Neal Adams on Carl Barks
I’m a “little-foot” dude. No, that doesn’t mean I have little feet, it means that I enjoy realistic comic book art rather than “Big Foot” or cartoon art. However, there are plenty of Big Foot artists that I appreciate and admire. Chuck Jones or Fitz Freling being two of the best, of course, but there are guys out there that I don’t know too much about. One of them is Carl Barks. I’ve heard the stories about how much his cover paintings go for at auction and how influential his Donald Duck stories were to entire generations of fans. Sure, he’s good, I thought…but that’s usually as far as it went. Warner Bros. Cartoons were always better and funnier than Disney’s. So, when his name came up in connection to a project I’m working on that hopefully I’ll be able to talk about soon, I figured I’d better do some research. I looked up his name on the internet, read about his life and work for Disney and Western Publishing, saw images of his covers and pages, read that he passed away at 99 years old which further proved that Big Foot artists are generally happier people.
But there was something missing. Why? Why would some people spend thousands of dollars to buy painted cover and pages or to read black and white stories about Donald and Uncle Scrooge McDuck and Gladstone Gander and Gyro Gearloose, the Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell and the Junior Woodchucks? They’re DUCKS, after all!! What’s the frickin’ deal?!
So, I went to the best source I could think of. Yep, the man who redefined Little Foot comics, who knew more about comics and their place in history…Neal Adams. I pulled up a chair and said, “Okay…Carl Barks. What’s the story there?” (Because Neal ALWAYS has a story.) The following in a paraphrasing of the story and I’m sure the hard core fans out there will immediately respond with “NO, you’re wrong!”, but it’s a start for the Big Foot…or possibly Big Webbed Foot…uninitiated. Like me.
Carl Barks created the entire Duck World. Donald (as with most Disney characters) was a little light on motivation. He would usually struggle with Chipmunks or other annoying woodland creatures and really didn’t have much of a personality. He was just angry. Along comes Carl Barks who could draw, wanted to be a painter and had a killer sense of humor. Now, he starts with Donald. He creates a world for the Duck to live in and Duckburg, adventures for him to have but that wasn’t enough. In 1947 he created Scrooge McDuck and in 1948 he gave the world Gladstone Gander. He needed some villains, so 1951 brought the Beagle Boys and the entire Junior Woodchucks worldwide organization. He gave Donald three Nephews earlier…Huey, Dewey and Louis. The nephews were devout members of the Junior Woodchucks and had a handbook much like the Boy Scout handbook filled with useful knowledge. The boys were always after something and seemed to be way more together than their kind of idiotic Uncle Donald.
Gyro Gearloose, a scientist, had his own adventures and even his own adversary Emil Eagle. Magica De Spell was bent on stealing Scrooge McDuck’s very first dime, thinking that would give her the secret to vast wealth. Flintheart Glomgold was a South African duck who was another antagonist to Scrooge McDuck and the second richest duck in the world.
In the end, Carl Barks created an entire universe for these characters to live in, comedically struggle in and make us laugh. Disney needed a creative writer and artist to show the world what a comic book could do. Even though some of the stories were based on Bark’s own rough early life, difficult jobs and three marriages, he never lost his sense of humor. Mickey Mouse, despite being the mascot of Disney, is simply a cute mouse. He doesn’t have the depth of Donald’s world or vast array of characters. Scrooge McDuck is a brilliant creation who is known the world over. Who doesn’t know the image of the literal swimming pool of gold coins that Scrooge dives into? Without Carl Barks there would be no Duck Tales and Donald and his universe might have faded out of sight decades ago. Neal Adams could not have more respect for a Big Foot artist who made a career drawing ducks. He possitively gushed about the man and his contribution of the world of Walt Disney.
Perhaps Barks was Scrooge McDuck after all and survived and thrived through using all his skills…as Scrooge himself would say to Huey, Dewey and Louie: “by being "tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties." Now all I have to do is read many hundreds of Cark Bark’s comic pages. Gee, that sounds awful, right?