CARL BARKSBorn: 1901 : : : Died: 2000
Job Description: Cartoonist
Worked in: Comic books and animated cartoons
Noted for: Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Gyro Gearloose, Junior Woodchucks, etc.
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whom knew nothing about him except there was something very special about his stories. When, in the early 1960s, he got his first fan letter, he thought it was a practical joke.
But when he retired, the comic books he created remained in print, and eventually, his name started being printed in them. His fame spread throughout the world, as new generations grew up loving his work. He lived to see his name printed in dozens of different languages, in everything from scholarly treatises to children's picture books.
How did Barks manage to touch so many lives, with no feedback from the public? As he put it, "I always tried to write a story that I wouldn't mind buying myself."
Barks was born on March 27, 1901, and spent his early years accumulating a wide variety of experiences. In the late 1920s, after trying a lot of other ways to make a living, he began mining those experiences for cartoon fodder — an activity which, in 1930, cost him his first marriage, as his wife didn't care to have her man's evenings occupied by such a solitary, attention-absorbing activity. Nonetheless, he had some encouraging successes, including a few sales to Judge magazine, which had in the past published such luminaries as Thomas A. "Tad" Dorgan and Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman, and would in the future publish the work of Ted Key, creator of Hazel. But it was in an obscure little Minneapolis-based publication called The Calgary Eye Opener that he found the biggest outlet for his work.
Today, that magazine is remembered only for having published the early work of Carl Barks. After selling dozens of cartoons to it, he joined the staff in 1931, traveling to Minneapolis on borrowed money and arriving with the entirety of his worldly goods packed in a single valise. He stayed there four years, churning out cartoons by the dozen — some bizarre, most risqué, all clever and funny. But by 1935, he felt a need to broaden his horizons, expand his repertoire, make more money — so he sent samples of his work to Walt Disney's Studio.
Before long, he was working for Disney as an in-betweener. It wasn't a job he was particularly well suited for, but it only lasted a few weeks — he submitted so many usable gags for cartoons, before long, they had him doing that full-time. During the late 1930s and early '40s, his work appeared in three dozen Donald Duck cartoons — it may not be recognizable in the final product, but his style is evident in many of the storyboards.
It was during this period that comic books rose to prominence, providing work for moonlighting animation people. Barks's first foray into the fledgling medium, a 1942 Pluto story, was fairly forgettable; but his second was anything but. Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold was a proposed animated feature that was never filmed. Barks collaborated with director Jack Hannah (Barks drawing the outdoor scenes and Hannah the interiors) to turn Bob Karp's script into a 64-page comic book. Perfectly balanced between hair-raising adventure and hilarious slapstick, Pirate Gold, which was published as Dell's Four Color Comics #9 (October, 1942), set the tone for extra-long funny animal comic book stories, for decades to come.
Barks left Disney in 1942 because, a solitary worker at heart, he was unhappy with the studio environment. He wasn't looking for a career in comic books, but was quickly offered steady work in that medium — a series of ten-page gag vehicles for Donald Duck and his nephews in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories. The first appeared in the 31st issue (April, 1943), and Barks continued writing and drawing them until 1966. In this series, Barks developed Donald's character far beyond the one-dimensional bundle of irascibility seen in the animated version. He also introduced such memorable ancillary characters as Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander and The Junior Woodchucks.
Meanwhile, he continued to write and draw longer Duck stories, maintaining the balance of humor and adventure in The Mummy's Ring (1943), Terror of the River (1946), The Ghost of the Grotto (1947) and many others. In 1947, a Christmas story required that Donald have a hitherto-unseen miserly relative, and that's where Barks's most memorable creation of all — Scrooge McDuck — was first seen. Scrooge became a star in his own right, and arguably the most successful spin-off character ever to emerge from comic books.
In the earlier part of his comics career, Barks handled other characters as well — notably, a lengthy series for Our Gang Comics about Barney Bear & Benny Burro, but also including at least a story or two about Porky Pig, Andy Panda, Droopy and even Mickey Mouse. But those were minor flings. For a quarter of a century, he was The Duck Man, and it's his Duck work that he's best remembered for today.
Barks tried to retire from comics in 1966, but was cajoled into continuing to write scripts until '73. From 1971-76, the Disney company gave him special permission to sell original paintings of the Duck characters. By that time, he was starting to receive some recognition for his work, and his growing fame made it possible for him to make better money that way, than he did writing and drawing the stories the paintings were based on. When Disney rescinded permission, he continued to paint, and his devoted fans continued to clamor for his work. Among the still lifes and rural scenes of his later paintings are quite a few with Duck characters — tho not, of course, any that belong to Disney.
Barks enjoyed a long retirement, full of the accolades due a man of his accomplishments. He died on August 25, 2000, 99 years of age. By then, his fame had spread to every corner of the world. He was mourned by millions, on every continent of the globe.