Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon, on 27 March 1901, the son of William Barks and his wife Arminta Johnson. Although he had a brother (two years older), Barks described himself as a rather lonely child, his nearest neighbour being over half a mile away from his parents' farm. The local school had only eight or ten students although Barks later recalled that it offered a good education. In 1908 the family moved to Midland, Oregon, closer to the railroad, where they established a new stock-breeding farm.
The immediate success of this venture meant that within three years the family were able to move to Santa Rosa, California, where William began cultivating vegetables and orchards. Profits were slim and William's anxiety over their financial difficulties led to a nervous breakdown and the family returned to Merrill in 1913.
Barks completed his education in 1916, in part concluded because he was suffering from a hearing disability; it was in the same year that his mother died and Barks had a range of jobs – farmer, woodcutter, mule driver, cowboy and printer. In 1918 he moved to San Francisco, California, and found work with a small publishing firm.
In 1935 he learned that Walt Disney was seeking artists and moved to Los Angeles where he was hired at a starting salary of $20 a week. He worked initially as an "inbetweener", drawing the movements of characters between key poses. In 1937, his success at submitting gags led to his transfer to the story department where he first worked on the Donald Duck cartoon 'Modern Inventions'. Over the next few years he contributed to a number of Donald's cartoons, including the first appearance of Huey, Dewey and Louie in 'Donald's Nephews' (1938).
Barks suffered from sinus problems caused by the air conditioning in the Walt Disney art studio and left in 1942. He had then recently collaborated with Jack Hannah – who also worked in the Donald Duck story department – on a number of comic strips for Dell, Pluto Saves the Ship published in Large Feature Comics and the 64-page one-shot Donald Duck comic Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold in Four Color Comics, both published in 1942.
Barks relocated to the Hemet/San Jacinto area east of Los Angeles where he set up a chicken farm, which failed. Barks, did, however, establish himself with Dell's Walt Disney's Comics and Stories as both the author and artist of numerous stories. His first story, 'The Victory Garden', was published in April 1943 and was followed by some 500 tales featuring the Disney ducks, his creations including Scrooge McDuck (1947), Gladstone Gander (1948), The Beagle Boys (1951), The Junior Woodchucks (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Cornelius Coot (1952), Flintheart Glomgold (1956), John D. Rockerduck (1961) and Magica De Spell (1961).
Although Barks' work was published anonymously, his name became known to fans around 1960. He continued to draw strips until 1966 when he retired, although he was persuaded to script stories until the 1970s. He painted in oils and exhibited and sold at local art shows. In 1971, he was granted permission by Disney's Publications Department to paint scenes from his various stories. When fans learned of this, Barks was inundated with requests and had to announce in 1974 that he was no longer taking commissions.
Duck paintings by Barks began to attract large sums at auction and unauthorized prints led to Disney withdrawing permission from Barks. They relented in 1981 following a campaign by Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz and Conan the Barbarian screenwriter Edward Summer. Summer edited Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times (1981), a collection of Barks' tales alongside a new story illustrated by Barks with watercolour illustrations.
The ambitious Carl Barks Library was published in 1984-1990, the thirty volumes reprinting every Disney comic strip written or drawn by Barks. Gladstone Publishing subsequently produced the Carl Barks Library in Color (1992-98). Barks appeared at his first Disney convention in 1993 and, in 1994, embarked on an 11-country tour of Europe. A retrospective of Barks' work was first held in 1994 and was shown around ten cities, attracting over 400,000 visitors.
In the 1980s, Barks had moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, close to where he grew up. His wife died in March 1993. Barks survived a further seven years before he also died whilst undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, on 25 August 2000, aged 99.
Examples of Carl Barks' artwork can be found for sale at the Illustration Art Gallery.