While on hiatus, I have guests doing a few posts for me. Enjoy, and see you when I get back! ~CAN
Carl Barks never directed any Disney shorts, but he wrote, penciled, shaded inked and lettered over 6,000 pages of work over the course of his 25 year career as a comic book writer/artist. The average artist today releases about 220 pages per year, penciled, and I can assure you that the majority of them are not Disney trained professionals.
During this time he was responsible for the creation of Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander, Flintheart Glomgold, the Beagle Boys, Magica DeSpell, Duckburg and the Money Bin… and all other the mainstays of the Disney Duck universe. Yes, I said universe, because he started this flesh-and-blood world that new writers work on to this day.
But let’s talk a bit about the main characters of the Barks stories for a bit.
Donald Duck served as the hot-tempered everyman. Barks evolved the character from a one-note… ah, excuse me, two-note character (he got angry AND he had a funny voice) to the guardian of Huey, Dewey and Louie, trying to get ahead in life and do right by his charges. A new job would often lead to a pride that brought him down to zero once again, and his efforts to ‘improve himself’ by following trends often led in disaster. He tended to be rewarded very karmically, selfless ends leading him to happiness and riches, while impure motives led him to downfall and ruin.
Huey, Dewey and Louie (often abbreviated as HDL), primarily supporting characters, served as the voice of reason… ‘from the mouths of babes’ indeed. They were good, bright-eyed children, relatively unspoiled by the harshness that we expect life to bring. They teased him sometimes for his follies, but they truly loved their “Unca Donald”. Their Junior Woodchuck Guidebook was an inexhaustable wealth of facts, dates and exposition, which came in handy during the treasure hunt/adventure stories for which Barks was so acclaimed.
Oh… did I not mention adventure stories? I suppose not. But now seems as good a time as any, as we will be discussing the duck many consider to be the true star of the Duck comics…
Meet Scrooge McDuck, ladies and gentlemen. Debuting in 1947’s Christmas at Bear Mountain (earning his first starring role in the classic story Only A Poor Old Man), he is as tightfisted as his name suggests. His Money Bin holds three cubic acres of money (or ‘five billion quadruplatillion umtuplatillion multuplatillion fantasticatillion centrifugalillion dollars and sixteen cents’ for those of you who want to be exact), where he takes his daily ‘swim’.
Surprising no one, Scrooge served as the star of the majority of the long stories Barks told. His money served as the perfect plot device: People wanted to steal it, Scrooge would do nearly anything to save a nickel, and it could buy its way in to a fantastical plot like funding a growth ray.
Scrooge himself was the impetus for excitement, adventure, and a quest for fantastic treasures the likes of which no one could ever imagine! He brought his nephew Donald, and great-nephews HDL, on his adventures. They helped him to protect the Money Bin and his old Number One Dime, the very first coin he ever earned. For the meager pay of 30 cents an hour in 1952, they were a part of the greatest children’s adventure series ever made.
One could do a great and lengthy analysis on the contrast of Scrooge’s greed with his utter adherence to honesty, or the happiness penniless Donald possesses compared to Scrooge’s constant worries of profit. And it’s well worth examining: Barks remained self-conscious when looking over these characters despite their episodic usage (making them accessible to anyone without requiring prior knowledge) and used them to poke gentle fun at the foibles of human nature.
But were you to look at them as simple adventure stories you would not be disappointed. Barks used a surplus of National Geographic magazines as springboards for fantastic locations and ideas, creating a sense of authenticity despite their fantastical nature. Scrooge and Donald’s interplay was hilarious, and the villains they fought made you really want the Ducks to win. Smarts and planning was the order of the day in Barks’ Duck comics against greedy tycoons (without ethics, thank you very much) and thieves who worked hard at robbing other people of their hard work.
Barks retired in 1967, completely uncredited during his career due to Disney contract stipulations. His identity was discovered in 1960 (making him no longer anonymous, but he did still did not get the Disney corporation’s credit), and in time led to a few stories written or drawn after his retirement and the gorgeous oil paintings of the Ducks that Disney allowed him to sell.
I could cite all the numbers for Disney Comics published today throughout the world, God knows there’s enough of them. And the paintings have gone for upwards of 200,000 dollars at least. But those are statistics, and statistics can lie, prices can lie. To truly understand the impact of Carl Barks we must look at my very favorite comic book writer/artist, Don Rosa.
Part 3 tomorrow!
Make sure to start at the beginning with Part 1!
The DeRider is a 20-something Minnesota-based comics fan currently studying television production and writing. You can find his awesome Review or Die blog here: http://reviewordie.wordpress.com