Carl Barks

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Carl Barks : biography

March 27, 1901 – August 25, 2000

Professional artist

At the same time Barks had started thinking about turning a hobby that he always enjoyed into a profession: that of drawing. Since his early childhood he spent his free time by drawing on any material he could find. He had attempted to improve his style by copying the drawings of his favorite comic strip artists from the newspapers where he could find them. As he later said, he wanted to create his own facial expressions, figures and comical situations in his drawings but wanted to study the master comic artists’ use of the pen and their use of color and shading.

Among his early favorites were Winsor McCay (mostly known for Little Nemo) and Frederick Burr Opper (mostly known for Happy Hooligan) but he would later study any style that managed to draw his attention.

At 16 he was mostly self-taught but at this point he decided to take some lessons through correspondence. He only followed the first four lessons and then had to stop because his working left him with little free time. But as he later said, the lessons proved very useful in improving his style.

By December 1918, he left his father’s home to attempt to find a job in San Francisco, California. He worked for a while in a small publishing house while attempting to sell his drawings to newspapers and other printed material with little success.

First and second marriages

While he continued drifting through various jobs, he met Pearl Turner (1904–1987). In 1921 they married and had two daughters:

  • Peggy Barks, born in 1923.
  • Dorothy Barks, born in 1924.

In 1923 he returned to his paternal farm in Merrill in an attempt to return to the life of a farmer, but that ended soon. He continued searching for a job while attempting to sell his drawings. He soon managed to sell some of them to Judge magazine and then started having success submitting to the Minneapolis-based Calgary-Eye-Opener, a racy men’s cartoon magazine of the era. He was eventually hired as editor and scripted and drew most of the contents while continuing to sell occasional work to other magazines. His salary of 90 dollars a month was considered respectable enough for the time. A facsimile of one of the racy magazines he did cartoons for in this period, Coo Coo #1, was published by Hamilton Comics in 1997.

Meanwhile he had his first divorce. He and Pearl were separated in 1929 and divorced in 1930. After he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Calgary-Eye-Opener had its offices he met Clara Balken who in 1938 became his second wife.

Disney

In November 1935, when he learned that Walt Disney was seeking more artists for his studio, Barks decided to apply. He was approved for a try-out which entailed a move to Los Angeles, California. He was one of two in his class of trainees who was hired. His starting salary was 20 dollars a week. He started at Disney Studios in 1935, more than a year after the debut of Donald Duck on June 9, 1934 in the short animated film The Wise Little Hen.

Barks initially worked as an inbetweener. This involved being teamed and supervised by one of the head animators who did the key poses of character action (often known as extremes) for which the inbetweeners did the drawings between the extremes to create the illusion of movement. While an inbetweener, Barks submitted gag ideas for cartoon story lines being developed and showed such a knack for creating comical situations that by 1937 he was transferred to the story department. His first story sale was the climax of Modern Inventions, for a sequence where a robot barber chair gives Donald Duck a haircut on his butt.

In 1937 when Donald Duck became the star of his own series of cartoons instead of co-starring with Mickey Mouse and Goofy as previously, a new unit of storymen and animators was created devoted solely to this series. Though he originally just contributed gag ideas to some duck cartoons by 1937 Barks was (principally with partner Jack Hannah) originating story ideas that were storyboarded and (if approved by Walt) put into production. He collaborated on such cartoons as Donald’s Nephews (1938), Donald’s Cousin Gus (1939), Mr. Duck Steps Out (1940),Timber (1941), The Vanishing Private (1942) and The Plastics Inventor (1944).