Jim Fanning is a writer, historian, editor, and researcher, who has written Disney comic book stories starring Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Fanning has also interviewed several Disney Legends including Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis, the Sherman Brothers, and, as presented below, Carl Barks.
THE COMIC BOOK KING
You might check out
a library or mull over a museum when looking for great
literature and fine art, but would you consider cracking
the colored covers of a comic book? If not, you haven't
heard of Carl Barks, the artist/author whose
extraordinary Donald Duck comic book stories are
unsurpassed examples of graphic storytelling! For more
than 20 years, Barks chronicled the adventures of Donald
and his feathered family and friends in the pages of
Disney comic books.
At 92, Carl Barks has lost none of the verve or humor that produced a body of work renowned for its humor, draftmanship, and narrative excellence. A tall, distinguished looking gentlemen with silver hair, a ready smile and twinkling blue eyes, Barks is forever modest about his involvement with Disney's ducks, an association that spans seven decades: I was only a hired hand on Marse Walt's stock and poultry farm. I was grateful to have the job of associate duck herder!
... Barks caught wind of the Walt Disney Studios' search for new artists: I was a self-taught cartoonist back in 1935, and I was just brazen enough to think I might be able to be an animator at Disney's. My cartooning style had been heavily influenced by the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. My pen lines and my Mickeys were darned good imitations of Floyd Gottfredson's. I sent the studio - which was then on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood - some samples of my cartooning style and received an invitation to come to the studio for a tryout.
... Barks had never seen Donald Duck in action before arriving at Disney: My first impression of him was that he was an unintelligible trouble-maker that would find very few roles suitable for his temperament! Ironically, Disney assigned Barks to create suitable roles for his querulous quackster. 'Modern Inventions' was my stepping stone from in-betweener to storyman. 'Good Scouts' got my superior Harry Reeves and myself a 300 dollar bonus from Walt. 'Timber' was a wild seven minutes of Donald's short employment in a logging camp that got my partner Jack Hannah and me a lot of respect from our colleagues. There were other good box-office stories among the many I helped produce during the six years I was a storyman.
... In 1943,
Western Publishing was looking for an artist to
illustrate the lead 10-page story for the monthly Walt
Disney's Comics and Stories (WDCS). For the next 24 years,
Barks wrote and drew almost every Donald Duck story in
WDCS making the magazine the most popular comic book ever
Barks' most memorable creation is Donald's fantastically wealthy uncle, Scrooge McDuck: I created Uncle Scrooge to be a minor bit player. His wealth, however, generated so many gag situations he was soon upstaging Donald in plot interest. Scrooge became popular because the size of his fortune was so ridiculous it didn't offend readers, and the stuff only brought him troubles and more troubles. Even paupers could see that he got no more joy out of life than they were getting.
... How did Barks fashion these fanciful, imagination-stirring tales? I did it the hard way. Sometimes I would luckily think of some outrageous predicament the ducks could get into for a climactic high point, then invent comical reasons why they got into that predicament. Another way into a story was to think of locales. I'd ask myself what I would like to draw for background shots. If I felt in the mood to draw ships and the sea, the next step was to invent a reason for the ducks to go to sea. Such reasons could be anything from comical races between two crafts to treasure hunts beneath the sea to stormy voyages in search of sea serpents or even The Flying Dutchman.
Barks finds it challenging to name his favorite among his own stories: Of the long Donald Duck stories, I have more than one favorite. Perhaps 'Lost in the Andes' is the best of the lot for construction technique. Of the Uncle Scrooge stories, the two with science fiction gimmickry rank very high, 'Island in the Sky' and 'Microducks from Outer Space'. Those stories cast Uncle Scrooge as a flinty miser with a marshmallow heart!
... It is Barks' comic book work on which his reputation not only rests but continues to flourish. The Barks canon of comics was the basis for one of the most popular animated series in TV history, DuckTales: I was proud of the show. It was good to see my 'actors' such as Magica de Spell, the Beagle Boys, and Flintheart Glomgold get steady work on TV!
... Every year
seems to bring another honor or award to The Good Artist,
and this year has been no exception - The Carl Barks
Lifetime Achievement Award! To have the award named
after me is rather scary. I have always felt like an
outsider in the comic book industry. It is heartening to
know that the donors of the award consider my 'funny
animal' subjects well enough done to be a credit to the
profession. I think it will inspire future writers and
artists to feel confidence in the fairness of the award
... When asked the secret of his longevity, Barks replies: What do you mean - longevity? These days 92 is only the age when people slow down from Badminton to Bingo! I would like to try Uncle Scrooge's therapeutic baths, but how am I going to bathe in a piggy bank?