Thomas Andrae teaches in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University. He is a former editor of the Carl Barks Library, and author of a forthcoming study of Barks' work, Fables of Desire: Carl Barks and the Antimodernist Disney Comic.
Like many Baby Boomers I grew up
reading Disney comics. My mother read them to me when I was a
child. In fact, I learned to read, like many others of my
generation, by perusing Barks' stories. Of course, at the
time we didn't know his name. But I could always discern his art
style and mode of storytelling. A special treat for me was
when my father brought home one of the Disney comics with Carl's
work. At that time nothing was known about the history of
these comics so they were a great mystery to me, and a very
intriguing one. I remember finding a battered copy of "The
Old Castle's Secret" in a doctor's office or some such place.
It was a thrill to see a duck comic that I had never seen or
known existed. In those ancient times you could buy old
comics for two for a nickel (because they were used) and I
remember first discovering the issue of WDC&S with the
sailboat cover on it and how much I loved the cover.
When you grow up on such treats they have a visceral effect on your imagination and make permanent imprints on your memory. Years after selling off my collection when I was in my teens I was able to find some of these issues again and the joy at recognizing such old friends swept over me. I recalled every line and every panel but could never have told anybody that much about them until I reread them.
I first learned Barks' name from the fanzines that were floating around at the time, like those produced by Mike Barrier and Don and Maggie Thompson. As I resumed my childhood habit of collecting comics in the 1960s, I specialized in collecting Disney and Barks, which were my favorites. Then, in 1970 I learned that the Duck Man was selling pages of original art. When I came on the scene their price had just increased from $25 a page to $100. That was a lot for an impoverished graduate student at the time, but I immediately sent off a check. I included a letter praising Barks' work and got back a nice illustration of Donald on the wrapping paper in which Carl mailed my page of art.
I was also fortunate enough to see Carl's first painting when Glenn Bray brought it to the Bay Area to show us. It was mind boggling. The ducks looked more three dimensional than any cover painting I had ever seen of them, and the sailboat scene was happy and care free - and a joy to behold. It was so bright and sunny that it made me happy just looking at it.
At this time I made the acquaintance of Don Ault who was teaching at U. C., Berkeley, where I was attending college. We formed a fast friendship, and Don was kind enough to put my name down for a Barks painting. We organized the first showing of Barks' paintings here in Berkeley, California. This was the first time I met Carl. I recall meeting him in the parking lot as he took out our paintings. Don bought the second painting Carl did, a recreation of the cover of the first Uncle Scrooge comic book, and I bought the third, a cover of The Sheriff of Bullet Valley. Carl had painted two of this theme because he had been dissatisfied with the way in which the red sky had originally looked in my painting before he changed it to blue. The other one had a blazing crimson sunset giving it the look of a pulp Western. I had a hard time making up my mind which one to buy, although I gravitated to the one with blue sky, thinking it was the best. When Carl confirmed my opinion I immediately bought it.
We had a very nice dinner at the hotel where Barks and Garé were staying. I don't recall much about the conversation, only that Carl was a very humble man, and grateful for all the praise and attention. After dinner we asked him questions about his work, but his hearing problems made it a little difficult for him to respond to the group. Later I learned that Carl and Garé had been a little apprehensive about coming to Berkeley, thinking that they might get mugged by a Black Panther. Like many he had been misled by stereotypes of the college town as a haven for radicals, and streets filled with violence - although for short periods of time they had been engulfed in riots.
After Barks' visit Don and I met frequently to look at the latest crop of paintings coming from the maestro. They were stunning. I always felt that Carl's best work on the paintings was done in the early years when they were simple adaptations of the original comics created specifically for fans. But Carl was such a master that virtually all of his paintings were well done.
One of my fondest memories of Carl was Don's and my visit to his home to film a video interview. Barks had rarely been filmed before so this was an exciting opportunity and one that made us all thrilled to be there on such a historic occasion, and a little nervous. I still feel that Barks' true personality came out best in this amateur black and white video. This was perhaps because Don and Carl were such close friends, and Carl felt very at ease with him. Barks was as funny and sparkling in this interview as I've ever seen him and I feel fortunate in having been a part of it.
Later I was also very fortunate to become an editor of the Carl Barks Library published by Bruce Hamilton and Russ Cochran. I shall forever be indebted to them both for offering me the opportunity to pester Carl with my myriad of questions, and to be able to do five years worth of research on Barks' animation work at the Disney Studio. Because of these opportunities I and my fellow editor Geoffrey Blum were able to obtain details about the Duck Man's life and career, and to indulge our proclivities for writing, that would not have been possible otherwise.
I kept up with all the news about Carl's work after I left my editorship of the Library. It was always fascinating to hear the latest chapter in the saga of the great Duck Man. Like many others, I guess that I thought he would go on forever. He had been such a fixture in our lives for almost thirty years, and for decades before as children. I was shocked when I heard the news that he had leukemia and was dying. Through the kind efforts of Dr. Gerry Tank I was able to send Carl one last letter of farewell. It was like saying a final goodbye to my father. In the letter I told Carl how much his work had meant to me and that I loved him. I think he is not only a great artist and writer but a wonderful role model as well. His humility, work ethic, and generosity to those in need were part of his character - and prime values in his comics that have always stuck with me.
Rest in Peace, Carl.
This contribution was written specially for this website. © Thomas Andrae