« We never knew his name; we only knew him as “the good artist”. But his style spoke for him. He was instantly recognizable despite his anonymity — at once different from the other funny animal artists and better. » — Dwight R. Decker
The great Duck Man, Carl Barks, despite having little interest in the holiday, drew over two dozen Christmas-themed stories featuring Donald and his relatives (and wrote the bulk of them). Now, so very much has been written and said about Barks that I won’t bother to add much here. I’ll just let his work speak for itself and breathe. I opted for a lesser-known ten-pager, not coincidentally one of my favourites. “The Code of Duckburg” originally saw print in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories no. 208 (Jan. 1958, Dell), but I’m using a more contemporary issue boasting better printing and a commendably tasteful colouring job, from Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge no. 317 (Jan. 1999, Gladstone). It must be said that the folks at Gladstone did right by the ducks — it was more of a labour of love than a strictly commercial venture.
And as a bonus (there has to be a bonus!), here’s a look at a Barks model sheet. « The Barks sense of whimsy extended even to the model sheets he drew for other artists to follow. » I made it a larger image so that all the small details remain discernible. Happy Holidays, everyone!
« To prevent enabling oppression, we demand that black people be twice as good. To prevent verifying stereotypes, we pledge to never eat a slice a watermelon in front of white people.* » — Ta-Nehisi Coates
On a scorching day last week, we were at home digging into a particularly tasty watermelon.
As neither of us grew up in the U.S. of A., the simple act of eating juicy pastèque has not been tainted, as it has for many, by racism and stereotypes. We’ve been allowed to appreciate the watermelon for itself, as a healthy, refreshing, tasty treat. A lightbulb came on as I recalled a relevant sequence in one of Spain Rodriguez‘s ‘Fred Toote’ stories, set in the 1950’s Buffalo of his youth — and so here it is:
And that’s not all: a few days later, a friend’s news feed presented me with a most insightful, eye-opening *and* heartbreaking tweet:
Pickaninny. A black child. Thus, from a book that was being sold in 1987 in order to raise money for the state of California’s observance of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. ” If the pickaninnies ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates” (Fred Albert Shannon, essay on slavery, 1934, in The Making of America, W. Clean Skousen, ed., 1985).
Pickaninny arose among slaves in the West Indies, where it was recorded as early as 1653. The original users based the term either on the Portuguese pequenino, little child, or its Spanish equivalent. They employed the term affectionately, of course, and, on the evidence of Captain Frederick Marryat, who was a sensitive recorder of language, applied it to little children generally, regardless of color, e.g. “And den, Mass Easy, you marry wife – hab pickaninny — lib like gentleman” (Mr. Midshipman Easy, 1836).
But no white person can get away with this today. The essential informality of the word makes it seem too condescending, too offensive, to most modern sensibilities. The California Bicentennial Commission, in fact, halted the sale of The Making of America, and issued a formal apology for having authorized it in the first place, after this use of pickaninny was called to their attention (along with other matters, the text also concluding that “slave owners were the worst victims of the system [of slavery].”
« Morticoccus is overpoweringly large and sinister! In this new world he can live — only if he destroys all other life around him — kingdoms and empires would crumble to dust at his deadly touch! Morticoccus waits in his prison — he waits to get out — and breed!! »
I apologize, but according to co-admin RG (whose sense of humour is apparently more morbid than mine) this is Contagion Week on Who’s Out There? Well, I suppose tentacled microbes and germs are as good a topic as any right now…
Our first foray into germs is This Beachhead Earth, scripted by Roy Thomas, penciled by Neal Adams and inked by Tom Palmer, published in The Avengers no. 93 (November 1971). The Vision collapses, the Avengers send Ant-Man into his body to figure out what’s amiss. I made an earnest attempt at following the plot, but the bad dialogue made my head hurt. Did you know that the scream of an ant « is like the wailing of a forsaken child »? The story includes gems like « frankly, my dear, I don’t give an hydroelectric dam» and « therein lies the only true superiority of the educated man — that he analyzes — dissects — probes — reconstructs ». Oh, the glorious mix of bad puns and pompous lines!
You can read this « paltry prologue to the most portentous Avengers saga of all! », the work of a fellow who’s just a little too fond of calembours and his thesaurus, here.
Continuing on a grand scale – this time, it’s the grandest scale there is! – we pay a visit to the aforementioned Morticoccus (sinister a’plenty, you shall surely agree), arguably the most fatal disease known to mankind, or at least the deadliest to spring from Jack Kirby‘s fertile mind (ouch) . As for me, I really like the giant, lethal bats.
Our third medical study is a little case of fungoid infection that even boasts a name. M’Nagalah had a rather complicated birth. Created by British horror writer Ramsey Campbell for his cycle of H.P. Lovecraft pastiches (to be more precise, the creature first appeared in the short story The Inhabitant in the Lake in 1964), it was soon adopted by DC Comics, after doubtlessly being bowled over by its puppy eyes while visiting a no-kill shelter of the Great Old Ones. It was first borrowed for Swamp Thing no. 8 (1974) and afterwards used as per the Russian idiom “a plug for every barrel“. Just look at this mess.
Challengers of the Unknown no. 82(August-September 1977), scripted by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, starts off with a just mild (if disgusting) contamination…
That fast progresses to the old “unspeakable, indescribable horror” (yawn).
Swamp Thing gets dragged in, and professor Mark Haley blooms prettily in the beginning of Challengers of the Unknown no. 82 (October-November 1977), also scripted by Gerry Conway, but this time pencilled by Keith Giffen and inked by John Celardo…
It is soon explained that this is actually some Elder God trying, as usual, to take over the planet, blah blah blah.
Wishing everyone health and bon courage in these trying times, especially to our poor American friends who seem to be caught in the middle of the virus vortex… And a last strip to end on a more positive note:
« Sepulveda Von Lovely looks much better in a handlebar, if I do say so myself! » — ‘Bumps’ (2004)
Since the 1980s, when it came to carrying the torch of Good Duck Man supreme Carl Barks, there have been three clear contenders, namely Daan Jippes, Don Rosa and William Van Horn. All three are outstanding talents, and honestly, no single being can take the place of Barks. In the end, Van Horn is my pick, because he’s the most complete package*, possessing his own lively, economical style in both writing and drawing (and that includes his expressive lettering, a perennially underrated art form). His work is just a pure joy to read, while Jippes is arguably too close to the model and Rosa’s stories sometimes feel like continuity-saddled homework. Van Horn is a natural.
On the occasion of Mr. Van Horn’s eightieth birthday (he was born on February 15, 1939, and is thankfully still with us), here’s a modest Van Horn comics sampler, opening with his first comics series after decades of work in animation and children’s books, Nervous Rex, and continuing into his work for Danish Disney comics packager Egmont**.
A most joyous 80th anniversary to you, Mr. Van Horn! Fittingly, I leave the last word to our humble birthday boy: « Let’s create our own classics if we can… but heaven help us if we think we’re doing that. We should follow Barks’ lead and regard these stories as something to pay the rent and buy the pot roast. »
**speaking of Egmont, this sobering note from Van Horn, from a brief interview conducted by John Iatrou in 2010: « Disney comic books in North America have been virtually a dead issue (no pun intended) for over a decade, possibly two. Sales here hover around 4000 copies a month! This on a continent of over 350 million people! Egmont has never tried to publish here. They thought about it years ago and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. » So there you have it. Van Horn and Don Rosa have been producing their ducks for the European market, to be then reprinted, with piddling print runs, in North America. Nul n’est prophète en son pays… On the other hand, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, most European Disney comics are utter garbage, and have been for decades. If you like endless arrays of Donald as a superhero, Donald as Michael Jackson or Indiana Jones, Rappin’ Donald… you’ll be in hog heaven. “Opera Mundi crap“, we used to call it.