1980 Barks interview (part 1)

Mike Devery mdevery at netspace.net.au
Sat Sep 20 06:32:15 CEST 2003

Hi everyone,

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 
called then?
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 
National Geographic.
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 
story page.
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 
possible today?
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 
lucky duck.
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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