Donald Duck by Carl Barks
Donald Duck, from Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #68 - © Disney.

Carl Barks is - together with Floyd Gottfredson - the grandmaster of Disney comics. While Gottfredson established 'Mickey Mouse' as a comic character in the newspapers, Barks did the same for 'Donald Duck' in the comic books. Both combined high quality illustration work with a talent for captivating storytelling. Each artist enriched their characters' universe with colourful and recurring personalities, who are still used by many Disney comic artists today. Yet the admiration for Barks goes further, almost to cult levels. Compared with many other "funny animal comics" his characters feel more real, believable and relatable. Donald and his nephews are portrayed far more intelligent and sympathetically than their original cartoon versions. They aren't just one-note personalities but complex individuals with mood changes like any other normal human being. They received a hometown, Duckburg, with many unforgettable inhabitants like Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose and his Little Helper, Neighbor Jones, Magica DeSpell, The Beagle Boys and Donald's multimillionaire uncle Scrooge who eventually became the star of his own series. From this location Donald and co. could travel the entire world, which gives the comics an epic feel. Many stories revolve around treasure hunts and escapist adventures in exotic settings. But Barks also excelled in funny gag-based stories, clever satire and moralistic, yet never preachy tales. This scope and versatility made him one of the most important and influential comic creators of all time. His stories have all become classics and are still widely read among all ages today. 

Christmas for Shacktown by Carl Barks
'Christmas For Shacktown' (1952) - © Disney.

Early life and career
Carl Barks was born in 1901 in Merrill, Oregon, in the North West of the United States. His parents were farmers who had little contact with their neighbors, since they lived miles away from their ranch. Every day Barks went to school alone, which was two miles (3.2 km) away from his house. So few people lived there in the outback that barely 10 pupils took classes. In 1908 his family moved to Midland, a town north of Merrill. Between 1911 and 1913 they briefly lived in Santa Rosa, California, before moving back to Merrill. Barks spent most of his spare time helping his parents out on the farm. His isolation was worsened by his increasing deafness. Barks only finished grade school and never even attempted high school, because the nearest building was five miles (8.0 km) away. Apart from this reason, he could barely hear others without an hearing aid. 

Barks found escapism in reading and drawing. His main graphic influences were cartoonists like Winsor McCay and Frederick Burr Opper. Later in life he also expressed admiration for the work of Roy Crane, Harold Foster, Alex Raymond, E.C. SegarMilton Caniff and painter Norman Rockwell.  A self-taught artist, Barks took some additional drawing lessons through a correspondence course. Unfortunately he had to quit after four lessons, because his daily job took up too much time. In 1918 Barks left for San Francisco and tried to find his luck in illustration. He had no success and returned to Oregon, where he held several odd jobs, including farmer, woodcutter, turner, mule driver, cowboy and printer. His life as a "Jack of all trades" served as a fruitful inspiration for his later 'Donald Duck' stories. Although he wandered from one failed enterprise to the other, he believed in the value of hard work and never giving up, a trait he'd later give to his signature character Scrooge McDuck.

Eventually Barks managed to get his drawings into print. In 1923 his cartoons appeared in the magazines Judge and The Calgary Eye-Opener. He became editor of the latter magazine and drew several erotic cartoons for them. Since the office of The Calgary Eye-Opener was located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Barks moved there for a while, between 1930 and 1935. 

Cartoon from the Calgary Eye Opener by Carl Barks
Cartoon from the Calgary Eye Opener.

Donald Duck animated cartoons
In 1935, Barks found employment at the Walt Disney Studios, where he was hired as an inbetweener. He arrived at a time when the studio had just launched a new major star: Donald Duck. The aggressive duck in sailor suit was designed and streamlined by animators Dick Huemer, Art Babbitt and Dick Huemer. Audiences loved this accident-prone and easily agitated bird. Barks shared the same sentiment. In his opinion Mickey Mouse's heroic stature made him too restrictive, while Goofy was far too dumb for his taste. Donald offered more possibilities for comedic situations. Barks often suggested ideas and was rewarded by being transferred to the story department. Here he worked as a gag writer and storyboard artist, alongside Jack Hannah. Barks cooperated on the shorts 'Modern Inventions' (1937), 'Donald's Ostrich' (1937), 'Self Control' (1938), 'Donald's Better Self' (1938), 'Donald's Nephews' (1938), 'Good Scouts' (1938), 'Donald's Golf Game' (1938), 'Donald's Lucky Day' (1939), 'The Hockey Champ' (1939), 'Donald's Cousin Gus' (1939), 'Beach Picnic' (1939), 'Sea Scouts' (1939), 'Mr. Duck Steps Out' (1940), 'Donald's Penguin' (1939), 'Bone Trouble' (1940), 'Put-Put Troubles' (1940), 'Donald's Vacation' (1940), 'Window Cleaners' (1940), 'Fire Chief' (1940), 'Timber' (1941), 'Golden Eggs' (1941), 'Early to Bed' (1941), 'Truant Officer Donald' (1941), 'Old MacDonald Duck' (1941), 'Chef Donald' (1941), 'The Village Smithy' (1942), 'Donald's Snow Fight' (1942), 'Donald Gets Drafted' (1942), 'The Army Mascot' (1942), 'Donald's Gold Mine' (1942), 'The Vanishing Private' (1942), 'Sky Trooper' (1942), 'Bellboy Donald' (1942), 'The Spirit of '43' (1943), 'Donald's Tire Trouble' (1943), 'The Old Army Game' (1943), 'Home Defense' (1943) and 'Trombone Trouble' (1944).

Huey, Louie and Dewey
During his days as an animator, Barks already worked with side characters of Donald he'd later use in his comics. In 1937 comic writer Ted Osborne and artist Al Taliaferro had introduced Donald's nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey in their 'Donald Duck' newspaper gag comic. The trio made their screen debut in the 'Donald Duck' cartoon 'Donald's Nephews' (1938), directed by Jack King. Officially, Huey, Louie and Dewey are credited as being Osborne and Taliaferro's creations. However, in later decades Don Rosa claimed that Barks told him personally that he was the actual creator of Huey, Louie and Dewey, since he was the writer of Donald's animated cartoons. Whatever the case, Barks was just as swift thinking up storylines for the three boys. In the animated cartoons Huey, Louie and Dewey often finished each other's sentences. While a funny idea, it did make the seven minute cartoons more time consuming and was thus soon dropped again. The gimmick worked much better in the comics and remained a running gag ever since. The idea of three annoying identical nephews has been copied in the Paramount cartoons starring Popeye and in André Franquin 's comic strip 'Modeste et Pompon'. 

Daisy Duck 
Barks was the creator of Donald's love interest, Daisy Duck. She appeared in a prototypical version and under a different design and name, Donna, in Ben Sharpsteen's 'Don Donald' (1937). Three years later she reappeared in a more recognizable, redesigned form in 'Mr. Duck Steps Out', also directed by Jack King. The plot of 'Mr. Duck Steps Out' was written by Barks. 

Daisy Duck and Gladstone Gander
Donald with Daisy and Gladstone Gander (Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #95) - © Disney.

Donald Duck comics
In 1942 Barks entered the world of comics. In collaboration with Nick George and Jack Hannah, he wrote the script for 'Pluto Saves the Ship' (July 1942), drawn by Bruce Bushman. The story features Mickey's dog Pluto fighting against a group of Nazis who want to sabotage a Navy cruiser. It was published in issue #7 of Dell Comics' Large Feature Comics series. Dell also published Barks' debut as an actual comic artist. In October of that same year, the comic book 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold' hit the market. The treasure hunt story was originally intended for a feature-length animated film starring Donald Duck. However, the project never left development hell. Since late 1941 the United States had entered World War II and the Disney Studios were commissioned to produce educational and propaganda films. In the stream of these events, the film was scrapped. Comic writer Bob Karp rewrote the screenplay into a comic book, released as part of Dell Publishing's 'Four Color Comics' series. Barks provided the artwork for the first two pages, followed by the fifth and then continued from page 12 until 40. The rest was drawn by Hannah. 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold' (1942) was Barks' first Donald Duck story. Yet he wasn't the first artist to draw a comic strip based on Donald Duck. Al Taliaferro already drew a succesful 'Donald' newspaper gag comic since 1938. And in the UK and Italy there had been unofficial 'Donald' adventure stories by respectively William A. Ward and Federico Pedrocchi. But Barks was the first American to draw a full-length adventure comic starring Donald.

'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold' was a huge success. Barks nevertheless left the Disney company soon after. Now that the studio focused all their energy on war-time propaganda films, he lost interest. As a 40-year old man he didn't connect with the much younger and energetic animators. Last but not least, the studio's air conditioning worsened his hearing problems. The retired animator moved back to Southern California to start a chicken farm. As fate would have it, Western Publishing got in touch with him to create more 'Donald Duck' stories for their monthly comic book series Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. They liked his work well enough to give him complete creative freedom within the strict Disney house rules. Barks took this opportunity to reshape Donald into a different, more engaging personality and his universe to more ambitious levels...

Lost in the Andes, by Carl Barks
'Lost in the Andes' (1949) - © Disney.

Donald Duck: character development
Between 1943 and 1966 Barks created hundreds of stories starring Donald Duck. He took the rather one-dimensional angry duck from the cartoons and newspaper comics and gave him more depth. Donald could still act stupid and aggressive, but he expressed a much wider range of emotions. This was a necessary move, since Barks' stories could be gag comics as well as longer adventure stories. Readers now saw that Donald could be reasonable, patient, uncertain, sympathetic, frightened, depressed, self-critical, even occasionally brilliant at times, just like real people. His unluckiness is still played for laughs, yet Barks portrayed him more as a sympathetic underdog (or "underduck"). Sometimes he ruins his own chances, but he can also be a victim of unexpected circumstances or hostile people. Many readers have been moved by Donald's frequent financial troubles and struggle to keep a job. Barks also made the bond between Donald and his three adopted nephews much stronger and relatable. Huey, Louie and Dewey kept some of their original mischievousness, but are otherwise bright young kids. They often outsmart their uncle and help him solve cases and get out of sticky situations. Occasionally they still try to fool and trick one another, but all in all Donald acts like a caring surrogate parent. He often feels bad whenever his poverty prevents him from buying something for his nephews. In the same way Huey, Louie and Dewey feel empathy towards their uncle's misfortune. 

Uncle Scrooge
Barks gave Donald and the nephews a home town, Duckburg, where various colourful relatives, friends and enemies live together. The most famous citizen is Donald's uncle, Scrooge McDuck, who first appeared in the story 'Christmas on Bear Mountain' (1947). A prototypical version of the character already appeared in a Disney war-time cartoon Barks worked on: 'The Spirit of '43' (1943). In this short Donald is adviced by a stereotypical thrifty Scotsman with sideburns and pince-nez glasses. Barks would reuse this design and personality trait for Uncle Scrooge, although the duck was also obviously inspired by Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge from 'A Christmas Carol' (1843, illustrated by John Leech). Scrooge McDuck is a multi-millionaire who amassed his fortune during the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush. He keeps his wealth in a large rectangular building, named the "Money Bin" (1951). He has so much fortune that he literally dives and swims in it. However, he keeps one coin apart from the rest: his "Number One Dime" (1953), the first coin he ever earned and which he considers to be a luck bringer. While Scrooge is the wealthiest duck in the world, he is also a complete miser. Even spending one coin makes him distraught. Apart from being stingy Scrooge is also greedy. Whenever he sees an opportunity to make more money he'll take it. Many plots are set in motion by Uncle Scrooge going on a treasure hunt, taking Donald and his nephews along with him since they are the only ones he can trust. Scrooge became such a reader's favorite that he received his own separate series from 1952 on. Either way many 'Donald Duck' stories really revolve around Scrooge, while many 'Uncle Scrooge' comics still have Donald as part of the main cast, so there is little distinction. In 1961 Scrooge received an elderly female secretary, Miss Emily Quackfaster. 

A rich uncle paves the way for a wide range of villains who want to steal his fortune. In 1951 the wicked gang of crooks, the Beagle Boys, made their debut. They consist of countless identical brothers who all wear the same clothes and share the same criminal background. The only thing that distinguishes them are their prison number plates. They even address one another by it, rather than use proper names. Ten years later Barks added another recurring thief: the evil witch Magica De Spell (1961). Magica constantly tries to steal Scrooge's Number One Dime to melt it in the Vesuvius and expand her own powers. Barks based her design on Morticia Addams from Charles Addams's series 'The Addams Family'. Scrooge also has to watch out for his rival billionaires Flintheart Glomgold (1956) and John D. Rockerduck (1961) who are not above collaborating with criminals to either steal his money or get to a treasure before he can. 

Gyro Gearloose by Carl Barks
Gyro Gearloose - 'Fishing Mystery' (Uncle Scrooge #17) - © Disney.

Other main characters
But Donald also has his own adversaries to deal with, such as his aggressive neighbor Jones (1943) with whom he constantly fights. Donald's biggest rival is his arrogant and ever-lucky cousin Gladstone Gander (1948). Gladstone is everything Donald would want to be. He is so despicably lucky that he doesn't have to make any effort for it. He always finds or receives food, money, jewelry, winning lottery tickets,... by just being around at the right time and right place. Gladstone prides himself in never having worked a day in his life. Much to Donald's chagrin, Daisy finds Gladstone very attractive. The two therefore often fight over her. Donald's one luck is that he has many friends and sympathetic relatives too. In 1952 the brilliant but absent-minded inventor Gyro Gearloose made his debut. Little Helper, his tiny robotic assistant with a light bulb for a head, was introduced in 1956. In 1953 female counterparts of Huey, Louie and Dewey entered the series, namely Daisy's triplet cousins April, May and June. 

Duckburg harbours all recurring cast members and locations, with the Money Bin always being the tallest building. While the city wasn't consistent in its look, it still felt like a believable, three-dimensional place because Barks created an entire mythology and institutions around it. In 1952 readers learned that the town is located in the state Calisota. The same year their 19th-century founder Cornelius Coot was first mentioned. Coot's statue can be seen anywhere in the city. Barks also invented a neighbouring city, Goosetown (sometimes named Gooseburg), with whom the Duckburgians have an ongoing rivalry. Duckburg also has its own boy scouts organisation, the Junior Woodchucks (1951), of which Huey, Louie and Dewey are members. The group comes with its own reference guide, the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook (1954), which the nephews often use to their advantage. Despite its tiny size it happens to know the answer to any possible question. In 1971 Barks also created the boys' scouts leader, Philodemus Gentlefogg (sometimes named Bertie McGoose) whose honorary initials often spell out unrelated funny words. However, he never drew Gentlefogg himself, since he'd already retired by that point and left the design to his successors. 

Barks invented more recurring characters than any other 'Donald Duck' artist. At the same time not all were purely his own creations. The most obvious exception is Donald, who was the brainchild of Disney animators Dick Huemer, Art Babbitt and Dick Lundy. Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro on their part introduced Huey, Louie and Dewey, Gus Goose, Grandma Duck, Donald's little red car and his St. Bernhard's dog Bolivar in the 'Donald Duck' newspaper comic strip. Just like other Disney comic artists used his characters, Barks did the same with theirs. 

'The Old Castle's Secret' (1948) - © Disney.

Barks distinguished himself from a lot of other children's comic artists by offering quality artwork and narratives. He was a master in crafting epic adventures, full with thrills, suspense and mystery. Donald and his family often engage in treasure hunts to exotic countries, ancient civilizations, mythological worlds and/or distant planets. Barks read National Geographic Magazine, where he frequently found photographs and articles as inspiration. He spent many hours researching a new story. Whenever he drew a jungle, a desert, a mountainous area, ancient temples, tropic islands or vast oceans he wanted it to look believable. Even if it was set in a fictional location. He drew everything with a keen eye for atmosphere and couleur locale. It made Donald's world feel like its own universe. Many stories have become fan favorites and reached classic status. They are still reprinted to this day in Disney magazines worldwide. 

Only A Poor Old Man (1952) 
'Only A Poor Old Man' (1952) - © Disney.

While displaying such quests, Barks never lost sight of his characters. He never saw them as '"funny animals" but approached them as "humans who just happened to look like ducks." The artist could relate to Donald, since he too had experienced poverty, unluckiness and loneliness in life. But just like Donald and Scrooge he never gave up, a virtue he also expressed in his work. Several comics provide readers with life lessons about friendship, family union, perseverance, the rewarding aspects of honest labour and the shallowness of money. Barks was able to add humanity to his stories without ever coming across as saccharine or overly idealistic. Some stories even have a rather cynical streak, particularly considering they were distributed by the Walt Disney Company. The protagonists don't always get what they want in the end. Even the one-dimensional "good vs. evil" characterisations so common in children's comics are far more grey in Barks' comics. Scrooge can be quite selfish and ungrateful to Donald and the nephews, even though they often help him to get even richer. And the Beagle Boys may be crooks, but are somewhat pitiful losers at the same time. In a 1973 interview by Donald Ault Barks explained his philosophy: "The thing that is most important about my comics is this: I told it like it is. I told the kids that the bad guys have a little good in them, and the good guys have a lot of bad in them, and that you couldn't depend on anything much, that nothing was going to always turn out roses. (...) I laid it right on the line that there was no difference between my comic characters and the life these kids - the readers - were going to have to face." 

'A Financial Fable' (1950) - © Disney.

Some of Donald's adventures are clever satirical metaphors. In 'Tralla La' (1954) Barks lampoons both capitalism and colonialism. Scrooge travels to a country without a monetary system where the people live in peace. Yet when he throws his bottle caps around, the inhabitants start treating them as valuable items. The greedy duck realizes the financial possibilities and brings over as much bottle caps as he can, until the paradise is ruined forever. 'A Financial Fable' (1950), on the other hand, defended capitalism over the dangers of easy money. When Scrooge's entire fortune is blown away by a cyclone and scattered all over the country, everyone in Duckburg is suddenly a millionaire. As they all quit working Scrooge quietly runs a farm with Huey, Louie and Dewey as his helping hands. In the end Scrooge has the monopoly on every possible accessory that the Duckburgians need and thus gets back rich in an instant. 

'Old California' (1951) - © Disney.

Cultural impact
Thanks to the global reach of the Disney imperium Barks' comics were read by millions of people across the world. As such they managed to have a remarkable impact on our present-day society. The witty solution in 'The Sunken Yacht' (1949) to recover a yacht from the bottom of the ocean by using a large amount of ping-pong balls was in 1964 used in real life by Danish inventor Karl Kroyer. Funny enough Kroyer hadn't read this particular story and only learned about it when he tried to apply a patent for his discovery in the Netherlands. As the Dutch are infamous 'Donald Duck' readers they were quick to point out that his idea had been invented by Barks 15 years earlier.

The Sunken Yacht by Carl Barks
'The Sunken Yacht' (1949) - © Disney.

Another story, from 1944, had Donald utter some techno babble after receiving a blow to his head. This gibberish, however, turned out to be an actually accurate mathematical formula (!) and was in 1964 used to describe the newly discovered carbene methylene. Even the way Donald mixed it with other substances happened to be scientifically correct! Barks' comics also influenced pop culture. The classic Uncle Scrooge story 'The Seven Cities of Cibola' (1954) inspired the opening sequence of the 1981 film 'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark' by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Many elements in Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons', from a town full of characters (Springfield), a rival city (Shelbyville), a town founder (Jebediah Springfield) to a stingy miser billionaire (Mr. Burns) also mirror Barks' influence. In Germany the translations of Barks' stories by Erika Fuchs have had a considerable impact on German language. Mrs. Fuchs enriched the comics by using colourful words and expressions in the dialogues still used by German people today. 

'The Seven Cities of Cibola' (1954) - © Disney.

Although his tenure on comic books lasted little over twenty years, Barks' production was immense. He wrote and drew a monthly 'Donald Duck' story for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (his famous "ten-pagers"), a title for which he also regularly made the cover illustration. Four or five times a year, up until the early 1950s, he made epic and humorous adventure stories with Donald and his family in the 'Four Color Comics' series of one-shot books. He drew the first issue of the solo 'Donald Duck' title in 1952, but left the following issues to other artists from the Dell staff, such as Jack Bradbury, Dick Moores, Phil De Lara and Tony Strobl. From 1953 on he drew long adventure stories for the quarterly 'Uncle Scrooge' title. He additionally produced a great many filler gag pages, and a couple of one-shot comic books with other Duckburg characters, like 'Gyro Gearloose', 'Daisy Duck's Diary' and 'Grandma Duck's Farm Friends'. The latter two were scripted by Bob Gregory and Vic Lockman, respectively.

Non-duck comics
If all this wasn't enough, Barks produced non-Duck stories for Dell Comics/Western Publishing too. He made one 'Mickey Mouse' story ('The Riddle of the Red Hat', 1945), and also worked on some of the non-Disney titles. Between 1944 and 1947, Barks wrote and illustrated 26 stories of MGM's 'Barney Bear and Benny Burro' for the Our Gang comic book. These stories were collected in 'The Carl Barks' Big Book of Barney Bear' (IDW, 2011). Barks drew Walter Lantz's 'Andy Panda' for New Funnies in 1943 and made one story with Tex Avery and Friz Freleng's 'Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig' ('Porky of the Mounties' in 1944) and Avery's 'Droopy' too. Yet, despite all these stylistic breaks, none of these characters quite suited him. He preferred his own duck universe and focused exclusively on Donald and co. 

Barney Bear by Carl Barks
'Barney Bear' (Our Gang #21).

The "Old Duck Man", as Barks affectionately was called, retired from drawing comics in 1966, yet continued to write scripts until the early 1970s. These stories were illustrated by artists like John Carey, Kay Wright or Tony Strobl. Most appeared under the title 'The Junior Woodchucks', and starred Huey, Louie and Dewey having adventures within their boy scout group. The plots dealt with environmental themes. From 1992 onward, these specific stories were redrawn by Dutch artist Daan Jippes to give the artwork a closer resemblance to Barks' style.

Rise to fame
Since all his comics were anonymous, Barks was an unsung hero throughout most of his active career. Apart from one tiny article by journalist Jean Records in the local newspaper The Hemet News, from 28 November 1947, his name and image wasn't revealed to the public for a long time. Yet comic fans noticed that certain 'Donald Duck' stories were much better executed than others. They nicknamed this mysterious creator the "Good Duck Artist". In 1957 fan Malcolm Willits managed to identify Barks. Three years later the brothers John and Bill Spicer tracked him down and met him at home. Through articles in comic fanzines and lectures at conventions, they made his name more widespread. Since comics received more critical attention and appreciation from the 1960s on, Barks' name was soon established as one of the most important comic artists. The 'Good Duck Artist' was interviewed, appeared at conventions and book signings and saw demand for his work rise significantly. European publishers of Disney comics did everything they could to recover all stories he'd ever drawn. In the United States, Bruce Hamilton and Russ Cochran of Another Rainbow Publishing collected Barks' Duck work in the luxury ten-set 'Carl Barks Library' in the 1980s. From 1985 on, Barks' comics were also introduced to a new generation of U.S. readers in the comic books published by new licensee Gladstone Publishing. Since 2011 Fantagraphics has reprinted Barks' 'Donald Duck' and 'Uncle Scrooge' stories in their original colors in a new collection edited by Gary Groth.

original sketch by Carl Barks
An original sketch by Barks.

Animated adaptations
Although Barks enriched Donald Duck's universe with numerous iconic characters, they weren't used in Disney's animated shorts at the time. In fact, it took until 1967, after Barks had retired, before one of his characters was adapted to the big screen. That year Hamilton Luske directed 'Scrooge McDuck and Money' (1967), an educational cartoon starring Uncle Scrooge and Huey, Louie and Dewey. In this 16-minute film the duck billionaire explains the history of money and various economic and financial terms. Barks had no involvement in its production. 'Scrooge McDuck and Money' screened in some theaters, but quickly sank into obscurity again. The opposite was true for 'Mickey's Christmas Carol' (1983), a Disney adaptation of Charles Dickens' story 'A Christmas Carol', with Uncle Scrooge naturally playing Ebenezer Scrooge and Mickey Mouse in the role of Bob Cratchit. Again Barks had no direct involvement. But since this was Mickey Mouse's first new theatrical cartoon in 30 years, the short received a lot of media attention. As it was released around the holiday season, it reached a far larger audience too. As such, many sources have incorrectly claimed that this Christmas short was Scrooge's official screen debut. 

Barks' stories were also the basis for the animated Disney TV series 'DuckTales' (1987-1990). The show used various Barks characters, like Uncle Scrooge, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, the Beagle Boys and Magica DeSpell, but others were omitted, most notably Donald Duck, who only appeared briefly in the entire series. He was replaced by the clumsy pilot Launchpad McQuack, because Donald's voice was unsuitable for a starring role. Other characters were remodelled. The Beagle Boys for instance, who were all identical clones in the original stories, were individualized. Flintheart's nationality was changed from South African to Scottish, since South Africa received too much bad publicity in the 1980s over its apartheid policy. And Daisy Duck's nieces April, May and June were reduced to the composite character Webby, who was the granddaughter of Scrooge's housekeeper Mrs. Beakley. Tying in with the popularity of 'DuckTales', Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, built a real-life version of Duckburg in their theme park. In 2017 'DuckTales' was rebooted, making even more direct references to Barks' stories, like in several Barks-style oil paintings by Dutch artist Tim Artz.

Oil painting by Carl Barks
Oil painting by Carl Barks, based on his 'Flying Dutchman' story.

Barks spent most of his retirement creating oil paintings. In 1971 he received permission from the Walt Disney Company to depict Donald and other Disney characters in these works. Between 1976 and 1981 this permission was temporarily revoked, but eventually he was allowed to continue as he pleased. Ironically all these legal matters revolved around characters he mostly created himself. Barks' fans adored his paintings. Some were general scenes depicting Donald, Scrooge, the nephews and others. But the most popular ones referenced classic scenes from his adventure stories. Barks painted everything with a keen eye for detail and atmosphere, comparable to a 17th-century baroque masterpiece. The works were a nice compensation for the fact that not much of Barks' original comic book pages have survived. Naturally the paintings sold for very high prizes. 

Erotic art
Barks also made semi-erotic paintings, which featured duck-billed men and women in titillating but never explicit situations. In interviews he explained that, after all those years, he still couldn't resist turning every character into an anthropomorphic duck. His erotic paintings were, of course, not distributed by Disney. Still, they gained enough notoriety among comic fans to attract public interest. In 2011, for instance, they were exhibited at the Museum of Sex in Manhattan, New York City, as part of the 'Comics Stripped' Exhibition, which also presented private erotic art by other famous comic artists. 

Thanks to his new found fame, Barks received various awards after his retirement. He was the recipient of the Shazam Award for Best Humor Writing (1970), an Inkpot Award (1977), a Kirby Award (1987), a Sproing Award (1987), a Golden Adamson Award for his entire career (1990) and a Disney Legend Award (1991). In 1987 he was inducted in the Eisner Award Hall of Fame. A posthumous reissue of his old stories received the Prix du Patrimoine (2012) at the Festival of Angoulême. In 1983 an asteroid was named after Barks. The choice was justified by the 1960 'Uncle Scrooge' story 'Island in the Sky'. Incidentally Donald Duck also had an asteroid named after him in 1995.

Donald Duck paints Carl Barks. Donald and most of the scenery are original Barks art. Barks' face, however, is drawn by German artist Klaus Bohn. This collage drawing was designed as the cover of a 1996 German calendar featuring reproductions of Barks' oil paintings. Translation of the speech balloon: "In every house a Ba-a-arks painting" - © Disney.

Barks' cult in Europe
In old age, Barks became a global celebrity among Disney fans. He was particularly celebrated in European comic fandom, as his work is very beloved there. Since 2003, the Dutch city Almere has a road named after him and streets after Donald Duck, Scrooge ('Dagobert'), Gus Goose ('Gijs Gans'), Gladstone Gander ('Guus Geluk'), Daisy Duck ('Katrien Duck') and Gyro Gearloose ('Willie Wortel'), all part of their "Comics Heroes" District.  A street in Stockholm, Sweden, The Carl Barks Väg, was originally dedicated to municipal sewage worker Carl Bark. Swedish Carl Barks fans, however, stumbled upon this street and spiritually adopted it in name of their hero. Some of Barks' characters have even gained more popularity in certain parts of Europe than elsewhere. John D. Rockerduck, for instance, is firmly established as Uncle Scrooge's main rival in France and Italy, while the Danish and Dutch publishers use Flintheart Glomgold for that role. 

Between 30 May and 31 July 1994 Barks paid a visit to Europe, meeting with Disney publishers in no less than 11 countries: Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The tour was an initiative of Bob Foster. A trip to Switzerland was also planned, but later cancelled. For Barks it was the first time in his life that he ever left the United States. He always wanted to travel, but lacked the necessary money.  Much to the 93-year old artist's surprise, his visit received a lot of local press attention. In Sweden, the local Donald Duck fanclub NAFS(k) gave him an official Junior Woodchucks cap. In Germany, he met Donald Duck translator Erika Fuchs who played a huge part in popularizing his stories among German-language readers. Despite the fact she too was already quite old (87 years) he still complimented her by calling her "a chick". In Finland a meeting was arranged with local caricaturist Kari Suomalainen. In most countries he was officially greeted by the local mayor of the capital, like Jacques Chirac in Paris. In Norway, Barks even met local Minister of Culture Aase Kleveland. In the Netherlands he visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and was given special permission to observe Rembrandt Van Rijn's painting 'The Nightwatch' up close. Most visitors aren't allowed to do this, out of fear of damaging the masterpiece. 

Final years and death
Although Barks lived long enough to enjoy the appreciation of numerous fans, he also had to deal with more business affairs. His final years were clouded because of a legal dispute with his former managers. In August 2000 he died at age 99 from leukemia, at his home in Grants Pass, Oregon. While his passing barely made headlines in his home country, it was front page news in many European countries. Particularly the most duck crazy of them all: The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. 

Carl Barks with the writers and artists of the Dutch Donald Duck during his visit to the Netherlands in 1994. From left to right, top: Piet Wijn, Harry Balm, Ed van Schuijlenburg, Michel Nadorp, Carl Barks, Mau Heymans, Jaap Stavenuiter, Frank Jonker, Wilma van den Bosch, Ben Verhagen, Hilbert Bolland. Bottom: Jan Kruse, Daan Jippes, Lucas Abedy, Bas Heymans.

Legacy and influence
The work of the always humble Carl Barks is still an influence on comic book artists today. The Danish and Dutch production of Disney comics keep using his stories as a blueprint. American artist Don Rosa went through obsessive lengths to chart out Scrooge McDuck's life and career, based on what he could trace in Barks' original stories. He used this as a springboard to further explore Scrooge's younger years in the 'Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck' series. Apart from the redrawn Barks scripts, Dutch artist Daan Jippes also applies a near-perfect imitation of Barks' style for his own stories. Other Disney comic artists who show strong Barksian inspiration are Patrick Block, Harry GladstoneThorkil MøllerWilliam Van Horn and Ben Verhagen

But the artist also served as an inspiration for artists outside the Disney spectrum. In the United States alone he was a strong influence on Joel BeckSally CruikshankRobert CrumbS. Clay WilsonArt Spiegelman, Cal SchenkelGary PanterJeff SmithEverett PeckNed SonntagSergio Aragonés, Neon Park and Matt Groening (who placed Barks' 'Uncle Scrooge' comics on nr. 54 in his personal list of '100 Favorite Things') . An image of the story 'Wishing Island' (1958) inspired Roy Lichtenstein's painting 'Reflections: Portrait of a Duck' (1989). Film director George Lucas named Barks' work a "priceless part of our literary heritage" and wrote the introduction to Fantagraphics' new release of Barks' classic Duck stories. In Brazil Barks is admired by Primaggio Mantovi.

In Europe Barks influenced even more artists. In Sweden he was an inspiration to Charlie Christensen, while in The Netherlands he is adored by Theo van den Boogaard, Evert GeradtsDaan Jippes, Lae Schäfer and René Windig & Eddie de Jong. In France he has followers among Albert Uderzo, in Italy Annibale Casabianca, in Switzerland Zep and in Austria Karsten Weyershausen. Austrian artist and painter Gottfried Helnwein considered Barks the greatest artist ever and said: "I learned more from 'Donald Duck' than I did from all the schools I ever attended." He also interviewed his idol in 1992 and curated the first museum exhibition of Barks, a retrospective which was shown in ten European museums. In Japan Barks received tremendous appreciation from Osamu Tezuka and in Australia by Dillion Naylor

Books about Carl Barks
For those interested in Barks' life and career Michael Barrier's 'Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book' (1982), Simo Sjöblom's 'Carl Barks ja hänen tuotantonsa' (1992), Donald Ault's 'Carl Barks: Conversations' (2003), Tom Andrae's 'Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity' (2006), Alfons Moliné's 'Carl Barks, un viento ácrata' (2007) and Timo Ronkainen's 'Carl Barks: Ankkamestarin salaisuus' (2018) are all highly recommended. 

Kees Kousemaker and Carl Barks
Lambiek's Kees Kousemaker with Carl Barks on 14 July 1994, meeting in Hotel L'Europe. Barks donated a signed copy of the 'Donald Duck' story 'In Ancient Persia' to our Kees. 

Carl Barks fansite at
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