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Carl Barks

Carl Barks (March 27, 1901August 25, 2000) was a famous Disney Studio illustrator and comic book creator, who invented Duckburg and many of its inhabitants, such as Scrooge McDuck (1947), Gladstone Gander (1948), the Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Flintheart Glomgold (1956) and Magica De Spell (1961). The quality of his scripts and drawings earned him the nick names The Duck Man and The Good Duck Artist. Fellow comic writer Will Eisner called him "the Hans Christian Andersen of comic books."

Biography

Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon to William Barks and his wife Arminta Johnson. He had an older brother named Clyde. His paternal grandfather was named David Barks and his maternal grandparents were Carl Johnson and his wife Suzanna Massey, but little else is known about his ancestors.

Childhood

According to Carl's description of his childhood, he was a rather lonely child. His parents owned one square mile (2.6 km²) of land that served as their farm. The nearest neighbor lived half a mile (800 m) away, but he was more an acquaintance to Barks' parents than a friend. The closest school was about two miles (3 km) away and Carl had to walk that distance every day. The rural area had few children, though, and Barks later remembered that his school had only about eight or ten students including him. He had high praise for the quality of the education he received in that small school. "Schools were good in those days," he used to say.

The lessons lasted from nine o'clock in the morning to four o'clock in the afternoon and then he had to return to the farm. There he remembered not having anybody to talk to, as his parents were busy and he had little in common with his brother.

In 1908, William Barks (in an attempt to increase the family income) moved with his family to Midland, Oregon, some miles north of Merrill, to be closer to the railway lines that were new at the time. He established a new stock-breeding farm and sold his produce to the local slaughterhouses.

Nine-year-old Clyde and seven-year-old Carl worked long hours there. But Carl later remembered that the crowd which gathered at Midland's market place made a strong impression on him. This was expected, as he wasn't used to crowds up until then. According to Carl, his attention was mostly drawn to the cowboys that frequented the market with their revolvers, strange nicknames for each other and sense of humor.

By 1911, they had been successful enough to move to Santa Rosa, California. There they started cultivating vegetables and set up some orchards. Unfortunately, the profits were not as high as William expected and they started having financial difficulties. William's anxiety over them was probably what caused his first nervous break down.

As soon as William recovered, he made the decision to move back to Merrill. The year was 1913, and Carl was already twelve years old; but, due to the constant moving, he had not yet managed to complete grade school. He resumed his education at this point and finally managed to graduate in 1916.

1916 served as a turning point in Carl's life for various reasons. First, Arminta, his mother, died in this year. Second, his hearing problems, which had already appeared earlier, had at the time become severe enough for him to have difficulties listening to his teachers talking. His hearing would continue to get worse later, but at that point he had not yet acquired a hearing aid. Later in life, he couldn't do without one. Third, the closest high school to their farm was five miles (8 km) away and even if he did enlist in it, his bad hearing was likely to contribute to his learning problems. He had to decide to stop his school education, much to his disappointment.

From job to job

Barks started taking various jobs but had little success in such occupations as a farmer, woodcutter, turner, mule driver, cowboy and printer. From his jobs he learned, he later averred, how eccentric, stubborn and unpredictable men, animals and machines can be. At the same time he interacted with colleagues, fellow breadwinners who had satirical disposition towards even their worst troubles. Carl later said he was sure that if not for a little humor in their troubled lives, they would certainly go insane. It was an attitude towards life that Carl would adopt. Later he would say it was natural for him to satirize the secret yearnings and desires, the pompous style and the disappointments of his characters. According to Carl this period of his life would later influence his best known fictional characters: Walt Disney's Donald Duck and his own Scrooge McDuck.

Donald's drifting from job to job was reportedly inspired by Carl's own experiences. So was his usual lack of success. And even in those that he was successful this would be temporary, just until a mistake or chance event caused another failure, another disappointment for the frustrated duck. Carl also reported that this was another thing he was familiar with.

Scrooge's main difference to Donald, according to Carl, was that he too had faced the same difficulties in his past but through intelligence, determination and hard work, he was able to overcome them. Or as Scrooge himself would say to Huey, Dewey and Louie: by being "tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties." Even in the present of his stories Scrooge would work to solve his many problems, even though the stories would often point out that his constant efforts seemed futile at the end. In addition, Scrooge was quite similar to his creator in appearing often to be as melancholic, introspective and secretive as he was.

Through both characters Carl would often exhibit his rather sarcastic sense of humor. It seems that this difficult period for the artist helped shape many of his later views in life that were expressed through his characters.

Professional artist

At the same time Carl had started thinking about turning a hobby that he always enjoyed into a profession: that of drawing. Since his early childhood he spent his free time by drawing on any material he could find. He had attempted to improve his style by copying the drawings of his favorite comic strip artists from the newspapers where he could find them. As he later said, he wanted to create his own facial expressions, figures and comical situations in his drawings but wanted to study the master comic artists' use of the pen and their use of color and shading.

Among his early favorites were Winsor McCay (mostly known for Little Nemo) and Frederick Burr Opper (mostly known for Happy Hooligan) but he would later study any style that managed to draw his attention.

At sixteen he was mostly self-taught but at this point he decided to take some lessons through correspondence. He only followed the first four lessons and then had to stop because his working left him with little free time. But as he later said, the lessons proved very useful in improving his style.

By December 1918, he left his father's home to attempt to find a job in San Francisco, California. He worked for a while in a small publishing house while attempting to sell his drawings to newspapers and other printed material with little success.

First marriage

While he continued drifting through various jobs, he met Pearl Turner (1904-1987). In 1921 they married and had two children:

  • Peggy Barks, born in 1923.
  • Dorothy Barks, born in 1924.

In 1923 he returned to his paternal farm in Merrill in an attempt to return to the life of a farmer, but that ended soon. He continued searching for a job while attempting to sell his drawings. He soon managed to sell some of them to Judge magazine and then started having success submitting to the Minneapolis-based Calgary-Eye-Opener, a racy men's magazine of the era. He was eventually hired as editor and scripted and drew most of the contents while continuing to sell occasional work to other magazines. His salary of 90 dollars a month was considered respectable enough for the time. A facsimile of one of the racy magazines he did cartoons for in this period, Coo Coo #1, was published by Hamilton Comics in 1997.

Meanwhile he had his first divorce. He and Pearl were separated in 1929 and divorced in 1930. After he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where "Calgary-Eye-Opener" had its offices he met Clara Balken who in 1938 became his second wife.

Disney

In November 1935, when he learned that Walt Disney was seeking more artists for his Studio, Carl decided to apply. He was approved for a try-out which entailed a move to Los Angeles, California. Carl was one of two in his class of trainees who was hired. His starting salary was 20 dollars a week. He started at Disney Studios in 1935, more than a year after the debut of Donald Duck on June 9, 1934 in the short The Wise Little Hen.

Carl initially worked as an inbetweener. This involved being teamed and supervised by one of the head animators who did the key poses of character action (often known as extremes) for which the inbetweeners did the drawings between the extremes to provide smoothness to the illusion of movement. While an inbetweener, Carl submitted gag ideas for cartoon storylines being developed and showed such a knack for creating comical situations that by 1937 he was transferred to the story department. His first story sale was the climax of Modern Inventions, for a sequence where a robot barber chair gives Donald Duck a haircut on his butt.

In 1937 when Donald Duck became the star of his own series of cartoons instead of co-starring with Mickey Mouse and Goofy as previously, a new unit of storymen and animators was created devoted solely to this series. Though he originally just contributed gag ideas to some duck cartoons by 1937 Barks was (principally with partner Jack Hannah) originating story ideas that were storyboarded and (if approved by Walt) put into production. He collaborated on such cartoons as Donald's Nephews (1938), Donald's Cousin Gus (1939), Mr. Duck Steps Out (1940),Timber (1941), The Vanishing Private (1942) and The Plastics Inventor (1944).

The Good Duck Artist

Unhappy at the emerging wartime working conditions at Disney plus bothered by ongoing sinus problems caused by the studio's air conditioning, Barks quit in 1942. Shortly before quitting, he moonlighted as a comic book artist, contributing half the artwork for a one-shot comic book (the other half of the art being done by story partner Jack Hannah) titled Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. This 64 page story was adapted by Donald Duck comic strip writer Bob Karp from an unproduced feature, and published in October 1942 in [Dell] Four Color Comics #9. It was the first Donald Duck story originally produced for an American comic book and also the first involving Donald and his nephews in a treasure hunting expedition, in this case for the treasure of Henry Morgan. Barks would later use the treasure hunting theme in many of his stories.

After quitting the Studio, Barks relocated to the Hemet/San Jacinto area in the semi-desert inland empire region east of Los Angeles where he hoped to start a chicken farm.

(When asked which of his stories was a favorite in several interviews Barks cited the 10 pager in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #146 (Nov. 1952) in which Donald tells the story of the chain of unfortunate events that took place when he owned a chicken farm in a town which subsequently was re-named Omelet. Likely one reason it was a favorite is that it was inspired by Barks' own experiences in the poultry business.)

But to earn a living in the meantime he inquired whether Western Publishing, which had published Pirate Gold, had any need for artists for Donald Duck comic book stories. He was immediately assigned to illustrate the script for a 10 page Donald Duck story for the monthly Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. At the publisher's invitation he revised the storyline and the improvements impressed the editor sufficiently to invite Barks try his hand at contributing both the script and the artwork of his follow-up story. This set the pattern for Barks' career in that (with rare exceptions) he provided art (pencil, inking, solid blacks and lettering) and scripting for his stories.

The Victory Garden, that initial 10 page story published in April, 1943 was the first of about 500 stories featuring the Disney ducks Barks would produce for Western Publishing over the next three decades, well into his purported retirement. These can be mostly divided into two categories:

  • 10 pagers, comedic Donald Duck stories that were the lead for the monthly flagship title Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (whose circulation peaked in the mid-50s at 3 million copies sold a month).
  • Humorous adventure stories, usually of 24-32 pages in length. In the 1940s these were one shots in the Four Color series (issued 4-6 times a year) that starred Donald and his nephews. From the early 1950s Barks undertook the quarterly adventures of Uncle Scrooge and the duck clan in Scrooge's own title.

He surrounded Donald Duck and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie with a cast of eccentric and colorful characters, such as the aforementioned Scrooge McDuck—the wealthiest duck in the world, Gladstone Gander—Donald's obscenely lucky cousin, inventor Gyro Gearloose, the persistent Beagle Boys, the sorceress Magica De Spell, Scrooge's rivals Flintheart Glomgold and John D. Rockerduck, Daisy's nieces April, May and June, Donald's neighbour Jones, and The Junior Woodchucks organization.

People who work for Disney generally do so in relative anonymity; the stories only carry Walt Disney's name and (sometimes) a short identification number. However, through the sheer quality of his work, people started realizing that a lot of the stories were written by one person, whom they started referring to as the Good Duck Artist. Later it was discovered that the Good Duck Artist went by the name of Carl Barks.

Barks' stories (whether humorous adventures or domestic comedies) often exhibited a wry, dark irony born of hard experience. The 10 pagers showcased Donald as everyman, struggling against the cruel bumps and bruises of everyday life with the nephews often acting as a Greek chorus commenting on the unfolding disasters Donald wrought upon himself. Yet while seemingly defeatist in tone the humanity of the characters shines through in their persistence despite the obstacles. These stories found popularity not only among young children but adults as well. Despite the fact that Barks had done little traveling his adventure stories often had the duck clan globetrotting to the most remote or spectacular of locations. This allowed Barks to indulge his penchant for elaborate backgrounds that hinted at his thwarted ambitions of doing realistic stories in the vein of Harold Foster's Prince Valiant.

Third marriage

As Barks blossomed creatively, his marriage to Clara deteriorated (this is the period referred to in Barks' famed quip that he could feel his creative juices flowing while the whiskey bottles hurled at him by a tipsy Clara flew by his head) and they were divorced in 1951. It was his second and last divorce. In this period Barks dabbled in fine art, exhibiting paintings at local art shows. It was at one of these in 1952 he became acquainted with fellow exhibitor Margaret Wynnfred Williams (1917 to March 10, 1993), nicknamed Garé, a landscape artist. Her nickname appears as a store name in the story "Christmas in Duckburg", featured on page 1 of Walt Disney’s Christmas Parade #9, published in 1958. She soon started helping him, handling the solid blacks and lettering (both of which Barks had found onerous). They married in 1954 and their marriage lasted till her death.

Later life

Carl Barks retired in 1966 but was persuaded by editor Chase Craig to script stories for Western. The last new comic book story drawn by Carl Barks was a Daisy Duck tale (The Dainty Daredevil) published in Walt Disney Comics Digest issue 5 (Nov. 1968). When bibliographer Michael Barrier asked Barks about why he drew it, Barks' vague recollection was no one was available and he was asked to do it as a favor by editor Chase Craig.

He wrote one Uncle Scrooge story, three Donald Duck stories and from 1970-1974 was the main writer for the Junior Woodchucks comic book (issues 6 through 25). The latter included environmental themes that Barks first explored in 1957 ["Land of the Pygmy Indians", Uncle Scrooge #18]. Barks also sold a few sketches to Western that were redrawn as covers. For a time they lived in Goleta, California before returning to the inland empire by moving to Temecula.

At the urging of fan Glenn Bray, Barks requested and obtained permission from Disney to produce and sell oil paintings of scenes from his stories. These paintings quickly became highly sought after and their price rocketed much to Barks' astonishment.

At Boston's NewCon convention, in October 1975, the first Carl Barks oil painting auctioned at a comic convention sold for $2,500. Titled "She Was Spangled and Flashy," this colorful 16" x 20" piece depicts the first meeting between Scrooge McDuck and his on-again, off-again love interest, Glittering Goldie. The scene takes place in the crowded Blackjack Saloon in the Klondike. Rarely did a Barks painting have more characters than the 25 found in "She Was Spangled and Flashy."

Originally purchased by well-known Barks collector, Jerry Osborne, this is a rarity among Carl's oils in that it has never changed hands. Its value now is approximately $175,000.

In 1976 Carl and Garé went to Boston for the NewCon show, their first comic convention appearance. Among the other attendees was famed Little Lulu comic book scripter John Stanley; despite both having worked for Western Publishing this was the first time they met. The highlight of the convention was the auctioning of what was to that time the largest duck oil painting Barks had done, "The Fourth of July in Duckburg", which included depictions of several prominent Barks fans and collectors. It sold for a then record high amount: $6,400.

Soon thereafter a fan sold unauthorized prints of some of the Scrooge McDuck paintings, leading Disney to withdraw permission for further paintings. To meet demand for new work Barks embarked on a series of paintings of non-Disney ducks and fantasy subjects such as Beowulf and Xerxes. These were eventually collected in the limited-edition book Animal Quackers.

As the result of heroic efforts by Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz and screenwriter Edward Summer, Disney relented and in 1981, allowed Barks to do a now seminal oil painting called "Wanderers of Wonderlands" for a breakthrough limited edition book entitled "Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times." The book collected 11 classic Barks stories of Uncle Scrooge colored by artist Peter Ledger along with a new Scrooge story by Barks done storybook style with watercolor illustrations, Go Slowly, Sands of Time. After being turned down by every major publisher in New York City, Kurtz and Summer published the book through Celestial Arts which Kurtz acquired partly for this purpose. The book went on to become the model for virtually every important collection of comic book stories. It was the first book of its kind ever reviewed in Time Magazine and subsequently in Newsweek, and the first book review in Time Magazine with large color illustrations.

In 1977 and 1982 Barks attended the legendary San Diego Comic Con. As with his appearance in Boston, the response to his presence was overwhelming, with long lines of fans waiting to meet Barks and get his autograph.

In this period Disney also licensed a series of art prints of Barks' duck paintings released by Another Rainbow, which also produced a 30 volume hardbound Carl Barks Library including all the stories (in black and white) with accompanying scholarly commentary. Barks relocated one last time to Grants Pass, Oregon near where he grew up, partly at the urging of friend and Broom Hilda artist Russell Myers who lives in the area. The move also was motivated, Barks stated in another famous quip, by Temecula being too close to Disneyland and thus facilitating a growing torrent of drop-in visits by vacationing fans. In this period Barks made only one public appearance, at a comic book shop near Grants Pass.

From 1993 to 1998 Barks' career was managed by the "Carl Barks Studio" (Bill Grandey and Kathy Morby). This involved numerous projects and activities, including a tour of 11 European countries in 1994, Iceland being the first foreign country he ever visited, appearances at several Disneyana conventions and the release of prints of paintings along with high-end art objects (such as tiles and statutes) based on designs by Barks. In 1997 tensions between Barks and the Studio eventually resulted in a lawsuit that was settled with an agreement that included the disbanding of the Studio, after which Barks was represented by Gerry Tank and Jim Mitchell.

Austrian Artist Gottfried Helnwein curated and organized the first museum-exhibition of Carl Barks. Between 1994 and 1998 the retrospective was shown in 10 European Museums and seen by more than 400 000 visitors.

Final days

Still living in a new home in Grants Pass, Oregon which he and Garé had built next door to their original home, Barks died in 2000 at the age of 99 just a few months short of his 100th birthday and a couple of years after Garé passed away.

Although he was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia he was, according to caregiver Serene Hunickle, "funny up to the end."

Barks' influence

Barks' Donald Duck stories were rated #7 on Comic's Journal list of 100 top comics; his Uncle Scrooge stories were rated #20.

For the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have acknowledged the rolling boulder booby trap was inspired by the 1954 Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge adventure the Seven Cities of Cibola (Uncle Scrooge #7). Lucas and Spielberg have also made comments that some of Barks' stories regarding space travel and the depiction of aliens had an influence on them. Lucas wrote the foreword to the 1982 "Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times". In it he calls Barks’ stories "cinematic" and "a priceless part of our literary heritage".

The Walt Disney Treasures DVD set _Wave_Five#The_Chronological_Donald.2C_Volume_2 includes a salute to Barks.

Carl Barks has an asteroid named after him, 2730 Barks. A Cornell scientist was inspired by Barks's tale "Island in the Sky".

In the city of Almere, The Netherlands, close to Amsterdam, a street was named after him: Carl Barksweg. The new subdivision in which this street is located also includes, among others, a Donald Ducklaan and a Goofystraat.

A 1949 Donald Duck ten-pager features Donald raising a yacht from the ocean floor by filling it with ping pong balls. In December 1965 Karl Krøyer, a Dane, lifted the sunken freight vessel Al Kuwait in the Kuwait Harbor by filling the hull with 27 million tiny inflatable balls of polystyrene. Although the suggestion is often made, Krøyer denies having been inspired by this Barks story. Some sources claim Krøyer was denied a Dutch patent registration (application number NL 6514306) for his invention on the grounds that the Barks story was a prior publication of the invention. However no definite proof of this story is available. Krøyer later successfully raised another ship off Greenland using the same method, and several other sunken vessels worldwide have since been raised by modified versions of this concept. The television show MythBusters also tested this method and was able to raise a small boat.

For those currently drawing Disney Duck comics, the influence of Barks cannot be overstated. For artists such as Daan Jippes and Freddy Milton, Barks' comics have made a great impact.

Don Rosa, one of the currently most popular Disney artists, and possibly the one who has been most keen on connecting the various stories into a coherent universe and chronology, considers (with few exceptions) all Barks' duck stories as canon, and all others as apocryphal. Rosa has said that a number of novelists and movie-makers cite Carl Barks as their 'major influence and inspiration'.

The popularity of Barks' work in Europe is high, and has been that way for years. When the news of Barks' passing was hardly covered by the press in America, "in Europe the sad news was flashed instantly across the airwaves and every newspaper - they realized the world had lost one of the most beloved, influential and well-known creators in international culture.

Dozens of noted comic book artists have taken up elements of Barks' style, especially his ink and pen work. In the US elements of Barks' oil painting style of the ducks were evident in the computer animated, 3-D look Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas released to video in 2005.

The video game Donald Duck Going Quackers is dedicated to the memory of Carl Barks.

Little-known fact

Bibliography

  • Coo Coo #1, Hamilton Comics, 1997 (a facsimile of one of the racy magazines Barks did cartoons for in the thirties).
  • Our Gang comics #11-36 (May/June 1944-June 1947). Eight-page stories teaming Metro Goldwyn Mayer cartoon stars Barney Bear and Benny Burro that are his one substantial non-Disney series.
  • Carl Barks Library, 1984-1990, 30 hardback volumes in black and white published by Another Rainbow.
  • Carl Barks Library (graphic album format, in color) 1992-1998
  • The Collected Works of Carl Barks 2005+, 30 volume limited edition published by Egmont for Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany. Edited by Barks expert Geoffrey Blum.

Notable stories

Partial (up to December, 1951) chronological List of Disney comics by Carl Barks.

Awards

  • The Shazam Award for Best Writer (Humor Division) in 1970
  • The Academy of Comic Book Arts Hall of Fame Award in 1973
  • The Inkpot in 1977 from the San Diego Comic Con
  • Inducted into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame in 1987.
  • Inducted into the William Randolph Hearst Cartoon Hall of Fame.
  • The Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Writer in 1996.
  • The Walt Disney Company bestowed a Duckster award in 1971 and their Disney Legends award in 1991
  • The series Carl Barks Library received the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Novel/Album for 1996.

Further reading

External links

References

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