Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books

Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books

Language: English

Pages: 432

ISBN: 0520283902

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Funnybooks is the story of the most popular American comic books of the 1940s and 1950s, those published under the Dell label. For a time, “Dell Comics Are Good Comics” was more than a slogan—it was a simple statement of fact. Many of the stories written and drawn by people like Carl Barks (Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge), John Stanley (Little Lulu), and Walt Kelly (Pogo) repay reading and rereading by educated adults even today, decades after they were published as disposable entertainment for children. Such triumphs were improbable, to say the least, because midcentury comics were so widely dismissed as trash by angry parents, indignant librarians, and even many of the people who published them. It was all but miraculous that a few great cartoonists were able to look past that nearly universal scorn and grasp the artistic potential of their medium. With clarity and enthusiasm, Barrier explains what made the best stories in the Dell comic books so special. He deftly turns a complex and detailed history into an expressive narrative sure to appeal to an audience beyond scholars and historians.

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artist-authors—I recall very few features on which a team of artist and author were employed—that came later.15 As Lebeck’s subsequent career showed, costumed heroes were not his forte, but he did not burden his freelancers with his misgivings. Oskar Lebeck was born in Mannheim, Germany, on August 30, 1903, and immigrated to the United States in March 1927. “Dad was pretty independent,” his daughter recalled, “and I remember [my mother and father] always laughing about it, [that] he left to get

just in a benign form through Superman and the superheroes that followed him, each of them sharing a larger or smaller piece of Superman’s perfection, but also in odious totalitarian ideologies that pursued perfection through mass murder. The longing for perfection is a deeply suspect longing, even when it comes cloaked in the innocent wish fulfillment that the superheroes have always offered. I have always strongly preferred comic books with characters of a different kind—funny characters most

three ten-page stories for Walt Disney’s Comics. He then surrendered that feature to another cartoonist for one issue while he wrote and drew the three stories in Four Color no. 29, a Donald Duck one-shot published in the summer of 1943, the first such one-shot since Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. As in “Pirate Gold,” comedy is notably lacking in that comic book’s lead story, “The Mummy’s Ring.” Barks said of it: I submitted a sort of script in advance there. I don’t remember how detailed a thing

the next story, in Walt Disney’s Comics no. 90, March 1948, the ducks are more like competitive siblings—they are rival telegraph messenger boys—than parent and children. In the May 1948 issue, no. 92, the wheel turns again, and this time Donald is not just a father but a Barrier - 9780520241183.indd 169 27/09/14 2:42 PM 170 | Chapter 14 martinet, ranting at the nephews and waving a switch when they ride hoes as “horses” instead of weeding his garden. But then Donald falls under the spell

professor’s argument. It seems that—as the professor himself puts it while pursuing the nephews across the countryside, switch in hand— “[b]lowing Professor Pulpheart Clabberhead skyhigh with an atomic bomb is strictly against the rules!” There is tremendous energy in Barks’s writing and drawing in his stories from the late 1940s and early 1950s, energy almost always under tight control but constantly molding the stories in large ways and small—in extreme characters like the furious old crone

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