Carl Barks is one of the world's most legendary comic artists. As the author of numerous classic 'Donald Duck' stories, and as the creator of Duckburg and its famous inhabitants, Barks is among the most important comics creators of the 20th Century. Beginning his career at Disney in the thirties, his talent was soon recognized by his employer and colleagues. In the following decades, he made solo comics, including the entire 'Uncle Scrooge' series at Dell Publishing.
Born on a ranch in Merrill, Oregon, Carl Barks spent his childhood working on the farm, studying agriculture and drawing. In 1918, he left for San Francisco to become an illustrator. He had no success, so he returned to Oregon, where took on various jobs. His first cartoon was published in the Canadian magazine The Calgary Eye-Opener. In the following years, Barks drew several cartoons for this men oriented magazine, which featured a lot of sexually and racially discriminating jokes.
In 1936, Barks found employment at the Walt Disney Studios, where he started out as an apprentice animator. He worked on the storyboards of several 'Donald Duck' shorts and cooperated on the animation of among others 'Donald's Nephews', 'Self-Control', 'Donald's Better Self' and 'Mr. Duck Steps Out'. He also cooperated on a 'Donald Duck' movie project called 'Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold'. The film was eventually dropped by Disney.
Donald Duck paints Carl Barks: "In Every House a Ba-a-arks Painting"
Barks then teamed up with fellow animator Jack Hannah, and turned the story into a comic strip. This story, the first of many Barks would make, was published as a comic book at Dell Publishing in 1942. Barks left the animation studios because of allergies and the World War II political climate, and began drawing comics for Dell/Western instead.
From 1943 to 1966 Carl Barks wrote and drew hundreds of 'Donald Duck' stories for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. He created Duckburg and several new characters for the comics, such as Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander and the Beagle Boys.
The rich and stingy Uncle Scrooge, who first appeared in the story 'Christmas On Bear Mountain' in 1947, eventually got his own title. Barks' stories are masterpieces of escalating storylines, and are great entertainment for all ages. Because all of his work was anonymous, it wasn't until the 1970s that fans learned that one man was responsible for these classic stories.
Barks also worked on some of Dell's non-Disney titles in the 1940s. Between 1944 and 1947, Barks wrote and illustrated 26 stories of MGM's 'Barney Bear and Benny Burro' for the Our Gang comic book. He illustrated 'Andy Panda' for New Funnies in 1943 and contributed to Boy's and Girl's March of Comics from 1947 to 1949. He did one story with 'Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig' ('Porky of the Mounties' in 1944), but found that the characters didn't suit him.
An original detail sketch by Barks
The 'Old Duck Man', as Barks affectionately was called, stopped drawing comics in 1968. He continued to write some occasional scenarios, which were illustrated by John Carey or Tony Strobl. Upon his retirement, Barks started painting for his own pleasure. These oil paintings were much appreciated by fans, and Barks got a temporary agreement with Disney for using the Duck characters - the same ones that he created.
'In Uncle Walt's Collectory' by Carl Barks (detail from oil painting)
Barks became a successful painter, selling many of his works. Sadly, he died from leukemia at his home in Grants Pass, Oregon in August 2000, at the age of 99. He will be remembered through his delightful stories - which have been a big inspiration for a great many artists. Besides his brilliant talents, Carl Barks was a wonderful man and will be missed by generations of comic and cartoon lovers.
Lambiek's Kees Kousemaker with Carl Barks