Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man (Fantagraphics)
Written & drawn by Carl Barks
Right off the bat, I want to say that I talked about both of these books a few weeks back on the 42nd episode of my dad podcast, The Pop Poppa Nap Cast. I’m sure I’ll get to a few new points that I didn’t hit on there, but if you listened to that episode this post might feel a bit redundant.
Anyway, one of the greatest things about working at Wizard was meeting so many people who were so passionate about so many different kinds of comics. Some guys were Marvel scholars, others knew everything about indie books and a few others were more fans of old school material like Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics. These are Disney comics I’d been hearing about for years, so when I had a little extra cash last year I figured I’d finally dip my toe into that coin-filled pond and check out Fantagraphics’ Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man which happened to collect Barks’ first Uncle Scrooge-starring comics (before that he was more of a supporting character in Barks’ Donald Duck comics).
Like a lot of people my age, I’m mostly familiar with Uncle Scrooge thanks to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Duck Tails. While the former didn’t paint a very flattering portrait of the character, the latter made him out to be a go-getting adventurer with a mile-long greedy streak. It’s the latter version that comes front and center in this book. Every story revolves around the almighty dollar (or coin, in many cases) with Scrooge, Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie going to great lengths to keep his money safe. The stories are presented in Barks’ iconic style which is perfectly cartoony, but also detailed and fun at times you might not expect it. He seemed to enjoy drawing Duckburg as much as Atlantis, so there’s a wide breadth of locations and characters in this collection to enjoy.
“Great lengths” is actually a pretty solid descriptor of this book. I was surprised to find out how long many of the main stories were in this book. I guess that’s just how comics were set up back then, but I often found myself flipping to the end of the story to try and figure out how many more pages I had to go. Personally, I think a few of these longer stories could have been cut down and would have felt a lot more streamlined and focused. As it is, some feel a bit meandering at times. This was compounded by the fact that there are one page gag strips included that I absolutely loved. These were quick, concise and often hilarious.
Even though some of the strips felt a little slow, I would still recommend checking out some of these Carl Barks strips. There’s such a great sense of wonder and exploration here that doesn’t get swallowed up by the greed also present in the series. In fact, Scrooge’s obsession with money might kick off many of the adventures, but it also leads to all kinds of calamity. I don’t want to read too much into these stories, but you can easily pull lessons from here that are good for both adults and kids. I tried reading this book with my kid and she wasn’t super-interested just yet, but I’ll try again later on down the line.
The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (Little, Brown)
Written & drawn by Herge
Herge’s Tintin is another one of those books that I’ve heard about for years but never actually read. At last year’s New York Comic Con I was flipping through a box of $5 trades, saw a bunch of Tintin books and decided to try The Secret Of The Unicorn. At the time I didn’t realize that this was actually the book that the recent Tintin movie was based on. I actually watched the movie, but remembered next to nothing about it aside from the opening scene which is the same way this book opens. From there, though, it was like experiencing a story for the first time.
In this book, kid reporter Tintin gets wrapped up in a mystery directly related to his pal Captain Haddock’s family. The adventure includes shady antique dealers, pickpockets, cops, robbers, pirates, treasure and even a big, old mansion. The simple, comic strip-esque art style lulled me a bit to the point where I was shocked when a guy got shot in the back. I also didn’t expect for the B storyline to tie back into the A one so concisely because I was expecting something more aimed at kids. This was probably the best way to read it because it helped enhance the surprises, twists and turns.
As it turns out, this book leads directly into Red Rackham’s Treasure which I don’t have, but do want to get my hands on. I enjoyed this story so much, I’m actually thinking of picking it up in one of those three-in-one collections so I can keep going.
I want to say one more thing about both of these books, they are absolutely packed with bonus material. Scrooge features an intro by none other than George Lucas and is followed by a series of essays written by Duck Comic scholars and fans that not only give details about Barks and what he was going through at the time, but also explores some of the themes therein. In the Little, Brown versions of the Tintin stories, they’re aimed at kids and include a bunch of material in the back that add historical context and also show off comparisons between Herge’s finished art and the extensive reference material he collected while working on Tintin. I love when trades like this add extra material to flesh out the experience, especially when you’re dealing with older material that might offer a bit more context.