Carl Barks: Conversations
Editor: Donald Ault
Published By: University Press of Mississippi
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Who is Carl Barks, you ask. Only the creator of one of the most famous of Walt Disney’s multitude of characters, Scrooge McDuck. But don’t feel too bad – many people have no idea who Carl Barks is. That’s because when Carl Barks began his venture into the world of Walt Disney character-based comic books, he wasn’t allowed to promote himself as the artist or story writer. At that time, it was thought that Walt Disney’s name should be on everything – that the fans expected Walt Disney to have drawn all of the characters and created all the stories. A very unrealistic expectation, but this was how it was explained to Barks at the time. And so Carl Barks was virtually unknown to all until 1957, well into his comic book career, and even then this knowledge was not widespread.
Carl Barks’ Disney career began in 1935 when he responded to an advertisement from Walt Disney Studios for cartoonists. He worked in animation for a short time until Walt Disney himself took notice of a gag Barks submitted involving Donald Duck and a mechanical barber’s chair (The infamous cartoon, Modern Inventions, in which Donald Duck tries to cheat a mechanical barber’s chair and receives a haircut and shave on his rump and a shoe-shined bill for his troubles.). That was when Barks was switched to the story department, where he was placed on the Donald Duck creative team. He left Disney Studios in 1942 due to a health condition and was approached by Western Publishing to draw Walt Disney comic books, primarily Donald Duck stories, and the rest is history.
Carl Barks Conversations, edited By Donald Ault, seeks to give us insight into the man behind Donald, Scrooge, and the many characters residing in the town of Duckburg. This book is a compilation of interviews, many previously unpublished, with Carl Barks, with an introduction by Donald Ault and a timeline of outstanding events in Barks’ life.
This is the third in a series of books called Conversations with Comic Artists, published by University Press of Mississippi. I enjoyed the first two immensely – Charles Schultz and Milton Caniff. While I found this installment to be equally informative, there are some things about the book that I disliked. For one thing, the introduction was entirely too long for my tastes. It’s obvious by the loving way that Donald Ault describes Barks, that the two were close and that Ault respected Barks immensely. However, as I read the twelve-page intro, I found myself getting antsy, wishing I could just skip to the interviews. A couple of the interviews were repetitive in content and there were times where you could tell that Barks’ memory was beginning to fail him. I found the last conversation to be completely unnecessary as it gave no real insight into the man. I also would have like to see more examples of Barks’ work as were shown in the other two installments I had the pleasure of reading.
I did, however, find the rest of the book to be fairly interesting, especially the idea Barks had that the comic book industry would soon phase out. According to an interview conducted in the late 1990’s, Carl Barks was certain that comic books as we know them would become an obsolete medium. Overall, a decent read, but you probably will want to skim over the introduction.