The first comic I can remember reading was a reprint of the Donald Duck story “No Such Varmint” by Carl Barks. Here’s the thing, my copy of that comic was lost years ago, and I have never, in the time since, found another copy of it in the same format. It was slightly over-size, bigger than a regular comic but smaller than a treasury-size comic, closer to the standard European album format, but in soft-cover and stapled. I distinctly remember it because I also had a Super Goof comic in the same format. This would have been published no later than about 1980, by the way. And no, it was definitely not the “DynaBrite” edition.
I read the hell out of this book when I got it. It combines two things that I thought were fantastic when I was at that age: Donald Duck and sea serpents. And unlike my previous comic exposures up to that point, which were newspaper strips, there was an actual narrative here, not just a gag that would maybe have made sense if I was twenty years older or it was twenty years ago. The story opens in what I’d eventually learn is a pretty stock manner for a Barks story: with Huey, Dewey and Louie lamenting the fact that their uncle Donald is a shift-less layabout. It’s kind a brilliant comedic inversion to have the children be the responsible, “adult” characters in so many stories, especially since the ultimate shallowness of their disapproval still manages to be plausibly child-like.
Donald is having none of this guff from minors and reports to them that he’s not just a bum, he’s actually got a very important job at the moment:
The boys are unimpressed. In order to get the actual plot going, they take advantage of a “Help Wanted” ad looking for test subjects. Note the clever bit of foreshadowing that Barks subtly puts there:
The Professor’s experimental process is a sort of electro-phrenological test that determines a subject’s career potential. Due to a coincidentally placed fly on the score read-out, everyone gets the mistaken impression that Donald would make a good detective, which Donald, understandably, is having none of. He’s just spent all this money to get set up as a snake charmer, for one thing. But the boys make the decision for Donald, and set up a detective agency for him.
Now that bit of foreshadowing comes into play, as we discover whose ship was lost in the first place.
So Scrooge hires Donald to find out what happened to his missing boat, and the boys drag Donald out to the last known location of the lost boat, an isolated bay with a water-filled dormant volcano along the shore-line, with Donald all the while attempting to get away and practice his snake-charming. Glass-bottom boat investigations reveal no sign of the missing ship, save for a curious depression at the bottom of the bay that looks as if someone picked up the ship. Whatever could have done that? Luckily, Donald’s noodling around with the tune for charming big snakes offers a clue:
The boys are, understandably, elated over not only finding the cause of the boat’s loss, but proving the existence of a sea serpent as well. Donald, meanwhile, has been traumatized and thinks his skills are no more useful for charming worms to use as fish-bait. So the boys steal his piccolo and set out to find the serpent themselves. Things…don’t go well.
The next day, Donald goes exploring up near the volcano and decides to test out some new tunes. In the process, naturally, he discovers the serpent’s nest and gets captured by the beast. As it turns out, sea serpents really, really like piccolo music, and the creature refuses to let Donald leave. The boys, discovering Donald’s predicament, decide to radio Uncle Scrooge for supplies, hoping to impress him by capturing the serpent and recovering Scrooge’s ship and gold. A miscommunication sees several barrels of peoper, rather than blasting powder, delivered to their camp, and the boys are forced to make do, feeding the serpent the pepper.
That face is awesome.
The hot pepper prompts the serpent to drink the crater dry, exposing the boat, which it was using as a nest liner. The boys are exceedingly pleased with themselves, until the inevitable occurs:
Of course, we actually have to get the title of the story stated:
The boys return home, defeated, with a deeply scarred Donald in tow. Once they get home the Professor’s mistake is revealed: it turns out that Donald’s ideal job is…wait for it…snake charmer! Which fails to go over well with Donald.
And thus is the status quo successfully maintained:
Now, seriously, I ask you…how could I not fall in love with comics after a story like that?