Monday, January 07, 2013

Carl Barks and the Nautical Theme

I have been reading a bunch of Carl Barks' magnificent Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories lately and one thing that caught my attention was how many of his tales either took place on ships, or featured a long voyage.  There are a number of possible reasons for this. For one thing, ships offer plenty of danger, from shipwrecks to storms to pirates.  Plus, his stories frequently featured worldwide travel and it is easy to forget in the jet age, but ships represented the most common transport across the world's oceans well into the 1950s.  For example, when my parents returned from Germany in 1955 with baby Pat in tow, it was on an ocean liner.

I first noticed this theme while reading a couple of Uncle Scrooge stories, which take place almost entirely onboard.  The Flying Dutchman, from Uncle Scrooge #25 (shown here as reprinted in US #87):

And All At Sea, from US #31:

In the former story, Uncle Scrooge has purchased the assets of a former shipping line, in the hopes of uncovering information that will lead him to the title ship, which vanished with a cargo of gold bullion.  In the latter, he has made a fortune selling rubber to the island nation of Bantu, but they insist on paying him in gold, and he reasons that the safest and cheapest way of getting it back to his vault in Duckburg is via a windjammer.

But the coincidence of reading those stories aside, once I started looking into it, I was surprised I hadn't noticed it earlier, because Barks went with nautical stories from the word go.  Indeed, the very first Barks' Donald Duck adventure was Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold from Four Color #9 (2nd series), and the first glimpse we get of the title character is here:
That story, which follows roughly Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, has the boys battling it out with Black Pete for Captain Henry Morgan's treasure.


Anonymous said...

Black Pete (Peg Leg Pete, Sneaky Pete) is usually thought of as a villain in Mickey Mouse comics, but he also tangled with the Ducks a few times, including "Frozen Gold," "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold," and "The Treasure of Spyglass Cove." He was usually a criminal, although sometimes he was a legal (but bullying) authority figure, e.g. a boss or landlord. I remember an animated WWII-era cartoon in which Donald enlisted in the Air Corps ("I wanna fly!") and Pete was his mean sergeant.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, "All at Sea" was the one where Scrooge disguised the gold as corn kernels. I first read it in the late 1960s, when it was reprinted in Walt Disney Comics Digest.

Pat said...

Yes, that is a major plot point in All At Sea.

Anonymous said...

Barks even managed to work a ship (a Spanish galleon) into "The Seven Cities of Cibola," which was set in the desert.

Wriphe said...

Couldn't the substantive inspiration for the watery adventures be a little closer to the material? Ducks are first and foremost water fowl, and Donald has always worn a sailor's suit. Nautical themed stories should be natural!

Kirk House said...

Ships also feature prominently in "The Lemming With the Locket"; "The Doom Diamond"; "The Golden Helmet"; "The Status Seeker" (a submarine in that case); and the untitled Menehuenes story... among others. In Barks's first long Donald story that he did solo, the Ducks visit Egypt and sail along the Nile.
It would ALSO be interesting to look at the varied spacecraft that the master created for his stories.

Matt Celis said...

Great stuff. And some pooh-pooh "funny animal" comics as if they are inferior to "grown men dressed in bat-tights" comics.