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Donald Duck revisited—“How does he stay so young”

The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library

Carl Barks

Fantagraphics, 2011 –

I WAS NEVER IN LOVE with Donald Duck, only loved those who loved Donald and the rest of the duck family. It is possible, however, I have been seen in public quacking like a maniac with no pants on, and might have momentarily quite unintentionally resembled the imbecile strip and film star.

“Donald gets so angry,” my favorite interlocutor would say, “kwak kwak,” nodding her head back and forth.

The most famous version of DONALD DUCK under the hand of Carl Barks looks like a moving cartoon, animating panel-to-panel in delight, anger, frustration, worry, triumph, satisfaction, and deviltry, making every moment an emotional rush.

Zap, there is Daisy at the door. What is she doing here? Being Daisy, she always lets you know quick enough with her own kwak kwak indignation and stern disapproval until Donald comes around to her point of view.

The Carl Barks collected edition of Donald Duck is a sharp way to keep the stories that originally appeared on newsprint, and in Dutch still arrive in the mail once week. In Europe, Donald is big, like a fresh movie star still taking bows. A definitive collection is a treat.

Picking out Volume 13 in the collected Barks library, “Trick or Treat,” gives eighteen stories long and short, a cover gallery, and little reviews by multiple admiring contributors at the end. The title story gets special attention, because the opening scene shown here with the story’s witch silhouetted by the moon zooming toward town on her broom over a crumbling cemetery was cut by the editor as too scary, so the original published version started differently and lost nine other pages that have been meticulously restored. The older version is reproduced in the back.

This kind of hacked-up work is sometimes called censorship and excoriated, but is really only the editor’s or publisher’s discretion as in so many other cases. Earlier in the century, W. Somerset Maugham tells stories how he shopped around a play or a novel for years before someone agreed to take it, if only some lines could be changed, which later appeared so harmless he could not find the offensive parts. The fuss is hard to imagine.

But it’s just editorship, not censorship, the same kind of editorial authority that also brings out the best in authors, where all that is earned is praise, yet almost never fame. In my mind, we could use some good editors about now.

In this case, though, I have to side with the artist’s original. When I started reading the story with the witch zooming across the moon, I was startled no ducks appeared on the whole first page. It was a dark dreamscape showing what Witch Hazel likes to do: fly around on her broom called Beelzebub and say “Boo” is all.

The pace caught me, and I noticed. This, I thought, is how I need to write sentences, with presence enough to rest on the point so you see me hovering on a broom chortling a boo and zooming around to scare you too, without explaining anything; and then rapidly onward to the motion of emotion of being Donald Duck.