Please welcome our newest blogger here at Good Comics for Kids, J. Caleb Mozzocco. Caleb is so new that he doesn’t even have his avatar yet, but he couldn’t wait to get started, so here’s his first review.
Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown
By Carl Barks
It must be getting close to Christmas. How else does one explain a gift like this? Donald Duck: A Christmas For Shacktown, the latest offering from Fantagraphics’ Complete Carl Barks Library, features another 200 pages of master cartooning from “The Good Duck Artist” in a nicely produced bookshelf- or backpack-ready hardcover edition.
The title story sees Huey, Dewey, and Louie regretting taking a shortcut through Shacktown, “that awful place in the gully—where people live that are down on their luck,” as Daisy describes it.
Barks fills the backgrounds there with imagery that looks like Dorthea Lange Great Depression photos, only featuring his dog-people instead of human beings. The experience make the boys feel like “fat pigs” guilty of their good fortune, and soon Daisy and Donald are involved in trying to raise enough money to throw a Christmas party for the kids of Shacktown.
Having the world’s richest duck in the family tree should help, but since their Uncle Scrooge McDuck is also the world’s greatest miser, getting him to help out is no easy feat and, in a satisfyingly complicated bit of plotting, circumstance teaches Scrooge another lesson about giving before the final panel.
Much of the action in the 20 stories in this volume is set in Duckburg (which, I just learned from “The Gilded Man”, is apparently located in the state of Calisota), although there are a pair of the globe-trotting quest stories Barks is most famous for. In one, Donald and the nephews scour British Guiana for an ultra-rare stamp (which, it turns out, is in possession of the even-more-rare El Dorado), and in the other the four ducks seek a golden Viking helmet that grants whoever wears it ownership over all of North America.
The volume also includes the first appearance of Scrooge’s famous money bin and, in addition to the previously mentioned characters, appearances by Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose and The Beagle Boys.
As with Fantagraphics’ similar endeavors preserving and re-popularizing the Mickey Mouse comics of Floyd Gottfredson and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, the Barks books are great comics for kids and adult fans of the medium.
For the latter audience, the Carl Barks Library provides easy access to the huge body of work by one of American comics’ undisputed masters, complete with endnotes by critics and scholars.
For the former, there’s a brilliant mix of action adventure and humor, all in beautifully bright colors.
The dated nature of the material—all of these stories were originally published in 1951 and 1952—can sometimes mean there are some troubling depictions of other ethnicities and cultures. This volume isn’t so bad. The only native culture encountered is that of El Dorado, and while he is depicted as a bone-through-the-nose savage, he’s also a gigantic glowing golden man, a sort of living idol, and thus more of a fantasy than a retrogressive stereotype.
On that score, this one’s not bad at all, and certainly better than the first few Mickey Mouse volumes, or the previous volume of Donald Duck.
On all other scores, it is, of course, pretty much perfect.