The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck |
by Don Rosa (Gemstone, 2007)
Scrooge McDuck, as well as Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Duey and Luey, were the uncredited creations of writer and artist Carl Banks. Between 1941 and 1966, he invented a slew of characters for Disney under the moniker "The Good Artist." One of best of these was Scrooge, the wealthiest duck in the world, who took his nephew and grandnephews on adventures in Africa, Australia, the Himalayas and many more places. Barks' influence in the comics industry was as great as that of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. As a tribute to both the man and the character he created, artist Don Rosa put together a 12-episode series depicting the early years of Scrooge. It is a labor of love of one creator for another.
Starting with his hardscrabble childhood in Scotland and ending with his reclusive Charles Foster Kane-ish miserliness having overtaken his entire personality, The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck takes every biographical detail tossed out by Barks during his run and places them into one definitive backstory. If Barks mentioned that Scrooge had been looking for diamonds in South Africa or opals in Australia, then Rosa would work it into the narrative. Rosa was even more devoted to continuity than Barks himself, often correcting mistakes that Barks made with his own timeline, which is completely understandable when you consider that Barks had only created Scrooge as a one-shot Christmas story. He had no idea how popular the character would become so he often just threw details out there without remembering what he'd written earlier.
Scrooge did eventually become one of Disney's most well-known animations. Barks underestimated his own ability to create rich characters. In that respect, Rosa has done Scrooge and Barks proud: his characterizations are as full-bodied and believable as those of the original run. The adventures are not only absorbing and well-structured in the best tradition of action stories, they are historically accurate. Somehow, amidst all the painstaking care Rosa took in organizing Scrooge's life into one coherent timeline, he found the time to link the chapters of Scrooge's life to actual events, turning them into an educational experience.
The Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck is also quite humorous, tenderhearted and humane in its treatment of how Scrooge came to be the way he was, before meeting his nephews brought about a change of heart. Rosa is as dedicated an artist and craftsman as Barks himself was, a total fanboy who really brings Scrooge home in more than one sense of the word. I enjoyed my Scrooge comics as much as my superhero comics, because Scrooge and his nephews had genuine adventures that were more exciting and full of wit than most of the utterly predictable superheroes. This is perhaps why I felt, as I took this trip into the past, that I was reading about a life that felt very real.
This perception is greatly helped by Rosa's meticulous craftsmanship. His artistic style is exhaustive in its detailing. There is a great deal happening in each panel. His attention to the nuts and bolts of artistic narrative is as deep as his zeal for storytelling. It's what makes this astounding labor of love so readable, and why the series netted Rosa the 1995 Eisner award for Best Serialized Story.
Even if you don't know anything about the character, you'll enjoy reading about a duck that inherited an ancient ruin of a castle in Scotland, ran with Wild West cattle drives, panned for gold in Alaska during the rush, lived in the Australian outback and worked on a steamboat in the Mississippi before striking it rich. It's a fascinating tale with a clear moral: if you work hard, you'll get what you want in life. But be careful about what you want, or you may end up losing your appreciation for what really matters.
Rosa is the best writer for Scrooge outside of Barks himself. It's easily one of the best "biographies" I've ever read, an enjoyable feast for the eyes and heart that I can't recommend highly enough.
15 October 2011
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