Friday, November 29, 2013

Special Barks Creation

When I was a kid, I think my very favorite Carl Barks creation was Gyro Gearloose. Gyro had appeared as a supporting character who was soon starring in backup stories in various Disney Duck comics. It was hard to have a favorite Carl Barks character with competition like Donald, the nephews, and Uncle Scrooge. But somehow Gyro Gearloose was able to rise above the others, at least in my estimation. I guess, for me, it was because Gyro was an inventor and as a kid I was endlessly fascinated by science. Even when it was comic book science being studied by a childlike inventor with an enormous genius for fabrication.

I have the first appearance of Gyro in an issue of WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES (#140) which is supposed to be rare, but which has to be one of the single most common Golden Age comics of which I know. Study Ebay or the stocks of any decent comic dealer at the next convention you attend and you will likely find many copies of that book. I assume that the feedback must have been positive, because Barks returned to Gearloose again and again, finally culminating in his own tryout books in Dell's FOUR COLOR title. Alas, sales must not have been quite good enough, because after a few issues (at least three in that tryout format), he was not awarded his own continuing free-standing title.

He was also never used in the cartoons of that era. I've heard it said that this was likely because the Disney animators instead went with Ludwig Von Drake to stand in as the miraculous inventor within the Disney cartoon universe. There just wasn't room for two such characters in the Disney toons.

One thing that I got a kick from when I was a kid was Gyro's assistant, "Helper". This was a little metal robot about the size of a human hand (or a cartoon duck's hand). He moved about almost as a little stick-figure person, the gimmick being that his head was an a-ha moment light bulb. Barks was no dummy when it came to being uniquely clever. Gyro would often get himself into trouble with his inventions, and just as often his little helper would find a way to get him out of a jam. A faithful friend. Every kid likes the idea of a faithful friend.

Four Color #1047.
Four Color #1095.

Four Color #1267.
My copy of the supposedly rare (but not actually rare at all) WALT DISNEY'S COMICS & STORIES #140, featuring the first appearance of Gyro Gearloose, Duckburg's greatest inventor.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We're going to go eat dinner, now.

Two of my favorite bird species. The wild turkey, and its close relative, the Turkey vulture.

Wild turkeys in the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Turkey vulture in Stone Mountain State Park in NC.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Trails!

Various photos from some of my hiking and backpacking trips. Just the trails, thanks. If I can recall where I took each one, I'll list it. (Let's see how well the old memory works.)

The Big Butt Trail, Black Mountains.

Trail in Big Ivy, Pisgah National Forest, Black Mountains.

Birkhead Mountains Wilderness.

Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia.

Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Panthertown Valley, North Carolina.

Mount Rogers area, Virginia.

Kubrabow State Forest, West Virginia.

Appalachian Trail, Round Bald, Tennessee.

Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone National Park.

Mount Washburn, Yellowstone National Park.

Blue Lakes Trail, Mount Sneffels Wilderness, Colorado.

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado.

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado.

Switchbacks leading up to the Continental Divide, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Great Carl Barks!

One of my favorite comic book creators was Carl Barks. He was an animator at Disney. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Disney comic books were selling enormous numbers. Enough so that Walt needed someone reliable to put in charge of the Duck comics and to keep things on an even keel. This was house important the comic books were to the man who owned the company. So he searched his company talent and settled on one of his best storyboard artists to write and illustrate most of the Duck stories for Dell Comics. That man was Carl Barks.

Even when I was a very young young as eight...I wondered if the same men who drew the comics were the same men who were also writing the comics. Without ever knowing for sure, I decided that my favorite Duck artist was also writing the stories. This was because of a single panel. At the end of the story there was a panel with a tiny pair of silhouettes off in the distance. The story had involved an elephant and way, way, way back, almost out of sight, you could see this tiny silhouette of Uncle Scrooge leading the huge pachyderm away, the elephant's trunk hooked in Uncle Scrooge's cane.

That did it for me. I knew that only the man who could draw a delightful detail like that could have written the story. It wasn't until some years later that I learned that my favorite Duck artist was named Carl Barks, and that he indeed did write and illustrate the stories. And, of course, it later became obvious to me that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were also writing the stories (even if that credit was stolen from them).

I still collect Carl Barks comics. Later in life, when he had retired from comics, he had been given permission by the Disney company to sell paintings of the Duck characters. He was doing quite well at this for a while until an unscrupulous businessman made posters of one of his paintings and sold them illegally. Disney got wind of it and withdrew their permission for Barks to do his paintings. Carl Barks created a tremendous number of characters for the Duck books that he wrote and illustrated. Uncle Scrooge. Gyro Gearloose. Gladstone Gander. Flintheart McGlomgold. The Beagle Boys. And so on. It had to be rough for him not to be able to render these paintings, especially when he had created them.

Below, some of my Disney comic books featuring art and stories by Carl Barks.

Donald Duck #26.

This was one of my favorite Donald Duck adventures when I was a kid. Donald and dinosaurs!

The deservedly famous "square egg" story.

Four Color #456, actually Uncle Scrooge #2.

Great Barks comics with great Barks covers!

Sunday, November 24, 2013


A brief excerpt from an as yet unpublished novel:

“What the fuck is going on? I thought I told you guys to bring the ATVs around.” Vance was angry, but beneath that there was a rising unease. Something was going terribly wrong and he hoped that his suspicions would not be confirmed.
Tankersley, the mechanics and electronics troubleshooter he’d brought along was working at one of the vehicles with socket wrenches and screwdrivers. He had removed the cowling on the moter, his hands covered in oil; the man smelled of gasoline. The short, stocky mechanic was leaning over that engine, peering intently at the partially exposed assembly. Rubbing his fingers together, he then opened his hand and seemed to offer it, palm up, to his employer.
“Metal filings,” he said. “Somebody put some high quality filings in the gas tank—shit—probably even in the oil reservoir.”
Vance swept a hand through his wild mane of hair. “What’s that mean? Can’t you clean it out? We need to get these vehicles started.” The camp was as cold as the forest around them, and from time to time every man looked up into the trees each time they heard a limb snap or a trunk creak beneath the weight of tons of ice.
“Short answer: no,” Tankersly admitted. “This shit is all in the engine. It’s in the fuel lines. It’s really, really hard stuff. Went through the whole engine and pretty much totally fucked it up. I’d need parts we don’t have. We’ll have to hike out or have one of your choppers bring us the parts we need.” He huffed steam into the air. “Fuck. Just have them bring us a couple of engines. It’s that bad.”
“We need these ATVs,” Holcomb insisted. “I need you to get these damned things running. We’ve got people out there.” He pointed into the frozen, creaking iced forest that loomed around them and threatened to fall over and bury them all.
“Look, Mr. Holcomb. This ain’t some Star Trek show and I’m not Montgomery Scott. I cannot fix these engines.” He held up his fingers again and wriggled them at Vance. “This metal is super-hard steel. It went through the engine a few times and ruined the whole damned thing. If gas or oil passed through it, it’s ruined. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Holcomb put his hands on his hips and stood there, eyes closed, in thought, feeling the stress. “Fuck it, then,” he said. Tankersly and the others within hearing were surprised. They were not accustomed to hearing the man curse like that. “We’ll have to go out on foot. Those folk are out there somewhere and if we don’t find them...well...I don’t want to think about it.”
Well, you have some drama for your goddamned movie, Tankersly thought. But he kept those thoughts to himself. He didn’t know what kind of video was being shot, especially since Holcomb’s cameraman was among the missing. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what else to tell you. Just use your satellite phone and get in touch with someone. Even if the helicopters can’t make it in here in this weather, someone can carry in what we need to get these four-wheelers up and running.”
Holcomb decided to keep to himself the other bit of news. The satellite phones were gone, too. He’d found one of them, in the conference tent, but it had been stomped to pieces, the battery pulled out and taken. His worst fear was that they had a saboteur within the camp, but he couldn’t be certain of that and he didn’t want to start the paranoid panic such an accusation would bring. Worst case, his crew would be fighting among themselves within minutes of that news. Dropping his chin to his chest, he sighed.
“Okay,” he conceded. “We’ll have to send out a couple of search parties. We’ll just do it all on foot. Heck. Maybe it’ll turn out to be more efficient this way.”
He walked back to the conference tent, noticing that the intensity of the sleet had lessened, but that there seemed to be more rain misting down. As he went into the tent he glanced at the thermometer they’d affixed to the door. It was still four degrees below freezing. He could only hope that the temperature would start rising soon. If not, the woods were going to start tumbling down all around them, and then movement would be a relentless slog over and under and through downed trees, limbs, and brush. Holcomb had experienced that kind of travel in the past, and it was hard work.
He saw that Friday was sitting at the map table. His assistant looked up at him as he entered the tent. It was cold in there—only a couple of degrees warmer than it was outside. The place was just too big for a little body heat to have any influence. “Where are the ATVs?” he asked.
“They’ve been wrecked,” Holcomb told him.
“Wrecked? What are you talking about?” The other man stood, his knuckles holding down the topo map he’d been examining.
“Somebody poured metal filings in the engine. Probably in the gas and in the oil.”
“Why would somebody do that?” There was genuine confusion on Friday’s face.
Holcomb shrugged, but actually he figured he knew exactly what was going on, so he voiced that opinion. “I think someone—several people, likely—have come in here to monkey wrench the operation.”
Friday thought about it for a moment. “You think Smoak did it?”
There was that shrug again. “I doubt it.” He considered the possibility. “It’s not impossible. He’s a devious crazy guy. But I don’t think so.”
“Then who would do that?” Friday looked at the map and pressed down the curling edges of the green map with its shaded contours.
“Well...this area has some really committed green monkey wrenchers. What the politicians like to refer to as our domestic terrorist threat.” Holcomb chuckled. “I don’t think they normally qualify as terrorists, but they do know how to move in a screw up anything they see as an industrial operation. Mining. Timber. Even real estate development.”
Sitting back down, Friday relaxed and slumped back in his chair. His hands found the map again and he pushed down the corners which were attempting to curl up into the moist air. “But why would they screw with us? We’re not here to do anything like that.”
Holcomb smiled and laughed lightly again. “Yeah, I know that and you know that. But they don’t. Think about it—we must look pretty damned suspicious to anyone who thinks it’s there job to safeguard the wild places. We’ve been out here raising Hell, making noise, driving gas engine ATVs all over the place. To them, it looks like we’re here to fuck the place up.”
“Well...we were fucking the place up. Not in the way they think, but we’ve made quite the nuisances of ourselves. Especially Smoak’s crew. I even heard those dog packs of his a few times myself. And he’s what...five or six miles northwest of us?”
Vance nodded. “Yeah. About that distance.”
“So you think someone just crept into the camp and did a number on us in the night?”
“Basically, yes. Unless they have someone here with us. That’s possible, I guess. We have about two dozen men working here. I don’t know them. You don’t know them all, either. Any one of them could be a member of a monkey wrenching gang.”
“Any suspicions?” Friday asked. His mind was running through the names and faces of the men with whom he’d been introduced.
“No.” Holcomb’s gaze suddenly became intense. “And I don’t want you getting paranoid trying to figure it out. It’s just as likely as to have been an outside saboteur. I’d almost bet on it, the more that I think about it.”
“Then how did they get in here and find us?”
Vance finally walked to the table and sat down opposite Friday. His fingers found one of the topo maps and he drew it to him, looking down at the emblems representing hills and canyons, waterfalls and rivers. Blue lines for creeks and thick brown marks to indicate steep slopes. “I was thinking about that,” he said. “We put in for leases up here, you know. Paid out good money for mineral and timber rights.” Holcomb sighed. “My bet is that someone who had something to do with issuing those leases basically ratted us out to the wrong bunch.
Friday sat forward, inclining toward his employer, his head down, chin tucked. “Then they’d know about Smoak, too.”
“Of course.”
“If that’s the case, then he’s probably in the same shape we’re in.” His eyebrows arched. “If Smoak’s camp is as fucked as ours, then we can surmise that he’s as much a victim as we are.”
“I’d bet good money that’s the case,” Holcomb said. “But the only way to find out now is to hike over there and take a look.” He spread his arms. “And in this weather, I don’t know how easy that will be. But I’ll send some guys over in that direction.”
“Think that’s safe?”
Outside, a slight breeze blew, and that was followed by the snapping of a dozen limbs on as many trees and the forest was suddenly alive with the roar of tumbling wood and shattering ice.
“No, I don’t think it’s especially safe,” Holcomb acknowledged. “But what I do know is that we have a commitment to find those lost people. And if we can talk to Smoak’s bunch and take a look around we’ll have a better idea of whom to blame.”
Standing, Friday reached up and punched the roof of the tent to remove the obvious accumulation of ice there. It slithered across the nylon as it slid off and hit the ground with a slight cracking noise. “Well, then. Let’s get to it.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Charlton Sustains Ditko

I used to refer to Ditko's work in the 1970s and 1980s as his later period. Of course he has continued to work without interruption ever since, so I need to stop thinking of that period in his career in those terms. When Charlton Comics ceased publication, it had to be a tremendous blow to Ditko. He had worked for them since he had become a professional comic artist until they closed their doors. Their page rate was notoriously low, but Ditko could always be assured of steady work at Charlton. He did a lot of covers for them, and since they must have paid more for covers than interior art, Ditko could generate some income by doing those in quick order. You can see that the creativity and dynamism of his art was not affected by the corners he was obviously cutting when compared to his earlier work. But the fine detail was missing. A smart move for a draftsman seeking to finish a job and get on with the next task.
The books he did for Charlton during this period have been relatively easy for me to locate and purchase at reasonable prices in even higher grade. But I suspect that situation will change in the future, so I continue to buy the issues I need whenever I encounter them.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Camping, Perhaps.

I'm thinking of going camping this weekend. I have it narrowed down to two spots, both beside waterfalls.

I've been thinking for a long time of camping at this spot which is above...
...this waterfall.
From below the plunge pool looking back toward the waterfall and the campsite (hidden in the trees).
Or this very inviting campsite beside a rushing mountain creek which is just below...
...this waterfall.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Simple Kirby/Ditko Contrast.

My two favorite comic book artists of the Silver Age emerged from Marvel Comics. The creations and the stories that flowed from these men amazed me as a kid. Their work was like magic.

But they were very different. Kirby was all about inspiration, and Ditko was introspection. Kirby was power and solidity. Ditko was strangely frantic.

No more for today...for now I am extremely tired. Too tired to even muse further on the works of two of my childhood idols. I always had the impression that Kirby's work inspired and pushed Ditko to new heights. And that Ditko's work pushed Kirby to go places he might otherwise have never considered.

Ditko's style had been evolving for some time, and he was breaking out and pushing boundaries. His hero was front and center, always.

The thrust of Kirby's work seemed to be about gravity, drama, danger.
Ditko showed action. It was as if you were not seeing a snapshot, but witnessing animation and had merely opened your eyes in the middle of a melee.
Kirby's symbolism was simpler than Ditko's. A sledgehammer as opposed to a scalpel.
There had not been comic art quite like this since Jack Cole had taken his leave of the industry (and this mortal coil).
Kirby, too was always pushing boundaries of the form and experimenting with the medium in which he'd found such a powerful place.
There was always something frenetic even in the most weighted of Ditko's graphics.
Tension and drama without even the slightest hint of action.
Perspectives comic fans had never (or rarely) seen from a creator.
Power and brilliance combined. A frozen moment.
Ditko's crowning philosophical statement, artwork that has no equal in superhero comics.
Kirby drama, again. His stab at dissecting a familiar (and poisonous) philosophy.