Carl Barks Christmas Comicsby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
One of the things I enjoy doing in December is pulling out my Christmas themed comic books to read just as I did when I was a kid. Somehow reading them over the holidays makes the stories more enjoyable, just like listening to Christmas carols on the radio.
Some of the best Christmas comic books were published by DELL Comics ("DELL comics are good comics" was their motto) from the 1940s through the 1960s and the very best featured Disney characters.
At one time, I remember when things like Disney Beanie Babies, Disneyland buttons, limited edition animation cels, and anything by Carl Barks were all considered very hot Disney collectibles. Today, that mania has been replaced by things like pin collecting and Vinylmation. It is a nice reminder to only collect Disney things that you enjoy and not for future investment.
Barks seems to be as forgotten these days as the fabled Nine Old Men animators but, like them, the work he produced is still amazing.
Carl Barks (1901-2000) spent much of his life writing and drawing comic book stories of Donald Duck and his family for Western Publishing. From 1942 to 1994, he produced approximately 693 stories while, like most Disney comic book artists, working in anonymity. He created characters including Uncle Scrooge, The Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose and The Junior Woodchucks, among others.
During his career, he wrote and drew over two dozen Duck stories that were themed to Christmas. He didn't much care for doing Christmas stories because he didn't feel they generated good story ideas and he often had to include syrupy sentimentalism, but his bosses kept wanting him to do them, especially for holiday-themed comic book issues released during the season that were often purchased as stocking stuffer gifts for children.
Astute fans can detect an edge to many of Barks' holiday tales with the characters sometimes doing the right things at Christmas for the wrong reasons. His stories vacillated between saying that Santa Claus brought the presents and that the adults bought the presents for the kids. Some of the short stories merely allude to Christmas, like the ducks enjoying a holiday dinner in a panel or two, rather than use it as the main theme.
Barks did full length Christmas stories running over 20 pages, short stories that ran between eight to 10 pages, one page gags (like using golf balls as Christmas tree ornaments or having Daisy Duck maneuver Donald under some mistletoe) and covers.
His first Duck Christmas story was the eight-page Donald Duck's Best Christmas (1945) for a Firestone Christmas Giveaway. From 1943 to 1949, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company issued seven free Disney promotional comics that were given away to entice parents to come in to their stores over the holiday season in order to obtain one for their children. Starting in 1945, the issues featured an eight-page Mickey Mouse story and an eight-page Donald Duck story.
The issues were so popular that Dell released in 1949 its first giant newsstand comic book (132 pages long) titled Walt Disney's Christmas Parade that sold for a quarter, rather than a dime, and featured Christmas-themed stories of Disney characters. It appeared annually during the Christmas season for nine issues (plus one issue in 1957 that was titled Walt Disney's Christmas in Disneyland, but was similar) until 1958.
While there have been many, many collections of Barks' stories over the years, there has never been one volume that just reprinted all his Christmas stories.
Here is a listing of the most prominent tales that you may wish to track down and read during this festive time of the year. Remember that the Walt Disney's Comics & Stories (WDCS) stories did not have official titles, so I have given a descriptive one. Others sources give them different titles.
Donald Duck's Best Christmas (1945) Firestone Giveaway. 8 pages. Donald and his nephews rent a horse-drawn sleigh to visit Grandma Duck at Christmas, but run into delays including a storm, a destitute family, a belligerent road hog and more that force them to return home where Grandma is waiting for them with a home cooked meal and presents.
Silent Night (1945) Originally intended as a 10-page story for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories No. 64, but rejected by the editors for a number of reasons, including escalating violence and possibly being sacrilegious with Donald singing an off-key version of the song Silent Night. Barks was never paid for it. Barks later redrew it in 1961 as Terrible Tourist with Donald serenading senoritas for WDCS No. 248. The original was eventually printed in 1981 in the book The Fine Art of Walt Disney's Donald Duck and since then has been reprinted in other collections. Filled with the Christmas spirit, Donald decides that his nephews are too interested in the commercial aspect and insists they go caroling. His singing of Silent Night irritates his neighbors because of his horrible voice. Neighbor Jones becomes more and more aggressive in his attempts to silence Donald and finally forces Donald with prodding from a cattle prod to sing for his friend half a mile across a canyon.
Santa's Stormy Visit (1946) Firestone Giveaway. 8 pages. Donald is in charge of a lighthouse that is pestered by an albatross trying to get warm. Donald has forgotten to buy Christmas presents for his three nephews and an approaching storm seems to doom any chance to rectify the situation after the albatross destroys the radio. Fortunately, a nearby cruise ship decides to step in and anonymously help out when they find the nephews' list attached to the albatross.
Three Good Little Ducks (1947) Firestone Giveaway. 8 pages. On Christmas Eve, fearing that their Uncle Donald won't have gotten them any Christmas presents because of their numerous pranks during the year, Huey, Dewey and Louie decide to use the last few hours to be really, really good but all of their efforts backfire.
Christmas on Bear Mountain (1947) Donald Duck One Shot No. 178. 20 pages. When Donald and the nephews get invited to Uncle Scrooge's mountain cabin for Christmas Eve, they don't realize that Scrooge is just testing to see how brave Donald really is with Scrooge disguising himself as a bear. A real bear and her cub invade the house and when Scrooge sees how his relatives deal with the bruins he decides they are fearless and brings them to his city mansion for Christmas dinner. Scrooge, whom Barks named after the Dickens' character, was supposed to be a one-shot character for this story only but Barks revised him into a younger, nicer miser and used him frequently in other stories.
Donald in Toyland (1948) Firestone Giveaway. 8 pages. Donald and his nephews are invited by Santa to come to the North Pole and test his toys so that Santa can determine what toys children really want for Christmas. Santa discovers that they love everything. This story was originally written by someone else and Barks was paid an additional $20 to rewrite it.
The Golden Christmas Tree (1948) Donald Duck One Shot No. 203. 20 pages. Barks' editors sent him what he called a "preachy" story about Donald defeating a wicked witch who threatens to destroy all the Christmas trees in the world in an effort to extinguish the Christmas spirit. Barks turned the script into a satire of Christmas commercialism and the editors insisted he redo the last two pages so the witch is turned into a can of gasoline and knocked over a cliff instead of being killed permanently. Barks said, "That isn't my ending at all. They objected to the implication that Donald got rid of the witch forever." The editors also changed Barks' dialog on the last page.
Winter Time Wager (1948) Walt Disney's Comics and Stories No. 88. 10 pages. Donald bets his house that he can bathe in Frozenbear Lake on Christmas Day but can't bring himself to do it and Daisy reminds Gladstone that he bet that he could drink two gallons of lemonade in one hour or return the house to Donald. Donald keeps his house.
The New Toys (1949) Firestone Giveaway. 8 pages. Donald refuses to buy new toys for the nephews for Christmas since they have plenty of toys already that are in great shape. Huey, Dewey and Louie decide to earn extra money using their tricycle, scooter and wagon to buy their own new toys but in the process wreck them. Not knowing that this is the case, Donald still buys them new versions which they give to three children who did not get any gifts. Donald and the nephews use Donald's new tools to repair the wrecked toys.
Letter to Santa (1949) Christmas Parade No. 1 . 24 pages. Donald has forgotten to mail his nephews' letter to Santa and now must buy the present himself which turns out to be a steam shovel. Actually, the nephews just want a toy steam shovel but since they and Donald had just observed some full-sized ones in operation, Donald thinks they want a real one so goes to Scrooge to get the money. However, Scrooge gets upset that Santa will get the credit so buys a full-sized steam shovel for the boys himself and battles Donald's steam shovel.
You Can't Guess (1950) Christmas Parade No. 2. 25 pages. Huey, Dewey and Louie decide that they have everything they really want so send a letter to Santa telling him to give their share of presents to less fortunate children. Then they realize that they really want a toy building set but the letter is already on its way to the North Pole. They decide to ask Donald to get them the set but he tells them they have to guess what he wants for Christmas in order for them to get what they want. No matter how many things they guess, Donald still says "No". Daisy Duck tries to help but employing a mentalist. Scrooge uses a hypnotist and even Gladstone gets involved. Donald wants a new car and ends up getting several. Each nephew ends up getting multiple toy building sets.
A Christmas for Shacktown (1952) Donald Duck One Shot No. 367. 32 pages. Huey, Dewey and Louie are distraught after seeing the unhappy children in the urban slum known as Shacktown. Daisy Duck concocts a plan to raise money to buy turkey dinners and a toy train for the destitute children, but still needs $50 more. Donald tries to persuade his Uncle Scrooge to contribute, but the old man rages against a silly, useless toy train. Scrooge will donate $25 if Donald raises the other $25. Scrooge is outside on a bench pretending to be a beggar and Donald drops a dime in his hat. When a delighted Scrooge drops it in his money bin, the weight of the accumulated wealth is so great that the floor gives way into an almost bottomless pit. The scientists believe the fortune is impossible to recover because any additional weight will send it all into oblivion but the nephews find a small badger hole that leads to the underground stash. They can run the "silly, useless toy train" into the hole and retrieve the money slowly. A grateful Scrooge realizing it is just in small increments decides to give the boys the first carload of money which surprisingly turns out to be a $100,000. The nephews use the money for a big Christmas celebration for Shacktown while Scrooge seems to wait endlessly for the toy train to return his fortune one small carload at a time.
Senor Petrolio de Vaselino (1953) WDCS No. 148. 10 pages. After Donald pays his Christmas bills, he has no money left for a turkey for dinner so tries to trick Scrooge into paying for a meal by disguising himself as a South American oil tycoon named Senor Petrolio de Vaselino.
The Hammy Camel (1954) WDCS No. 160. 10 pages. The nephews get Donald a camel named Abdul from a circus that has gone out of business as a Christmas present. At the end the camel becomes a star of a television series. Gare Barks, Carl's wife, came up with her one gag for a Donald Duck story. Donald is worried that the camel must cost a lot of money. Gare's gag is the nephews happily explaining, "Only FIFTY CENTS! If we'd had $2, we could have bought an ELEPHANT!"
Submarine Christmas Eve (1954) WDCS No. 172. 10 pages. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge forces Donald and the nephews to go with him on a trip in his submarine to find a strong box full of Scrooge's gold in the sunken wreck of the steamship Cuspidoria so they will miss Christmas. Scrooge stifles the nephews' complaints with "Christmas! Bah! It's Christmas on the ocean too!"
The Christmas Bath Battle (1956) WDCS No. 184. 10 pages. The nephews vow on Christmas Eve to never take another bath, especially since Donald has already bought their presents. They run away from the tub that Donald has prepared and hide. Donald tries to track them down but finally rigs a piñata in their snow fort filled with cod liver oil. When they burst it open they are forced to take a sweet smelling bath before Grandma arrives for turkey dinner.
The Black Pearls (1957) Christmas in Disneyland No. 1. 18 pages. The story was meant to tie in with the Adventureland section of the Disneyland theme park. Scrooge takes Donald and the nephews to a distant South Seas island to get the black pearls of Tabu Yama at Christmas. Tabu Yama means "Keep away from mountain". The nephews use palm branches to become a Christmas tree and white ash from the volcano provides a white Christmas. Scrooge has brought along the Christmas presents.
The Code of Duckburg (1958) WDCS No. 208. 10 pages. The nephews love sliding down the snow-covered hills in their sled but not dragging it back uphill until Gladstone gives them Roscoe the reindeer that he has won to help do the chore. They decide to sneak the animal into the house and give it to Donald as a Christmas present.
Christmas in Duckburg (1958) Christmas Parade No. 9. 20 pages. Donald allows the nephews to pick their own Christmas present and they want a Ferris wheel. Scrooge has promised the residents of Duckburg a huge Christmas tree. Scrooge will pay for the wheel if Donald goes to Canada to pick up a hundred foot Christmas tree. However, Scrooge's rival has other plans.
Weemite/Rocket Roasted Christmas Turkey (1959) WDCS #220. 10 pages. On Christmas Day, Donald accidentally invents Weemite, a powerful explosive, that the military decides to test in a rocket with Donald as the pilot because they don't want to risk any soldiers. Donald's Christmas turkey gets stuck on the front point of the ship and gets cooked in space before his return to Earth.
The Christmas Cha-Cha (1959) Christmas Parade No. 26. 16 pages. Donald brushes up on his dancing so he can take Daisy to a cha-cha contest while also trying to earn extra money by selling Christmas cards. Barks said in an interview, "[This] was not my story. I did the drawings and did a great deal of rewriting and polishing on the dialogue of the script, which was sent to me by the office." Barks caricatured himself on a wanted poster in one panel ("WANTED for being BAD!").
Donald and the Christmas Carol (1960) Little Golden Book. Written by Annie North Bedford (the pseudonym of LGB editor Jane Werner) with artwork by Barks that is painted by Norm McGary. 24 pages. Huey is spelled "Hughie" throughout the book. As Donald and the nephews prepare for Christmas, Scrooge has no time for any of that nonsense so they disguise themselves as Santa Claus and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to change the old miser's ways. Barks only did this and the 28-page Top Tales book Uncle Scrooge and the Lemonade King (1960) as a change of pace and maybe to find a new outlet for his work, but discovered that his penciling had to be too precise for the color artist, so he didn't do another one.
Christmas Cheers (1963) WDCS Nio. 268. 10 pages. The city of Duckburg needs Quack Street paved and Scrooge offers the money if they buy the rock from his quarry. Donald Duck wants a dump truck and Scrooge buys him one to help haul a giant gold nugget for him. However, in a collision, the loads gets mixed up and the gold nugget is sent to the rock crusher and the street is paved with gold and the hoboes and tax payers start digging it up as their Christmas present.
Double Masquerade (1964) WDCS No. 280. 10 pages. Donald dresses up as Scrooge to avoid his surfing club while Scrooge dresses up as Donald to avoid a Christmas donation to the Junior Chickadees group.
The Thrifty Spendthrift (1964) Uncle Scrooge No. 47. 20 pages. Donald has bought a special projector which forces people to give presents, so he immediately goes to hypnotize Scrooge but unwittingly shows Scrooge a slide of a dog and Scrooge ends up giving a dog presents based on the traditional Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas.