Know Thy History: Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, and the Disney Ducks


They ride tall ships to the far away,
and see the long ago.
They walk where fabled people trod,
and Yetis trod the snow.

They meet the folks who live on stars,
and find them much like us,
With food and love and happiness
the things they most discuss.

The world is full of clans and cults
abuzz as angry bees,
And Junior Woodchucks snapping jeers
at Littlest Chickadees.

The ducks show us that part of life
is to forgive a slight.
That black eyes given in revenge
keep hatred burning bright.

So when our walks in sun or shade
pass graveyards filled by wars,
It’s nice to stop and read of ducks
whose battles leave no scars.

To read of ducks who parody
our vain attempts at glory,
They don’t exist, but somehow leave
us glad we bought their story.

That poem was written by the man known by the world as the Good Duck Artist: Carl Barks. Donald Duck may have been created by the late, great Walt Disney, but it can be argued — very successfully, in fact — that he didn’t come into his own until Carl Barks wrote stories about him. More importantly, Carl Barks is the creator of Donald Duck’s wealthy uncle: a self-made duck with a top hat and tiny pince-nez glasses named Scrooge McDuck.

The world of race cars, lasers, and aeroplanes would never be the same again.

(Incidentally, much of my info for this piece  comes straight from the Wikipedia entry on Carl Barks, which is super detailed.  I have a feeling Don Rosa wrote it.)


Carl Barks, called the “Hans Christian Andersen of comic books” by fellow legend Will Eisner, was born at the turn of the century: March 27, 1901. He lived in a world where cowboys still carried around revolvers and the big city meant somewhere located close to the rail lines. He was the simple son of farmers from the small town of Merrill, Oregon. (Current population: 844.) By all accounts, he had a lonely childhood. Neighbors were a half mile away. School was two miles away… end even then, there were only eight or ten students. He worked hard doing farmwork: breeding attle, cultivating crops, selling to the local slaughterhouses.

Barks would’ve liked to continue his education, but, alas, he’d developed hearing problems. Hearing aids were not easy to come by in those days, and bad hearing meant poor education. Barks decided not to move on to high school and instead drifted around, taking on odd jobs. He went from being a woodcutter to a mule driver to a cowboy. Along the way, he met several people, all blue collar folk just like him, who liked to joke with each other a lot just to get through the day.

While such an experience would probably be a downer for most of us, Barks, instead, decided to use it as an inspiration. He remembered experiences, the ups and downs (mostly the downs), and they would form the basis for his portrayal of his most famous characters: Disney’s Donald Duck and his own creation, Scrooge McDuck.


Barks had taken a few corresponded classes on art. He’d tried to sell his drawing to some small press newspapers beforehand, but with little success. He did find work at the Calgary Eye-Opener, which Wikipedia describes as a racy men’s cartoon magazine. (Don’t get too excited, readers: I did an internet search of those old papers, and “racy” apparently means talking about smoking and boozing a lot. Those looking for cartoons of ladies in knee breeches and bloomers best look elsewhere. Namely, within the pages of Ally Sloper.)

However, Barks finally got his big break when he was hired at Disney in 1935 as an in-betweener. (You know, the poor scrubs who have to draw all the tiny animation panels in between the key cells.) Working conditions at Disney were pretty poor in those days, though, and ongoing health problems caused Barks to quit in 1942.

He stumbled upon his true destiny, however, while moonlighting as a comic artist for Disney adaptations. He did half the artwork for Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, a 64-page story adapted from an unproduced feature. Looking for a stable income, he asked the publisher whether there was a regular artist for Donald Duck stories. He got the job and toiled away at the stories anonymously (as was the general practice in those days). The stories would draw heavily from Bark’s own experiences. One story chronicles Donald’s escapades at a chicken farm. Barks himself had played around with starting a chicken farm in the San Jacinto area after he quit Disney’s animation studios.

Uncle Scrooge 6

Scrooge McDuck made his debut in the 1947 comic story, “Christmas on Bear Mountain.” What was originally a bit part eventually became the foundation of the entire Duck universe. Barks envisioned Scrooge and Donald to not be at all that dissimilar. Both were irritable cranks, after all. But while Donald was based on Barks’ life as a journeyman, Scrooge seems to have been based on his later successes. Scrooge got to where he was through sheer perseverance, someone who became the “World’s Richest Duck” through hard work and cleverness. (“Tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties,” he would say to grand-nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie.)

And, oh yeah, Scrooge was totally responsible for planting into every child the dream that they, too, can swim through a bin stacked high with coins.

Scrooge would travel the world going on boss adventures with his nephews, facing every challenge with sheer pluck. For references, Barks would often draw on pictures he found in National Geographic magazine. Dismal Downs, the ancestral home of the Duck clan, was based on an article he’d come across about British castles. The references helped to give a certain sence of authenticity to his background illustrations, which were full of strong detail due to Bark’s one-time goal at writing more “serious” comics.


From there, Barks went to to create a myriad of classic characters: Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, the Junior Woodchucks, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, and Magica De Spell.

Eventually, fans of the Duck stories would catch on that there was a “Good Duck Artist” behind all of it. Eventually, fans managed to guess the identity of the farmer’s boy from Merrill, Oregon. Through fanzines and conventions, the name of Carl Barks spread until Carl Barks became the most well known artist to write and draw a Disney comic book.

The influence of the Carl Barks stories show up in the strangest of places. You know the infamous boulder scene from Indiana Jones that has been parodied, like, everywhere? Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas have admitted that the sequence was inspired by the same trap in the Uncle Scrooge story, “The Seven Cities of Cibola.”

Hey, do you know Osamu Tezuka, the guy who basically invented manga in Japan? He mentioned that his artistic style was heavily influenced by Bark’s Scrooge McDuck stories.

Barks remains a huge influence in Europe, where the Disney Duck stories remain popular. His style has been meticulously replicated by Dann Jippes, Freddy Milton, and Don Rosa… the current torchbearer one of the most prominent torchbearers of the Disney Duck legacy and creator of the Eisner Award-winning The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

And finally, there’s DuckTales, perhaps the gold standard for all weekly animated series. Many of Carl Bark’s original Disney Duck stories would find their way into this landmark cartoon… apparently to the chagrin of some hardcore Disney Duck enthusiasts like Don Rosa (who’s not that complimentary of them in the comic reprints I’ve read). However, for a kid growing up in the 80’s, these were eye-openers … an amazing revelation that corporate icons like Donald, Scrooge, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie were capable of being in fun stories and adventures. It’s also in the running for quite possibly the best theme song of all time:

So there’s the inspiring story of how a guy who once had to take odd jobs where he could take ’em ended up changing the comic field around the world.  It’s a success story that Scrooge McDuck himself would’ve been proud of.


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on April 3, 2013, in comics, Know Thy History, webcomics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. A good write-up, El Santo. And yeah, it’s sometimes hard to understand how huge Disney comics still are in Europe, with new story production in such a scale that they can put out a new fifty-page issue every week (okay, there are some reprints, but most of it is new stuff), and sales numbers that put almost any American comic to shame (in my home country Norway there are about five million inhabitants, and the weekly Donald Duck comic sells 60.000 issues every week. To every Norwegian Disney comics enthusiast, this is a scandallously LOW number, as it was four times higher a few decades ago).

    A small correction: you refer to Don Rosa as “the current torchbearer”. It should be mentioned that he quit a few years back – his last story was first printed in 2006 – partly because of eye problems, partly because he was fed up with the Disney system.

    Don wrote this article a few months ago about why he quit making comics (STRONGLY recommended reading for anyone who’s curious about how the Disney comics system works – I’ve chosen to work in it for years and enjoy doing to, but for those who don’t already know this information, some of it may come as a shock):

    • Thanks! For some reason, I knew if I was going to get something wrong on here, one of my European readers would bail me out! I didn’t know that about Don Rosa.

      Also, 60K is a fantastic sales figure! I think before DC did their new 52 initiative, Batman and Superman titles were topping out in the States at 60K… and this country has a far larger population. The lower readership is a sad thing, but I think that’s true across the board for anything published in the print medium.

      • Yes, I just mentioned it because that’s a somewhat insane perspective: 60K figures – and that’s what we consider a BAD number!

        Also (and I advise you to sit down before reading this): Elsewhere in Europe, both the Dutch Donald Duck magazine and the Finnish Donald Duck magazine have sale figures that are over 280K. And in both cases, those magazines come out every single week.

        Now, to put those numbers into perspective, The Netherlands has a not too shabby population of > 16M, while Finland’s population is only 5.4 M. And in 2012, these 5.4 million people bought 14.7 million Donald Duck comic books. Not including all the other Disney comics publications there – that’s just the main title, the weekly “Donald Duck” magazine.

  2. I’m actually from Finland, which is considered to be the Europe’s second most “duck-crazy” country. Here you can see Carl Barks- and Don Rosa albums everywhere and they still sell like crazy. Theres also a regular weekly Donald Duck-magazine, monthly Donald Duck “pocket comic books”, and monthly Uncle Scrooge-mini pocket comics books. Those monthly Donald Duck pocket-books have now reached their 400th book, which should tell something about how long they’ve been selling. The biggest thing in our local Comic-cons was when Don Rosa arrived, he’s basically considered to be the next generation Carl Barks here.

    Although on the downside, publishers here are stingy about publishing anything else, so its the same kind of dilemma as with the US superheroes, that publishing anything else than superheroes (or in our case Donald Duck) is considered risky business. Still, the Ducks are doing better here than superheroes in the US, so they haven’t sunk as low yet.

    Personally I own all the Carl Barks-albums and Don Rosa-albums there is, so admittedly its a bit weird to think that they’re not exactly the “mainstream norm” in countries like the US.

  3. El Santo, you fiend, you don’t just expose people to the Duck Tales theme song! There’s not enough brain bleach to clean my mind from such addicting awesomeness and make my brain able to perform in anything else than looping “Duck Tales, Woo-ooh” over and over again!

  4. I think it’s crazy how some of the Carl Barks books still hold up and are a pleasure to read. You can’t say that about THAT many comics.

  5. I have a Donald duck comic…my great aunt had it and says she has had for at least 50-60 years its Norwegian. Not in greatest shape do you have any idea how much they go for.

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