Years ago,was given as a birthday present, The A-List: The National Society of Film Critics’ 100 Essential Films, a collection of essays on 100 great films. It doubled as intelligent writing on various aspects of film, as well as a collection of leads (Ashes and Diamonds, Les Vampires, Winchester ’73.) I’ve always thought something like that would be great for comics.
Yesterday, I was trying to google lists of the best Carl Barks comics, to see which of the many stories he wrote and illustrated were the best-regarded. That led me to a review of “Lost in the Andes,” the famed square egg saga. It seems like the type of thing that would be in an A-list style collection of essays on great comic books.
Lost in the Andes (1949) is widely regarded as Carl Barks’ finest story, was his personal favorite, and the one he felt was his most technically perfect. Visually, it is an astonishing piece, taking us from cramped ship’s quarters to the open sky above the mountains, through fog and bright sunlight, each panel masterfully rendered for maximum effect. As a story it is equally remarkable, personifying what critic Michael Barrier said of the auteur: “Barks was a writer first and an artist second, and his drawings have life because they are in the service of characters and ideas.” This writing shines in “Lost in the Andes,” taking us from a stuffy museum in Burbank, over a turbulent ocean to South America, up mountains, across plains, down valleys, and into a fog-shrouded land with strange people who speak like Southern Gentlemen from Alabama, with a heroic and curious Donald and brave and intelligent nephews who end up saving themselves from a life sentence in prison. For once, Donald is not motivated by greed or heroics, but curiosity and a taste for adventure. It is a morality play about happiness and a neat character study of the Ducks. Critics such as Thomas Andrae have examined “Lost in the Andes” and argued, quite effectively, that it possesses acidic criticisms of the capitalist system, that it deftly skewers the “myth of the explorer” and colonialism, while also managing to hold a mirror up to the closemindedness of preindustrial cultures, albeit ones that have been essentially colonialized. Like any masterpiece, “Lost in the Andes” means many things to many critics, each one finding something new with every reading.
But it is also a story about eggs.
Carl Barks was once an egg farmer, and this profession appears to have influenced more of his stories than any of his other failed efforts. Here, as in “The Magic Hourglass” (and a story not mentioned here, “Omelet,” worth seeking out), eggs get things rolling. Even though these eggs don’t roll.