In Praise of William Van Horn

WDCS682 cover
This and all art ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.

I’m working my way through WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES 678 to 684, published by Gemstone. I haven’t read them all yet, but in the first few I’m remembering once again how much I enjoy the work of William Van Horn.

Van Horn worked in animation for some years, and produced a short-lived comic called Nervous Rex (about a dinosaur) before joining Gladstone Comics in the mid 1980’s, creating mainly short Donald Duck stories for them. Though he started that career about the same time as Don Rosa, Van Horn hasn’t had nearly the amount of attention as Don. He continues to produce new duck stories regularly, now for Danish publisher Egmont, which are reprinted here by Gemstone.

Barks page

There’s no doubt that every Disney duck artist owes a great deal to the master, Carl Barks. But while Rosa seems to me to draw much of his inspiration from the Barks art and stories of the 1950s, especially the epic Uncle Scrooge adventures, Van Horn stays closer to the earlier Barks, like this 1945 page from the story called “Pecking Order,” reprinted in WDC&S 680. Here Donald is trying to make some money capturing a photograph of the elusive “Iron-Billed Woodpecker,” a theme that is still fresh today, drawn from the real-life search for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which you might have heard about in the last few years. Notice the fluid art and lettering, the sense of fun, and the snappy dialogue.

Van Horn page

Now here’s a page from the recent Van Horn story in WDC&S 678, “The Critic,” in which Donald is trying to make some money as an art critic, and as an artist. Van Horn is not slavishly imitating Barks, but his stories have many of the same elements: fluid art and lettering, snappy dialogue, and real humor. A delight in the characters, their endearing foibles, their dry sarcasm, their self-embarrassing antics.

There are other stories I like in these books. The Barks reprints are always worth a read, even if I’ve seen them before. Some of the other stories, old and new, are entertaining. But Van Horn is the clear star here, and if you haven’t seen his work, you owe it to yourself to give him a try. You’ll be amazed at this unsung talent working quietly among us to deliver top rate comics.

4 thoughts on “In Praise of William Van Horn

  1. Augie De Blieck Jr.

    I need to do some serious catching-up on my Duck reading, too. The Van Horn stuff is always so much fun for his sense of verbal gymnastics. And he’s one of the last remaining hand letterers. ::sigh:: He draws his pages twice-up, so I imagine the original letter forms are HUGE. 😉

  2. Todd Post author

    I’ve never seen one, but I really love his lettering. The Y is sometimes a little hard to read because the vertical stroke at the bottom gets so short, but it’s full of bounce and character.

  3. John

    I’m afraid I stopped reading Van Horn years ago. I just never enjoyed his Duck stories. Maybe the things I disliked have changed. I just always thought his art looked a bit rushed, and I just didn’t like how he kept my favorite duck in permanent loser-ville. Sure, Donald is flawed and sometimes he’s even a jerk, but Barks and Rosa allowed him his moments of heroism and resourcefulness.

    Just my opinion. I know Van Horn is well-respected, but I’ve often wanted to share my take on it.

  4. Augie De Blieck Jr.

    I understand what you mean with the “Y”. Thankfully, that form is far enough away from the “U” to me that I never had a problem with it. It’s striking to see how influenced Van Horn’s lettering must be from Carl Barks’ earliest stuff. Didn’t Barks’ wife handle the lettering later in his comics career?

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