When the original DuckTales took flight in 1987, the year I graduated high school, I had mixed feelings about it.
It was thrilled to see a new generation of young adventurers eagerly following along with the Duck Clan. I was also a bit resentful of this group of newfound duck fans, including a tidy cult following among my fellow college freshmen, that never even read anything by the man who created Scrooge McDuck, Carl Barks.
I grew up on a steady literary diet of Bark’s Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and Walt Disney Comics and Stories. They were read to me as a young child, then I picked them back up as an older child learning to read the adventures on my own, and once again as a teenager admiring the clever details, background and little “extras.” Every time I read these seemingly simple stories, I noticed something new. I still do. There was always another little gadget in Scrooge’s mansion or Gyro Gearloose’s place.
There were prophetic little glimpses into the future seen in the inhabitants of Duckburg. I saw objects that could have been predecessors to Segways or those “autonomous flying taxis” being planned in Dubai.
There was even a more prominent look at the future of private space flights in stories such as The Loony Lunar Gold Rush. This story was written in 1964, five years before the actual moon landing, and decades before Virgin Galacitic and the XPrize craze. He also wrote about “space races” in Rocket Race the Moon and Island in The Sky.
From “The Duck Man,” or “The Good Artist,” as many readers liked to call Barks, I learned mythology, American folklore, and world history. I gained love of geography, world cultures (real and imagined), and for robotics and engineering. On top of everything, I loved his storytelling that adults can look through on their own, or read to their kids.
With the new revamping of DuckTales coming out on Disney XD this summer with the talented David Tennant voicing Scrooge, as well as a new Capcom bundle announced featuring a retro The Disney Afternoon Collection available April 18, there is more than enough time to get your ducks in a row by sharing a classic Carl Barks story with your own kids.
Those who already love and read Barks know he has a library of more than 700 Disney titles, most involving Donald, Scrooge and company. This means everyone has their own favorites. Here are just ten of my personal picks, in no particular order, ideal for sharing with young readers:
The Phantom of Notre Duck (1965). This is the Scrooge story I’ve read the most times. Scrooge goes to Notre Duck Cathedral to hunt down the “phantom” thief who stole his vault-opening fife. The Cathedral’s details (based on Norte Dame), and the running “My Bonnie…” jokes make this one memorable, not to mention a fun reveal near the end.
The Many Faces of Magica de Spell (1964). Barks based this recurring villain partly on Morticia Addams, and she popped up often in his stories on her quest to steal Scrooge’s “Old Number One” dime. This story where she invents a face-changing potion sets the tone for taking mistaken identity to the next level. There’s also the appearance of one of Barks many imagined cultures, a group “faceless” beings.
Singapore Joe (1946). This Donald Duck adventure introduces readers, and Donald’s nephews, to “a guy named Joe from Singapore,” a parrot who invades Donald’s home and causes no end of trouble. One of the many examples that makes you wonder how some of the Duck world’s birds have evolved with nearly human traits, while others are still pretty much avian.
Christmas on Bear Mountain (1947). In Uncle Scrooge’s first comic book appearance, he is full-on bad guy. He is introduced as a Christmas hating loner who decides to test his nephews’ bravery by donning a bear costume. His plan backfires, but his character will return again to comics, with a little more cuddly personality.
The Menehune Mystery (1953). The idea of a Hawaiian adventure featuring the island pixie like inhabitants, menehunes, was inspired by Barks’s wife, who grew up in Hawaii. When I read this one as a girl, my grandmother had bought me a book on menehunes from Hawaii, and I loved discovering the Barks tale. The final image alone makes this one worth reading aloud to kids.
The Golden Fleecing (1955). Scrooge’s quest for a coat made of gold was my first introduction to the legend of Jason and the Argo. It’s a great fantasy story, complete with a dragon, travels to mythical places, larkies…and parsnips.
Go Slowly, Sands of Time (1984). This panel story by Barks was released with collected volume called Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times. I remember seeing it at Disneyland as a teenager for a triple-digit price, but finally got to read it years later when a paperback version was released. It stands out not so much for the enjoyable prose story, but for the beautiful Barks painted illustrations.
The Golden Helmet (1952). This Donald Duck adventure is quintessential Barks. Not only does Donald, a bored museum guard, get swept up in a quest to find the king-making golden helmet, it is filled with little Barks extras. The opening pages alone in this story have plenty of sight gags.
Seven Cities of Cibola (1954). This treasure hunt to seek out the legendary golden cities (ducks really love golden things) is noted as being as inspiration for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg‘s opening scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I often read about the “mysterious” cities being hidden in the desert in the Southwest, and this story made me want to venture into nearby desert areas to dig for treasure.
Wispy Willie (1953). This is a fun and eerie little adventure where Scrooge asks Gyro Gearloose to make him a swamp gas “Will-O-The-Wisp” monster to scare Donald and his nephews out of their home. Since the Huey, Dewey and Louie end up helping Gyro create this monster, Scrooge’s plan doesn’t exactly pan out. This isn’t the most exciting of his stories, but it is a good Halloween season tale. There’s also something very peaceful and playful about Barks’s illustrations of Willie.