CARL BARKS 1901 - 2000
1901 - 2000
For a moment on Friday morning, my world stopped. I received the phone call at work that morning from a fellow Duck fan that Carl Barks had died.
|From the first page of UNCLE SCROOGE #1 (March 1952), "Only a Poor Old Man."|
Carl Barks was 99 when he left us on Friday morning.
I never met Barks. But of all the old-time greats, he had the greatest impact on my comics life. His stories may have first come alive for me on the small screen in DUCKTALES, but they truly resonated on the printed page. It's all too easy to get trapped in that little world of talking ducks. There are stories of his that I own multiple copies of colored by different colorists on different sizes and weights of paper. I've reread them each time I bought them. How could you not? They suck you in better than anything else.
|One of the first comics I ever bought. It reprints "Micro-Ducks From Outer Space," originally printed in UNCLE SCROOGE #65 in 1966. The story would inspire the namesake DUCKTALES episode.|
He created Scrooge McDuck at an age when most men today want to trade in their SUVs for little two-door sports cars.
He painted masterpieces worthy of exhibition at an age when most of us would just be happy to cash our Social Security checks.
Carl Barks led an amazing life. It's the kind of story that would make an award-winning documentary. If you thought the lives of Hollywood stars were fascinating, reading the life story of Carl Barks and everything he did will leave you in awe. From being a Disney gag writer to chicken farmer to comic book artist to painter and more…
|Cover to Hamilton Comics' 1997 collection of early Barks' cartoons. Not only was the book "unexpurgated," showing material to be considered sexist and racist by today's standards, it was also unauthorized by Barks, himself.|
The biggest irony of Carl Barks' career, perhaps, is that his little tales, replete with Americana, achieved greatest fame overseas. In Scandinavia, he is treated like a god. (They already have a king, and Carl Barks' creations probably have better name recognition and favorability. ;-) In America, you can't find a simple Scrooge memento in a Disney Studios store at the local mall. You're hard pressed to find anything at Disneyland, for that matter! Meanwhile, in other countries, you can get a Scrooge McDuck piggy bank for opening up a checking account at the local bank. But I digress…
|Cover to UNCLE SCROOGE #309, May 1998. It's a detail from a Barks oil painting done in 1973 entitled "This Dollar Saved My Life At Whitehorse."|
There were generally two types of stories Barks did. The first was the short and comedic ten-page gag stories, which were often featured in WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES. This would be the "Donald gets a new job" type of story, which strung together a series of gags to their inevitable conclusion. Character was ever important in these stories. Donald's short temper and the nephew's desire to be good Junior Woodchucks and keep him honest often were at odds, and that kept the comedy coming.
The second type of story is probably the one most people remember Barks for. The adventure stories could run twenty to thirty-two pages, but always finished inside of the same issue. There were no such things as continued stories in Barks' day. Using a trusty stack of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC for photo reference and factual background, Barks would send the ducks all over the world in pursuit of treasure.
|UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES, Vol 2, #26, May 1994. Carl Barks oil painting detail from "Klondike Kaper."|
This isn't meant to ignore or diminish his artistic skills. While his pen and ink skills were, indeed, on the decline by the 1960s, Barks was still able to portray some masterful and memorable images. His ducks were stylish and simple, not needing a whole lot of lines or tedious crosshatching to fill in their characters. The characters emoted naturally when Barks drew them. It was more than just facial expressions, although that might have been charming enough given the bone structure of a duck's face. ;-) He had the body language down pat, and the senses of motion and animation were always present. Scrooge leaned on his cane, but didn't rely on it. When adventure struck, he could barely be bothered with it.
By the end of his storytelling career, Barks' ducks looked a little flatter, maybe slightly less animated. They were telltale signs of a tired artist. The linework wasn't as fluid. But, still, I'd line up any of those 1960s stories against most any modern super-hero or small press comic as far as storytelling and character work go.
|From UNCLE SCROOGE #1 (March 1952), "Only a Poor Old Man."|
When it came time to send Scrooge and the nephews down below the surface to investigate a series of earthquakes ("The Land Beneath the Ground," 1956), the Terry Fermies' games were shown in startling detail. The Terry Fermies, themselves, were little more than solid lumps of red and blue color. Merged together and placed in "The Land Beneath the Ground," they formed memorable patterns, standout images, and a wonderful sense of motion. All of that was placed against a sometimes photo-realistic backdrop. Such was Barks' style. While his characters would be fluid and animated and cartoony, the backgrounds were always drawn with a keen eye towards detail and realism. There was no stylization apparent there.
|Cover to 1996 reprinting of "Land Beneath The Ground," UNCLE SCROOGE #13, March 1956.|
Nor does it count Barks' second artistic career - painting. For the last thirty years of his life, Barks enjoyed doing watercolor recreations of his Ducks in situations he made famous.
This is hardly the end for Carl Barks. The stories, the characters, and the memories he left behind will be with us always. And when Disney comics publish in America again, a whole new generation will get a taste of what it meant to read comics starring talking ducks that will make them stand up and cheer. Stories that will make them think. Stories that will make them laugh until they cry.
I envy them getting the chance to experience it all for the first time.
We miss ya already, Unca Carl.