Sunday, September 13, 2020

"Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold"

There's an extent to which this is little more than a moderately interesting trivia question, really: Yes! It IS notable as the first long-form Donald Duck comic story created in the US!  Not, as Geoffrey Blum's article in DD 250 claims, the first one period--but hey, who the heck in the US knew anything about Federico Pedrocchi in 1986?  I feel like even people in Italy barely do today. Anyway, you can say, with obvious justification, that those prehistoric comics, though fascinating, were kind of an evolutionary dead end.

And yes! It IS the first duck story Carl Barks worked on, although let's not get too excited: sure, he drew about half of it, with Jack Hannah doing the rest. But it's not like it has That Carl Barks Touch: they were just making the storyboards for an abandoned cartoon into comic panels, with no embellishment. And given that you can't tell which are by Barks and which Hannah without checking (well, if YOU can, you've a more sensitive eye than me), it's hard to think that Barks' contribution is exactly vital. Still! He did do it! It IS, in some sense, where it all started! And you can say, at least: well, it was his work here that caused the editors to entrust him with more creative work. So you can't understate its importance in that regard.

Still, you will note that these are extrinsic factors. There are enough of them that anyone wanting to write about this story can do so without really getting into what the thing itself is actually like--and they do.  So let's actually think about the story, albeit in a flippant and whimsical way.

The opening panel gives the game away. I once had a Victorian literature class where I swear the professor spent an entire session trying to get us to explain what the point was of reading Robert Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," given that the title already tells us what's going to happen. I don't think we ever reached a satisfying conclusion, but if you're teaching a class in comics, feel free to try that out with this story here.

The atmosphere of the story is pretty good, actually. Obviously highly Treasure-Island-inflected, as indeed are all pirate stories, but reasonably fun.

As you'd expect from what was originally meant to be a cartoon, we get a lot of these wordless panels, and a lot of these kinda limp gags that also look very Taliaferro-esque.

These scans come from DD 250, published early in Gladstone's run. I read it, when I read it, in the Gladstone Giant Comic Album--which, to my eyes, has much more attractive coloring than this. But I can't find scans of that one online, and I'm not going to mutilate my physical copy to scan it, so you get THIS. I mean, it's okay. Not too bad.

Anyway, there are some rather striking images, like this one. Dig the long shadows. And also note that this page was drawn by Hannah. If Barks hadn't been involved in would've been about the same.

Scientifically accurate! Capsaicin doesn't affect birds the way it does mammals, which is why it's sometimes used in birdseed: repel the squirrels but not the birds. Of course, you might argue that, as a bird himself, Donald should've been aware of that, but given the different levels of anthropomorphism between the ducks and Yellow Beak, it would affect them in away it wouldn't him. I'm sure you can find later Barks stories of Donald eating something hot and freaking out.

 THE VILLAIN! It's kind of funny, maybe, that Barks never really incorporated Pete into the duckiverse ("Frozen Gold" notwithstanding). I suppose he was just too ingrained as Mickey [Mouse] villain.

I thought when I first read this, you know, it's not that different from Barks, albeit with less nuance. And it is and it isn't: it lacks sophistication, and it's hard to imagine HDL, at least, being this strictly mercenary in Barks.

The pepper that didn't bark. Or something. It really is odd, though: storytelling 101 would dictate that this should be a callback to Donald attempting to poison Yellow Beak with pepper. But's not. It just feels prematurely cut off, like a joke without a punchline.

Must be said: Pete eating slumgullion is most alarming-looking. Also, if somebody spelled SLUM in a Scrabble game, you could get yourself a bingo by expanding it to SLUMGULLION. That would rule.

I don't know why you'd be THAT freaked out just because you hear a third-hand story about a ghost. Do you think Yellow Beak knows that other famous parrot, Joe, from Singapore? Of course, Yellow Beak is more anthropomorphized than Joe is. These things get surprisingly complex!

I am SO dubious about this map to a specific place in their establishment. That's really all I have to say about that.

So the question here is: given that the Ducks' restaurant is called "Bucket o' Blood," do you really think the ship being named "Black Mariah" is going to put them off? Or is the idea that Yellow Beak would recognize it from its name? But all that needs be done is change it and suddenly it'll be unrecognizable? I am skeptical. SKEPTICAL, I tell you!

One thing I like is that Red Eye, or possibly Oliver, is reading Little Women. You could say that's just part of the ruse, to seem as harmless as possible, but I prefer to believe he's just a fan of American literature, and he does not care about gender stereotypes. What do you think: is he an Amy, a Meg, or a Jo? Nobody wants to be a Beth, obviously.

Yellow Beak is a misogynist. Please make note of it. Though to be fair, I suppose every dude was back in the day, to one degree or another.

 Okay, this is a good gag. It makes me laugh.

Here's a good example of the wordless japery the story likes to pull. I actually think it's all right. It's obviously more cartoon than comic, but that sort of disjuncture can be interesting. Sometimes.

...though whether you think the payoff is worth it? Well, I'll admit buying crackers by the keg is kind of funny.

Here's the ship at night. The way I write these is by picking out images I want to talk about and then go through them one by one, and sometimes I come across one like this that I don't necessarily have anything to say about; I just picked it out because I liked it. And so it is.

Here's another hilarious joke. I know the text on the map is not so legible here, but the one you REALLY can't make out is "Black Hills" there in the upper midwest. Notice all they could come up with for Florida was "alligators." Doesn't Everglades seem like a gimme? Also, apparently they could think of LITERALLY nothing for New England. In any event, it's a fairly bizarre US tour.

Donald wants to be a "gentleman farmer." Well...why not? Is this something Barks-Donald would want? Sure, maybe, depending on the context, although it's possible that having grown up on a farm would've changed his attitudes towards the profession. He probably sees it as involving hard work, god forbid.

Right, so the ducks and Yellow Beak will have to walk the plank. This is the last we see of HDL before this plank-walking occurs. I'm just putting it here for, well, reasons that will quickly become apparent.

But first, man, Donald sure can be an asshole. Makes you think of that Taliaferro strip people like to post on the internet with Donald drowning Goofy.

Anyway, my only question is, how the hell did HDL get onto that raft? We last saw them charging belowdecks. The action in this story is inconsistent and I demand my money back!

Aaaaah! And also, AAAAAH! I always trip over this image, which is alarming. I guess it does let you see the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds, at any rate, so that's something.

Here. It is pretty. Enjoy it.

First question: do you think Pete's ma will really appreciate receiving a box containing her son's mangled body parts? And second question: what if anything is the significance of her living in Pittsburgh? Is the joke really solely that Pete spells out his dialect phonetically? Seems weak to me.

You misspelled "browsing," dammit. Also, here's the SPOOOOKY GHOST. Whoo! Happy way-early Halloween! Too bad it's just Pete. As you knew.

I dig that "skeleton tree" really hard. Definitely spookier than the fake ghost. Also, the tattoo-as-treasure-map thing is appropriate.

But, uh...seriously? You're telling me that the treasure is marked by these two bones that are just kind of sitting there? Please note that the treasure chest is specifically dated 1669 (nice), so I guess it's a good thing that there were no storms or strong breezes or animals that might be interested in some tasty bones in all that time. Surely there was a better way to deal with this.

Anyway, the bad guys are defeated when HDL drop cocoanuts on their head end of story. Wowie.

It really is kind of notable how totally amoral our "heroes" have been this whole time. Petty power games for their own sake? Oh my. It's a good thing we don't see things like THAT these days.

Even the kids get into the act, forcing the adults to work on pain of death. How fun and lighthearted! Well, Things like this are probably why we ultimately needed Barks.

Anyway. Donald Duck has found pirate gold, so you cannot claim that you did not get what you were promised. I look forward to many stories about his zany doings as a gentleman farmer.

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Blogger Richie said...

Grand to see you back and well after such a meaty while, especially considering the times!

Compare this, where neither Barks nor Hannah had any input, to "Trick or Treat" a decade later, dreamed up by Hannah and his crew, then taken for a ride on Barks' mind.

This handy website ( ) posits Pete appears in another six Barks Duck stories, albeit under different aliases; a similar deal to the original Ducktales, with Pete playing different roles across several episodes.

However reflective of the sensibilities in Disney shorts at the time, it does establish a noteworthy precedent: Don & HDL tackling adventure under the guidance of a leader figure. Not that Barks might have even recalled this when he started brainstorming his Scrooge epics, but isn't it a fun thought? "Say, that 'ole setup held promise, now I can do it My way!"

September 14, 2020 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Can you imagine a Rosa sequel to this story? I can so can you :)

September 14, 2020 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Compare this, where neither Barks nor Hannah had any input, to "Trick or Treat" a decade later, dreamed up by Hannah and his crew, then taken for a ride on Barks' mind.

Yes! I was thinking about that hypothetical but forgot to actually mention anything. Imagine what a rad-ass story THAT would've been!

September 14, 2020 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The important part is that Donald first big adventure is over and now that he found Pirates Gold he will live happly ever after :)

September 15, 2020 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

P.S. Look at this Parrot munching on this pepper, the-he ^_^

September 15, 2020 at 5:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very easy to tell Hannah from Barks. Hannah has "slicker" inking (which is actually worse because less expressive), fancy angles from above with a lot of empty floor space, weird beaks and eyes, and very big feet on Donald. Barks' drawings are more conservative on the surface, but the expressions are more "on" and fun, there's more atmosphere even though the art is less far out, and you can see the inking similarity to his early 10-pagers.

September 15, 2020 at 6:31 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Supposedly most of the close-up of characters are Hannah's while we have Barks to thank for the establishing shots — the ship, the wild waves, etc.

I think the Black Mariah —> White Lily switcheroo justifies itself as part of Pete's disguise as a harmless widow. It is not that the Ducks would be reluctant to buy a ship called Black Mariah per se, but that the ship being called something like that might arouse suspicion regarding the true identity of the "widow" and her "brothers".

Also, wait, (carrying on from our off-site chats) is this the review I "inspired" through association of thought? Or was it already in the can and I serendipitously ended up send you the perfect follow-up to this post? I'm confused.

September 15, 2020 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

"I look forward to many stories about his zany doings as a gentleman farmer."

According to INDUCKS, the next story of Donald (excluding newspaper stripes) is The Victory Garden, where he is indeed a kind of farmer... Perhaps he quit fighting with crows and decided to choose another career path?

September 15, 2020 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...


So very glad to see you back at it!

Getting to it, now… I don’t think we can hold it against Geoffrey Blum (author of that 1986 text) for not knowing of Federico Pedrocchi. After all, he’s a “historian”, not an “archeologist”!

I’d say the “point” of continuing to read “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold”, once you’ve already read the title, is the same as reading such similarly-titled epics as “Mickey Mouse Outwits The Phantom Blot”, or even “ Mickey Mouse and Pluto Battle the Giant Ants” (Four Color #279).

It begs comparison to something once said about the 1962 New York Mets… “You KNEW they were going to LOSE, you just watched to see HOW!”

And so, it is here… You know your starring character is going to “Find”, “Outwit”, or “ Battle”, you read for the fun of seeing HOW!

Now for something I’ve wondered about for some time… Is this the comic where our villain officially goes from being called “Peg Leg Pete”, to “Black Pete” - a name by which he would be known in American comic books until later in the 1970s? Evidence would seem that it is. To my knowledge, he was always “Peg Leg Pete” in the Gottfredson strip and, any possible Federico Pedrocchi discovery aside (…and he wouldn’t have been called “Black Pete” in a primordial Italian story anyway), what else could have come first?

Finally, at this point in time, it seems unlikely – if not impossible – that Don Rosa will ever do one of his patented sequels to “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold”! But there IS a pretty darned good one out there, that originated in 1962 Italy!

…That is, unless you read the Australian English translation of it, where the translator had (or, more likely, was given by his or her editors) no clue as to what this story was supposed to be – and just treated it as a bland, run-of-the-mill sea adventure. I know, because I read it. (Shudder!) Yellow Beak was called “Salty”, just for starters!

And while I can’t say how this wonderful story may have fared in other lands beyond Italy, here in the United States we had a translation and dialogue that much better suited the great efforts of writers Abramo and Gian Paolo Barosso and artist Giovan Battista Carpi – not to mention the spirit of the original comic!

“Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold Again” appeared in Boom! Studios DONALD DUCK #336 (May, 2011)… and only feigned modesty prevents me from crediting the translation and dialoguing. But, if you haven’t done so by now, check it out – this particular version, that is. It’s not Rosa, by any stretch… but I think its as able a substitute as we’re likely to have.

Here is the link to an index I prepared for it at GRAND COMICS DATABASE.

From the “Full Circle Department”: I even acknowledge Federico Pedrocchi, as I have Huey, Dewey, and Louie – but NOT Donald – say that Yellow Beak took them on their “first adventure”!

Again, welcome back, Geo!

September 15, 2020 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I second Joe's recommendation of the 1962 sequel — but will also mention the existence of that other sequel from 1957, which is much less good but certainly interesting. I shall keep mum about the finer details until I hear back from our host GeoX on whether he is planning to make it the subject of his next review or not, being that, as I said, I am at this point a little confused on the point.

September 15, 2020 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

To answer your question: this was indeed inspired by your email. But worry not: your work will get its due in a future blog entry. Patience. Everyone must display patience!

September 15, 2020 at 5:55 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Ah, I see! Bit of both. (Blimey, you were quick typing that one up! Double-congratulations.)

September 15, 2020 at 6:43 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Also, I realize I haven't actually commented on the story itself. I actually really like it as a straightforward pirate yarn, existing in the same sort of space as R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, its iconic Disney adaption, or the latter half of Swiss Family Robinson.

Where we clearly this inspire Barks's later work, even if he didn't write that one himself, is that it's a “serious” treasure hunt with real stakes, and even the trick Barks would recycle of making the treasure' backstory significantly darker than what could actually be portrayed on-panel. (Morgan died “stabbed through the gizzard”!)

I'm also really fond of the character of Yellow Beak. It's a very successful, effective design, and while rooted in animation, the contrast between his ludicrously diminutive stature and his assertive attitude is delightful. I'm really glad he kept recurring, albeit (with rare exceptions in the two mentioned sequels) in repeats of the same plot. Had we not had Uncle Scrooge, methinks Yellow Beak could have grown into more of a regular, filling the niche of the old curmudgeon who sweeps Donald and the kids away on treasure hunts in exotic locales.

Concerning “Black Pete” vs. “Peg-Leg Pete”, I would hypothesize that he must have been called Black Pete in the original story treatment for the Mickey-Donald-Goofy Morgan's Ghot feature film, and this got translated into the comic revamp. Now the question is, had the animation department started using “Black Pete” as a go-to name for the character after he lost his peg-leg? Or was he simply renamed to befit the buccaneering aesthetic — “Blackbeard”, and also “Black Dog,” from Stevenson's Treasure Island? My money would actually be on the latter.

…Oh, and: more Barksian uses of Pete (or at the very least, Pete-like characters; but he's not quite Pete in Frozen Gold, anyway): The Mummy's Ring, Rival Boatmen from WDC&S #45, The Inventor' Contest from Uncle Scrooge #28, an untitled Grandma Duck story in WDC&S #132, and (as "Black Pierre") Log Jockey.

September 15, 2020 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Achille writes:

“Had we not had Uncle Scrooge, methinks Yellow Beak could have grown into more of a regular, filling the niche of the old curmudgeon who sweeps Donald and the kids away on treasure hunts in exotic locales.”

The very idea of a Duck universe without Uncle Scrooge is a mind boggling one! ME-thinks, EVERYTHING would be different!

There would have been more stories like the Donald Four Colors, and it would have been much more difficult to get Don and the boys into different adventuring locales. Barks would have found some way to do it – but this would be a challenge that would further separate the great writers from the not so great ones.

There would be no reasons for The Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, Flintheart Glomgold, or Rockerduck to exist (…how much the poorer we would be just for THAT, much less not having Scrooge?). Donald would have to get “villains of his own”, or maybe he wouldn’t even HAVE a recurring foe (or foes) like other characters featured in the Dell and Gold Key comics. We’d see more of Gladstone, Gyro, and Fethry (none of which really thrill me as a regular presence, in terms of a good adventure story)!

But, YES… this could be a real opening for Yellow Beak to make his mark! And, with Yellow Beak, there would also be no need for Moby Duck – unless they teamed-up.

In fact, a series about Moby Duck and Yellow Beak as oft-bickering equals would have been a great one!

Moving on… We’ll probably never know if “Black Pete” was planned for “Morgan’s Ghost”, but it was a perfect fit for the “Pirate Gold” comic, and comics for years thereafter. Unfortunately, the necessary evolution of our living-language conspired to make it unacceptable – not just now, but for several previous decades – and that’s perfectly fine (even correct), but we still need a name with more gravitas than “Big Bad Pete”, or the visually-inaccurate “Peg Leg Pete”!

…And, if the creation of original Disney comic book material in the United States was a viable concern, I’d like to think that SOMEONE would have come up with a good one by now!

But, since “Black Pete” still looms fairly large, solid, and fixed in our rear-view-mirrors and our backward-glances, I might as well report on another“Black Pete” sighting in a Donald Duck story… Wheaties Premium Giveaway Comic B-8 “Donald Duck, Klondike Kid” (1950) – which I just got today, and read between this comment and my last one!

In it, sacks of gold are leaving Uncle Scrooge’s Klondike Gold Mine (in a story that actually PREDATES “Back to the Klondike”), but those same sacks arrive in Duckburg filled with… ORANGES! Donald and the boys are sent up to investigate. “Black Pete” (named as such) and a hench-weasel named “Bart” are responsible for the switcheroo, and Donald (for once) gets to be a true hero – saving the boys from a death-plunge into a deep icy crevasse, as well as saving the gold for Scrooge.

Despite the name “Black Pete”, the villain’s “face-fur” as well as his “mouth-muzzle” are all done-up in “flesh-tone”… an’ that’s ALL I’m gonna say about that!

Early Scrooge is a bit out-of-character as he offers Donald “one-third of the mine” (!) if he solves the mystery – and he doesn’t “pull a renege” on the final page, as he often did later on! So, between these two encounters with “Black Pete”, if Donald isn’t able to become a “gentleman farmer” the fault is ALL HIS OWN!

September 16, 2020 at 4:09 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Concerning Donald's ambition to become a gentleman-farmer — could we fudge dates a little bit and see the 1941 cartoon Old MacDonald Duck as happening shortly after the events of Pirate Gold? (Although the purely-Barks-based Victory Garden theory above isn't bad either.)

Concerning an alternative name for Pete — well, I still like Peg-Leg Pete fine, to be honest, but if something else is needed, can't we go back to the very beginning, and have him once again go by “Bootleg Pete”?

September 16, 2020 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

About the others Donald + "Pete" stories: for me, the "fat cat character" in Rival Boatmen does not make much sense as Pete (I don't know if he has a name in the original version, but at least one Portuguese translation call him "Tubbs", instead of "João Bafo-de-Onça", the Portuguese name of Pete).

About the character in Frozen Gold, I imagine that the only reason why he can't be Pete is by a question of continuity (because Donald and HDL clearly don't previously know him), because excluding that he is a typical "Pete"character - but in the Portuguese translation he is called "Bafo" and I think that it is even a written note signed "João Bafo-de-Onça" (he is named in the original version?).

September 16, 2020 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Maybe there are “a lot of Pete clones” just are there are Beagle clones!

More likely, Pete was just an appealing design for a villain, especially as rendered in comics by Gottfredson.

“Rival Boatman’s” Pete was “J.P. Diamondtubs” – I’m quite sure on the initials, and absolutely positive on the surname. So, that might explain why he was known as “Tubbs” in Portuguese. And, maybe not all “Pete’s” were bad? He might have been an outlier.

“Bootleg Pete”, again, does not have the gravitas necessary for a full-out villain as does “Black Pete”… he sounds more like a nuisance than a worthy adversary.

September 16, 2020 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

That's true — but then, Pete hasn't been what you'd described a fearsome since Gottfredson, has he? He's, to me, more of a Magica than a Blot. Still, among the alternative nicknames, we've also got “Pistol Pete” and “Putrid Pete”.

September 16, 2020 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

I would say the “Murry Era Pete” was a good full-out villain, played even straighter than in Gottfredson. “Black Pete” suited that version quite well.

Not likin’ “Pistol” or “Putrid” so much either. And, today’s Disney wouldn’t let us use “Pistol”, anyway!

September 16, 2020 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

True, true. I'm not sure about Murry-era Pete being that impressive, though, even if you're the expert here. The way in which he was paired up with Scuttle and such kind of gave him a "duo of bumbling villains" sort of vibe, regardless of whatever proficiency he demonstrated — and nor could he be allowed to embark on particularly deadly schemes.

Yeah, I don't especially like “Pistol” or “Putrid”. “Putrid” just about worked for the version of the character it was applied to, but doesn't feel right for present-day, fattened-up, Mouseton!Pete.

If you have any thoughts about what a working nickname, made up wholecloth, might look like, I'm sure we'd all be very interested to hear them.

September 16, 2020 at 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Great to have you back blogging, GeoX!

Although I myself have never found this story particularly interesting, I have a great fondness for it because it served as the entry drug to Duck comics for a seven-year-old friend of mine years ago. He was bright but had trouble reading, and I gave him the Gladstone album of this story when he turned seven and he read it countless times, and I was then able to introduce him to the greater wonders in store for him, Barks, Rosa and all, providing reading material which he actually *wanted* to read and which had a far richer vocabulary than the books written for kids his age, so it all worked out tremendously well.

Also, I agree with Achille that Yellow Beak is a fun character, one who sticks in the reader's mind indelibly even if this is the only story you ever read with him. Though I do enjoy the Barossos/Carpi sequel quite a lot, more than the original. Mostly, I have to say, that's due to Joe's dialogue. All I want is a tall ship, and a stipend to steer her by! But my stipend may turn out to be 200 bottle caps, if I'm hired by the Midas of the Marianas....

September 16, 2020 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Elaine! I *knew* what a special story that was - and gave it my very best! Nice job of stringing-together various elements of it, as you did!

September 16, 2020 at 11:53 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he's called "Black" Pete because when he with Donald alone, he never has a peg leg and I'm surprised Pete was not used more in the comics because he certainly features in many of Donald's solo cartoons and interestingly, although still antagonistic, he's not really "evil" and shows more patience to Donald (who he regarded as fairly young) than he does to Mickey or Oswald. The differences in Pete's actions with Oswald's "Sky Scrappers," Mickey "Building a Building" and Donald's "The Riveter" show what I'm talking about.

October 30, 2022 at 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ηi and thank you for your article! I have two questions that I cannot find the answer:

1) What is the publication date? Anywhere I am reading it's October 1942 but inducks says it's August 14, 1942.

2) Can we know the month that the story was created?

January 30, 2023 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I have this story only in translation, which omits the slumgullion and "Little Women". Which goes to show that even Barks lesser efforts suffer in translation, because all the colorful language is already there. You'd think there'd be less to mess up.

June 5, 2023 at 5:02 AM  

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