Carl Barks (March 27, 1901 August 25, 2000) was a Disney writer and artist who made comics set in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe from 1942 to 1966. He was known as the Good Duck Artist by the readers for much of this time due to a Disney company rule which forbade the comic authors' names from being featured in their magazines.
Barks is renowned for creating characters such as Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, Gyro Gearloose, the Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell, and many others, as well as setting in stone the base geography of the city of Duckburg. His stories brought in the treasure hunt plot to Duck comics and inspired a generation of people (such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Osamu Tezuka, Don Rosa, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman and the writers of DuckTales (1987)) to replicate the thrill of adventure. Will Eisner called him "the Hans Christian Andersen of comic books." He is also responsible for expanding Donald Duck's personality beyond his usual one-note characterization in the Classic Disney Shorts; reaching levels that were never rivaled in the animated appearances of the character.
After retiring, Barks took up painting (as seen in the page image). First his paintings were unrelated to his comic career, but later he began recreating scenes from Duck stories in paint. One completely original scene led to him writing one more story in retirement, which was drawn by William Van Horn, a younger Duck artist.
If you've been interested in reading his stories, there's good news for you: Fantagraphics books has been in the process of republishing all of his old Donald Duck stories over a 30 volume series of books in the upcoming years, with two volumes a year!
Notable Stories By Carl Barks:
- Frozen Gold (Donald Duck Four Color #62, 1944)
- Maharajah Donald (Boys' and Girls' March of Comics #4, 1947)
- Lost in the Andes! (Donald Duck Four Color #223, 1949)
- Luck Of The North (Donald Duck Four Color #256, 1949)
- Letter to Santa (Walt Disney's Christmas Parade #1, 1949)
- Land Of The Totem Poles (Donald Duck Four Color #263, 1950)
- The Magic Hourglass (Donald Duck Four Color #291, 1950)
- A Christmas for Shacktown (Donald Duck Four Color #367, 1952)
- Only a Poor Old Man (Uncle Scrooge Four Color #386, 1952)
- The Golden Helmet (Donald Duck Four Color #408, 1952)
- The Gilded Man (Donald Duck Four Color #422, 1952)
- Back To The Klondike (Uncle Scrooge Four Color #456, 1953)
- Adaptational Villainy: People who have read stories featuring John Rockerduck but never read the only Barks story where he appeared will be surprised to learn he was by no means portrayed as a villain in that story.
- Alcohol is Gasoline: A variant (in that it does not actually involve alcohol) occurs in "Chugwagon Derby". Scrooge and Donald are competing in a vintage car rally and Donald attempts to sabotage Scrooge's car by bribing a gas station attendant to fill Scrooge's tank with contents of a black barrel he points at, even though the attendant tells him that the barrel doesn't contain gasoline. After he fills the tank, Scrooge's car takes off like a rocket, including belching flames.Scrooge: Man! You must have fueled this car with T.N.T.!... But, then, these old crates will run on almost anything!
Attendant: I'll say! That one's running on weed spray!
- Atop a Mountain of Corpses: Non-lethal variant, of course. Let's just say Scrooge can kick butt.
- Behind the Black: In "Statuesque Spendthrifts", somehow nobody can ever notice a much bigger statue of Cornelius Coot right next to the one getting unveiled until the moment the veil falls off it as well. Taken Up to Eleven during the third round, when both statues are at least ninety stories high and clearly towering over Duckburg's skyline.
- Bittersweet Ending: While he did write a lot of stories with unambiguously happy endings, more often they would end on a bittersweet note or a downright Downer Ending, and even the happy endings would often have some kind of ironic twist to them.
- Bleached Underpants: Before Barks started his Disney career. In the 1920's he began his career at a racy men's magazine called the "Calgary Eye-Opener" a racy men's cartoon magazine of the era. During his retirement, he would constantly draw or paint erotic pictures of women or men with Duck Faces.
- Breakout Character: Scrooge McDuck. Barks created him as a one-shot character for the story "Christmas on Bear Mountain" (1947) Then he decided to bring him back in the horror-themed story "The Old Castle's Secret" (1948), where Scrooge is effectively the co-protagonist and receives much of the spotlight. Barks then started using him as a permanent addition to Donald's supporting cast, and other Disney writers started following his example. By 1952, Scrooge was popular enough for the publisher Western Publishing to give him his own comic book series. Barks' stories "Only a Poor Old Man" (1952) and "Back to the Klondike" (1953) were new origin stories for Scrooge. Subsequent stories by both Barks and other writers introduced villains, rivals, romantic interests, and supporting characters for him. The Disney Ducks' stories more often revolve around him, rather than his hired assistants (sidekicks) Donald, Huey, Louie, and Dewey. He is by far one of the most popular Disney comics characters, and several writers and readers consider him the real protagonist among the various members of the cast. Not bad for a character that was only supposed to appear once.
- Scrooge ended up being so popular that he eventually made his animation debut in 1967 with the short Scrooge McDuck and Money.
- Bungling Inventor: Gyro Gearloose.
- Contrived Coincidence: Invaribly accompanied by someone (frequently the nephews) exclaiming, "What a break!"
- Cool Old Guy: Scrooge all the way.
- And in a meta sense, Carl Barks as well.
- Creator Thumbprint: Exotic locales, wise old men advising the heroes, and oddly enough, eggs. (Barks was an unsuccessful chicken farmer before his career at Disney)
- Creepy Twins: The Nephews at times.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Scrooge living in a mansion, his money being stored in a bankhouse instead of the money bin
- In its first appearance Scrooge doesn't hold his #1 Dime in particularly high esteem - when he decides to change all his coins into banknotes, the dime is spared because he kept it in his pocket, but he apparently wouldn't have cared had it been changed too - unthinkable in later stories.
- Escaped Animal Rampage: One Carl Barks comic strip had Donald Duck walking around with a necklace that brings good luck. When he hears that a dangerous gorilla escaped he decides to turn the giant ape in, believing that he will be prevented by his lucky device. Of course, it doesn't work.
- Furry Confusion: Barks actually points it out in one panel. The anthropomorphic Duck protagonists briefly appear next to non-sentient realistic Ducks. The main characters are essentially human, while the others are animals.
- Gasoline Lasts Forever: In "Chugwagon Derby", Scrooge reveals that as young man he bought a horseless carriage when they were first becoming available. However, after discovering that he could walk faster than the car could drive, he hid it away in a barn; afraid that people would laugh at him for his foolishness. However, after Donald shows him how you can make money in vintage car contests, he goes and hauls it out from under the pile of old harness where it is hidden. He comments that it runs on a mixture of kerosene and whale oil and, to his delight, he discovers there is still $1's worth in the tank. The fires the car up and it starts immediately. As the story was first published in 1961, the car and fuel would have had to have been sitting there for about 60 years.
- Get Thee to a Nunnery: "the only live one I ever knew"
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Uniquely for kids' comics at the time, there are very few people in Barks's comics that are unambiguously good or unambiguously bad. Most people are firmly in-between, and several of the conflicts don't have a clear good guy or a clear bad guy. Epitomized by Barks himself in an interview: "The thing that I consider most important about my work is this: I told it like it is. I told my readers that the bad guys have a little of good in them, and the good guys have a lot of bad in them, and that you can't depend on anything much; nothing is always going to turn out roses."
- The only exceptions are Flintheart Glomgold and The Beagle Boys.
- Hive Mind: The Nephews at times.
- Jerkass: Gladstone Gander
- Literal Money Metaphor: In "Wishing Stone Island", the nephews trick Donald into travelling to the South Seas in search of a magical wishing stone. Throughout the story, Donald keeps getting in trouble for using slang terms for dollars (coconuts, bananas, simoleons, etc.). When he finds what he thinks is the stone, he wishes for "a million coconuts". The natives, who are stuck with a glut of coconuts, immediately pelt him with a million coconuts. The chief then tells him he has until sunset to get them off the island. When Donald asks what will happen if he doesn't, the chief says they will gather them up and throw them at him again.
- Lemony Narrator: There was a surprising amount of snark in the narration boxes: "No more trouble? Ho ho! That's what you think, Donald!"
- Money Fetish: Scrooge swims in it.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Scrooge used to be the Trope Namer.
- Mundanger: "Vacation Time", a story of his from 1950, is notorious for its main antagonist being not anything you would call a supervillain, but rather a common Jerkass who still manages to get disturbingly close to actually killing Donald and his nephews without actually trying.
- Noodle Incident: Scrooge keeps on littering them around, referring to his adventurous past.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Everyone, but most notably the nephews.
- Our Founder: Cornelius Coot. The founder of Duckburg. He is revered by people of the town, and his statue (or statues) are city landmarks. He is long dead but his face is everywhere.
- The Professor: Gyro Gearloose
- "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: On occasion the heroes would come across as this, most notably in "The Hound of the Whiskervilles." The notorious monstrous hound that has been attacking the Clan McDuck for centuries, was just a series of men from a rival clan wearing a disguise. The monster's supposed invulnerability to the weapons of his opponents was simply due to wearing armor beneath the disguise.
- Sexy Scandinavian: Downplayed (his work is meant for kids, after all), but when Scrooge and co briefly visit Norway, they're met by a sibling duo looking about as stereotypical as you could be, with blonde hair and large blue eyes.
- Shiny New Australia: In "The Golden Helmet", the eponymous helmet was proof an ancient viking named Olaf the Blue was the true owner of North America (the first European to ever reach it), theoretically allowing any (alleged) descendant of his to use it to take over the continent. When Donald Duck got the helmet, an attorney offered to help Donald and wanted Canada as his legal fees. In the story, the helmet passes through the hands of several characters, and nearly all of them are corrupted into becoming would-be tyrants for the entire North America.
- Shown Their Work: Barks was very well known for doing his homework on whatever subject his stories involved. Several of the landmarks and foreign locations in his stories are based on the photographs in his favorite reference source: National Geographic.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: More on the idealistic end of the scale.
- Take That!: Barks really didn't seem to like all the silly quiz-shows that were popular at the time, and he mocked them a lot in stories like Voodoo Hoodoo, The Crazy Quiz Show, The Talking Dog, Land Beneath The Ground or The Colossalest Surprise Quiz Show, often pointing out how easy it was to answer the questions even for a complete idiot.
- In The Crazy Quiz Show in particular, the host of the quiz is portrayed in a slightly cruel light, giving insanely impossible quiz questions to professional prize-grabbers (like "What is Mickey Mouse's social security number?"), and giving silly punishments and pranks for answering wrong or trying to coach other contestants.
- Meanwhile, Huey, Dewey, and Louie each got easy questions and the prizes to boot.
- One Donald ten-pager involved his being influenced by a quack psychologist named "Dr. Pulpheart Clabberhead," who believed any form of punishment administered to children was cruel. Clabberhead was a very thinly veiled parody of Dr. Spock, whose child-rearing books were popular at the time. The nephews used Donald's new softhearted philosophy to get away with everything and drive him nuts. Eventually they decided to light a stick of dynamite under Clabberhead's chair, causing the "doctor" to break his own doctrine by chasing them with a stick.
- Tangled Family Tree: Barks worked out his own genealogy tree on how the major and minor characters of the Duck and McDuck families are related to each other, including several generations of ancestors. Technically he created most of the characters in it, but it was compiled for the masses to see by Rosa.
- The realtion of characters in Barks' stories are generally rather inconsistent, since Barks was making it up as he went, whereas later writers would have his and Rosa's family trees to reference. In one example, Gladstone is referred to as the son of Scrooge's sister. Later stories clearly established him as being the son of Scrooge's sister-in-law, having no shared blood with Scrooge.
- Tar and Feathers: In "Wishing Stone Island", Donald arrives on the island and grabs the first round, black object he sees and makes a wish, only to discover it is the head of a native who has been tarred and feather. After he scares Donald off, the nephews help him and he explains that he was tribe's medicine man, but the tribe tarred and feathered him after none of his medicine could summon any traders to the island, leaving them stuck with a huge glut of coconuts.
- Uplifted Animal: Gyro Gearloose once invented a 'think box' device that could make any animal as smart as a person. He ended up creating both a superintelligent rabbit and a superintelligent wolf, the latter of whom he only barely stopped from stewing Donald alive.
- To be fair, Donald wanted to trick the nephews and Gyro by dressing up like a wolf, but the super intelligent wolf ended up dressing up like a man in order to trick Donald.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Barks started portraying the Nephews like this and invented the Junior Woodchucks.