G. Blum A Letter to Fandom 1 A Letter to Fandom During my long tenure with Carl Barks, I have been a reader, collector, interviewer, correspondent, and now for twenty years a published author commenting on the duck man’s life and works. I devoured his comics from boyhood, began heavy collecting in college, was one of the first half-dozen fans to commission an oil painting, and the only one to reject his finished canvas (I’ll tell that story another day). I’ve gone through life with one foot planted firmly in Duckburg, yet Donald and Scrooge are not my main literary interest, and I can’t claim to have spent many hours in the company of Barks himself. Perhaps that gives me some necessary perspective. Authors and their biographers tend to find each other by some sort of planetary connivance. Thirty years ago I’d not have guessed myself to be in the running. Other collectors made the pilgrimage out to Carl’s rural dwelling, pestered him with frequent letters, pulled out cameras and tape recorders, and finally offered something that I ne ver could: commercial opportunities. The man who created Uncle Scrooge was always alive to the lure of a buck, so ordinary readers were soon replaced by those who helped to market the ducks. These people promoted Barks in mimeographed fanzines, then dragged the artist out of his house to conventions. They auctioned old drawings and new paintings, published books and lithographs, and bought, bought, bought! Eventually they made Barks rich, and didn’t do so badly for themselves. I was the kid in this mix, ten or fifteen years younger than most of the others. I hung about on the sidelines, watching what then seemed like huge sums of money changing hands and tempers running high in the fever of collecting. Eventually I drifted away in pursuit of a doctorate, but returned to the scene in 1981, when a commentator was needed to fill pages in the Carl Barks Library . Writing about the ducks brought me closer to Barks than I had ever been as a collector. I’ve sat chatting with G. Blum A Letter to Fandom 2 him and his wife in their home, enjoyed the dubious distinction of making Carl furious with my questions, and I admit to cracking a grin on hearing that one diehard duck fan was howling, “Even Geoff Blum’s dog got to meet Carl Barks and I haven’t!” There have been other perks. When I toured Scandinavia in 1991, a researcher in Norway with whom I was working said, “Just tell me when you’re coming. I’ll map out a full itinerary, and there will be a house for you to stay at every stop along the way.” I haven’t done so badly out of Barks. This whole business, you see, is about emotion: the way we connect with the comics, and the way we connect or fall out with each other over them. Like many great writers (and more than a few collectors), Barks retreated from a fairly shut-down life into rea lms of the imagination. His stories, as he always insisted, are escapist fantasies, but fantasies fueled by very real passions: a yearning for success, pent-up anger from two failed marriages, even doubt in his own artistic abilities. When we read the comics, this is what grabs us and speaks to us. Donald scrambles to succeed at a job— any job!—in the face of overwhelming odds, pits himself against Cousin Gladstone in contests that are doomed from the start, wages war with his nephews and neighbors, all to prove himself master of his fate. Scrooge, who has more of a knack for success, is also frustrated time and again, because he often seeks treasure so outrageously rich, it has to be mined from the realms of myth. It couldn’t possibly exist in the real world; so he, too, sets himself up for failure. Can you spell dysfunctional ? Let’s face it: Barks’ comics are about misfits—charming misfits, greedy misfits, sometimes visionary misfits—and those are the people they attract. On the flip side, there’s a tender strain that runs throughout his pages: affectionate gestures within the family, concern for the natural G. Blum A Letter to Fandom 3 world, even charity toward one’s fellow man. Not too much charity, because the bastard is probably out to get you in the long run. This isn’t the sort of preaching you’d normally get from a writer of children’s books, nor is it emotion imposed from without, as in the Disney Studio’s ludicrous directive that every episode of the television series DuckTales “must have heart.” Barks’ sentimentality engages us because we know how much cynicism it’s battling. As the old boy himself said, “I told it like it is.” So let me try to tell it like it is. The fans who made themselves prominent in Barks’ life—the entrepreneurs and archivists and money- grubbers —are still around, and most have contributed generously to my work with letters, photographs, and reminiscences. I sometimes think that’s our purpose as collectors: we’re not just overgrown kids with bulging toy boxes, we preserve history. Where would Yeats have been without Lady Gregory gathering folktales for him? Since we have so much emotion invested in these comics, the process can become downright messy at times, like a squabble in the duck family. But without us, there would be no variorum edition and probably no market for one, just stray anthologies of stories pulled from the most accessible stack in the publisher’s files. Take a bow, all of you.