Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How to Get Rid of a Giant Octopus

The above cover image is Four Color #159 (August 1947) and it's a little bit on the scary side, isn't it?

That's because the story it's highlighting ("Donald Duck and the Ghost of the Grotto") has some very scary elements to it. But it also has both the humor and the sense of pure adventure that Carl Barks infused into the best of his stories, with the scary parts highlighting and adding to the adventure.

In fact, if you were teaching story construction to aspiring comic book writers/artists, I believe "Ghost of the Grotto" would need to be on your required reading list. It is a perfect story.

In the recent Fantagraphics volume that reprints this story, Barksian scholar Rich Kreiner tells us the story was inspired by a National Geographic article about finding and raising the wreck of a 17th Century English warship. From there, Barks mapped out a story involving not only a wrecked ship, but also a mysterious man in ancient armor; a centuries long mystery involving kidnapped children; a giant octopus and a maze of caverns running under a nigh-inaccessible reef.

It begins with Donald Duck and the nephews attempting to make a go out of collecting kelp in the waters around the West Indies. With the kelp beds going dry, Donald comes up with the idea of beaching his boat on Skull-Eye Reef, collecting the mounds of kelp that have built up inside the reef, then allow the high tide to carry the boat free.

But this soon uncovers an old shipwreck that was hidden under the kelp. An attempt to explore the wreck is cut short by the ill-tempered octopus that lives inside.

But a more serious problem arises when Dewey disappears--apparently the latest of a centuries-long series of kidnappings that happen once every fifty
years. Attempts to find Dewey in the caverns under the reef lead to a series of encounters with the mysterious man in armor.

All this sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? But it's not grim--despite the very real sense of danger that Barks builds up during the story. Because his detailed and eye-catching art is combined with often slapstick humor, keeping the tale from becoming unpleasantly disturbing. Even when lives are in danger, the humor continues to flow freely, complimenting the sense of adventure without ever contradicting it. From start to finish, "Ghost in the Grotto" flows along smoothly, both thematically and in terms of sound story construction, generating real suspense along with truly funny moments. The panels in which Donald and the nephews use spicy meat to get rid of the octopus is perhaps one of the most satisfying laugh-out-loud moments in the history of comics.

To quote Rich Kreiner: "The script is a closely choreographed ballet of aim and opposition, timed to the cycle of tides."

In the end, Dewey is rescued and the mystery is solved. And we--the readers--jump back to the first page to read it one more time--because it's just that good a story.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...