The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa

Posted by on April 10th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Gemstone; 256 pp.; $17.99; Color; Softcover (ISBN: 978-0911903966)

Once more with conviction: as far as resurrecting and reprinting past achievements of the form, we live in a golden age. A favored revival, if one not exactly rescued from the mists of antiquity, is Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Twenty years ago, Disney made the decision that a “biography” was needed for Carl Barks’ singular creation. At the time, Rosa was writing and drawing duck stories for Disney’s European licensee, the publishing giant Egmont. Because of his talent, zeal and reverence for Barks’ material, Rosa accepted the task of creating the biography, believing that “Scrooge would be better served if someone who loved the character constructed the series.” He worked from 1991 through 1993 on the 12-part tale and it was eventually published in a language he could understand by Gladstone in the United States beginning in 1994.

In so dubious and fraught an undertaking, the labor of love paid off better than anyone had any right to expect. Rosa’s skill as yarn-spinner, his fastidious attention to the nuts and bolts of creative smithing, ladled atop his palpable affection for Barks’ original works made the series a success then and a classic since.

All this comes up because the first half of Rosa’s Life and Times… now appears in a burnished new hardcover edition. The six chapters of Volume 1 carry us from Scrooge’s earliest act of gainful employment — recompensed with the celebrated number one dime  — through to his trials as an unsuccessful gold prospector on the Transvaal. Stints as a riverboat mate, cowpuncher, and defender of the ancestral manse fall between.

Each episode represents a jewel of compacted construction. In his included notes for chapter three, Rosa recounts “I needed to begin the tale with Scrooge being a greenhorn, finding a reason to want to be a cowboy, learn to be a cowboy, have some adventures as a cowboy, then end with a suggestion that his cowboy days will not last for long.” In 15 pages.

Add to that the incorporation of a smattering of Barksian asides no more substantial than that of Doyle’s regarding the giant rats of Sumatra for his character Holmes. The same wild-west chapter, for instance, shows how Scrooge “gummed up the James Gang,” a comment breezily tossed off by Barks in Uncle Scrooge Four Color #386. Actually, that sort of historical fidelity and period enrichment reveals Rosa to be a diligent and thorough student of a range of studies unrelated to ducks. In the course of his research, when he found that a character of interest happened to be in the Montana-Dakota Territories at the same time he had Scrooge riding herd, Rosa promptly inserted Theodore Roosevelt into the wooly proceedings (and thereby set the stage for a reunion in a later chapter as well).

There’s much more to Rosa’s epic than can be warmly related and for that I unfortunately cannot direct archivists to the first time I reviewed Rosa’s biography back in The Comics Journal #177. There I was sourly inconsolable that Disney decision-makers felt it advantageous to exploit our shared treasure with a non-Barksian gloss and was just as inevitably crushed that Don Rosa was not Carl Barks. Yes, Rosa is a dogged, determined, anxious-to-please entertainer, but — given his formidable abilities — when not comparing him directly to the Good Duck Man himself, how intrinsically bad is that? Yes, relative to the chapters of this book the busiest of Barks’ romps will seem positively leisurely. Yes, Rosa absolutely packs his panels with references, jokes, Easter eggs (Hey look! Mickey in the cactus!) and historically accurate, comedically unstinting and ostentatiously enlivening details, details, details. Yes, it all borders on the obsessive and can be exhausting to the less enthusiastically dedicated. Yet Hindus have whole corners of their pantheon set aside for beings devoted to the practice of love in all its myriad forms. And there’s no doubt that Rosa is using the Barksian pantheon here to express a long-abiding love.

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One Response to “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa”

  1. Michael Grabowski says:

    I always feel like this is the project that ruined Don Rosa for me. Up until this point, his duck stories were worthy successors to the Barks adventure tradition. Following this, it seems like the extent of his research into the Barks stories has since made his own stories seem overly fetishistic of every detail Barks offered when Barks rarely gave such things a second thought. That said, the Life of Scrooge is quite well done considering all the “continuity problems” it had to solve. Trying to shoehorn everything he’s done since into this continuity made Rosas’s latter stories less fun to read.