Carl Barks was in his 60s when he
received his first fan letter and, subsequently, the world got to
know him. Until then he was just one of many anonymous Disney
artists who were writing and drawing duck comic book stories, but
fans of these stories were able to tell that one of the artists
stuck out because of his excellent tales and excellent drawings.
Among these fans he was already mentioned as The
The honour of tracking him down befell a young man by the name of Malcolm Willits. He contacted the Disney Company and, lo and behold, got Barks' name and address! At the time, which was the late 1950s, Willits was serving in the military, so he archived the information until he left the forces. In the meantime the brothers John and Bill Spicer dug up the same information and John wrote the first fan letter The Good Artist had ever gotten. At first, Barks thought the letter was some sort of practical joke, but he was soon convinced of its sincerity and responded. This page shows you the full transcripts of the two letters, which changed the lives of both Barks and his fans.
|April 11, 1960
Believe it or not, I have been planning this letter for about four or five years. I have been kept from doing so for the simple reason that I knew not your name or address. I tried several times, however, but all were in vain. I recently moved from Los Angeles to a small burg on the Monterey Bay (Aptos). During this move I hit upon a somewhat unscrupulous scheme (to put it frankly, a BIG FAT LIE) for getting this information, and it worked!
Now you're probably wondering why I'm writing this letter. The reason is: I admire you, or better put, your work. Like most kids, I bought and read comic books when I was young (I'm 16 now). I started collecting comics about 1950 and I collected everything. Throughout the years, however, my collection has dwindled down to a point where it could be referred to as a collection of your works. I have every Uncle Scrooge ever printed, and all the Walt Disney's comics from 1950. I also have W.D.C. in the years of '44, '45, '46, '47, '48, and '49, but they are not complete. All this plus several D. Ducks in the older years make up my collection.
If I may say so, you are the best comic book artist I've ever seen! Your work stands out among the rest. Your work employs art, imagination, and humor which brings the comic book to an intellectual level. I notice that a number of your stories are based on real history. Are you a historian, or something? I have checked up on many names, dates, and places in your stories (for example: Francisco de Ulloa and the Seven Cities of Cibola in 1539) and have found that they are usually true!
Have you ever lived in the Burbank-Glendale area? In many of your stories Burbank is mentioned. Come to think of it, though, in one of your later stories the 'Riverside County Relief' is pictured, and I think San Jacinto is in Riverside County?
Here are some questions: Have you been drawing W.D.C. since they began in 1940? When did Donald Duck comics begin, and what years did you draw? Do you have complete collections of the previous mentioned? Do you have any you wish to sell, or know where I could get old issues? Have you done any art which has been published other than W.D.C., D. Duck, and Uncle Scrooge?
Well, this is about all I have to say. By the way, I have a brother who lived in Glendale and is somewhat of an artist himself. Like I, he enjoys your work. Also, he has an almost complete collection of old rare E.C. Horror, Science Fiction, etc. comic books, if that's any interest to you. It is possible that you might get a letter from him, I don't know. I would appreciate it if you wrote me, if only to answer my questions. Thank you....
|(Barks' reply to John
After eyeing your letter with dark suspicion for several weeks, I have decided to answer it on the assumption that it could be a genuine fan letter.
You see, I have a friend in Oceanside who just loves to play practical jokes, and writing phony letters to his chosen victims is one of his jokes. It so happens that your letter and his letters to his chosen victims seem to have been written on the same typewriter, there being a number of remarkable mechanical similarities. Also, the location of Aptos, only two putts of a jaguar from Carmel Valley, where Dennis the Menace's gang have their workshop, lends fuel to the suspicion. My friend writes gags for the daily and Sunday Dennis newspaper feature. His name is Bob Harmon, and if the name of John Spicer happened to fit one of the Dennis artists at Carmel Valley, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
But, as I stated above, I'm going to write this letter on the assumption that John Spicer is a genuine, on-the-level young man with a better than average discerning eye for differences in art and writing styles. Ninety-nine readers out of a hundred think Walt Disney writes and draws all those movies and comic books between stints with his hammer and saw building Disneyland. It is a pleasure for us ghost writers and artists to meet an occasional sophisticated person who knows that he doesn't quite.
I might be justified in wondering how you know my stuff from the other guys' work, but I have met people before who know that difference, and not all of them professional comic bookers. I always try to write a story that I wouldn't mind buying myself. Maybe that is what distinguishes it from the writings of those who try only to get a story past the editors.
You ask some questions. I shall try to
Yes, I've lived in the Burbank-Glendale area. North Hollywood and Los Angeles, to be exact. Worked 7 years at Disney Studios in the story department. Was one of the mid-fathers at the birth of Huey, Louie, and Dewey, but not Donald. He was before my time. I've lived in San Jacinto, in Riverside County, since 1942. The climate is better here than in smoggy L.A.
W.D.C. used only reprints of newspaper comic strips in its first few years. Their first original stories using Donald Duck in 10-pagers began in 1943 I believe. The first one may have been the story of three crows trying to eat Donald's garden (April 1943). I did the drawing on that, but not the scripting. All but a few of the 10-pagers since that date have been my product, script and art.
Donald Duck comics began as a one-shot in 1942 called 'Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold.' I did part of the art on that one, but none of the writing. The second one was 'Donald Duck and the Mummy's Ring,' in 1943 - all mine. The Donald Ducks appeared irregularly as one-shots until around 1950 or '51 when the book went on a regular publication of every second month. I did most of the art and stories during those early years. Some of the titles: 'Frozen Gold, Volcano Valley, Terror of the River, Ghost of the Grotto, Christmas on Bear Mountain (in which I invented Uncle Scrooge), The Old Castle's Secret, Sheriff of Bullet Valley, The Golden Christmas Tree, Lost in the Andes, Voodoo Hoodoo, Luck of the north, Ancient Persia, Pixilated Parrot, The Magic Hourglass, Big Top Bedlam, Dangerous disguise, No Such Varmint, Land of the Totem Poles, In Old California, Christmas in Shacktown, The Golden Helmet, The Gilded Man.'
You say you have all the Uncle Scrooges ever printed - good! Glad to meet a customer. There are some bad spots in some of those stories that I wish could have been done over. The climax fight in the recent 'Paul Bunyan' theme could have been improved with a half-page spread of Scrooge's and the B. Boys' giant machine hacking each other to pieces, but I was afraid the editors would delete such a scene as being too violent. The 'Larkies' in the story of The Golden Fleece had to be so named because the editors objected to Harpy, a 'Harpie' being a slang version of street walker.
I have done very little in art or writing that hasn't been for the Disney Studios or Western Printing and Litho.
Concerning extra copies of old W.D.C.s etc. I have only one copy each of most of the older issues. None for sale or trade at this time, I'm sorry. I sometimes meet a kid who has a collection going back to Adam. Next one I see, I'll give him your address, in case he is willing to trade.
Well, it was nice getting a fan letter. The front office tells me they get many letters, but over the past 17 years they have shown me only three. Two of which were pan letters that left me cringing for weeks. I suppose it's just as well I don't get much mail. Writing and drawing these comics is a full-time job 7 days a week. I would have little time to answer.
If in the future you notice a dropping off in quality of my stories, don't be surprised. The mind is not a bottomless well of new ideas, and mine is about pumped dry. Recently I have re-vitaminized some of my old plot formulas around new gimmicks or vice versa in a desperate effort to keep ahead of the deadlines. This mechanical formation of the stories may eventually supplant my old method of writing by inspiration. I will always keep striving, though, to come up with bright new plots, even though the characters and props comprise the same old stable of professors, pot-bellied cannons, voracious crocodiles, ill-tempered birds, animals, and strong-jawed women. The recent story of Uncle Scrooge among the asteroids was one of my better flashes of inspiration. I feel kind of good about that one.
I hope the stories you have read in the duck and Scrooge books have helped to give you a broader understanding of life, as well as entertainment. But I've tried to keep off the shop-worn cops and robbers kick that depraves so much of TV and other mediums these days. If more of my readers grow up to sit in the Senate chamber than to sit in the gas chamber, I'll have been richly rewarded for trying to turn out a good product.
Best wishes to you, Sir Fan!
Willits wrote the next fan letter to Barks on May 25,
... I enjoyed receiving your letter and
would be pleased to have you call for a chinfest while
you are in Southern Calif. I have spent 17 years
wondering what the readers of my stuff really wanted. It
would be an enlightening experience to meet and talk to
It would be safe to state that Barks' fandom really took off from that point!
Donald is eyeing the cover of a science fiction story titled Ten Seconds to Mars by Spicer Willits, which is a reference to John and Bill Spicer and Malcolm Willits, the first comic fans to contact Barks.