In 1987 the Wil Eisner Award was created. Quick name the first three introductory recipients. Wil Eisner, of course; Jack Kirby, naturally and Carl Barks. Carl Barks? Who the heck is he?
While there are rabid Carl Barks fanboys, there are a host of people who don’t know him but can name his most famous creation: Scrooge McDuck. According to ComicChron in 1960, Uncle Scrooge sold over a million copies, where Superman sold only 840,000 and Batman a mere 502,000. Even Mickey Mouse sold only 568,000. A parsimonious cantankerous Duck beat the Man of Steel, the Dark Knight and the Imperial Mouse.
It was all due to Barks.
Carl Barks in the 1930’s worked at Walt Disney Studios and later in the 1940’s had quit. While doing some minor work as an artist and later writer, it was when he started working for Western Publishing that his genius shined. It was here that he created Scrooge and the other eccentric inhabitants of Duckberg. From the Beagle Boys to Scrooge’s Money Bin, the work of Barks was sheer genius.
Wil Eisner is reputed to have called Barks the “Hans Christian Anderson of comic books.” Walt Simonson dedicated one of his Thor stories to Barks. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg gave homage to Barks in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indie was being chased by the giant boulder.
He even has an asteroid named after him, 2730 Barks. Discoverer Ted Boswell was inspired by the Barks’ story Island in the Sky.
I first discovered Barks by accident in 1987. I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, and had just come home after defending a soldier at a court-martial. Being wiped out, I just wanted to veg in front of the television. The California feed KTLA was playing a cartoon, “Ducktales.” I was about to change the channel, when I got sucked into the story. That weekend my local comic book dealer, Mr. Boca (just off of Mesa) told me that it was based upon the works of Carl Barks. Fortunately, Gladstone had republished some of the stories, and I was hooked.
There are plenty of websites which will tell you of Barks life, reception and tributes. The greatest tribute is to go out and buy his works.
Barks had a wonderful way of telling a fun adventure story, full of imagination and humor. He understood that comics were to be fun. In this age where the WackyRacers exist in a post-apocalyptic future and Sabrina is a Satan worshipping dark witch it is relaxing to dive into the wonderful world of Duckberg.
Most of the Scrooge stories involve Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews, Huey, Dewy and Louie traveling to some exotic destination after, of course, treasure. When reading these stories, it is easy to see how they inspired Lucas in the adventures of Indiana Jones. Scrooge traveled the globe from hidden South American Cities, to searching for the golden fleece and of course traveling to Atlantis.
Then there are the stories where the dreaded Beagle Boys have some fantastic plot to break into Scrooge’s money bin. Whether it is giant robots or just old fashioned dynamite the Beagles were as obsessed with stealing from Scrooge as he was at trying to stay one step ahead of them.
Later, Barks introduced the wonderful villainess, Magica De Spell. A witch-Duck, Magica used her magics to try and steal Scrooge’s lucky dime.
My favorites were the stories of the young Scrooge scraping away before he made his first million. An energetic young duck, he worked as a cowboy, an importer caught in the eruption of Krakatoa, and later a prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush.
When you get tired of the “adult comics” with angst ridden heroes, excessive violence and existentialist plots, perhaps that’s the time to remember that comics can be light, imaginative and fun. Carl Barks was truly one of the great innovators of comics. Honor him by grabbing some re-prints and go adventuring with the inspiration for Doctor Jones: Scrooge McDuck.