In Four Color #9 (Vol. 2. August 1942) by Dell Publishing "The Good Duck Artist" began working on Disney comics. The rights to publish Disney Comics were in the hands of Western Printing and Lithography. Editor Oscar Lebeck was looking for new material to use as the comic strip reprints were running out. He went to the Disney Animation Story department to look for stories that were rejected. He found one called Morgan’s Ghost and he really liked it. He asked John Rose (head of the story artists for the animated shorts) who was on staff that could draw it. He recommended Carl Barks and Jack Hanna. They were asked to do a comic book version of Morgan's Ghost and they agreed. The story was then adapted for a comic book by Bob Karp and re-titled to Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold! It was the first original Donald Duck story for the comic books.
Carl Barks got his start at Disney as an in-between animator, but would move into the gag department. From there the editor Oscar Lebeck asked him to contribute more original stories to Western. Those stories were accepted and he drew those as well. Barks would quit Disney in 1942 in part because the air conditioned offices played havoc with his allergies. He also didn’t like it when people messed with his stories. Both in animation and in comics, whenever he noticed changes in his work he would have a fit, not unlike Donald Duck some would say. He would then spend the next 23 years doing Disney stories for Western Printing and Lithography, where he would be able to create without much interference. He would, within the Duck Universe, take characters with little to no personality and flesh them out (three Jr. Woodchucks, Huey, Louie and Dewey) and create new characters as well. The most popular character he would create is Uncle Scrooge and the variety of villains trying to steal his money. His stories would be very fluid, intelligent and great escapist fun. The Ducks would often go on international adventures which Barks would draw details of other countries accurately using his favourite reference, National Geographic. His story telling abilities would influence many artists in ways that are not recognizable on the surface.
Barks stories would first appear in Four Color Comics and Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories (beginning with issue #31). Eventually his Uncle Scrooge stories grew so popular they devoted a title to them. Barks continued to do comics for 23 years. He never got credit for his work or a raise in all that time. The only feedback during that time was 3 fan letters forwarded to him, two of them critical. When fans wrote wanting to know who the "Good Duck Artist" was they got a letter back saying it was company policy to not reveal who their freelancers were.
The first person to discover his identity was Malcolm Willits, instead of writing Western he wrote to Disney Studios saying he wanted to do an article about the Donald Duck artist for his fanzine. They gave him the info, but he didn’t follow up on it. Then Bill and John Spicer wrote Western and asked, but they got the standard reply. They wrote back pretending to be an art teacher wanting to use Disney Comics for a class and wanted to speak to the specific artist who did a story for them so they could get technical details of how he worked. Western fell for the ruse and gave out Carl Barks information. John Spicer would be the first to write to Barks in 1960. When Barks got the letter he thought it was a practical joke by his editors. He wrote back "After eyeing your letter with dark suspicions for several weeks, I have decided to answer it on the assumption that it could be a genuine fan letter." Malcolm Willits would also write to Barks soon afterwards. From there his name spread in comic fandom.
This helped Barks tremendously after he retired from doing comic books in 1965. He would then begin painting Duck characters and they would sell for large sums of money to fans of his. For a brief period Disney refused to let him paint their characters, but would later let him use them for free because of negative public opinion. Barks work on the ducks would later create a popular Disney cartoon called Duck Tales. They would later do Duck Tales animated movies. Carl Barks died in 2000, he was 99 years old. His Duck Stories still sell millions today when they are reprinted in Europe. They are loved by adults and kids alike.
Behind the Scenes - Invisible Hero.
Chase Craig was one the editors at Western Printing and Lithography. Quite often in Barks 22 year comic book career he would call up Western and tell them that he was burned out. He told them that he couldn’t do anymore Duck stories as he had run out of ideas. Craig would talk to Carl, sometimes taking him out for lunch and manage to convince him that he had more Duck stories in him and he could continue doing them. Barks would agree and would go back to work. It is because of Craig there were so many great Carl Barks duck stories. Craig came from the animation world and knew many of the owners and executives working there. They trusted Craig with what he was doing in the comic books and usually left him alone. When they didn’t, he would try to find some way to make it so the artists were left alone. One time the Disney executives weren’t happy with Barks work because his Donald Duck looked slightly different than the animated version. Craig convinced them that the animation model didn’t work for comic books and convinced them that a separate comic book model of Donald Duck was needed, which ended up being the version was the one Carl Barks was already drawing. Barks was able to go on as usual without interference.
With funny animals, eventually came funny superhero animals. Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies Comics (1941) was a successful comic simply because it brought the well known and loved cartoon characters to comic book format. It would go 246 issues ending in 1962 and would be brought back many times. But in issue #5 (March 1942), we got to see the first funny superhero animal character. He was Bugs Bunny as Super-Duper Rabbit. While this was only meant as a one story gag, the character would start a trend of more funny superhero animals comics. The first funny animal superhero with a regular gig was Super Mouse. He first appeared in Coo Coo Comics #1 (October 1942) and yes he was a version of Superman. The comic though, was not published by DC. It was produced by Nedor Comics in October of 1942. The series lasted 62 issues and ended in April 1952 with Supermouse appearing in the vast majority of them. The character would also get his own series beginning in 1949, go 45 issues and end in 1958. Because of this comic, a cartoon character also called Super Mouse would change their name. He became the much more memorable Mighty Mouse instead. Another funny superhero animal is Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. He started out in Fawcett's Funny Animals #1, published in December 1942. The series lasted 91 issues, then it was taken over by Charlton Comics with issue #84 and ended in 1956. He would also have a short lived solo series going 15 issues between 1945 and 1947. Timely/Marvel jumped in doing Super Rabbit, who first appeared in Comedy Comics #14 (March, 1943) and would bounce around to many titles and eventually get his own series. Super Rabbit went 14 issues, starting in 1943 and ending in 1948. These super animals had long staying power compared to most comic book characters in this era. Super Mouse was published for 16 years, Hoppy went 14 years and Super Rabbit went at least 9 years. Although it should be said that these were only one part of those books and they didn’t appear in every issue they headlined. The bulk of the series were normal funny animal stories.
A very different type of comic book publisher started up in 1942. They were called Catechetical Guild based in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first comic they published was called Topix, which was a religious comic. It started in November 1942 and would go almost 10 years to January 1952. Inside were a variety of tales of religious or strong moral nature aimed at kids going to catholic schools. It should be said that these comics were not on the newsstand, but were sold through catholic schools for 10 cents each. Towards the end of it’s run Topix would be published on a weekly basis. Catechetical was a publisher with strong beliefs on religion and politics. They would publish comics devoted to them instead of chasing after the almighty dollar with more lucrative genres.
Fawcett cashed in on a popular TV Western character, publishing a western title called Hopalong Cassidy in February of 1943. The title re-started with the 2nd issue in summer of 1946. Come 1948 it was a huge hit, selling 8 millions issues over the entire year. The success of this title convinced other companies to also go Western, especially after the Superhero sales started to decline. Hopalong went 85 issues under Fawcett, then switching over to DC Comics in 1954. It continued until 1959 going 135 issues. Along the way the title would produce many spin offs, most of them were one shots or giveaways.
Due to World War Two, the US Government began paper rationing. This meant publishers of all types would have to get government approval to use paper. Many publishers of magazines, books and so forth found they had to do without and/or make the most of what little paper they had. But those publishers that did have paper had little trouble selling whatever they were publishing. For publishers that had a large paper allocation, the war was very good to them economically. Both because their competition would be low or out of paper (circulation would be cut, formats were smaller, print became smaller, etc..) and the soldiers began reading comic books along with kids. Some comic book publishers, who usually also published pulps, books and girlie magazines were able to get the paper they needed.