Home Entertainment Books Color Quandaries #2: The Barks Affair

Color Quandaries #2: The Barks Affair

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Excitement ran high on various message boards when an Amazon listing was found for The Carl Barks Collection Set 1, to be published by Gemstone.

It’s here – a ten-volume hardback set collecting Carl Barks’ complete Disney comics cycle! Remastered in more exceptional quality and color than earlier editions, the great tales of Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, and Gyro Gearloose are accompanied by a vast selection of archival rarities and fascinating new editorials by lifetime Barks scholar Geoffrey Blum. This initial boxed set includes Barks’ very first 1940s adventures, including “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold,” “The Mummy’s Ring,” and “Pluto Saves the Ship!”


Priced at $150, this is not for the faint of heart, but it is still joyous news — the Barks canon comprises one of the greatest achievements of comics. It’s the American Tintin. While we’d prefer a kid and librarian friendly reprint series, they’ve tried that a few times, and it never seems to go over.

The trouble begins, however, with the coloring. Matthias Wivel goes on at length. Apparently this edition preserves coloring from the European Egmont edition of this deluxe reprint , and it’s not the best.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately thoroughly undermined by the colouring of the strips, which is not only amateurishly executed but fundamentally misconceived. In contrast to the earlier complete edition, Another Rainbow’s Carl Barks Library (‘CBL,’ 1983-90), the editors of the Egmont edition decided to publish the comics in colour. On paper, this is the right choice; wonderful as it is to experience Barks’ linework in black and white, the comics were drawn for publication in colour. Unfortunately the execution is close to disastrous.


Wivel posts comparisons to back up his contention. Unlike the more taste-oriented KILING JOKE example we just posted, this is something anyone should be able to see.

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Original:

Egmont:

If you are trying to learn what’s good coloring and what isn’t, this is a good start:

The colouring of 1954 version is richly saturated, flat colour, supplemented by subtle use of hand-separated gradients in the sky as well as white shimmer in the waterfall. Congenial to the back-to-nature theme of the story, it succeeds in conveying the primordial character of the forest the ducks move around in. The colouring in Egmont’s version, which I understand is amongst the best found in the volumes, is desaturated, almost bleached (a problem throughout the volumes), with mechanical gradients describing not only the surface of the rushing creek in the background, but entirely flattening the cliff behind Donald and the deer, working against Barks’ textural hatching, transforming promontory into polymer. Strange that colouring carried out at a time when these comics were seen as low-grade entertainment should be so superior to work carried out for a high-profile luxury edition of work by an man who is now (in Scandinavia) regarded as a major artist of the 20th century…


To which we’d only emphasize how the original coloring — probably done with the crude color separation process of the time — is far more appropriate for Barks characteristic feathery line. Compare the rounded, energetic splashes in the original waterfall to the static, vertical highlights in the new version. One enhances the art; the other almost actively goes against it.

But is all lost? The Toon Books blog pointed us to a post on the Disney forum by editor David Gerstein which calls a halt to some of the speculation:

As for our publishing schedule, and the use of Egmont’s material, color, etc., all decisions are still up in the air. Sorry not to have more information yet.


There’s a long, informative thread on the TCJ board discussing all this, and the great reverence in which Barks and his follower Don Rosa are held in Scandinavia. David Recine contributes an amusing anecdote:

I once called Don Rosa’s home (something I only do very sparingly) while I was in a room full of a Norwegian family who had recently moved to Wisconsin. They all watched me in silent amazement. I got his wife. She told me Don would LOVE to talk to some European fans, but that I should call back because he was out mowing the lawn. I explained the situation to the family. The youngest son— age 13 responded: “Don Rosa has to mow his own lawn?!!”


The thread also refers to a new Floyd Gottfredson set of his great Mickey Mouse comic strips and a new Rosa collection.

The deluxe hardcover Barks set is already available in several European editions. As Barks fanatics, The Beat owns some (only two, alas) of the ’80s B&W Another Rainbow reprint volumes, and a near-complete set of the attractive full color paperback ’90s reprints from Gladstone. Susan Daigle-Leach’s coloring in these was a bit on the loud side, and used a lot of the gradients that were the hallmark of the “Wow, this Photoshop thing is neat!” era but it is done with some love and care.

Us? We like Barks in color, simple clear color. If only we hadn’t thrown out all our old Walt Disney Comics Digests in a unique and uncharacteristic act of “de-clutterizing.” What were we thinking???

  1. Hmm… I found the original Barks example to be a bit dark.
    Regarding the new editions and technology, how much does the paper itself factor into the colouring process?
    How often has Barks been recoloured? How much of the Another Rainbow/Gladstone reprints were recoloured in the U.S.?

    Also, given that the costs of production have long ago been amortized, what keeps Gemstone from publishing smaller digest books, similar to the Tintin 3-in-1 volumes?

  2. I don’t know. I looked at the examples and they don’t look that bad. Yeah, it’s not as rich as the original colors, but does anyone remember that Scrooge reprint book from the mid-80s that was all airbrushed? This is way better than that.

    I think the Euro Duck fans are just incredible sticklers. This coloring won’t stop me from buying and enjoying these books, although I’ll prefer the later editions, I’m sure. But it’s not like this is downright or rather plain awful.

  3. I finally got the last of the Another Rainbow/Gladstone hardcovers earlier this year. I usually prefer color reprints, but Barks pages are so rich with detail that in this case I don’t miss it.

    BTW, Ed is right about the way some of the previous reprint colors have turned out. It’s a little early to condemn the new colors, I think. I’d rather see more pages before making a final judgement.

    I’m just glad the classic Barks are being collected again, along with the forthcoming Don Rosa hardcover.

  4. Hi Heidi — thanks for posting this; the more people who see it and judge for themselves, the better, I should think.

    As Ed says, I may be a stickler, but I really do think this colouring is deeply unsatisfying, especially given the quality colour restoration (Krazy & Ignatz, Terry and the Pirates, Little Nemo, Walt & Skeezix, Kirby’s 4th World) seen these days, not to mention great recolouring jobs such as Prince Valiant (another Danish production, BTW). Egmont’s effort is nowhere near this level of quality and does these comics a great disservice. Of course there’s the financial reality for Gemstone to contend with, but I sure hope they think long and hard about doing as much as they can to improve on the material they’re working with.

    Two minor details:

    * The “original” edition of “Vacation Time” I posted a half-page from, is the original Danish edition. I don’t think the colours are the same in the original American edition. I’m quite sure that colouring job was carried out in Copenhagen. My point is that I’m not necessarily in favour of restoring the original, first colouring — some of the old comics were rather haphazardly coloured — but rather finding something that enhances Barks’ work rather than limit it. The Danish colourists knew how to do this in 1954, but not in 2008, unfortunately.

    * The Barks Library in Color that you mention towards the end of the post was actually the template for Egmont’s edition. Susan Daigle-Leach was a consultant on it. Both editions are horribly coloured in my opinion.

    All best,

    Matthias

  5. I remember visiting Hemingway’s place in Key West and saw a framed Barks donald duck page. It was a page riffing on “the old man and the sea”, and it was in Portuguese or Spanish. I asked the guide about it, they didn’t know its significance.

  6. I prefer the original colors here, but as neither of these was colored under Barks’ supervision, I’m not sure it should matter to anyone. The new colors don’t look bad at all.

  7. Here in Brazil the same material got republished… and the new colors are just ugly… do not respect the original… I did not like it but bought the material anyway… the stories still as great as when I was a kid.

  8. Sorry but I think the computer colouring is fantastic, slick and far superior to the original hand-coloured comics!

  9. It’s like to have a classic vinil played in a modern jukebox…
    There’s people (like me) who likes the “artesanal” and there’s who preferes the hightech stuff… and yes, the brilhant work is most important than apresentation, but… dude, we’re talking about THE CLASSIC, if you know what I mean…

    Thanx!
    Hug ya’ll.

  10. I agree with Matthew Wivel. I have attempted to colour my own work using Photoshop and have always found the results to be unsatisfactory. I believe one of the reasons for this is the absolute flat ness of the colour. When you create a colour in Photoshop the colour is absolutely uniform. Alternatively if you mix a colour using paint, although it will look flat, if you zoom in you will see it is made up of thousands of inflections and mini gradients that create a much livelier block of colour. That’s my penny’s worth any way!

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