Disney's Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck are perhaps best known to American audiences via the 1980s "DuckTales" cartoon, but decades before their small-screen debut, the adventurous waterfowl were comic book stars. From the 1930s until the '70s, Disney's Ducks were mainly drawn and written by cartoonist Carl Barks, who created the iconic Uncle Scrooge early in his run. Don Rosa, who began working with Disney characters in the '80s, is, after Barks, the other cartoonist most associated with Donald and Co.
While the comics were printed in the United States, they found a far larger audience for reprints and republishing in Europe than in their home country. Fantagraphics Books is bringing the old duck comics back into print, with new coloring unlike anything the ducks had in their original release. The publisher is hoping to republish all of the Barks work in chronological order, as well as several volumes of Rosa's stories.
"Some people ask, why we don't just take the old comics and reprint them," publisher Michael Catron said. "The reason is, they were printed like crap... We try to give the material the best presentation we can." Original runs of the comics were printed on newsprint, colored inconsistently, and sometimes panels and pages were moved around to make room for advertisements. Catron emphasized that a straightforward reprint would not be something that modern audiences would truly want.
The content of the comics is familiar for anyone who saw "DuckTales" in the '80s. Donald, Uncle Scrooge, and their three nephews travel the world in search of treasure and adventure. Catron and Rosa showed off the story "Seven Cities of Gold," one of the better-known Uncle Scrooge tales about the ducks finding legendary treasure in South America. "This has been acknowledged by both Lucas and Spielberg as the inspiration for the opening to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,'" said Rosa, referencing a bit in which Scrooge encounters an idol on a pedestal and soon after a giant, round, rolling boulder.
Re-coloring those adventures has been demanding. "When these comics were first published there was no canonical color for basically anything," says Mike Bahehr, who is overseeing the coloring . "Maybe a little for Donald's outfit, but in story to story things will be in different colors." The disparate coloration for the various duck comics included even the now-iconic coloration of Huey, Dewey and Louie's hats, which are now colored in accord with modern canon. "Those are canonical with Disney... In some of the original Barks comics, some of the caps might be yellow... Those colors became canon for 'DuckTales' in the '80s."
"Barks never had any control in how his comics were colored," added Rosa.
Rosa emphasized that he was happy to see his work reprinted in his home country. "I just want to see a collection of my work in a language I can read," he said, "people across Europe and South America have hardback and softback collections of my work," but that has not been the case in the US for many, many years.
Rosa showed off one of his favorite pages of Uncle Scrooge, with the world's richest duck ridiculing coin collectors as he joyously swims in his money bin. Scrooge's dialogue reads: "They don't enjoy their coins... they put their coins in plastic sleeves and are even afraid to touch them for fear they'll be worth less than somebody else!" Rosa, smiling broadly, characterized the page as a none-too-subtle jab at comic book collectors.
On a few occasions, Rosa would fill out or complete Barks' comics that had remained unfinished or been cut for length. "Anytime [I could] do something from a Carl Barks comic, I jumped at it," he said. He singled out one 1950s story featuring the duck inventor Gyro Gearloose, which Barks had begun pencils on, but never completed. "My ending involved millions and millions of rats, and whenever I had rats in a scene, I had Mickey Mouse in there somewhere." Indeed, in the corner of one panel, surrounded by a horde of his co-rodents, Rosa had hidden Mickey's iconic profile.
Asked if Fantagraphics' reprints are in any way in conflict with IDW's current Duck books, Catron and Rosa assured the crowd that there was no conflict at all between the two publishers. "It's two very different licenses," said Rosa.