The only time the wildly popular author Janet Evanovich, who is perhaps best-known for her series of novels about female bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, ever crossed my radar was about four years ago when my wife (then-fiancee) and I were moving into our house and I was helping her unpack boxes and boxes of books. This was in addition to the boxes and boxes of my own books that I had just unpacked.
Sometimes, I'm not sure if it's gravity or the sheer volume of books in our house that's keeping us earthbound.
Bethany loves the Plum series, yet I had, quite frankly, never heard of them. She told me how great the stories were, I nodded, and kept unpacking. Her profusion of praise failed to motivate me to...um...plumb the depths of Evanovich's oeuvre.
So, that's the extent of my acquaintance with one of the most popular authors in the world today. I mean, apart from seeing Evanovich's books in all kinds of stores everywhere, be they dollar, grocery, or actual bookstores.
Literally. They're everywhere. And if it's not Janet, then it's John, James, and Sparks, but usually, it's all of them, with a few Browns and Thors sprinkled in for good measure.
But this week, Evanovich crossed my radar again, thanks to a link provided by one of Joe Torcivia's readers in the comments section over at his blog.
Back in December, Evanovich was interviewed by The New York Times, and at the head of the piece was this lede: "The author, most recently, of 'The Job' is a big fan of Scrooge McDuck."
Being an unabashed fan of Ye Olde Miser, that was enough to pull me in.
Sure enough, her love for Scrooge came by way of Carl Barks' classic stories:
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I loved reading, but I didn’t have access to a lot of books. I was allowed to take one book out of the library every week. And I got a hardcover book for Christmas and for my birthday. I filled in the gaps with comics. And to tell you the truth, comics were my first love anyway. I especially loved “Uncle Scrooge” and “Donald Duck,” with “Little Lulu” coming in second.
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
“North of the Yukon,” by Carl Barks. Actually, I’d have to lump together all those early Scrooge McDuck books by Carl Barks. They gave me a lifelong love for adventure stories. And I still aspire to have a money bin like Scrooge and push my spare change around with a bulldozer.
Joe speculates that she may have meant "Back to the Klondike" as opposed to "North of the Yukon," but no matter. Both are excellent stories, each representing a different period in Barks' career, with "North" being published in the twilight of his career...
...and "Klondike" at the peak of his career...
And both stories are masterpieces of romance and adventure, elements that are apparently woven throughout many of Evanovich's stories.
When it comes to The McDuck Inspiration, I can completely relate to what she is saying.
As I recounted here, my first brush with Barks came with the DuckTales' television adaptation of "Back to the Klondike."
The merits of this adaptation have been debated extensively, but to the five-year-old me who was watching it at the time, I had never seen anything like it in my admittedly short life. So help me God, The Get Along Gang had never been as captivating as DT's "Klondike."
In fact, I would be willing to wager that a Klondike bar is more captivating than The Get Along Gang.
As an aside, I dare you to watch The Get Along Gang theme song and not want to gouge your eyes out with rusty, shit-encrusted pliers...
Provided you still have eyes to read this, I honestly don't know how I sat through episode after episode of that mind-numbing balderdash.
The Clubhouse Caboose toy was kinda cool, though.
As a second aside, it's not that the message of The Get Along Gang was bad.
It was just annoying.
As a three- or four- or five-year-old, you're already being told to get along with other people all of the time. You get it, got it, and don't want to do it.
All *you* want to do is play with *your* toys and watch *your* cartoons.
Please. No fine print about getting along with others who want to do the same things you want to do just a little bit differently from how you want to do them.
Still, you're hearing this message ad nauseam. And you're pretty damn sure that you've caught most of the people telling you this in the act of not getting along with others.
Then, you turn on the TV, and these way-too-cutesy creatures, who are drawn to look and talk the way all cartoons would look and talk if "advocates" like Peggy Charren (God rest her soul) had their way, start yammering at you, just like the adults, to get along, and not just get along, but get along as a gang.
I'm a three-year-old loner! Don't force me to hang out with other kids, and I won't have to worry about getting along!
Or if you're going to tell me it's cool to get along, at least make the means of delivering the message cool.
Although Evanovich is leagues ahead (and presumably millions, too) of this unknown writer, I can also relate to what she is saying because watching the Barks-based DuckTales episode at that particular time in my childhood changed me forever. The quality of the storytelling and the richness of the characters took me through the TV-screen looking glass and into a deeper and more nuanced world of fiction, showing me the sheer pleasures the human imagination can devise and dream up.
Whether I wanted it to or not, any creative endeavor from thereon out would be influenced by the Disney Ducks in some way because they, by way of Barks, showed me there was more to entertainment than overly simplistic plotlines and one-dimensional characters.
In fact, somewhere I have binder upon binder of roughly sketched Duck stories, plotted across several years and written sometimes after school as I put off doing my homework and sometimes on a lazy summer afternoon when I didn't have anything else to do or when I didn't want to do anything else.
And before that, I had ripped off the Ducks and created a family of bears who looked and talked like the Ducks.
In fact, my science project one year, in either 6th or 7th grade, was on animation, and I attempted to do a flipbook of my own Donald Duck cartoon. It was largely a failed project and probably the worst attempt at animation before Flash came along, but still, I wouldn't even have tackled such a project if it hadn't been for DuckTales and the Carl Barks comics to which the show led me.
Of course, I've picked up a myriad of other influences along the way and I continue to discover new ways of telling stories, but the impact that even an adaptation of a Barks' story has had on my craft (dare I call it art?) can never be erased, and for that reason, as with Evanovich, Barks will always be my first influence.
It's The McDuck Inspiration alive and at work long after his creator laid down his brush for the last time.
Now, picture a cluttered studio, a well-worn art table, a mess of sketchings, and a kindly, ordinary-looking 50-something hunkered down in the middle of the quiet chaos.
Numerous matters are going through his mind, such as the dissolution of a recent marriage; the need to pay the rent; the neverending roster of deadlines (here a 10-pager, there a 32-pager); the lack of creator credit (while the guy who does get the credit has probably never read a damn word you've written since his time is spent on far-flung fantasies like theme parks and intricately animated, money-losing features); the complete disconnect between you and your readers (thanks to the just-mentioned lack of credit); the knowledge that you've written and drawn 100, maybe 200 of these stories (you've lost count) and before it's all set and done you'll have written and drawn 500, maybe 600 more...
How do you stay fresh? How do you maintain the quality? How do you keep satisfying yourself and your work ethic? How do you pay the bills? How do you find happiness?
I'm romanticizing a bit, of course, but the last thing on this artist's mind is inspiration and influence. It wasn't until the final years of his comic-book career that Barks had any clue that his work meant anything other than disposable entertainment.
Sure, his stories were part of the bestselling comic books of the time, but how much did he really think this remarkable feat was because of him and not because of the fella whose name was above the title?
Barks was just trying to create narratives that pleased himself, he would later say, without the realization that he was influencing a future international bestselling author, stoking the imaginations of two of the greatest filmmakers of the future, and who knows how many other creative and intellectual stalwarts. And of course, there were and are the scores upon scores of little tykes like myself, spanning generations, decades, and soon centuries, whom he was influencing.
He simply wasn't aware of The McDuck Inspiration.
I quietly chuckle when I read in-depth analyses of not just Barks, but any author who didn't have the convenient knowledge and passionate motivation of their own fame to spur them on. Today, with these authors' entire output available to us, either in printed volumes or in digitized files, we're able to analyze, dissect, praise, criticize, and bastardize their work.
"Why was this story brilliant, yet this one wasn't? What a stupid plot twist! He really thought that story would work?! Oh, but this one is genius!! This one is tripe!!! Etc. etc. etc."
But they were just trying to pay the bills. Like the rest of us.
And yet they did good work that will last forever.
To me, seeing someone like Barks, who was devoted to his craft under less-than-ideal circumstances, is more of a creative inspiration than the DuckTales episode that first sparked my desire to create on that rainy afternoon in 1987.