Thursday, August 11, 2011

A History of DuckTales Comic Books, Part One: Gladstone

In light of the brouhaha surrounding BOOM! Studios' DuckTales #3, I think it'd be apropos to create a concise account of the history of U.S.-based comic book incarnations of the DuckTales franchise.

The animated television series DuckTales, which premiered in 1987, was based on Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comics.  Thus, the conceit of an explicit DuckTales comic is, to an extent, paradoxical ... it may even be that the term "meta" -- which, per my impression, people in genre circles at some point during the past year or two became overly fond of using -- is applicable here.

The first DuckTales comic book periodical was published by Gladstone, lasting for thirteen issues, from October 1988 to November 1990.  (Note: I'm citing cover dates.)  When the first issue hit the stands, DuckTales was still Disney's sole syndicated animated series -- it was still still a year before DuckTales was packaged with Rescue Rangers, and two years before the advent of the full-blown Disney Afternoon.  Thus, comics based on Disney Afternoon shows were unprecedent ... there was no Disney Afternoon yet. 

On top of that, Gladstone had no experience producing a comic based on a contemporary animated cartoon -- their specialty and forte was Duck and Mouse comics in Barks and Gottfredson traditions.  I'm not sure how it was decided that Gladstone would do a DuckTales comic; whether it was their own idea or if they were prodded by Disney, one can infer that, given the TV series' success and popularity at the time, using the "brand" for a comic would make sense, marketing-wise.

The thing was, DuckTales was, arguably, the animation equivalent of Uncle Scrooge comics.  And Gladstone already had Uncle Scrooge and Uncle Scrooge Adventures.  Wouldn't DuckTales be redundant, and stick out like a sore thumb?

From day one, the title relied on DuckTales stories produced by the Jamie Diaz Studios for regional Disney comic publishers around the world (...that is, if I understand how these things worked/work).  These stories were patterned after the TV series: unlike in Barksian Uncle Scrooge comics and as on the show, Donald was absent, an created-for-TV characters (Webby, Launchpad, etc.)  My reading has always been that the Jamie Diaz Studios was excessively Disney-trained-and-sanctioned, so the characters were as on-model can be.  The backgrounds, settings, and "props" were rendered as perfect as could be ... but the art was, nonetheless, rigid and uninspired.  The type of adventure trappings that during its first season the show had identified itself with were employed in these comics ... but the story construction was more or less hackneyed.

Nonetheless, that material is exactly what I would've expected Gladstone to use, at that point.  What was weird, though, was the incongruent use of Barks reprints as backup stories!  #4 even reprinted a Tony Strobl Grandma Duck gag -- Grandma being a character that never appeared on the show!

Still, Daan Jippes' covers for the first several issues make owning a copy of each worthwhile.  Here's #5:

However, with issue #7, the book took a different direction: with the exception of #9 (Jamie Diaz Studio again) and #12 (featuring the length French story "The City Under the Ice" -- which I hope to devote an in-depth post to, very soon), subsequent issues were each led by a story created by the duo of writer John Lustig and artist William Van Horn (another exception: #8's "The Bedeviled Dime" was a solo outing for Van Horn).  Since early 1988, Van Horn had been freelancing for Gladstone, finding his footing with short gags and the occassional ten-pager.  His stint on DuckTales with Lustig was his first "starring role".  Van Horn is know for his distinguished, "stretchy" visual style and "wacky" themes and humor.  So, one would think he would've been an odd match for DuckTales.  And, no, these stories weren't the "straight" adventures of the TV series, but they were well-constructed, original, and smart, displaying acute pacing and characterizations. 

Here's Van Horn's cover for the final issue, #13:

This issue was concurrent with the end of Gladstone's entire Disney line (until the next go-round, a few years later).  When their licensed expired, Disney set up shop themselves...

To be continued...


  1. It might be worthwhile to note that Uncle Scrooge Adventures was originally advertised as DuckTales. Gladstone was going to introduce Donald Duck Adventures and DuckTales concurrently. At the last moment, the title was changed to Uncle Scrooge Adventures because it was felt that the stories (which were Barksian and others in his footsteps) might confuse readers who expected the new DuckTales characters. Because of DT's links to Barks, Gladstone--I would venture to guess--always had something of an interest in it which led to the eventual launch of a separate DuckTales comic.

  2. Carl,

    I didn't realize that -- thanks for the illumination!

    My very first comic was Uncle Scrooge Adventures #5. I'm glad Gladstone hadn't gone ahead with calling that series DuckTales; I was only six years old, but the Uncle Scrooge designation informed me that I was stepping into something that'd been around quite a bit longer than my favorite TV show. I'm glad I was introduced to Duck comics in that context.

    And had it been DuckTales(!!!) #5 that was the venue for the first printing of "Last Sled to Dawson" ... well, I don't think Don Rosa would've cared for that!


  3. Ryan,

    Apropos of the switch of DUCKTALES to U$A, the original cover for U$A #1, originally scheduled to be DT #1, had the original DUCKTALES lettering, which was somewhat different from the "red and orange swoop" that we ultimately got.

    The original Gladstone ad for DT #1/U$A #1 was where I learned that DUCKTALES the TV series would be premiering in the fall of 1987. Nowadays, that news would be broadcast in myriad manners much earlier in advance.


  4. That cover to #5 is my favorite from that run. I also liked the cover to issues 2,3,6, and 8. I remember the book also had episode guides to all the episodes except the final season, which tied-in with the movie. The paper quality was typical of the time and turned Brown quickly.

  5. Comicbookrehab,

    Unfortunately, a lot of those episode summaries had errors in them. We appreciated the gesture, though.


  6. Comicbookrehab: Yeah, the covers were pretty much all quite good.

    I actually really like the paper stock Gladstone I used! May just be nostalgia.

    Chris: Also, the episodes didn't seem to be listed in a random order! (Unless it was production order? I'd have no way of knowing...)