The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa
Puttering around in my favorite thrift store, looking for books in good condition to toss into my gift tub for future birthdays and holidays, I noticed that the thrift store had started getting more and more organized with books. Science fiction and fantasy had their own shelf (missing, unfortunately, any copies of the hilarious Ballantine covers for The Lord of the Rings), the classics had their own shelf, and even graphic novels had their own shelf. As soon as I turned around to look at the graphic novel shelf, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck caught my eye. I immediately snapped it up, which was a good move on my part–the edition I now own is out of print and selling for outrageous prices on Amazon. I love thrift stores. (But if you want to get your hands on it, Boom! Studios started reissuing it this spring. Never fear!) I’d heard about the wonder that is Don Rosa’s seminal work on Scrooge McDuck, and I knew I had to read it.
The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is exactly what it says on the tin. Starting in Scotland with a young, innocent Scrooge and ending in Duckburg with a miserly Scrooge discovering his family, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck takes every throwaway detail Carl Banks ever wrote about Uncle Scrooge and uses them to form a compelling, funny, and surprisingly human story about a duck, his search for success, and what he does when he finally gets it.
I was blown away by how wonderfully the characters are rendered here. Throughout the twelve stories, Scrooge grows up, grows confident, and grows rich, all while learning lessons along the way. One of the few times he’s tempted to make money dishonestly, he starts cackling at the thought of easy wealth after all his failure–only to put the stolen artifact back and sigh in defeat. This is something I know I’ve done, when the wrong thing is easier than the right thing, but you just have to do the right thing. I also quite enjoyed his sisters, Matilda and Hortense–Hortense especially, because her son Donald inherits her infamous temper. (When defending Fort Duckburg from the Rough Riders, Hortense single-handedly takes care of a regiment with a broom.) The best part is that no character is a throwaway character; some are actual historical figures, some are the ancestors of current Duck characters, and all have actual stories which Rosa knows and nods to.
Each story ends with a note from Don Rosa about what Banks facts he drew from and how the writing process went. I was surprised to learn that Rosa is extremely devoted to making things historically accurate, right down to apologizing for every time he twists the historical record or the geographical one for the sake of the story. (In the last story, there’s a gag involving Scrooge owning the Eisner Award the series won, which Rosa worried about because the story was set in 1947, while the award was won in 1995.) Rosa is one of the world’s biggest Disney Duck fans, and it absolutely shows- everything is lovingly rendered and researched. He eschews mainstream comics (by which I mean Marvel and DC), wondering if the rest of the world thinks we all want to be grim vigilantes based on the state of our comic book industry. I was continually impressed with Rosa’s work, not only as a reader, but also as a fan–embarrassing though it may be, I treat The Legend of Zelda with the same love and respect, and I can certainly identify with that. (Lord knows it’s the only thing that makes sports films understandable to me.)
I really appreciate that Rosa never talks down to his audience. In America, we don’t particularly go in for the Disney comics, although I think they’re published here, and comic books themselves have only recently been “legitimized” as an artistic medium. Specifically, Americans often dismiss Disney, especially the animal characters, as purely for children. While I can’t speak for all of Europe, I can speak for France–my people love comic books and treat them as a respected medium appropriate for all ages. Based on how Rosa speaks about the Italian Duck universe, I think it’s much the same all over. Rosa deals with death, the effects of greed, and alienation in a way that’s appropriate for all ages but not shallow. The humor, especially, doesn’t dissolve into easy comedy–there’s plenty of historical gags and sight gags that you have to be paying attention to catch and appreciate. (I personally loved the fact that Scottish heaven appears to be solely composed of heavenly golf courses.)
I was absolutely blown away by The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. I’d heard it was good, but I didn’t expect this. Even if you don’t like the Disney Ducks, you have got to at least give this a shot.
Bottom line: With all the loving detail and organization only a massive Duck fan like Don Rosa could put into it, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is an amazing piece of work that’s compelling, funny, and surprisingly human, for the life story of a miserly waterfowl. You have to read this.
I bought this book from a thrift store.