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Review of Carl Barks: Conversations, edited by Donald Ault, University Press of Mississippi, 2003

Just as Hubert Humphrey was called the “Happy Warrior” for his love of campaigning, one might call Uncle Scrooge McDuck the “Happy Capitalist.” What other ultra-trillionaire–fictional or otherwise–enjoys his fortune quite as much as does Scrooge? He stores his enormous wealth, in cash, within a cavernous "money bin" so that he can dive and swim and burrow through the mounds of coins and currency, a pastime he finds invigorating. The old duck still enjoys getting out and making more money, too. Along with his nephew Donald Duck and grand-nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, the aged bird has gone hunting for lost gold mines, diving for shipwrecks, and questing for the lost Fountain of Youth and legendary Atlantis. The meticulous timing, multitude of believable characters, and enduring humor of the Uncle Scrooge comics have influenced a host of later graphic artists. Even filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have cited these stories as an influence. (The rolling boulder sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark is a steal from Uncle Scrooge #7!)

The creator of the remarkable Uncle Scrooge was Carl Barks, who wrote and drew Scrooge's adventures for fifteen years. During this time Barks was unknown to the larger world, despite the Scrooge comic book selling some 3 million copies an issue at its peak. All Disney artists were obliged to live with the fact that, for marketing reasons, Walt Disney’s name appeared on their work. It was only when Barks retired in 1966 that he began to receive some attention. From then until his death in 2000 at the age of 99, Barks made his living selling original oil paintings of his beloved duck characters. The paintings have since gone for as much as $200,000. In 1991, Barks became the first comic book artist to receive the Disney Legends Award and, in 1994, the Grande Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris.

In Carl Barks: Conversations, Donald Ault gathers 24 interviews with Barks, some never before published. In these casual discussions, Barks speaks of his eight years of formal education in a one-room schoolhouse, his early days as a writer for Disney cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s, and the techniques he used to create ideas and gags for his comic book characters. Through it all, he comes across as a humble, warm, and engaging fellow who valued honest work and artistic integrity. While Ault calls Barks "one of the most influential writers and artists of the twentieth century," Barks himself was more modest: "I would like to be remembered as a guy who gave my readers their money's worth, that I did a good job, and that they respect me for it."

--Thomas Wiloch


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