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About the Artists

Carl Barks
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by Gerd Syllwasschy · Last update: 15 December 2002, at http://www.barksbase.de/english/

 

 

 

CARL BARKS

 

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Carl Barks was born on 27 March 1901 on a farm near Merrill, Oregon, as the younger of two brothers. He became attracted to drawing early, but apart from village school and the first 4 lessons of a correspondence course in drawing he never received any formal education. In December 1918 he moved to San Francisco where he worked as an errand boy at a printer's. Since he did not find a place for his artistic ambitions in San Francisco, he returned to work on his parents' farm after one and a half year.

In 1923 he married his first wife, Pearl Turner, with whom he had 2 daughters (Peggy in 1923, Dorothy in 1924). After an interlude at a lumberjack camp he worked, starting in 1923, for six and a half years at a repair shop for railroad cars of the Pacific Fruit Express Company in Roseville, California. During this time, in 1929, he separated from his first wife; they were divorced in 1930.  In 1928/1929 he managed to sell several cartoon drawings to the Calgary Eye-Opener, a humor magazine of the cruder kind, and to the more distinguished magazines Judge and College Humor. Presently he quit his job at the railroad company and began to freelance for the Eye-Opener. In November 1931 he moved to Minneapolis, where the Eye-Opener resided, and got a salaried employment there in December 1931. It was also in Minneapolis where he first met his second wife, Clara Balken, who worked as a phone operator at his hotel; they married in 1938.

 

 

 

In November 1935 he applied for a job at the Disney  Studio where he saw better professional opportunities in spite of the significantly lower payment. There he worked as an in-betweener first, but got promoted to the story department after a half year. In the following years he worked nearly exclusively on Donald Duck cartoons; in 17 cases he was the story director. On 6 November 1942 he quit the Disney Studio, in part for health reasons, but also because of the general trend towards the production of wartime movies. He moved to San Jacinto with his wife and set up a chicken farm there which did not last long, however. At the same time he applied for a job at Western Printing & Lithographing who were licensed to produce comic books with characters of Disney's and other major animation studios.

Barks at first freelanced at Western, later he became a nominal employee, mainly for fiscal reasons, though; he never received a fixed salary, but was always paid per page. In the two decades to follow he created an impressive oeuvre consisting of about 500 multiple-page comic stories which had a strong influence on a whole generation. He added several major characters to the Disney universe, among them Scrooge McDuck (1947), Gladstone Gander (1947), the Junior Woodchucks (1950), the Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1951), and Magica de Spell (1961). The city of Duckburg (1944) had its name from Barks, too. Contrary to common practice, he used to do his stories all on his own, from the idea through the script to the finished ink art - doubtlessly an important part of their specific appeal.  After his divorce from Clara in December 1951, Barks renewed his acquaintance with Hawaiian painter Margaret Wynnfred Williams whom he married in 1954. Garé, as his third wife signed her paintings, took on lettering the speech balloons and also contributed many background drawings.

On 30 June 1966 Barks retired. After this day he did not draw any more comics for Western (with one exception), though he continued to deliver about two dozen scripts and numerous cover drawings. At the same time he followed the example of his wife and took to painting (mostly landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes), but had no success worth mentioning until 1971 when he, with a special permission from Disney, began to put Duckburg scenes on the canvas. When Disney revoked the license in 1976, Barks had created more than 120 oil paintings with Duck motifs which now sell for six-digit dollar sums on the collectors' market.

After a longer break, in 1982 American publisher Another Rainbow started a series of lithographs to which Barks contributed several new paintings with Duck motifs.

 

On 9 March 1993 Barks' wife Garé died. This did not cause Barks to retire for good; instead the »Carl Barks Studio« was founded, and hectic activities ensued under managers Bill Grandey and Kathy Morby. In May 1994, Barks went overseas for the first time in his life. On the occasion of an exhibition of his oil paintings which opened at the Copenhagen National Museum on 10 June 1994, he went on a promotion tour which led him through 11 European countries in 7 weeks. You could say the old man personally performed his own story WDC 273/1 (»A Duck's Eye View of Europe«) and added some speed to it!

 

In the years to follow Barks worked on the design of porcelain and bronze figurines with Duck motifs and after a long break contributed 2 more comic-book works: the script for the Scrooge adventure »Horsing Around with History« (first published in 1994) and a plot outline for the Donald story »Somewhere in Nowhere« which was published in November 2000 in Italy.  In late 1997 Barks parted with his managers and was represented by Gerry Tank and Jim Mitchell ever since. He reduced his artistic activities to a minimum now, the more so after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1999.  Carl Barks died on 25 August 2000 in Oregon. His last published work is an »Ode to the Disney Ducks« which he wrote shortly after his 98th birthday. It is reproduced here:

 

 

 

 

 

His Art (short summary):

 

Carl Barks probably painted his first watercolors as early as 1956, partly following motifs from Ted Kautzky's books, and in 1958 visited a course in oil painting together with his wife, Garé. His activities as a painter remained sporadic, however, until he retired in 1966 and created several oil paintings (mostly landscapes and genre scenes) which he sold with modest success at small art markets.

The commercial breakthrough did not come until 1971 when he produced his first oil painting with a Duckburg scene at the request of a fan, Glenn Bray. In the following 5 years Barks created more than 120 oil paintings with Duck motifs which are nearly all included in the book »The Fine Art of Walt Disney's Donald Duck« (1981).

When Disney revoked the license in 1976, Barks started a new series of oil paintings under the supertitle »Kings and Queens of Myth and Legend«, but did not continue this thread after the 4th picture. More successful were his »Famous Figures of History as They Might Have Looked Had Their Genes Gotten Mixed with Waterfowl«, begun in 1978, mostly small-sized watercolors with anthropomorphic animals of which he released about 60 in the following years.

Starting in 1982, Barks painted a second series of Duck oils for Another Rainbow's lithograph project. In 1994 Barks (or rather the »Carl Barks Studio« as represented by managers Bill Grandey and Kathy Morby) parted with Another Rainbow and commissioned Disney with the distribution of lithographs and serigraphs.

The following list is based mainly on Matti Eronen's book »Carl Barks' Surviving Comic Book Art« (Duck oils) and on the art book »Animal Quackers« (Waterfowls); with certainty it does not cover Carl Barks' work as a painter in full, especially as the »realistic« motifs are concerned. Also, the Disney watercolors and several oil preliminaries for never realized paintings are not included.

Other graphic works, as pencil drawings or sketches, were not gathered here. Thus, you will not find the about 70 crayon drawings with Disney motifs Barks made in 1996/1997.

 

 

 

Carl Barks biography and quotes by Erik Svane

 

Ode to the Disney Ducks

By Carl Barks

 

They ride tall ships to the far away,

and see the long ago.

They walk where fabled people trod,

and Yetis trod the snow.

 

They meet the folks who live on stars,

and find them much like us,

With food and love and happiness

the things they most discuss.

 

The world is full of clans and cults

abuzz as angry bees,

And Junior Woodchucks snapping jeers

at Littlest Chickadees.

 

The ducks show us that part of life

is to forgive a slight.

That black eyes given in revenge

keep hatred burning bright.

 

So when our walks in sun or shade

pass graveyards filled by wars,

It's nice to stop and read of ducks

whose battles leave no scars.

 

To read of ducks who parody

our vain attempts at glory,

They don't exist, but somehow leave

us glad we bought their story.

 

 

Personal quotes

"Recognition is fine if the rewards are high enough to repay me for loss of privacy and freedom of expression."

"I have no cartoonists in my ancestral tree whatsoever, no artists that I know of, no writers that I know of. I was just sort of a mutant that came along."

"Donald [Duck] is my favorite character, because he's like all my friends, my neighbors, myself, he's just Mister Everyman."

"One of the greatest difficulties in handling characters is in figuring out how each character is going to react to a certain situation. In that respect, Uncle Scrooge is fairly easy to keep in line. He will always choose the cheapest way to meet an emergency."

"I've always looked at the ducks as caricatures of human beings."

"I finally decided to do a watercolor to show that I'm really a hairy-chinned rebel at heart."

"My age is 80 and I don't look a day over 79 1/2." (1981)

"Some of the main people who influenced my drawing style were Winsor McCay, Opper [Frederick Opper], and Hal Foster. Roy Crane, who drew 'Buzz Sawyer', also had a direct, simple style."

"It wasn't genius or even unusual talent that made the stories good, it was patience and a large waste-basket."

"Errors and boo-boos bother me years after I've forgotten every other feature of a story."

"I polished and polished on the scripts and drawings until I had done the best I could in the time available."

"If you were a prima donna down at the Disney studio, if you went in thinking you were a genius and then you had to work with a bunch of geniuses, why you soon got the ego knocked out of you."

"It wasn't genius or even unusual talent that made the stories good, it was patience and a large waste-basket."

"I was a fizzle as a cowboy, a logger, a printing press feeder, a steelworker, a carpenter, an animator, a chicken grower, and a barfly. Perhaps that all helped in writing my stories of the ineptitudes of poor old Donald."

"I visualized stories in plot sequences."

"Writing stories is a lot like writing poetry. It all has to be set to a certain tempo. Everything has to be in its right place at the right time."

"I want to thank the Disney Studio. Not for myself, but for all those comic book fans -- the kids who used to buy my comic books for a dime and are now selling them for $2,000." (Disney Legend trophy acceptance speech, October 22, 1991)


 

 

From my copy of a Bark's limited edition of his
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paintings

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