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  Biographies : Carl Barks

Carl Barks was born the 27th March 1901 in a farm near Merril (Oregon, U.S.)

His school (around ten pupils) is three kilometres far and he has to walk to. Carl can’t to many people, including his parents, very busy.

In 1908, his family moves up to the north, to Midland in order to do some catle rearing. The young Carl, who works like the others, is very impressed by the crowd in the local market, especially by cowboys and their guns.

From 1911, as the business is good, William, his father, takes the family to Santa Rosa in California, where Carl’s interest for drawing starts ; he spends all his free time drawing everywhere he can. But soon the benefits come down and after two years the family comes back to Merril.

In 1916, as he’s only fifteen, Carl’s mother, Arminta, dies. Moreover, his hearing impairment becomes more and more incapacitating (getting older he will continuously need a hearing aid). The closest high school is eight kilometres away so he decides, unwillingly, to leave school and work with his father instead, even though it’s reluctantly. At this time, he is a melancholic and introvert teenager; this personality will not change when becoming an adult. But he keeps an active passion for drawing and tries to improve his style copying the ones of the main artists of comics regarding the use of pencils, colours and shapes. He also engages in some distance learning courses from the Landon School of Cartooning that seem very formative, but he has to stop them after only four lessons because he needs to earn his life.

From the time he turns seventeen, he will work in several places with no real success, taking very varied jobs like carpenter, turner cutter, riveter, lumberjack and even would-be cowboy. During these hard years, he meets with other people like him, who need to work hard to eat but who can laugh with him about their worst experiences. This outlook towards life and his problems has almost certainly inspired him when shaping his characters.

At the same time, he starts thinking about making his hobby his job. In 1918, he decides to try his luck and he leaves his father’s house and goes to San Francisco, wishing to become an illustrator. He works as a delivery boy for an editor while struggling to sell his drawings with little success. After one year and a half, piqued, he comes back to his parent’s farm. Then he tries again one job after another for some time.

In 1921, he marries Pearle Turner. They have two children, Peggy born in 1923 and Dorothy in 1924. In 1923, he starts working as a train mechanics for the Pacific Fruit Express in Roseville, California.

Between 1928 and 1929, he finally publishes some drawings in the Canadian magazine The Calgary Eye Opener and also in some more serious publications like Judge. This relative success allows him to quit his job at the Pacific Fruit and free lance for The Eye Opener.

In 1930, Pearle and Carl split. The following year he moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota to join The Eye Opener’s team. In the hotel where he stays, he meets a phone operator, Clara Balken ; they will get married in 1938.

When he hears in 1935 that Walt Disney studio is looking for more artists for his Studio, Carl Barks seizes the opportunity. The wages are not so great, but it is still a great opportunity. The studio takes him as in-betweener ; this means that he works in a team on the intervening animation frames between two key actions done by an chief-animator. These intermediate drawings create the illusion of movement and make the action flow smoothly. But as he often submits gag ideas which hit the bull's eye, he is given a promotion to join the « Story » department, only six months after his arrival. There, he almost only works on Donald Duck cartoons and is also regularly the story writer.

For the next six years he takes part in about thirty cartoons where he develops the duck’s persona, making him so charming despite his irascible character. He even works on a movie project that will unfortunately never been realised. But that allows Carl to work with Jack Hannah on his first comic, adapted from his storyboard : « Donald Duck finds pirates’ gold ». The story is published by Dell Publishing in october 1942 and is an instant success. The story is sixty-four pages long, it is the first Donald Duck story ever published in an American comic book.

Shortly afterwards, Carl becomes fed up working as part of a team, moreover during war time when the studio has to produce a lot of movies for the army. Furthermore, the air-conditioned offices give him sinus aches and he decides to leave the Disney Studio. With his second wife, they move to a ranch in San Jacinto where he starts raising chickens. He is at this time over forty.

Hearing that the Western Printing and Lithographing Company is looking for stories they publish under Disney and other big studios licensing, Carl manifest himself and is immediately hired. First, he writes several ten-pages Donald Duck stories in his stolen time but soon, he becomes so busy that he has to abandon the chickens in order to make comics at full time.

This collaboration will in fact last more than twenty years and even after he his retirement. All in all, he will produce more than six hundred stories under three different formats. Firstly, ten-page stories for the monthly Walt Disney Comics and Stories about the ups and downs of Donald’s everyday life, sometimes simply funny, sometimes more often tainted with a dark and deadpan irony, based on his own experiences and always an apology of resilience when things go wrong. Secondly longer stories, between twenty-four and thirty-two pages in the Four Colour series, then in Donald Duck and in Uncle Scrooge, in which the characters travel all over the world. Even if Barks didn’t have travelled much nor read a lot, he always prepares strongly his stories through the National Geographic and the Encyclopaedia Britannica : he is interested in practically everything. Finally, he also writes one-page gags which sit in between stories in magazines.

For more than twenty-five years, he will embark Donald on many adventures always witty and packed with surprises. But, the most important, he will create a whole universe around the unlucky duck, inventing new characters, starting with his billionaire uncle Scrooge (1947), his exasperating lucky cousin Gladstone Gander (1948), The Junior Woodchucks organization (1951), the terrible Beagle Boys (1951), the genius Gyro Gearloose (1952) ; Scrooge’s adversaries : Glomgold (1956), Rockerduck (1961), the sorceress Magica De Spell (1961) and some others forming Duckburg’s universe. Scrooge in particular allowed him to develop new facets of the persona that began to be a dead line with Donald. This way, he develops through each story a bit more his complex character, until « Back to the Klondike » (1952) where he gives to Scrooge his past as gold prospector, and fixes for good his character.

Carl Barks practically always creates his stories on his own, from the idea to the script and then the drawing and inking. He becomes a full time employee for Western even though he is still paid per page and he only gives them the final work. His wages are quite low for the job but he enjoys it because he feels well in his work : he appreciates this freedom which is very different from what he had experienced at the Disney Studio. Barks always wants to create new and non-repetitive stories, that will reach the young readers imagination and intelligence ; he doesn’t allow himself to write easy or hackneyed stories. He enjoys writing diverting stories where the reader can evade and enter a new world of archaeology or treasure hunt… His works are huge and an entire generation has been influenced by his stories. When most Disney writers remain anonymous, the quality of his work made a part of his readers conscious that that there was only one person behind a lot of stories. That person became for them « The Good Duck Artist » whose name will only become public afterwards.

While his creativity is very high, his marriage with Clara starts suffering and they fill for divorce in 1951. At his time, Carl starts studying paintings and visits galleries. It is during one of these visits that he gets reacquainted with an old friend : Margaret Williams, nicknamed Garé, a painter from Hawaii. Soon they work together and Garé is responsible for inking texts and some backgrounds. They get married in 1954.

The 30th June of 1966, Carl Barks officially retires. Although he still contributes to several scripts and to some covers, Carl stops writing comics. In fact, he starts painting to follow on his wife footsteps, but he is not too successful. But in 1975, he starts, with a special Disney derogation, to paint his favourite characters re-using scenes or covers of his most famous stories. But some fans make money organising unlawful sales and Disney takes the licence back. Barks has at this time already drawn around one hundred and twenty oil paintings. They are still sold today for hundreds of thousands of dollars. For some years, he only draws fantasy characters but from 1981 he obtains the licence back to paint his favourite duck characters.

Barks and his wife also take part to many conventions where many of his fans queue for a long time just to meet him and get his autograph. But after moving several times in California, in Goleta, near Santa Barbara, and then in Temecula, Carl and Garé decide to live in Grants Pass in Oregon, very close to where Carl grew up and he seldom appears in public. In 1991, he receives however a trophy which celebrates him as a « Disney legend ». It is only the last of the so many rewards he had been received all along his career, token of an important gratitude from his profession.

When his wife Garé dies in 1993, Carl starts working again and creates the Carl Barks Studio, that keeps him very busy, particularly in 1994 when he crosses the ocean for the first time for a European tour on the occasion of an exhibition of his oil paintings at the National Museum of Copenhagen. In seven weeks, he visits eleven countries and can witness his success oversees.

He uses the following years to work on some porcelain and bronze characters and after a long break, he writes his last two scripts.

In 1997, Barks has some issues with his managers and decides to let them go ; this event ends up to the closing of the Studio. Furthermore diagnosed with leukaemia, he reduces his artistic involvement to the minimum.

He dies on the 25th of 2000 in Oregon. His last published work is an « Ode to the Disney Ducks », written just after his 98th birthday.

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