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Someone please explain to me why, in this golden age of reprints, when every 20th century cartoonist under the sun and their dog is getting the lavish, fancy-shmancy book collection treatment, do we still not have a decent, definitive collection of Carl Barks’ work?
It’s kind of frustrating and more than a bit confounding. Here is an artist who, if you believe all that’s been written about him (and there’s been quite a lot written about him over the years), was one of the finest and most influential storytellers to come out of the comics medium (despite, it should be noted, the fact that he was working on an already well-established licensed property). He is beloved the world over (that’s not hyperbole, he really is). He has had streets and asteroids named after him. Virtually every funny animal and all-ages comic (and beyond) that’s come down the pike since bears his mark. Certainly every Disney comic since then follows his basic blueprint. George Lucas and Steve Spielberg have cribbed from him. That whole DuckTales TV show was based on his stories.
One of his few contemporaries equal in stature, John Stanley, has been undergoing a renaissance of late thanks to handsome editions from Dark Horse and Drawn & Quarterly, but Barks remains, in my opinion, ill-used and ill-treated, at least in his home country, if not abroad.
It’s not as though attempts to collect his work haven’t been made before. The best known is probably the Carl Barks Library, published by the long-extinct Another Rainbow back in the 1980s. These enormous, slipcovered volumes collected Barks’ work in black and white. They were rather costly at the time and have become even more so now, assuming you can actually track down a volume or two off of eBay they’re scarcer than hen’s teeth.
Gladstone attempted a more affordable version of the Library in the ’90s, this time in color. These were slim, comic book sized arranged according to the various titles Barks worked on (Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, etc.). At the time I found the series to be somewhat flimsy in appearance — I wanted something that would sit sturdily and nicely on my bookshelf. Now I’m sorry I didn’t attempt to collect them at the time, as they’ve since become, again, rare and gone up in price (though not completely unaffordable).
Since then, the only way to experience Barks’ work is through reprint anthologies. Gemstone, Steve Geppi’s publishing company, made a final go of things in 2006 with two volumes of The Greatest Duck Tales Stories, which reprinted Barks tales that the TV directly adapted from, before they lost the Disney license altogether. They’re decent enough books — a good intial primer for newbies and kids — but I’m looking for something more authoritative and definitive, that makes good use of modern printing technologies.
Really, what I’m looking for is something along the lines of The Collected Works of Carl Barks, a lavish series from Scandinavian publisher Egmont that was published a few years back in Europe. It contained every single story Barks did, even those where he only served as writer or artist, along with tons of supplementary material Gemstone had plans to release an American version of the collection, but it never made it past the Amazon.com preorder stage, as Gemstone lost the Disney license soon after.
Egmont’s garish, overly-PhotoShoped coloring job has been widely criticized, but it still remains the shining city on a hill for North American Barks fans who would like to his work receive the treatment and respect it deserves. I don’t know why his work hasn’t been collected in such a fashion yet (I suspect there are legal reasons) but some publisher somewhere needs to get a new collection of Barks’ Duck stories out to he public and soon. He’s late enough to the party as it is.