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Sunday, 7 February 2016

REVIEW: "A Hole in One"

Okay, if I ask you, "what is Carl Barks's first Disney comic story ?", I suppose you are either going to answer Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold or, if you consider that he did not take that big a part in Pirate Gold, perhaps The Victory Garden. Some smarties might even remember that 1942 Pluto story to the script of which he contributed. This is all very nice, I suppose, but if you really want to dive in the depths of history, you'll find that neither was really Barks's first. And his first comic was a Donald Duck story !… Kinda. Here, enjoy:

That's right: unbeknownst to you, Carl Barks worked on the Donald Duck Taliaferro strip well before he started to draw on his own. And this, if I.N.D.U.C.K.S. is to be believed, is the first one on which he worked: 1938's A Hole in One

Okay, you say, but is it any good on its own, besides the historical value ? Was Barks inspired on that fateful day ?…

Not really.

First, the concept that Donald would refuse to give the kids any money, but stil accept to put some on their bank, is ridiculous. Why ? Because even without the dirty trick the kids play on him (spoiler alert: they've carved a hole in the bottom of the bank and immediately get the coin that Donald puts in it), exactly what was stopping the ducklings from just taking the money from the bank the second Donald had put it in it ? Some might say: yeah, but that's the whole point of the gag, Donald's just being dumb. Well no, it isn't. If that was the point of the gag, there would be no need for the "carved a hole in the bottom of the bank" part: the gag would just go as I said with Huey, Dewey and Louie taking the coin from the bank. 

EDIT: Matilda in the comments defends the gag by pointing out that children's banks in those days were often impossible to open without breaking them, that being actually the whole point of the thing. That's true, of course, but then again the kids seemed to have been able to open the bank quite easily when they removed the base to play their trick. So maybe it isn't outright a mistake, but those things sure aren't as clear as they should be.

Second: I know, slapstick logic, but the kids carved a hole in the table ? The table ? And Donald didn't notice it ?

Third: another logical mistake. The story starts with Donald refusing to give the kids the money. Thing is, the kids did not have any way of predicting that Donald would refuse, while the "carving the table and the bank in advance" implies some sort of premeditation.

Nice dynamism here, though of course it's the artist, Taliaferro, who's to be complimented here, not Barks, the writer. Still, I think it really shows that at the time, Barks was a cartoon writer; the whole thing just looks to be straight out of the same years Donald's Nephews to which Barks contributed, down to the nephews' Tex Avery-esque way to flee.

So… here we have it, fellows; Barks's very first Donald Duck comic. I think there's a reason that it's not remembered as Barks's debut: it's just not special. You take any Donald Duck strip from the same time period, written by somebody else, and it will have the exact same kind of gag, the same flaws and the same qualities. Even if it was not truly the first, Donald Duck finds Pirate Gold is remembered because it was Donald's very first book-length comic story, and an adventurous, exciting one at that — pirates ! Gold ! Humor ! A map ! Pete ! Why this is… just a common comic strip. 

Still, it grieves me that it's not acknowledged anywhere except on the I.N.D.U.C.K.S; it has been reprinted a few times, but always as part of a "vintage Donald Duck comic strip" retrospective, never as "Barks's debut". For all its flaw, it's an important milestone in Duck history… and it's not that bad in spite of what I've nitpicked about it. It's just common.


  1. OK, I'm going to defend the joke here. It is perfectly believable (and perhaps predictable) that a parent who didn't want to give money for candy would yet give money to be saved. And the whole point of most kids' banks of that era was that it was NOT easy to retrieve the money from them. A traditional piggy bank, for instance, did not have a hole in the bottom through which the money was accessible; you could only retrieve the money by breaking the bank open. Or perhaps, with great determination, you could manage to shake out a coin or two. So the joke makes perfect sense. And the kids carved the hole in the table when Donald wasn't around, and placed the bank (with its base removed) over it to cover the hole.

    1. Thank you about the enlightening knowledge about children's banks in those days. However, this still doesn't explain why they had gone through this lengthy process of carving the hole and stuff even before they heard their uncle's refusal to give them the money.

    2. I'd say, because they knew from experience that Donald resisted giving them money outright but talked up the importance of saving, and they thus predicted that he would only give them money to put in their bank.

    3. Okay, I'll buy that. Makes you wonder why they asked the money in the first place… they could have just asked Donald to put money in their bank. (of course, it would kill the exposition that informs us that they want to by candy)

    4. Well, sometimes a person is more likely to do X (which they are somewhat reluctant to do) if it is contrasted with Y (which they are entirely opposed to). So Donald might actually be more likely to give money to be saved when he has just refused to give money to be spent. "I had to say no to that, but this I guess I can say yes to."

    5. Still true. I got a little too picky with that gag…

    6. Nevertheless, re-thinking about it, there's still the fact that they could've just come back later and carved the bottom of the bank, rather than digging a whole in the bloody table.