Time at the Disney Studio

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Self Portrait ca. 1939-40
In 1935, Carl Barks went to work for the Disney Studio. He started as an inbetweener, but was transferred to the story department in 1936 after he had submitted several gag ideas. In 1937, the popular new character Donald Duck received his own series of cartoons, and a new unit of storymen was created dedicated to working on these cartoons. This group included Barks, among others such as Chuck Couch and Jack Hannah.

As was common, the storymen and animators would often draw caricatures (some quick sketches, others more detailed drawings) of each other. Caricatures of Barks often emphasized his nose, glasses, and blond hair. The drawing to the right is a self-portrait (noticeably, sans glasses) drawn by Barks in either 1939 or 1940. Below, the leftmost drawing is a caricature done by Ken Hultgren on two pieces of animation paper taped together. The other three are all caricatures done by Chuck Couch. The middle one of these drawings, showing Barks with a large pipe in his mouth, is actually a tracing and coloring by Barks of the Couch drawing.

Caricature by Ken Hultgren
Caricature by Chuck Couch Tracing of Caricature by Chuck COuch Caricature by Chuck Couch
Horse racing pools were often organized in the office, of which Barks recounted the following:

"The racing pools were much fun. Men from several units participated. Each paid a sum to place a bet across across-the-board on a horse in races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. The total pool went to the guy whose oatburners earned the most money for the full day's program. You can guess that interest was keen when the sound of the bugle came out of a concealed radio in the "treasurer's" room. The radio would announce the finish order of the last race, and everybody would consult the pool board to see who had picked up the most money. You will see by the cartoons that I must have missed a $90 longshot once and took a terrific razzing."

The leftmost two images above illustrate the incident related by Barks. The one by Chuck Couch has Barks pondering "90 Hmm," while the tall drawing by Ken Hultgren has Barks saying "Oh well, what's $90?" In those days, $90 was quite a sum. Barks was paid $20 per week when he began working at the studio, and the salary for working in the story department paid $65 per week.

Picasso Barks
Fun was often poked at Barks' tastes in the arts. He remarked that "it was reputed that I only attended horse operas." Barks noted, "My hooting at longhair music, Shakespearean writing, and modern art got me many lampooning cartoons." An example of one such cartoon is shown to the right, which Barks recollected as being drawn by either Cecil Beard or Ken Hultgren. In it, Barks is caricatured in the stlye of Picasso, with the caption "It Stinks!" written below.

Caricature by Roy Williams
Barks was also known as a fast writer and artist of gags, and thus the drawing to the left by Roy Williams shows Barks as a whirlwind of drawing power. Barks once lamented, "The paper we wasted! Good Highest grade water-marked bond!" Below are several more unattributed sketches featuring caricatures of Barks. The rightmost two both feature the theme of suqirrels/chipmunks, possibly dating them to the time that Barks was working on some Bambi gags with Hultgren which featured a squirrel and chipmunk.

Unattributed Caricature Unattributed Caricature Unattributed Caricature

Gag Bonus Check
Gags were not limited simply to caricatures. The drawing to the left of a gag bonus check drawn by Couch and given to Barks illustrates the humor in looking for a holiday bonus. It is also interesting to notice that the drawing, dated to "X-Mas Eve 1937", features a sketch of Gus Goose, who would not appear in the Donald Duck comic strips until 1938 (in a photo on the floor in the April 6th strip, and in person in the May 9th strip), and would not appear on screen until the release of the cartoon "Donald's Cousin Gus" on May 19, 1939.

Resignation Letter
Barks clearly enjoyed his time at the studio, as evidenced by the copy of Barks' resignation letter shown to the right. Even in tendering his resignation, Barks keeps up his wit, noting that "Walt could make money growing mushrooms in [room] 2-D 1" when discussing one of his reasons for leaving as being that he "spent too many years in too dark a room." He further praises Disney, saying "I hope that Walt won't be inconvenienced by me leaving. He probably knows that I haven't earned my wages the past year and that I am actually doing him a favor by taking a powder. I wish to say here that he is the best boss that I ever had. It has taken a lot of courage to leave his employment." He also assures that his job on "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold" is not something that affected his choice to leave. The entire contents of the letter are transcribed below:

Box 193, Ramona Blvd.
San Jacinto, Calif.
November 9, 1942




Mr. Hal Adelquist
Disney Studio

Dear Sir:

I tried to see you last Friday to tell you that I have decided to leave the studio and try farming at my San Jacinto estate (five acres of Russian thistles). I had not planned to leave so suddenly, in fact, I might have stuck around indefinitely had not gasoline rationing forced me to move while it is still possible to do so. My reasons for leaving are several, the chief one being that I spent too many years in too dark a room. Walt could make money growing mushrooms in 2-D 1.

Seriously speaking, I have become tired of working for wages and have decided to make one reckless effort to survive on my own. I hope that my farm and chickens will support me while I build up an income from free-lance cartooning. I feel that with more time to develop my long-neglected knack for drawing human figures I may be able to break into the comic magazine field. Probably I won't have enough on the ball to click in that racket, but if I don't give it a try I will never know.

Certain of the boys have the mistaken idea that the little job of drawing that I did on a duck one-shot last summer gave me comic-strip delusions and accounts chiefly for my itchy feet; such however is not the case. I was working nights to develop a comic-strip technique long before I even heard of the Whitman Publishing Co. I have no promises of work from the Whitman people in the future, and I doubt very much that they would offer me any lest the studio feel that they had in some degree lured me from the fold.

I hope that Walt wont be inconvenienced by my leaving. He probably knows that I haven't earned my wages the past year and that actually I am doing him a favor by taking a powder. I wish to say here that he is the best boss that I ever had. It has taken a lot of courage to leave his employment.

So suppose that we consider my services terminated as of Friday, November 6th. I will leave my badge with the gateman when I pick up my check the latter part of the week. I haven't yet checked with the mailman here to see if the above is my correct address. I shall let you know if it is or isn't with in the next few days. I have some bonds or parts of bonds to be sent me from the studio.

I suppose the circumstances of my leaving precludes the possibility of my wheedling a letter of recommendation from the studio. Well, thanks anyway.

Yours truly
           Carl Barks