Book Review: Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Christmas on Bear Mountain” by Carl Barks

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is Volume 5 in Fantagraphics’ The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The book collects comic book stories and one-page gags from May 1947 to January 1948, the most notable being the titular one, which features the debut of Uncle Scrooge, a cranky old duck reminiscent of his A Christmas Carol namesake. In the stories, Donald is always joined by his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and they frequently resolve the conflicts. His girlfriend Daisy Duck makes a few appearances, but that’s it for known Disney characters.

Readers might be surprised Uncle Scrooge goes on to become a beloved character after his appearance in “Christmas on Bear Mountain” because he’s not the globe-trotting adventurer who swims in his treasure but a hateful grouch who only offers up his mountain cabin for the holidays solely to test his nephew’s bravery, a test Scrooge presumes Donald will fail.

In many of these stories, Donald’s troubles are a result of trying to make or save money. He wants to convert his backyard into a flower garden to win a cash prize. He finds a treasure map unaware the boys made it to play and heads to New Mexico thinking that’s the location of a lost gold mine. In “Volcano Valley”, Donald’s wheeling and dealing, which includes spending $2.50 on what he thinks is a model plane from a catalog rather than $15 in a store, leads to he and his nephews being trapped in the volatile country of Volcanovia.

The foursome have other globe-trotting stories. “Adventure Down Under” sees them in Australia after Donald is hypnotized into thinking he’s a kangaroo and wants to return “home”. “Ghost of the Grotto” takes place in the West Indies where Donald and the boys are gathering and selling kelp. They find themselves in the middle of a centuries-long kidnapping mystery when Dewey disappears.

The book closes with a one-page gag, and before that, two holiday-themed stories. “The Terrible Turkey” finds Donald hunting for Thanksgiving dinner, and oddly, all the ducks are on board when it comes to eating another bird. On Christmas Eve, the nephews try yet fail to perform good deeds in their attempt to show Uncle Donald they are “Three Good Little Ducks.” The book concludes with “Story Notes,” annotations by a team of writers, and “Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks,” a biography by Donald Ault.

Carl Barks does a marvelous job as writer and artist. The stories offer a good blend of adventure, mystery, and humor. Donald’s demotion through the fire department is a comedic standout in the collection. And while the plots keep readers turning the pages, Barks’ drawings will make one pause to pore over each panel. The characters’ faces and body language are very expressive and convey their moods clearly without needs to read the word balloons. The locations are clear thanks to the well-detailed-settings.

Fantagraphics’ Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Christmas on Bear Mountain” is a wonderful collection for the young and young at heart, and the comics make clear why Carl Barks is so deserving of having his work preserved and presented in this way.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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