The Great Walt Disney Shadow Theft of the 1950s and 60s

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Around the mid-1950s, Walt Disney editors began removing all shadows from Carl Barks' covers.



Carl Barks, of course, was one of the greatest comic book creators of the 20th Century. He was not only one of the most talented artists, but he was also an extremely talented writer, to boot. Barks was so remarkable that fans became fans of his solely on the basis of his art. Since the Walt Disney company insisted on the artists on their comic books (which were produced by Western Publishing for Dell Comics, but with Walt Disney comic book editors approving the pages and covers) were anonymous (to keep alive the conceit that the actual Walt Disney was the artist on all of the comic books), fans had to identify Barks solely by his artwork. It was so clearly better than the other artists (and this was a period where Disney was employing some fantastic artists, by the way. Tony Strobl, for instance, is an absolute icon) than the fans dubbed the mystery artist the "Good Duck Artist," and Barks was known only by that name for decades before he identity was revealed and he became a minor sensation (especially in Europe).

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Sadly, of the many covers that Barks did over the years, few of them survive to this day (Disney did not think that there was any value in the original art, so they would often just throw it away). However, what covers DID survive taught us a fascinating lesson about how Disney decided to treat Barks' work abruptly around the mid-1950s. Thanks to Carl Barks Comic Book Art for the covers in question and thanks to the brilliant scholarship of Matti Eronen (who did his research back in the 1990s when he had to do this stuff by HAND without the internet to help. I remember how hard it was to do this column when I started in 2005. Can you imagine a column like this in 1994? It'd be madness. It'd be doable, but it'd be madness!) for discovering this bizarre change.

You see, Carl Barks was a master in the use of shadows in his comics. And sure enough, his comic book covers in the 1940s and early 1950s had plenty of shadows in them...

Right around the mid 1950s, however, his editors decided to abruptly eliminate all shadows from his covers. Check it out on this Walt Disney Comics and Stories #165 cover...

The crazy thing, though, is that Barks used a LOT of shadows, so this often meant some painstaking edits on Disney's behalf...

Can you even imagine being the person whose job it was to erase all of the minute little shadows that Barks put into all of his covers?

It's fascinating that Barks just kept on including the shadows, even though they constantly removed them...

Too funny!

Thanks again to Matti Eronen for this hilarious discovery!

Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed - Was Seth Green's Oz going to return as a character on Angel had Angel been renewed for a Season 6?

That's it for this week!

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