I liked stories that gave me a chance to draw water and ships sailing into storms and big pictorial panels. It helped take the monotony away from drawing just round-headed ducks all the time. I'd look at pictures of boats or whatever when I was working. While I never copied the layout of any boat, I would always develop one that was so simple I could use it from one scene to another. I really liked to put the ducks into situations where they could be at sea. There is something romantic about harbors and sunken ships that appeals to all kids.


Background scenery

Barks' eye for geographical accuracy is legendary. When he drew a setting in which the ducks were wandering around, we are in no doubt whatsoever that that particular location really looks like Barks drew it. Whether we are taken to the real and rugged coastline of Labrador (FC0408 The Golden Helmet) or to the imaginary spot of Plain Awful (FC0223 Lost in the Andes) we just know that Barks' drawings are correct. His eye for detail was most striking.
Though Barks never left the U.S.A. during his comic book days he was able to describe his ducks visiting far-away and exotic countries and he was very accurate in portraying scenery, characteristics, and inhabitants. This was done in various ways. He would question his acquaintances when they returned from abroad, and he would look up information in the
Encyclopaedia Britannica. Furthermore, he had from an early age subscribed to the magazine National Geographic through which he would draw inspiration from pictures and background stories. If a story called for a gold mine I simply looked up in the Geographic and studied what they'd got on mining.



Telling panels

In the beginning Barks' dialogue was sparse and just accompanying the drawings, but soon he increasingly spent more time on the dialogue - and its collaboration with the graphics. Barks became so secure in his writing and artwork that his panels would often reveal more than other artists would. He would skip the normal 'double-effects' where the dialogues and the drawings expressed the exact same things and sentiments, and he would show the characters' state of mind rather than describing it in explanatory texts.
Barks perfected this ability to show a lot more in his panels than was in reality drawn. Donald's hastily developing bad conscience when he has sent Gladstone on a wild goose(!) chase to Alaska in FC0256 Luck of the North speaks volumes for itself.

(Left) Look through the panels and observe how Donald gradually becomes mentally downtrodden by his own thoughts.



Splash panels

The big splash panel naturally was at the height of some situation - maybe not the climax of the whole story, but of the build-up of sequences, like where the two steam shovels meet (CP1 Letter to Santa - Editor's remark). I thought it was worthwhile to put that in a big panel where I could show all that machinery slashing at each other. You try to crowd that into too small a panel, and you lose too much detail.
The splash panel was planned for well in advance. I just saved up all these different things so that I had room to draw them finally in one big, dramatic situation. I guess I liked to draw them; otherwise I wouldn't have put so many of them in, because it would take me two or three days to draw one of them.
The only real problem with splash panels was that they were so easy to cut out down at the office if they needed to run an ad for air rifles or chewing gum.




I was drawing many covers for the magazines and would get the anatomy of the ducks mixed up in my head. The cover drawings of Donald and the kids had to have very large heads and short legs. Without realizing it I once drew Donald and the other ducks short-legged and big-headed in the story pages for over a year. Then I over-corrected and drew them with small heads and tall bodies for a while...
I enjoyed doing the gag covers better than the story ones because they were usually simpler. A cover based on an incident in the plot took a great deal of staging to tell a little story that was still part of the book. And it had to make sense on its own.




When you're starting sketching it is much better to draw the ducks as circles, because then you get the construction, the basic construction of the guys. In the next stage their expressions have to be refined, which is done mostly with patient redrawing and erasing. When I'm drawing the faces I think about what their basic emotion is, what they are doing there. Maybe the little guys are really happy, they think they have seen a lake of water out in the desert, so I try to show that emotion in their faces and in their poses, their eagerness as they look out across the sand and think they see a lake. They really lean into it. Even their fingers have to express a certain amount of emotion.
In drawing the ducks faces, I used to act out the expressions on my own face, all unconsciously. If I had the ducks angry, I would strain myself to draw their anger and get the feeling so much that I was grimacing, and if I had them scared or popeyed, I would draw that with my eyes wide open and practically imitating the ducks' expressions, except that I didn't have a beak. And the result was that I would end up with a headache.


Changing appearances


I changed the drawing of the ducks every few years, it seems. My reason was that I would see changes in the movie Donald and realize that my Donald wasn't up to date.


Crazy machinery

Barks drew hundreds of more or less complicated and inventive machines - that all seem to have been able to function in real life - in his stories: I understand enough about machinery from having been a farm boy. I knew what machines should look like, and gear teeth and sprocket wheels and things were just part of my growing up. I've worked on printing presses and threshing machines and engines and so on, so I know a little bit about the principles of mechanics. I just naturally picked up on the way of drawing the darn things. Even though they were completely crazy machines, they would look like they'd work.


Telling eyes

Barks used a well-known technique that is not always recognized by the reader. When drawing his ducks he usually took out a pie-cut shape from their eyes in the opposite direction of where they were looking. In that way the characters' eyes would look more alive and shining and it was also easier to understand what they were looking at.


A certain order

I usually draw the head first, which establishes the size of the characters, and then I draw an action line. For example, in a pose the head and the torso is stretched out. The action calls for them to be stretched out much longer than they naturally would be. Their hats have to react - they fly off of their heads. Their coattails have to fly back in the air.
In other words, every part of the ducks and their clothing has to show some bit of the action. It has to flow with the action. And their eagerness as they think they're going to land in a big lake full of water must show, too, in their expressions.



Breaking a story down into the panels was quite a bit of drudgery. But that's where all these little gags would come in - during the business of breaking it down; little sight gags and little dialogue gags come at that time. So when I got my plot all broken down into eight-panel pages and the whole thing written out and sprinkled with gags, the real pleasure came: Sitting down to draw.
I liked the roughing out fairly well, but when I really relaxed was on the inking. I could have three or four pages all drawn in blue pencil, and then I'd have it easy for a while! I would start to ink it. That's where I really put the polish into it. Sometimes I would see still another thing that I could do in the way of a gag. I'd just erase or maybe throw away half a page and draw it over again in order to do a new gag.


Drawing the lines

I used a #356 Esterbrook art and drafting pen which could do everything from thin 'fadeaways' to broad accented curve sweeps on foreground circles such as the ducks' forms. The trick of breaking in a new pen, I discovered, is to soak it for several minutes in the ink bottle. Then wipe off the ink and the pen's varnish. For some weird reason most new pens then start out flexible and free-flowing.
In pen work on the ducks' faces, a heavier line on the outside of the heads and beaks, and a thin line defining the inside forms such as eyes, top of beaks, and mouth line makes a better-looking duck...




PAINTINGS   Date 2006-03-06