Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Collectors Editions that never was

Just got this interesting piece on Barks fandom/Western Publishing history from Dana Gabbard.
Take it away, Dana!
This post shares scans of a heretofore nearly forgotten corner of Barksdom -- a Western Publishing Barks deluxe reprint project that advanced as far as producing a prospectus shared with Carl Barks fans in the early 1980s. The origins of this project lay with John Nichols, who was both a dealer specializing in Barks and the publisher of the leading Barks fanzine, The Barks Collector. At that time (the late 1970s) certain classic Barks stories in English were only available in the U.S. via the pricey original editions. Nichols found an affordable alternative to offer his clients by importing Australian reprints of stories such as "Adventure Down Under" that were otherwise too expensive for most fans to afford in the original printing. Nichold did a brisk business in the Barks reprints and evidently wished that a new series of deluxe Barks reprints a la The Best of Walt Disney Comics series issued in 1974 was published by Western Publishing and which he could then market to his burgeoning customer base eager to have access to classic Barks at an affordable cost.
Then by chance at one of the two Barks Cons Nichols held in New York in the early 1980s (one was also held in the same period in Oakland California) among the attendees was the comics editor for Western's New York office, Wally Green. Green evidently was impressed with the gathering of fans he witnessed and Nichols' pitch that unlike the previous attempt Western had made to enter the collectors market (which the company must have seen as a failure since a second set of volumes in the Best of Walt Disney comics series had gotten as far as advance publicity aimed at the then nascent comic book fandom with mockups of the cover much like the Green memo before the project was without explanation cancelled) there was now an established distribution network serving comic book shops nationwide that featured non-returnable wholesaling. That must have been music to Green's ears as Western was in a downward spiral at that time as to sales of its newstand comics. This memo outlines the new deluxe Barks reprint series Western was contemplating. 

It was distributed by Nichols to the mailing list of Barks fans he had built up as a dealer and publisher soliciting their expression of interest in such a series. And that was the last anyone heard of the proposal. Why it didn't happen is a mystery but not soon after Western got out of the comic book business and shortly after that Gladstone stepped into the breach and began what is now seen as a Disney comics renissance featuring both classic and new material that garnered wide acclaim from fans.
It is thanks to Brent Swanson (who held onto the memo all these years and supplied a scan of it after my faint memories of it prompted him to retrieve it from storage) that this memo is now recovered from being hidden in the dark corners of history.

Thanks for sharing the info Dana!

And as an extra Barks-bonus to this post:
here's a watercolor by the duck man.
Looks like a 1940's piece and judging by the hair style it might be his daughter Peggy. 


Chris Sobieniak said...

At least they tried. I recall what Gladstone did was probably one of the best uses of their Disney license ever (though I was still a tad young into getting into buying deluxe collector's sets outside simple 75 cent issues I could get at the drug store.

Unknown said...

It was a last-ditch, half-assed try. Looking back, the best classic reprint effort that came out of Western, after the two Disney Digest specials, was the brief spate of newsstand reprints in the early '80s. Otherwise, Best of Walt Disney Comics had cuts and was very poorly marketed. The Dynabrites were an interesting idea but garish in quality and with much variance in story selection. Dana and I have been trying to place a date on the memo and have placed it around late '81 to late '82. It could be that Green was impressed by Bud Plant's sales totals of the Best of... series. The addition of a slipcase (unheard of before) suggests that Green was aware of what was forthcoming from Another Rainbow. Unfortunately, it was all straw upon the water for Western and their dwindling customer base.

ramapith said...

Dana, you say "a second set of volumes in the [1970s] Best of Walt Disney Comics series had gotten as far as advance publicity aimed at the then nascent comic book fandom with mockups of the covers."

What were these volumes to have been? I'm very curious.

Dana Gabbard said...

My brother has faint memories of the advance publicity including mock ups of covers to Mickey and Pluto volumes.

Unknown said...

One other observation: After the publication of the "Bat Bandit" story in the "Best of" series, Western Pubs never reprinted another Gottfredson story, unless you count the redrawn "Sky Island" in the Dynabrites. The only Gottfredson reprints we got in America, till the dawning of Gladstone, were few and far between things like the Smithsonian Book and Abbeville's eccentric back-translated Italian-sourced books. AND--the "Mickey Mouse: Fifty Happy Years" book. The only high point of that atrocious book was the appearance of a cut-down version of the "Pirates" serial. This version runs 47 pages and is edited much like the "Bat Bandit" reprint. I'm wondering if this story hadn't been prepared for a second Western series and then tabled for whatever reason, possibly one of those infamous Disney-imposed moratoriums. It seems possibly that Disney would have banned such a story from newsstand distribution but deemed it okay for an "adult" book, however loosely the "Fifty Happy Years" book fulfills that definition.