The Four Color story #9 'Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold' from 1942 marks when Carl Barks started his comic book career. It was also the only time, until his retirement in 1966, that he would draw a story with another artist. This coworker was Jack Hannah. The two artists had worked as a solid team in the animation department at the Disney Studio. But they had both grown tired of that line of work and the opportunity of making a comic book story was grasped with enthusiasm. As it turned out, Hannah did return to his work as Story Director for many animated shorts while Barks had found his vocation. This is the story of his debut.
The gigantic success of Snow White and the Seven
Dwarves in 1937 inspired the Disney studios to make feature films
based on traditional stories and Robert Louis Stevenson's classic
novel Treasure Island was a natural choice.
Presumably in 1939, the three storymen Harry Reeves, Roy Williams, and Homer Brightman wrote the initial screenplay which was supposed to be transformed into an animated feature but it never went into production. The project got shelved after no fewer than 1,200 storyboard sketches were made. In the early stages it bore different titles such as Morgan's Ghost, Pieces of Eight, and Three Buccaneers. The latter name referred to the fact that the starring roles were cast with Disney's top cartoon characters at the time - Mickey, Goofy, and Donald (plus Pluto in a minor role). In that respect it differs from Hannah's and Barks' version in which only Donald stars, supported by his nephews. Later in life Barks remembered having actually attended a few storyboard conferences on Morgans' Ghost.
In 1942 writer Bob Karp presented Hannah and Barks with the old film script and they were both enthusiastic. After a thorough examination of the synopsis they both agreed to the transformation of the script into a comic book story. Karp rewrote the script to their satisfaction and renamed it Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold.
THE MEN BEHIND
was an employee of the Disney Studios for many years and he served as animator, writer, and director of animated shorts. Later on he moved to the Walter Lantz Studios producing and directing numerous cartoons with Woody Woodpecker.
joined Disney as a storyman and he started out in 1938 by supplying the brilliant artist Al Talliaferro with scripts for his Donald Duck one-pagers which ran for a great number of years. The two men had a fruitful companionship which also resulted in several new Disney characters such as Huey, Louie and Dewey, Grandma Duck, and - partly - Daisy Duck.
wrote and created the first few of Al Taliaferro's Donald Duck daily strips but soon Bob Karp took over. Brightman was a versatile plot and storyman who worked on many Disney animated shorts and feature films such as The Three Caballeros, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Cinderella. Later he also - as Hannah did - joined the Walter Lantz Studios as a story man on Woody Woodpecker.
served as a storyman at the Disney Studio when Barks came along in 1935 and they soon joined forces in the story department where they dreamt up several Donald Duck cartoons. Later he was a screenwriter on films like Saludos Amigos, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Cinderella. He left Disney in 1948.
was the editor for Western Publishing when Hannah and Barks approached the company in 1942. By then he was also known as a storyman for a variety of children's books such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. (A storyman's task is to adapt an author's material for another medium - in this case children's books.) After his time at Western he became an author of science-fiction literature.
The story is quite straight-forward. Black Pete, in disguise, captains a ship manned by his dastardly henchmen and takes Donald and the nephews along with the parrot Yellow Beak and his treasure map to the treasure island to search for a buried treasure - or more precisely - the infamous British pirate Henry Morgan's treasure.
THE CHARACTERS IN FRONT
was not an invention of Hannah's and Barks' as the Disney Studio was already preparing to feature the little bird under the name of Joe Carioca for the 1943 animated feature Saludos Amigos. In 1945 he starred in Three Caballeros. Further cartoons were planned but they never got past the storyboards. He was also used a few times in the comic books but was never successful enough to last.
But Yellow Beak was in reality invented in the storyboard for Morgan's Ghost where he already had the features that Hannah and Barks used. He acted as a pirate parrot with a wooden leg and he was properly dressed in a cloak, red vest, bandana, and a pirate's hat.
is by far the longest living Disney character starting in the cartoon Alice Solves The Puzzle from 1925. Later he was the perfect villain in many cartoons with Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and others. He began as Bootleg Pete, and has at various times been known as Pete the Bear, Pegleg Pete, Putrid Pete, Pistol Pete, Bad Pete, PeeWee Pete, The Cactus Kid, Pegleg Pedro, Pierre the Trapper, Mr. Sylvester Macaroni, and - Black Pete.
Right from the start he had two distinctive features - a smelly cigar in the side of his mouth, and a wooden leg. The latter disappeared, though, as the animators apparently had great difficulty remembering which leg was the wooden one. In the cartoon Two Gun Mickey from 1934 they finally decided to let it go as his wooden leg had changed position an astonishing 4 times!
Before the time of their joint comic book story, Hannah and Barks made a number of cartoons in which Pete was the usual bad guy playing against Donald Duck. In most of these cartoons Hannah was credited as Storyman while Barks served as Story Director.
Throughout the summer of 1942, while still employed
at Disney, the two friends used most of their own time on their
project on the drawing boards.They divided the material between
each other ending up with 32 pages each (Hannah drew the interior
scenes and Barks the outdoor scenes) but it is still extremely
hard to pinpoint who did what. It is known that Hannah drew pages
3, 4, 6-11, 41-64 whereas Barks was responsible for pages 1, 2, 5
In general, Hannah stuck to the modelsheets agreed upon while Barks took a more casual approach. Hannah often used bold letters with exclamation marks in the speech balloons, which Barks seldom did. Further, Hannah did little - if any - research, but Barks used the May 1940 issue of the National Geographic Magazine as inspiration for the sea port town and Black Pete's ship.
When comparing the original storyboard sketches to the finished comic book story it is striking to see how close Hannah and Barks, in fact, got to the initial sketches, especially as they never did see them! Karp made his script from the sketches (the original text is shown in abbreviated form below) whereas Hannah's and Barks' finished work is presented alongside (with the book pages and the artist captioned).
One can imagine the shear terror the two men must
have felt when finally contacting Western Publishing which
carried the licence to the Disney comics. But there were no
problems. The publisher desperately needed new material - and new
illustrators - after having reproduced Sunday strips in comic
books for a long time. Pirate Gold was promptly accepted and the
two artists were paid 10 dollars per page.
The story was an instant success combining its string of gags and slapstick humour with minimal dialogue. It was also a thrilling adventure tale, allowing Donald to reveal his less neurotic side. While the animated Donald was a bumbling, bad-tempered slapstick artist, Hannah and Barks - understanding both the limits and benefits of the comic book medium - turned Donald and his nephews into adventurers.
In 1978, Barks reminisced in an interview: Pirate Gold proved to the publishers that Donald didn't have to be in constant turmoil in order to be interesting. His bungling mistakes and his blissful innocence of danger and of being outrageously victimized proved just as amusing as his tantrums. He came off great in a sympathetic role, and his brattish little nephews came off equally great as the 'brains' of the family. The comedy situation of Donald the reckless bungler getting into hopeless troubles from which he is extricated by his sharp-witted, suspicious-natured nephews was competently developed in this story, and it has carried on into many tales of high and not-so-high adventures ever since.
A little curiosity: When Pirate Gold was published, Barks did not receive an author's copy - which is quite usual - from Western. He had to buy a couple for himself from the local grocery store.
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The entire story can be read here: http://ksacomics.com/pirate/gold.htm