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Thursday Treasures

May 17, 2012

Two weeks ago was Super Hero week on in honor of the release of The Avengers. The film was a huge hit at the box office, earning more than $200 million on its opening weekend. Of course, this wasn't the first time this story was told. That happened nearly 50 years ago in the form of comic books.

But even before Disney's purchase of Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion, Disney was no stranger to the world of comics. In fact, Disney collaborated with the now defunct Dell Comics as early as 1930. Disney did everything from adapt their latest shorts/animated films in comic form to creating original stories starring dozens of characters. Mickey Mouse of course had his share of adventures in comics. Even relatively obscure characters such as Jose Carioca and the Uncle Remus characters had their own weekly comic strips. But of all the Disney characters, the one with the biggest success in comics was easily Donald Duck.

Mickey might be Disney's mascot, but Donald has always been the more popular character. And it was in comics that he really got to shine. In these stories, Donald really expanded as a character and grew to be more than just the duck with the temper tantrum. Donald got to do seemingly everything, from common everyday activities such as selling stuff door to door to going on intrepid adventures across the globe.

These stories were created by Disney Legend Carl Barks (1901-2000). He was a Disney animator who worked on many of the early Donald Duck shorts, but due to constant problems with allergies at the Disney Studios due to their air conditioning, he had to find another job within the company creating comics, the first being Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold in 1942. He would go to create them on a weekly basis until the early 1970s, and would then crate them sparingly. His last one, Somewhere in Nowhere, was published in 2000. His work over the decades earned him the nickname, 'The Good Duck Artist.'

Barks was called 'The Good Duck Artist' because these stories didn't just focus around Donald Duck; he also focused on Huey, Dewey, and Louie, whom Barks had expanded their roles since first being introduced in the 1938 short, 'Donald's Nephews.' Instead of just being mischievous obstacles for Donald most of the time, they sort of became his sidekicks, being more clever and helpful than in the shorts.

In fact, Carl Barks actually created an entire universe of ducks, as can be demonstrated in this picture of the Duck Family Tree:

The most famous of all these ducks created specifically for these comics is easily Scrooge McDuck (aka Uncle $crooge), Donald's Uncle. In fact, Scrooge would go on to become so famous he would receive his own comic book series.

These stories were huge back in their day, appealing to many fans ranging from chemists Joseph B. Lambert, Dr. Peter P. Gaspar, and G.S. Hammond, to filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who would admit to having stolen the entire opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, particularly the infamous scene of Indiana Joes being chased y a giant boulder, from Carl Barks' work. Among these collectors were my Dad and Uncle, whom I inherited these comics from.

These stories are not only fantastic entertainment, but really fascinating from a historical perspective. There are a ton of ads that are distinctively 1950s, as well as bonus comics that center around Mickey Mouse and other characters.

Many of these stories would go on to serve as the inspiration from the hit animated series, DuckTales. While these comics are still being created today by multiple writers and drawers (Don Rosa being the most famous artist to continue these stories after Barks), they sadly have decreased in popularity in the United States, the country they originated from. They still have a huge following overseas though, particularly in European countries such as Denmark.


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