Reading through the twenty-four interviews that make up Conversations, one quickly moves beyond the "Who is..." question, which has been answered in a literal sense in Ault's introduction and chronology, to another question which can be put many ways though it asks, essentially, "Why is Carl Barks so important?"
The interviews reveal a likable and intelligent yet solitary (and perhaps somehow melancholy) man who truly loves his work and appreciates his fans, but who was also an autodidact with only a rudimentary formal education, a former laborer, who began doing the work he did "to earn a living" in the midst of Depression and wartime America.
While aware of his contributions to comic art and American (later international) society, he doesn't see what the big deal is beyond the simple story, and becomes a little confused, flustered or impatient by questions that take the matter "off the drawing board," as it were, to a more theoretical realm. Though he admits to Donald and Lynda Ault that he had begun and had some success with artistic experimentation (outside a formulaic, pre-established mold) in 1949 and in the same context speaks of his fruitful period of narrative innovation in the 1950s and in painting in the 70s and 80s, "Barks himself,"says Donald Ault, "Was never able to acknowledge or understand consciously the full depth, complexity, and influence of his work. At some fundamental level [however]—'deep beneath the subconscious' as he once said—he recognized the power of his talent and the gift life had given him in the opportunity to use that talent to its fullest" (Introduction).
It seems that Barks saw himself as a gifted artisan of sorts—grateful to Disney and aware of his own unique creative contributions, but certainly not as a "genius." While he never gives an impression of false modesty in these conversations, he likewise never comes across with an "It's about time you guys showed up" attitude that would be equally disingenuous. In fact, the well-spoken Barks is, I think, completely forthright.