Walt Disney, Donald Duck, and the obscure genius of Carl Barks
He wrote adult stories for kids – think Star Wars, Princess Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. No he didn’t write those particular stories. He wrote stories of the same brilliant quality in an extreme quantity – two to three stories a month for 20 years, with titles you probably don’t know. For example; Lost in the Andes, The Golden Fleecing, and The Seven Cities of Cibola. He created the character Uncle Scrooge Mcduck, and told the stories of Donald, Huey, Duey, and Louie.
These children’s stories also held hidden history lessons, geology and geography lessons, they showed traditional clothing, and accurate architecture. As the young readers grew older they discovered thathey knew some facts about the world which just happened to come from fiction.
Carl Barks read National Geographic magazine and used a set of encyclopedias to research information and photographs for background. In addition to writing original ideas, he took seeds from classics and added new plot twists. For example the novel Lost Horizon is the search for the lost perfect world – Shangra-la.
In Barks version of the story they go to Tralla-la and accidentally destroy it by unintentionally creating greed. The reason they go there is to improve the health of a rich uncle, whose biggest problem, of course, is greed. His nerves are frazzled and he drinks too much medicine. After a difficult search they arrive in the lost paradise and he drinks one last bottle of medicine. He is cured. His nerves are at peace. He settles into work and becomes a farmer. Later another farmer finds the medicine bottle cap and sees that it’s special because it’s rare – the only bottle cap in the city. He trades it for ten sheep. Soon the treasure has changed hands many times. The next morning it’s worth the price of “all the rice I can grow for ten years”.
Paradise is beginning to resemble home.
If you haven’t heard of Carl Barks it might be because the lead character was Donald Duck, and everyone who worked for Disney put the name Walt Disney on their works. Barks remained anonymous for most of his Career. The kids who read his stories knew him simply as “the good artist”. Most of his stories were good, many were brilliant. Barks said later that he didn’t even know if anyone was reading it. The publisher was receiving fan mail which wasn’t forwarded to him.
How good was he? One famous contemporary comparison to his accomplishments was the work of the Beatles. During the sixties, in the rare marriage of quantity and quality, they wrote and recorded an average of two albums each year for a decade. Barks wrote and drew 2 to 3 stories a month for more than 20 years, beginning during World War II.
Don Rosa said, “…based on how many novelists, movie-makers, comic writers and artists, cite Carl Barks as their ‘major influence and inspiration’ – and I’m not the first to say this – Carl Barks is the greatest storyteller of the 20th century”.
The plot twists continue and trouble is not over yet…