Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man & Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown
Review by KC Carlson
I’ve been somewhat lax in reviewing these, intending to talk about them earlier in the year. I’ve been incredibly selfish in wanting to find quality time in my impossible schedule to really do them justice. Most months, I’ve only had an hour here or 15 minutes there, and that’s just not enough time to take to really read these quality-packed volumes of classic Carl Barks duck stories. (I’m having similar problems with the massive wave of brilliant comic strip collections lately, especially another childhood fave, Pogo.) So, here at the end of the year, I’m here to tell you what to spend your holiday gift money on, especially when you discover that many of your favorite comics aren’t going to be published (or distributed) over the next couple of weeks.
Not That Scrooge.. The Other One!
Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man collects basically the first six issues of Uncle Scrooge, despite the fact that the numbering is kind of hinky due to the feature first appearing in Dell’s “try-out” series Four Color. For the record, the first three solo Uncle Scrooge comic books are Four Color #386 (#1, 1952), #456 (#2, 1953), and #495 (#3, 1953). #4 (cover date Dec. 1953) is the first issue of the regular quarterly Uncle Scrooge title. All the stories in this volume were first published between 1952 and 1954.
Although this is the first Fantagraphics-published volume of Uncle Scrooge stories, this book is also Volume 12 of “The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library”, a series title that actually appears nowhere on the covers of the books. To make things even more confusing, Fantagraphics started publishing their series in the middle (with Volume 7: Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes). That was actually a great place to start, as it keeps contemporarily published Scrooge and Donald material reasonably together, while also (arguably) starting the series with Barks’ strongest and most famous material.
The six full-length stories in Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man are
- the title story and “Back to the Klondike”
- “The Horse-Radish Treasure” (written by a man that hated lawyers)
- “The Menehune Mystery” (like the first story, showcasing the Beagle Boys as actually fearsome foes, rather than the buffoons they became later)
- “The Secret of Atlantis” (among other things, the first appearance of the mythical Junior Woodchucks Guidebook)
- and “Tralla La”, probably the most discussed and analyzed Barks Duck story about bottlecaps ever.
The first two stories effectively tell the origin of Scrooge’s fortune, as well as the duck himself. “Klondike” was originally altered, but the restored version is in this volume. One way or another, all of these stories are classics (if not masterpieces) of early comic book storytelling. And not just for kids.
That’s part of the problem with Barks. Most of his work has been so thoroughly studied, analyzed, picked apart, and canonized, that I think that today’s average fan may be leery of even approaching the stories. That’s just silly. As with all truly great comics, it seems like they’re just for kids, but Barks actually wrote to all ages. If you’ve always been afraid to dive in and discover Barks for yourself, wondering where to begin, then follow Fantagraphics’ lead and Start Here. These are many of Barks’ best stories, and yet he finds ways to better himself down the road.
This 240-page, full-color hardcover volume includes all of the usually not anthologized Scrooge short stories and one-pagers from the original issues mentioned above. There is also much information and annotation provided by noted Barks scholars. Also featured is an introduction by George Lucas stating for fanboys (as opposed to academics) just how important these stories are to American culture.
Don’t forget to take your copy to Walt Disney World to get it autographed by Uncle Scrooge.
Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown similarly collects stories from 1951-1952 from both the Donald Duck series (technically Four Color #367, #408, and #422) and the Barks ten-page Donald stories from Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories (#135-144). Which makes this Volume 11 of “The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library”.
The Donald volume features three “comic-length” stories: “A Christmas for Shacktown”, “The Golden Helmet”, and “The Guilded Man”, classics all. “Shacktown” features many of the regular Duck cast, including Daisy, Uncle Scrooge, Gladstone Gander, and the Junior Woodchucks. It’s probably one of the least sentimental Christmas stories around (and thus a favorite of many fans). It features an early example of Scrooge’s lack of charity, counterbalanced by his steadfast work ethic. It’s also an early example of just how much Scrooge’s money weighs, leading to an early Money Bin breach when tossing a dime on top causes the floor of the bin to collapse, sending all his money plunging into the earth. Although the Beagle Boys were first introduced around this time (in WDC&S), they don’t appear here, although in the future they would spend plenty of time attempting to drill into Scrooge’s vault from below.
“The Golden Helmet” is another strong Barks tale, when the around-the-world chase for the artifact that will grant ownership of North America brings out the worst tendencies of many of the characters competing for it — making the holder ruthless, greedy, and ambitious. Even young Louie temporally succumbs. A Barks tale so popular that it inspired several sequels.
“The Guilded Man” is another around-the-world chase, this time for a stamp that’s so rare, it’s worth $50,000. And it’s Donald vs. Gladstone Gander, the world’s luckiest duck, so it’s not exactly a fair fight. It’s also an example of Barks’ observed absurd logic of mankind — in this case, a worthless stamp made valuable due to the twisted logic of capitalism.
Also included are ten ten-page Donald stories from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, including the first (active) appearance of the Beagle Boys attempting (and apparently succeeding!) to break into Scrooge’s Money Bin (“The Big Bin on Killmoter Hill”). In “Spending Money”, Scrooge hires Donald to actually spend his money, something that Donald is very successful at. Other shorts feature screaming cowboys, giant statues, carrier pigeons, flying pies, talking wolves, avalanches, Donald going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and the first appearance of Gyro Gearloose, Duckberg’s resident inventor.
As with the Scrooge book, this is a 234-page, full-color hardcover, including historical essays and background material, as well as the Barks one-pagers from these issues of WDC&S.
Good Comics for Everybody
I can’t say enough about how much I love these new Fantagraphics collections of this “should always be in print” Carl Barks material. I grew up reading these comics and have continued to re-read them over and over. I already own gorgeously produced volumes of some of this material, yet I enjoy these versions better. First, they’re less pretentious (and less expensive, now that the earlier volumes are out of print). I don’t need to see this material at the original art size. I love the fact that these books are compact and concise and easily packed and enjoyed for vacations and road trips (unlike my big shiny volumes). And I love the idea that when somebody asks “Hey, what’cha reading?”, I can hand it right over to them and say, ”You gotta check this out!”
Too much of comics is narrow-casted. We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out what genre something is, or who it’s appropriate for, or what timeframe it should be lumped into. Basically trying to exclude elements as well as potential audience. In order for comics to survive, we need to be more inclusive. We need to find ways to bring more outside people in. There needs to be Everybody Comics, timeless material that can be read and enjoyed by everybody. Carl Barks’ Duck stories of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge need to be at the top of that list.
This material is revered and celebrated around the world, constantly inspiring new stories. There are no regular Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books in America. What the hell is wrong with us? (The publisher provided review copies.)