WALT DISNEY’S DONALD DUCK: “THE OLD CASTLE’S SECRET” (Book Review)
The Disney catalogue has its share of creepy castles, spooky skeletons and ghastly graveyards, and here underground cartoonist Rick Trembles looks at the horror of Fantagraphics’ latest entry in their ongoing Carl Barks Disney Library.
Uncle Scrooge has to raise several million bucks to save his fortune so he recruits Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie to help him find a secret treasure worth billions hidden inside a haunted Scottish castle. After being welcomed in by the trusted caretaker, they use an x-ray machine to find out which wall the loot’s hidden behind and fish it out. But a certain pesky ghost won’t let them leave with it. The invisible entity keeps bonking them on the head & making off with the chest. Rays of sunlight casting shadows of the ghost, reveal a living skeleton in silhouette. Could this be “Sir Quackly” himself, risen from the dead? Legend has it he sealed himself in the walls along with the treasure during “the siege of 1057.”
1948’s “The Old Castle’s Secret,” the first of twenty stories in this breezy Fantagraphics Books collection, offers cobwebs, dungeons, secret passageways, ancient gravesites, headless mud-men, and a twist/punch ending, of course, as cartoonist Carl Barks was fond of doing. Barks, who passed away in 2000 at 99 years old, was a former Disney animation storywriter and a self-taught artist. Looking for more creative freedom, he quit the film business to embark on a career in comics. The Duck line became some of the bestselling comic books in history, and he did them anonymously as was company policy. But the superior quality of his work beckoned devoted fans to finally track him down, and the honors soon followed.
If “The Old Castle’s Secret” doesn’t manage to send chills up and down your spine, there’s always cannibalism. “Donald Duck in Darkest Africa,” from the same year, pits our fine feathered friends against a back-stabbing butterfly collector who offers “rough savages” two false teeth to capture the boys (the most I can make out of this transaction is that the stereotypical natives happen to wear tooth necklaces and don’t know false from factual). The duck clan and wolfish “Professor McFiendly” are both hunting for a single specimen of the same rare species, the “Almostus Extinctus,” and he wants them out of the picture so he can claim all the fame to himself. Natives are instructed to make dinner out of the kids if the butterfly doesn’t end up in his grubby hands. But wait a minute; how come every other character in this cartoon universe is an anthropomorphized animal, while cannibals get to be drawn with human attributes? Humans eat roast duck no probs, so I guess that wouldn’t make it cannibalism after all. Unless racist stereotypes and anthropomorphism equal the same dif? This is getting complicated.
But even more problematic, when it comes to ethics in Epicureanism anyway, is how Donald feeds his kids a breakfast-in-bed of braised quail in one of the many one-pager gag strips speckled throughout the book. What are we, poultry or not? White meat or dark? Enjoy this collection on however many levels you like, but there’s no denying Barks’ storytelling is so streamlined, if it wasn’t for the occasional outdated signifier, it’d be disconcertingly timeless.
WALT DISNEY’S DONALD DUCK: THE OLD CASTLE’S SECRET (THE COMPLETE CARL BARKS DISNEY LIBRARY VOL. 6)
BY CARL BARKS
Available for $28.99 from Fantagraphics HERE