Carl Barks
About Carl Barks
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.
Cartoon for the Calgary Eye-Opener
Cartoon for the Calgary Eye-Opener
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.
Storyboard sketch for »Chef Donald« (1941)
Storyboard sketch for »Chef Donald« (1941)
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.
First appearance of Scrooge McDuck (FC 178/2)
First appearance of Scrooge McDuck (FC 178/2)
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.
Barks' oil painting »Bullet Valley« (1973)
Barks' oil painting »Bullet Valley« (1973)
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:
Porcelain figurine designed by Barks: »Always Another Rainbow« (1991)
Porcelain figurine designed by Barks: »Always Another Rainbow« (1991)
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.

BarksBase by Gerd Syllwasschy · Last update: 15 December 2002
Most illustrations © Disney (4).