1980 Barks interview (part 1)
mdevery at netspace.net.au
Sat Sep 20 06:32:15 CEST 2003
This is a Barks interview from the fanzine "The Duckburg Times". I
Google-d sections of it, and it didn't appear to be available anywhere on
the web, so I typed it out. If it was all for nothing, and it's already
available somewhere, please don't tell me ;-)
An Interview with Carl and Garé Barks, by Karl Strzyz. Text ©1980 Karl
Strzyz. Back-translation by Stephen Everhard. Revised by Carl Barks.
(From "The Duckburg Times" issue 8, October 1980)
Karl Strzyz: Carl, as you were drawing and writing your stories back in the
1940s, 50s and 60s, were you aware of their exceptionally high quality?
Carl Barks: Well, I think the whole secret lies in the fact that I worked
harder at them, gave them my best.
KS: But other artists worked hard then, too...
Garé Barks: Hard in that they drove themselves to work very fast.
Carl: And maybe they didn't always have the right knack, which is part of
it. Just as with craftsmen who build a house, one builds a good house and
the other not so good. A lot depends on individual talent, and I had the
talent to write good stories, so perhaps that's why it was easier for me
than the others. I don't like to say that the other didn't work hard
enough - they probably tried often enough to write stories that hung
together like mine did, but then they noticed that it's not all that easy
and said to themselves: the heck with it, we'll just produce as much as we
Garé: Carl, do you remember that one editor who used to say to you, "Why do
you make so much work for yourself with your stories? Why don't you just
draw one panel, and then the next, and pretty soon you've got a complete
Carl: Sure, he always used to say, "You don't need to take so long for a
single story, why are you so ambitious, why do your stories always have to
be so original?" Well, I just couldn't reconcile that with my conscience.
If I didn't give my best, I wasn't satisfied with myself.
KS: And you certainly also thought of the children who bought your stories.
Carl: Exactly, I wanted them to get their 10 cents' worth.
KS: What was it like, as you worked all those years at Western, were there
restrictions for you, anything like a kind of censorship? It is well known
that some individual panels, and even whole stories were not published.
Carl: Now and then they'd return individual panels because they were too
violent, or maybe too because they weren't entirely understandable. That
goes, by the way, for the foreign market as well, where certain American
things wouldn't be understood. I'm thinking of the place you pointed out
where the turkey was replaced in the German version by a cornucopia [us: W
WDC 142-02; de: MM1953-08]. I suppose turkeys weren't well enough known in
Germany then. But that was done by you people in Europe. A typical
example of the way Western "censored" things here in the USA was when I
called a dog Bolivar, because that was what he'd been called in the old
newspaper strips. That seemed obvious and logical to me, but the problem
was, down there in South America they've got a national hero who's called
Bolivar too, and I when I got and call a dog after their national hero
that's an insult to the "real" Bolivar. But those were restrictions that
didn't bother me, I just had to do 2 or 3 panels over, and that was
that. It was different when my imagination got carried away with me and
the ducks got too wild or their opponents too nasty. There are 2 stories
that didn't get published for that reason, the "Christmas Carol" story from
1945 [1st half page is lost, the rest was published in "The Fine Art Of
Walt Disney's Donald Duck in 1982. Many of the gags were reworked and used
in "The Terrible Tourist", us: W WDC 248-01, 1961, eg. the loudspeaker
installations], and the "Milkman" story from 1957 [nl: DD1974-47c].
KS: Coming back to the dog named Bolivar for a moment, I remember that his
name used to be Bolivar, but didn't he get another name later? What was he
Carl: Yes, that was later...but what was his name then? Oh, I remember,
Bornworthy, an awfully long name, but one that suited him because he was a
thoroughbred. [us: W WDC 125-02]
KS: How was it when the ducks were sent to foreign countries, did you do
"research" on the culture or geography of those countries?
Carl: I didn't know much about it, and didn't worry a lot about it. I
couldn't do "research" on a grand scale since I didn't have the necessary
books here in the house. The Disney studios of course had whole libraries,
but I had no access to them, and that's why a number of errors slipped by
me I'm sure.
Garé: And besides, they had their offices over there where people watched
out that not too many mistakes were made.
KS: So you just sent the ducks off into fantasyland?
Garé: Not quite, he'd look things up occasionally in encyclopaedias or the
Carl: Yes, that was about all I did, namely check the geography to see what
the trees or plants looked like, the landscape, how the rivers ran, what
the climate is, or what sort of natives live there, although I always drew
them a little primitively and of course also humoristically stylised.
KS: I recall how, for example, in the story "Adventure Down Under" [us: W
OS 159-02] they looked typical of their country, in this case then like
Australian Aborigines, which means that you caught their likeness well.
Carl: Yes, well I always tried.
KS: Did you, in all the years you worked for Western, draw a regular
salary, or were you a freelance associate paid by the page?
Carl: That changed, actually. First I was a free associate and was paid by
the page. Then there was a time when in California some strange tax laws
were passed, and one of them said that I had to pay a sales tax on each
finished story. I didn't concern myself about it, and thought that Western
would take care of it somehow, but they apparently didn't do anything about
it either. Anyway, all of a sudden the taxmen came to Western and said that
they were a couple of thousand dollars in the red and would have to pay
back-taxes, whereupon Western turned to us artists and demanded money. Boy,
that was a lot of money, because we'd been letting the taxes go for years,
and now all of a sudden they wanted it from us artists...
Garé: It was all of $5000!
Carl: I can't remember anymore if it was really that much, but I'm sure it
was 4-digit number, and I really couldn't pay it. The other artists put up
a howl, too, and we tried to reach an agreement with Western. Then Western
made a deal with the tax authorities that they would pay 50% of the tax out
of their pockets, and we artists didn't have to pay a single dollar. The
result of this whole business was that Western, to avoid anything like this
in the future, hired those of us artists who did the most work for them
permanently with a regular salary, while the other who continued to
freelance had in future to pay the tax themselves.
KS: You received a fixed salary?
Carl: Not fixed in the sense that I got the same thing every month, I was
just now permanently employed, though still paid by the page, while
receiving all social benefits like health insurance, vacation pay, bonuses
when there were any, a pension plan was set up for me, and so on.
KS: Do you remember how much you were paid per page then?
Carl: Oh yes, in the beginning it was $10 per page, plus $2.50 for every
KS: And that was including everything - sketches, inking, etc?
Carl: Sure, including everything. And I even had to buy the drawing paper
myself - it wasn't provided.
KS: That was...
Carl: 1942, no, 1943.
KS: But that increased over the years, surely. What did you receive toward
the end of your career?
Carl: The drawing paper, it was paid for. But wait, of course there was
more. As far as I can remember, it was $11.50 per story page and $34 for
the drawings, naturally again per page.
KS: And your wife helped you?
Garé: Oh yes. Of course I was never paid separately, but I often
helped. I did a lot of the lettering, and always inked the solid blacks
and occasionally the backgrounds which Carl had sketched in pencil. I could
never draw the ducks, though - I don't know why. I had a lot of
difficulties with them.
KS: Getting back to your method of writing a story, can you describe for us
the entire process?
Carl: Well, I took a piece of paper and drew a few funny situations on it,
just ideas that I had - what I could have the ducks do today? When I had
enough individual gags, I'd make a short summary and develop the entire
story, as a whole. That was one difference between me and the other
artists and writers: they'd begin with _one_ situation, eg. Donald runs
around in the house, then he goes out, and then what? So they thought,
"now what could happen?" And behold, Donald meets somebody. Who could he
meet? Let's say Gladstone Gander. What happens next? Ok, they get into an
argument, or maybe they don't. Good, let's say they go off together
peaceably to have lemonade, and so on, from one panel to the next, until
the end of the story. I did it just the other way around: I took
individual gags, tightened them up and built the high-point of the story
out of them, and then, after this high-point, I went back - how could the
ducks get into such a situation, or more concretely: why did the bull smash
the china - how did he get there? [us: W WDC 182-01] I always proceeded
very logically, and the individual logical steps were made as funny as
KS: What gave your stories that special quality was the fact that you both
wrote the script and did the drawings yourself. Normally, author and
artist are two different people.
Carl: That's right, but I think that my way - provided one has talent for
both - is really the best. It always seemed to me, after I'd finished a
story and sent it off, that I was a complete vacuum and would never have
another idea for a story the rest of my life. And then I began to think:
what would like to draw? In time, individual ideas would finally come. Why
shouldn't Donald by on the sailboat, for then I could draw masts, tackle,
or high waves that dash against the ship! So, I'd think to myself: how
about a story that takes place on the high seas. Then I'd think again:
what climax could I build to - why not introduce the Beagle Boys who fight
with the ducks for gold on shipboard? And from that situation, as I said,
I'd then go back to the beginning of the story. [us: W US 31-01]
KS: Another question: you invented several new characters, like Uncle
Scrooge, the Beagle Boys, and Gyro Gearloose - who else?
Carl: Gladstone Gander and Magica De Spell.
KS: Why did you introduce these new figures? Do you think it would still be
Carl: There were definite reasons for it. When I had used Donald and his
three nephews several times in a row, or example, I'd always think one
ought to do something else, make up new gags, and at some point the idea
came to me that one could also introduce new characters for this
purpose. I introduced Gyro Gearloose, for example, originally as a foil
for Donald, a rival, who in his first story [us: W WDC 88-02], concerning
a bet, was just as dumb as Donald. He only later developed into such a
KS: And how about Scrooge? He changed in the course of the years from a
hard-hearted and unpleasant old miser to a much more personable character.
Carl: The more I used him, the more strongly I realized that one can't
always draw a character in a bad light, and more than one can show the same
character as having exclusively good qualities - that just gets boring.
KS: But some of the best gags resulted from just this confrontation, in
which Scrooge brutally abuses Donald.
Carl: Of course, and he continued to do that later - maybe not quite so
brutally, but still. It's just that simple: one can't always show the same
thing. The characters have to be brought into new situations. Take
Superman or Spiderman, for example - they always stay the same! Spiderman
was doing the same thing five years ago as he does today, and I just don't
like that, hence the subtle changes in character. By and large, however,
Scrooge remained true to himself: that is he's still rich and greedy and
always take advantage of Donald and the nephews - just in a somewhat less
harsh manner. Look, when I introduced Scrooge then, I didn't do it with
the intention of assuring him a permanent place. He just appeared and had
something to do with Donald because the story required it [us: W
OS 178-02]; only after quite a while, after he'd been seen several times,
the readers got used to him. I didn't make him up and put him into the book
and say "here's a new regular character" - that didn't happen till later.
Scrooge was created more by chance, in contrast to Magica De Spell, about
whom I had more of an idea that here was a new regular figure to be used.
Magica was introduced much more intentionally, as a wicked witch who was
always after Scrooge's first-earned dime [us: W US 36-01]. I thought at
the time: Disney's always had witches who were ugly and repulsive - who
shouldn't I draw one that's not ugly, but outright sexy? That's why she's
Italian, and of course very popular with readers in Italy.
KS: Were you ever paid for the creation of new characters?
Carl: Oh no, no! They were my characters, but since they were drawn for
Disney, [they were] not my possession. As soon as one does something for
Disney it belongs to him, and that could indeed be the reason why young
people today don't invent any more new characters. Why should they, when
the characters belong to Disney afterward?
KS: Your stories were reprinted more than those of other artists. Why do
you think your stories were preferred?
Garé: Well, they always wait until a new generation has come along, a
generation that doesn't know Carl's stories yet. And his are the best!
KS: That is, the stories are more or less timeless?
Carl: Oh yes, that's right, they can be read again and again and are still
good years later. I always tried for that, just as I always tried to keep
the stories as international as possible. That's why, as far as I could, I
avoided particularly American things like baseball, because baseball, for
example, is only played here. I hardly think that you, in Germany would
understand a baseball story.
Garé: That became a problem with one story, namely the Hallowe'en story in
Donald Duck. [us: W DD 26-02]
Carl: But it was given to me by the studio; that is, a 7 minute film came
out then, and my story was supposed to take after the film. I think,
however, that the idea behind Hallowe'en, namely getting into costume and
mischief, is actually quite universal and can be understood by other countries.
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