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Walt Disney's Donald Duck: "A Christmas For Shacktown" (Vol. 0) (The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library) Hardcover – November 22, 2012
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About the Author
Carl Barks (1901-2000) spent most of his life in Oregon. In 1987, he was one of the three inaugural inductees in the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame (along with Eisner and Jack Kirby). He's also a Disney Legend.
Gary Groth is the co-founder of The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics Books. He lives in Seattle.
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Top Customer Reviews
If there were any weak spots in the magnificent first published volume in this series (Walt Disney's Donald Duck: "Lost in the Andes" (The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library)), then it was surely the two included Christmas-stories, which were somewhat below the high water mark set by Barks in his 'golden' period. However, Barks DID produce a fair amount of memorable Christmas-stories - it possibly helped that Barks view of Christmas was a actually little bit cynical - Barks' seasonal stories tended to be well-balanced and not too saccharine.
In this volume we get the title story "A Christmas for Shacktown" which may very well be the best Christmas story Barks ever made. It's just wonderful, from his use of Dickensian kids in Duckburg's poor quarter, to the haunting big black hole in the ground that swallows all Scrooge's money.... This story is a real seasonal classic!
This volume features the stories published immediately prior to the stories in Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man" (Vol. 1) (The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library). If you're mainly in it for the Scrooge-character, then you still need this book - even though it mainly focuses on Donald and the Nephews, it still features some all time classic Scrooge moments, including the first appearance of his famous Money Bin.
The later long Uncle Scrooge adventure stories are famous, and I can understand why. Back in the 1950s and 1960s the globetrotting adventures of Scrooge must have been truly mindblowing for kids who hadn't yet access to Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies on DVD. However, the truth of it is that Barks did start to burn out on those stories pretty quickly - they forced him into types of too-similar storylines that were in danger of becoming somewhat stale. Some of Barks' very best adventure stories were actually done prior to Uncle Scrooge becoming a lead character.
In this volume we get the mighty "The Golden Helmet" (featuring Donald and the nephews), which is simply a perfect adventure tale. I live in Denmark, where Barks' stories have been read (and loved) by kids for generations, unlike in the US, where Marvel's and DC's superheroes kind of pushed them out on the sideline in the 70s and 80s. "The Golden Helmet" has been highly honored in Denmark in a slightly bizarre way. A few years ago the (somewhat right-wing) Minister of Culture decided to strengthen Danish Culture against 'globalization' by assembling a 'canon' of the greatest works of art that had been produced in Denmark. To do this, he assembled a panel of leading artists and intellectuals. To cut a long story short: The final list featured a 'children's culture'-section with one somewhat controversial inclusion: "The Golden Helmet" by Carl Barks. This was the only work by a foreign artist featured on the entire list. The expert panel had apparently felt that this masterpiece had been a part of Danish culture for several generations to such a degree that it almost FELT like it was a Danish work of art.... or something. It all possibly simply goes to show that even leading intellectuals can sometimes be guilty of fuzzy thinking - or maybe they were simply rebelling a little bit against the minister's idea of a National Canon of Art. But they sure seemed to like the works of Carl Barks!
The book also features the first appearances of inventor Gyro Gearloose. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Gyro would get his own magazine, and Barks would draw short Gyro solo-stories that were sometimes scripted by other writers. The two stories in this volume featuring Gyro Gearloose are among the darkest Barks ten-page stories. One of them, "The Terrible Secret" is about grown-ups having dark shameful secrets from the past. It ends with a hilarious punchline, but the story nevertheless did manage to unsettle me a bit when I was a kid. At this point in his career Barks wasn't doing watered down kids entertainment, he was doing stuff that was as edgy as any later Simpsons episode from the best seasons of that show.
(Simpsons creator Matt Groening is known to be a big Barks nut, and arguable many aspects of the Simpsons show is a direct continuation of the storytelling in Barks' ten-page stories, with Springfield replacing Duckburg and Mr. Burns as a darker version of Uncle Scrooge, and Homer's relationship with his Christian neighbor Flanders sometimes mimicking the Donald/Gladstone rivalry.)
(re: "Watered down kids entertainment". Barks would always retain SOME of his edge, but he WAS forced to skip some of the darker stuff in later years, after the comic book scare in the mid-50s, when the "Comic Book Code" was introduced and the industry was forced into self-censorship.)
(and I'm not saying that this book isn't suitable for kids - it's GREAT for kids! I'm just saying that some stories MIGHT possibly haunt them a little bit the way good art is MEANT to haunt you....think Disney's "Bambi", or most Pixar-movies, or other kids' entertainments with somewhat dark undercurrents)
Anyway, enough (happy) rambling from me. This is as good as comics gets! Buy this book! :-)
Bark's gave the characters a unique voice that as the saying goes, was often imitated never duplicated. The essays and other features discussing Barks are fascinating as well, like in the last two volumes Walt Disney's Donald Duck: "Lost in the Andes" (The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library) and Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man" (Vol. 1) (The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library) and the reproduction is top notch. It's wonderful that a new generation can now experience these classics and be entertained and amazed. It's amazing how much detail and effort was put into this, both, by Barks when these were written and drawn, and by Fantagraphics when the collection was put together.
Barks produced a number of other good Christmas stories during his career, but "Shacktown" gets the "golden candy cane" as the best. Contrary to R. Fiore's claim in the Story Notes section, however, I don't believe that it is an entirely typical reflection of Barks' rather jaundiced view of the Christmas holiday. The previous "Letter to Santa" and "You Can't Guess!" were focused on gift-giving, rivalries, fights between pieces of heavy machinery, and other strictly non-sentimental aspects of Christmas. "Shacktown," by contrast, smacks us right between the eyes in that very first splash panel with its scene of a guilt-ridden HD&L walking through a Shacktown filled with sad-eyed waifs, and all the comical twists and turns that the story takes thereafter take place in the sad shadow of those dilapidated houses. You might argue that Barks tries to make the Shacktown waifs too winsome and thereby slips in some cynicism through the back door, but I'm willing to take his overall sincerity at face value. How can I not, when the agnostic cartoonist provides us with one of the more amazing images of his career as a "throwaway" side-panel: a thin vertical panel displaying a solitary star and a Magi-like figure on a camel. SHOCK! HORROR! WHY WASN'T THIS CENSORED?! HAS THE ACLU BEEN NOTIFIED?!
Scrooge does "balance" the sentimentality of "Shacktown" just a bit by presenting an Uncle Scrooge who harkens back to the bad old days of "The Magic Hourglass," in general attitude, at least. But true to the essentially heartwarming nature of the story, Scrooge gets his comeuppance for being so reluctant to help with the Shacktown party, and in the most dramatic manner imaginable. As in the conclusion of "The Big Bin on Killmotor Hill," the story that introduces Scrooge's Money Bin, we are left to wonder just how Scrooge's affairs will ever again "be as they were." As if to make up for hanging Scrooge out to dry in these stories, "Spending Money" and "Statuesque Spendthrifts" present, in turn, a McDuck empire that literally controls the entire economy and a Scrooge who merely has to dip into his "petty cash" fund to brush aside a would-be challenger to his title of World's Richest Man. Thank God for the development of tunneling machinery that doesn't jiggle... I guess.
If "Shacktown" is among Barks' best-loved tales, then "The Golden Helmet" and "The Gilded Man" are two of his most technically perfect ones. The Inducks Disney comics site rankings currently list "Helmet" as #2 among all Disney comic-book stories, and I'm certainly not going to argue the general point, but I would argue that the ending of "The Gilded Man" is handled about as deftly as the ending of any comic-book story ever done, in any genre. The manner in which Barks twines together his two main plot threads seems simple enough in retrospect, but, if you're reading the story for the first time -- or even if you haven't read it for a while and have forgotten some of the details -- you'll be amazed at how completely the denouement takes you by surprise.
My "sleeper story" in this collection is the ten-pager "Rocket Wing Saves the Day" from WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #139. It's wonderfully drawn, and it's refreshing to read a story in which Donald and HD&L connive against one another but neither has to end up paying a real price (as compared to, say, those "New Year's Resolutions" stories in which having to do the dishes for a month is made to seem like getting sent to the Black Hole of Calcutta). It's also amusing, in a slightly creepy sort of way, to watch HD&L put so much effort into training a non-anthropomorphized bird. There are some plot holes in the story that bother me -- isn't it convenient that HD&L start playing choo-choo just when the whistle-loving Rocket Wing is flying by? How can Dewey (or Huey, if you go by cap color in the subsequent panel) possibly SEE that tiny dropped note on top of the fish cannery building? And what kind of guardian sends his charges out to cut seed potatoes, of all things, in order to get them out of his hair? -- but this is one of those Barks stories that has just always "worked" for me. In truth, virtually all of the stories in this collection "work" for virtually everyone, which is why this volume is #3 on Fantagraphics' BARKS LIBRARY release schedule.
By the way I never liked that goody two shoes Mickey. Donald, on the other hand, highly recommended!