COMICS - COMPOSING
It has been argued that many an artist has
produced his best work when under strenuous conditions;
we have all heard tales of both starving and freezing
would-be authors and painters who proceeded despite all
odds, because they believed in the importance of their
work. It would seem that poor conditions sharpen the
ability to produce brilliance. Be that as it may, but in
Barks' case it came through.
Barks' description of his working environment in 1962: My studio layout is simply a drawing board with a glass light panel surrounded by bookcases, paper shelves, and filing cabinets. The drawing board sits beside a window that looks out upon a lovely mountain. That mountain costs me hundreds of hours of production time.
The working procedure
I penciled my scripts in longhand on
common writing paper. Nobody but me ever saw them. The
plot was broken down into brief panel descriptions of
action and characters. Dialogue was included in each
panel. For drawing I used paper furnished by the
publishers. It was formerly full sheets of two-ply
Strathmore medium rough. In later years, the company
imported paper from West Germany - not quite as good as
the Strath, but fairly easy to ink on with a #356
Walkthrough (short versions)
When I made my blue pencil drawings, I'd put up a page (that was eight panels), then alongside it another eight panels. I could put about eight pages on one of those big storyboards (Celotex boards - Editor's remark) and see whether I needed to enlarge on a sequence or cut down on it. Then, when I got it all inked, I would read it again. Oftentimes I would take a whole page and throw it away. I tried to boil those stories down to where only the necessary things were in. That's why they always appeared so tight and read so quickly. I also tried to strengthen the end of each page with a little cliffhanger. I also used to balance left and right pages to make a two-page spread. I always tried to keep my action moving toward the center of the book.
I would read the storyboard over and over again. Not only that, I would read the script probably ten or twenty times before I ever started drawing it. Then I'd go over the storyboard up on the wall probably another ten times before I ever got around to inking it. But I never set any definite rules for myself, because I found that it cramped my creativity. If I felt that I wanted to ink, I just went ahead and inked a few pages. In general, though, I think that I would spend four or five days polishing an idea, then another four or five days writing the confounded thing. Then the penciling and the inking would take another ten days - for a ten-page story. All the polishing was in self-defense. I found that if I polished it before I put all that work into it, it was much easier to make corrections.
Walkthrough (long version)
I have a bunch of things that
have to go into the story, and so I just keep feeling
around for the best gags that fit in. It's like sewing
together pieces of a shirt.
Of course, Barks was - on numerous
occasions - asked which story he considered his best and
when he peaked as an artist. Here is what he replied in a
1962 interview: The square eggs (FC0223
Lost in the Andes - Editor's remark), I
guess. 1949. That was about the time I hit my peak in
stories. I couldn't say for sure whether that was the
peak in art, but I remember I felt more interested in art
at that time. I mean, I tried a little harder, although
some of the stuff since that time has probably been
better. Let's see. The art I was doing about the time
Scrooge discovered Atlantis under the sea (U$05
'Atlantis' - Editor's remark) - that was
probably as good as I've gotten, art-wise. My best story,
technically, is probably the square egg one.
Words of wisdom
In 1967 Barks sent these step-by-step
instructions to a fan (some of the points have been
shortened - Editor's remark). They sum up some of the
secrets of producing a duck comic, but the most important
ingredient - that Barks had in abundance - is missing:
Trying to break new ground
Barks was a veritable fountain of never-ending ideas. Seemingly we have 'only' witnessed some of his inventiveness: There are so many things I'd like to have that duck do - brand new, original stuff. But I was a little afraid to try it. I was afraid to write a continuity or synopsis and send it down to the office for fear they might not see it the way I saw it in my own mind. I haven't got the vocabulary to write it out.
See also THE SERIES and THE TECHNIQUE