Sunday, August 30, 2009
Barks Bleg: Michael Barrier Needs Your Help
Comics historian Michael Barrier has been digging into classic Donald Duck books, the ones by Carl Barks. He finds that Barks has endowed Donald with qualities that Barrier doesn’t find in other comics of that era:
A lot of comic books in Barks’s heyday, “funny animals” especially, maintained only the loosest connections from one story to another. But there was in Barks’s stories something that was missing from almost all the superficially similar others: a powerful core of emotional continuity. Barks’s Donald always remains a plausible individual—and a vivid literary creation—through all the radical changes in his circumstances and even his personal traits. His mutations made him more real, not less, because they made him more like us: we also remain fundamentally the same despite what may be tremendous changes in our surroundings and our habits.
I’ve been trying to think of comparable characters outside comic books, and I’m coming up dry. Sherlock Holmes? Samuel Pickwick? Tarzan? Any one of a host of private eyes? The authors of the stories with those characters took for granted the need for the kind of consistency that Barks never bothered with, and their characters were almost always shallower than Barks’s Donald Duck.
Has any literary critic ever written about such a character, or the possibility of such a character?
The only thing that comes to my mind is the Trickster figure, where the locus classicus in Paul Radin’s The Trickster, which compiles the tales and presents commentary by Radin himself and by Karl Kerényi and Carl Jung. This, however, may be too generic for Barrier’s purposes; lots of comic characters are tricksters. Anyone have any suggestions?
The only two that come to mind right off are Doctor Who and God. (And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the *sole* instance of that sentence on the entire Internet.)
That Barrier post is great; thanks for linking to it.
As to your question: Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius isn’t exactly what you and Barrier are talking about, but it seems to me he’s somewhere in the same whirlpool.
I wonder about Robert Montgomery Bird’s Sheppard Lee, whom Poe criticized for almost the very virtues Barrier finds in Donald.