Oregon-born Carl Barks (1901-2000) was a cartoonist, an excellent storyteller and a painter. Another American cartoonist, Will Eisner (1917-2005) called him "the Hans Christian Andersen of comic books."
The most widely read comic book artist of all time, Barks is also likely to be the most widely-read author of any type of reading material of the 20th century. He produced delightful top-quality stories with a deep human touch. "I polished and polished on the scripts and drawings until I had done the best I could in the time available", he explained. His philosophy: "I worked hard at trying to make something as good as I could possibly make it . . . I always tried to write a story I wouldn't mind buying myself."
Barks is best known for his comics about Donald Duck. The comics were created from 1942 to 1966 for Walt Disney. Barks did not create Donald, but many of the cartoon's other characters and the town Duckburg were made by him. He worked anonymously until he retired in 1966, and eventually was recognised as one of the most accomplished cartoonists ever.
Barks worked his way upwards in the Disney Studio from 1935 and into World War II. In 1937 Donald Duck became the star of his own series of cartoons, and so a new unit of storymen and animators was formed for this series. Barks took part in making thirty-six short Donald movies. Then, in 1942 he established himself as a freelancer for the monthly magazine Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. The first Donald manuscript was sent to Barks from the magazine, but Barks was so little satisfied with the manuscript that the fully illustrated story he sent back to the editor was changed a lot. From then on Barks was assigned to write and draw a ten-page story each month.
In time he was allowed to create longer fairytale series, where fighting against criminals and travelling to exotic places were recurrent motifs - the scenes ranged from scorching deserts and primal forests to humid jungles and freezing snow-clad mountains and the urban Duckburg - especially after he was given responsibility for quarterly magazine Uncle Scrooge from 1952.
Barks peopled Duckburg with Scrooge McDuck (1947), Gladstone Gander (1948), the Beagle Boys (1951), The Junior Woodchucks (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Cornelius Coot (1952), Flintheart Glomgold (1956), John D. Rockerduck (1961) and Magica De Spell (1961). Jon Gisle says Barks drew 6,371 pages in all for Walt Disney.
Barks did not sign any of the series with his name. And even though Walt Disney's Comics and Stories in 1952 peaked with a circulation of 3.1 million copies, Barks was never paid more than forty-five dollars per page.
Newsweek paid homage to his artistry and a Time's conclusion is that "Scrooge and his creator Carl Barks belong in the great mainstream of American Folklore."
Among his many fans were George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. Lucas writes that when he discovered the McDuck character as a child, he liked him "so much that I immediately went out and bought all the Uncle $crooge comics I could find on the newsstand. My greatest source of enjoyment in Carl Barks' comics is in the imagination of his stories . . . these comics are a priceless part of our literary heritage."
Barks got inspirations from old cartoonists and popular science magazines such as National Geographic and Popular Science.
After he retired, he turned to painting and was permitted by Disney to make signed oil paintings of the Disney ducks. The paintings are now worth thousands of dollars each, and occasionally over 100,000 US dollars a piece. His retirement years lasted far longer than his comic book career, and he spent many more years in front of the canvas than he did over the drawing board.
Carl Barks Quotations
[About Donald:] "I broadened his character out very much. Instead of making just a quarrelsome little guy out of him, I made a sympathetic character. He was sometimes a villain, and he was often a real good guy and at all times he was just a blundering person like the average human being, and I think that is one of the reasons people like the duck.
"Before I started drawing a comic, I would read my script for it ten or twenty times. Then, when I made my drawings, . . . I would put about eight pages on one of those big storyboards, pin them up there with push pins [to see if] I needed to add a little bit of guts somewhere else.
"Donald is my favorite character, because he's like all my friends, my neighbors, myself, he's just Mister Everyman.
"I carried in my head the idea that there was a whole town and a whole family of characters around these ducks at all times. There were cousins and nephews and nieces, and villains and bankers and all kinds of people that they dealt with in everyday life. So whenever I needed a character, I would create one that apparently had been around but just hadn't been used yet.
"I polished and polished on the scripts and drawings until I had done the best I could in the time available.
"I tried to boil . . . stories down to include only the necessary things. That's why they always appeared so tight and read so quickly.
"I'd like to see what somebody else has done in the way of painting. I do [like Rembrandt] . . . I accidentally hit on a color scheme that's very much like Rembrandt's.
"It wasn't genius or even unusual talent that made the stories good, it was patience and a large waste-basket.
"I've always looked at the ducks as caricatures of human beings.
"My age is 80 and I don't look a day over 79 1/2. (1981)
"Scrooge McDuck's money bins, with millions of gold coins . . . Tedious little details.
"The thing that I consider most important about my work is this: I told it like it is. I told my readers that the bad guys have a little of good in them, and the good guys have a lot of bad in them, and that you can't depend on anything much; nothing is always going to turn out roses.
"Writing stories is a lot like writing poetry. It all has to be set to a certain tempo."
Gisle, Jon. "Carl Barks." In Store norske leksikon. Accessed 26. juli 2015.
van Eijmeren, Daniel. "A Guidebook to the Carl Barks Universe."
Svane, Erik. "Carl Barks Biography." IMDb.com, Inc / Amazon.com. . Accessed 26. juli 2015.
Wikipedia, "Carl Barks."
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