of artist Carl Barks, finally allowing fans stateside to acquire a definitive collection of his Donald Duck stories. The first volume in the series will be released this fall, with subsequent collections arriving twice a year.

Barks (1901-2000) entertained a generation of comic readers, despite the fact that his work at the time remained anonymous. After a rather remarkable early life that included stints as a farmer, lumberjack, cowboy and even editor of a girlie magazine, Barks came to Disney as an animation inbetweener in 1935. He eventually became a gag man, and picked up some work on the side illustrating a Donald Duck story for Dell comics before quitting the studio to become a chicken farmer.

He soon began crafting new Duck stories for Western Publishing, and over the years until his pseudo-retirement in 1966 he created a rich and elaborate mythos that earned him a reputation among fans as “the good Duck artist.” In that time he created characters like Scrooge McDuck, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell, and the entire universe we now think of as Duckburg. After fans began to suss out his identity in the 1960s, he began to reap the praise he had so long deserved. His tales influenced generations of storytellers, including fans George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and they found new fans through later reprints and their subsequent adaptations in the DuckTales television show of the 1980s.

The new Fantagraphics compilation will eventually present the Barks works chronologically, although the first volume to emerge this fall will cover the beginning of his “golden period” with Lost in the Andes from 1948. The second volume, to be released in Spring of 2012 and entitled Only a Poor Old Man, will span the introduction of Scrooge McDuck from 1952-54. Subsequent volumes will fill in the timeline of Barks’s career, and it is estimated that the final release will comprise thirty 240-page volumes. Each hardcover volume will feature around 200 pages of comics along with a wealth of supplemental material, and will retail for around $24.99. Aside from the rather unfortunate decision to present the art at only 90% of its original size, it’s a good deal.

Check out the original interview for more information about the releases and the importance of Barks in the pantheon of 20th century comic art, and for a hint of why it takes so long for us to get nice things when it comes to Disney.

Fair warning: be prepared for me to flog the heck out of these books when they start arriving this fall. I’ve been an obsessed fan of the Duck books since I was a wee bairn, and I’m often shocked just how many die-hard Disney fans are completely oblivious to this treasure trove of impeccable storytelling. Thankfully Barks is finally getting the respect he deserves in America (overseas, the Duck books continue to be a phenomenon), and I look forward to seeing people catch on.

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