Patrick Block and his wife Shelly work to create Disney duck stories that they themselves would enjoy reading. Looking to the spirit of Duckburg created by the great Carl Barks, the Block's work tries to spark the light of that gentle place in new readers hearts, and strives to re-ignite the old fires in those that have warmed themselves in the magical glow of Duckburg long ago.
"Somewhere in Nowhere"
fell into place between Carl's birthdays. There were two parties,
an elaborate, lovely affair that Steve Geppi threw for Unca Carl
in Timonium, Maryland, at Steve's Diamond Distribution HQ. This
occured on 3/28/96. It was my first direct meeting with Carl. We
had corresponded by mail in the past, and he had picked up a copy
of our 17 page story for Donald Duck Adventures called "Three
Little Cupids", but I did not know this at the time. Upon
being introduced to us, I was flabbergasted that this gentleman
in his mid nineties not only had read our story, but that he knew
it's title, and could tell us it's highlights.
Carl had always been my favorite comic author, having grown up learning to read on his comics. This introduction was beyond an honor for me, and for him to know my work, and be as vibrant and personable an individual as he still was here in Timonium was almost too much for me to deal with. He was one of those rare individuals who could live up to the mighty shadow of his reputation and work that preceeded him....charming, kind, witty and observant.
Upon having carefully read our
story, he told us, he felt it was funny, well paced, and "right
along the lines he would take such a tale". We got to chat
with Carl for quite a while, and spent a few minutes one on one
in Steve's wonderful library, where Carl kindly inscribed a
volume of his great collection published by Bruce Hamilton, with
a very, very nice personal remembrance.
Steve Geppi, in an act of wizardry, had arranged a magnificent display of Carl's paintings, covers, and pages in his extremely posh gallery. Carl seemed to greatly enjoy this ...and I suspect the existence of "Somewhere In Nowhere" owes a great deal of it's existence to Steve's priming the pump of Carl's imagination with this wonderful party. It inspired the old duck artist, and, on the plane ride home, I am told, is where he worked out the basic synopsis for the idea for "Somewhere In Nowhere".
The original idea was a simpler, less complex tale, perhaps a ten-pager. The later inclusion of Uncle Scrooge stretched it into a longer story length. John Lustig, a talented writer at Egmont, was hired to take Carl's synopsis and notes and write it out into a longer, more finished tale. I understand that Dutchman Daan Jippes was Carl's first pick as artist on the story, and I can understand that, as Jippes' line can be wondrously rich and Carl-like, but I have heard that Jippes bowed out of the project as he was involved with Disney's Tarzan film at the time, and was going through some personal times. It was Carl himself that then thought of "Three Little Cupids", and asked if I might draw the story.
Carl heavily edited John Lustig's first draft. I have a copy of the notes John received, and there are quite a number of very "classic" Carl suggestings ....the Nodding Naphound, the hot-peppered blubbersicles, and a great deal of good solid writing advice, things like "concentrate on Donald, not the other characters" and "make the dogs cute and give them funny gags", were typical advice in these notes. Carl might have been in his mid nineties, but he still knew exactly what was needed in a story, and he forcefully presented what he thought all along the way.
When I was contacted and asked if
I would be interested in drawing the story, I was sitting in my
studio on my tall stool, and very nearly toppled off. I would
have happily worked with Unca Carl for free, but I was actually
being offered to be paid for this honor. My only stipulations
before saying Yes was asking to read the script before deciding,
and asking to work directly with Carl, and not through any
Upon reading the 2nd draft of the story, I was very relieved. It was a fine, rousing story. It had a solid, logical storyline and was peppered with Carl's keen wit. It had a good ending, and Donald was clearly the centerpiece of the tale. I agreed at once to draw the story, first doing pencils following the detailed script, to be read and approved by Carl, (who would pencil in the changes and things in his own hand on my work, which lucky me would get to keep!).
As one might imagine, I pulled out all the stops on the artwork for the story. Time was not a real issue, there was no set deadline, so I worked at my own pace. Along the way Carl started sending me cover sketches, and it was an extremely fine feeling seeing him enthusiastic about the project.
Perhaps the highlight of this time period for me personally was when Carl got stuck on drawing some walruses ...he wanted them cuter than what he was drawing, which were quite realistic looking creatures. I suggested he look back at his own work on those cute walruses he drew in "Frozen Gold" all those years ago, and he did, and was happy with the results. I felt so a part of things, like I was helping, and really a part of the process in a working relationship. A duck artist's dream come true.
I finished up the pencils and sent
them off to Carl. I really had no idea what he might think of
them. I surely kept my finger's crossed. The package came back a
week or so later, and I was surprised at not just Carl's drawing
suggestions, but at the breadth of the attention he paid to every
detail ...the man caught grammatical errors along with my sloppy
panel layouts from time to time.
It was exhilerating reading through the drawings that first time ...a little wee money bin by Carl here, a "fine layout" there. He made a sharp editor, and quite a number of my panels were vastly improved by the "Good Artist's" insightful eye.
I blew up my revised pencils and began the quite wonderful job of inking Carl's and John's story. I was about half way through this, and starting to wonder about whether I was going to fly across the country to Oregon to show it to Carl when Disney announced Carl's "A Birthday Celebration", planned to take place at Walt Disney World on 4/12/97. The Duck Maestro would be turning 96, and had been secretly working on 75 color pencil drawings to be turned into a book, and the originals would be auctioned off.
This would be the place Carl, John
and I would all get to sit down and look over the finished pages,
and where I would really fly or fall. Carl was notorious for
saying pretty much what he actually felt about anyone's work, so
it was not without some trepidation that I packed for Walt Disney
It was a glorious trip. We stretched our trip into over a week and saw every inch of the parks. We hooked up with John Lustig for a breezy, memorable day of fun, watching a trio of talented vaudeville-like magicians performing on the Boardwalk, and listening to four very talented, very Beatle-like performers in Great Britain at Epcot.
Finally, Carl's big day arrived,
and we got to spend a couple of hours of quality time with The
Duck Man in his room in a suite at the Contemporary Hotel near
the Magic Kingdom. Carl was in great spirits, but perhaps
slightly weaker and thinner than the previous year. They had two
birthday cakes at various points, and John Lustig was present,
along with Carl's managers of the time, and Markku Kivekäs, the
Finnish editor of Disney Comics, and a very nice fellow.
We got to sit down for a very relaxed look at the now finished story. Carl slowly turned the pages, and it was the highlight of my life as an artist. He would make a comment here and there, chuckling at this or that, and had no complaints. When he came to the big avalanche page, the highlight of the first half of the story, he said, "This is exactly how I would have done it". What more could I possibly have asked for? If I was hit by a Disney bus on that day, leaving the hotel, I could say that I felt accomplished, for there wasn't anyone I would rather have pleased with a bit of drawing of mine, than Unca Carl.
That evening there was a truly magical dinner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. It was wonderfully prepared, a huge and vast buffet. Carl was beaming from ear to ear from start to finish, and tears streamed down his face when Uncle Scrooge and Donald appeared with a cake, talking in specially prepared recorded proper duck voices, wishing him a happy birthday. It was a truly magical moment at the Magic Kingdom.
The next day, as we walked down
the street at the MGM Park, we saw Carl's name on the theater
marquee, and watched the old Duck Man ride down the street in an
open convertible, waving to the crowds, still fiesty and charming,
a living treasure representing all that is best in comics.
It would be the last time I saw him, and I still think about him, gliding through Disney's magic there, recognized for the great contributions he has made to Disney, to comics, and to us all. We kept in touch through the whole business of falling out with his managers, mostly we would discuss other comic artists, the classic people that influenced us both, and what we hoped for the future of comics. Our relationship was one of two artists who briefly come together, who manage a single moment of interaction, and I will ever be greatful for being blessed with having gotten to work directly with this great, great man.
"Somewhere In Nowhere"
finally found publication after Carl's death, and it is
unfortunate that the problems between Carl and his managers has
perhaps marred the place the story would have occupied if there
had not been this friction. The story is a fine one, it's funny
and has that keen, pure wit of Carl's firmly embedded in it. He
did much more than "write a synopsis", and I hope that
my telling my part of the tale of the creation of the story helps
it find the nook where this story belongs, in the canon of Carl's
Walt Disney Italia did a beautiful job in publishing the story in a numbered, limited, red hardback. There are finally plans for an American edtion this year (coming soon - Editor's remark).
Barks, Lustig, and Block with the finished pages
A typical comment by Barks in the margin
This contribution was written specially for this website. Both article and photos are © Patrick Block.