Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Introducing the DCR Holiday Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Marathon

Hey, guess what, kids? Now, it is beginning of a fantastic story! I've written a little about Rosa's Life & Times series before, but honestly--that amounted to little more than a whole lotta uncritical fanboy gushing--not really all that interesting. I've often thought that it deserved more than that--what with being the most ambitious project in Disney comics history* and all. These days, I'm slightly older and slightly wiser, and I think--hope, anyway--that I can bring a critical perspective to the series that I couldn't earlier. I've also been thinking it would be fun to do a li'l something special for this holiday season. Sooooo...
*go on, then--give me your counterproposal. I think it would have to be one of the longer Gottfredson serials, but I think that would be a stretch. I know there are huge Italian series out there, but length isn't everything**--it's certainly not the same as "ambition"--and given the density and maniacal obsessiveness of Rosa's work…well, I'm standing by that statement.

**THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!***

***sorry.

Yes, there are people who can't stand Rosa's methodology. I get it. It's a bit of a stretch for him to claim that he's just trying to imitate Barks--that much is obvious of course, but he brings his own sensibility to duck comics to the extent that his work is really wholly his own, even if it's meant to just be expanding on that of the master. I want to call his work "Barks in high-definition," but I also don't, because that implies a criticism of Barks that I don't intend. But you know what I'm saying, right? You read his work, and you think, yeah, this is Barks. Only…more so. For both better and worse.

Talking about the L&T specifically, there's also the criticism that it sort of sucks the air out of the room--that, in its own way, it's extremely limiting. What else can you possibly do with Scrooge's past when there's this enormous stone monument just sitting there? Which is fair enough, but I really have to come down on Rosa's side here. It's true that his maniacal approach to Barksian "truth" seems somewhat excessive sometimes. But I ask you: if you're going to embark on a project like this, what are you going to do? You need to have some basis for what you're doing--to respect the character's history to a substantial degree. So even though it's true that Barks' work itself would probably have seen substantial cross-pollination had he been aware of European artists while he was working (when he met Romano Scarpa in the seventies, he apparently loved the idea of Brigitta MacBridge), the fact is, it didn't, and I think it's reasonable for Rosa to restrict himself to what Barks actually did, even if I wouldn't personally couch it in quite such puritanical terms. Let's face it: the Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck as written by Scarpa would've been a fucking disaster, albeit a fascinating one. Rosa's vision isn't flawless, but the idea simply needs to be taken very seriously if it's going to succeed at all--and there ain't no one more serious about this stuff than he is.

I'm going to cover each part of the series: the twelve "regular" chapters, and the six later additions*--one a day, starting tomorrow, the eighth, and ending on the twenty-fifth, Christmas Day--with what is essentially a Christmas story, no less! It's perfect! I was debating whether I should do them in chronological order or in order of publication, but ultimately opted for the latter--and not just 'cause the former would've messed up my plan to end with a seasonally-appropriate story. You could definitely make the argument that using publication order would provide a better perspective on Rosa's artistic development, but I think the flailing backwards and forwards that such an approach would entail would just be too jarring. I'll try to take note of anything that may be indicative of a different sensibility in the subsidiary chapters, but I also believe they mesh together pretty well with the main work.

*No, I'm not including "Dream of a Lifetime," even though it's in Gemstone's L&T Companion; it's not really part of the series, and it would feel very anticlimactic.



Before we start, just for fun: here's Rosa's family tree.* I certainly understand why some people get annoyed by Rosa's desire to ruthlessly quantify arbitrarily thrown-off "facts" the way he does. But hell: it's fun, dammit. Here's something you maybe didn't know: Gemstone did two printings of the L&T. The first is red; the second is yellow. In the first one, there's a printing error, so you can only see half of the portraits of Fethry and the mysterious Lulubelle Loon. This was fixed in the second.

*Okay, so I couldn't find a large image online, and scanning it would have been difficult, inasmuch as it takes up two pages in the Gemstone's L&T. But c'mon; I'm pretty sure you know what it looks like.

(I think I've mentioned this before, but if you buy a print of the family tree from Rosa at a convention (which, though basically the same as the published version, is slightly realigned and features re-drawn portraits--for some sort of copyright-related reason?), it'll show Ludwig Von Drake on the far left, married to Matilda. Now, I love the shit out of this pairing, and wish like hell that Rosa had been permitted to depict it in a story (seriously, you editor people can be such jerks sometimes), but the fact that the tree depicts young-Matilda, whereas Ludwig is modern-day-age, makes it look pretty seriously creepy. If he revised it to include Matilda as depicted in "The Old Castle's Other Secret, it would be way better.)

(Also, in that version you can see HDL's father's face (CF), and he will apparently draw your name in the empty box. Um…thanks but no thanks!)

Here's something that irritates me--and I realize that this irritation basically makes me the geekiest person in the world, but I can't help it: there's a Barksian character missing from this chart. For all of Rosa's obsessiveness, he let one get by him. I would make you guess in comments to see if anyone could get it, but no time! I want to air my grievance NOW! It's Mehitabel Mudhen, mentioned in this rarely-reprinted (because of the most horrifying racial depiction ever in a Disney comic) story. Now, this family tree is cool; it's a lot of fun--but Rosa had to make up out of whole cloth a lot of characters in order to get the genealogy to work. Mehitabel would've been a perfect fit as Fethry's and Abner's mother, slightly ameliorating that issue. I know the "loon" bit is to try to genetically explain Fethry's craziness, but mudhens are pretty crazy too (I would've sworn that "mad as a mudhen" was an actual idiom, but a google search reveals that I apparently just made that up. It works though, dammit!). Yes, in that case he should probably have referred to her in the Barks story as "Aunt," but really, now: Rosa fudges details far more substantial than that throughout the saga. There's definitely some leeway here.

I guess all I'm trying to say is this: down with Lulubelle! Up with Mehitabel! Seriously. I just now thought of this, and now the omission bothers me on a deep, molecular level. Hey, I told you I was geeky.

Oh, and one last thing: my favorite charity for holidays is Heifer International. If you like this series, you could do a whole lot worse than to thank me by buying some livestock for people in developing countries who need it.

Chapter Zero->

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The L&T has kept me up many a night reading and reading, searching every picture for all the little gags that Don provides. I look forward to reading your take on them in a more critical fashion.

PS you once linked to a large picture of the tree
http://duckman.pettho.com/tree/v_american.html

December 7, 2011 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks--that's obviously way better.

December 7, 2011 at 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While Rosa himself doesn't consider it part of The Life and Times, I hope you consider looking at "The Old Castle's Other Secret/A Letter From Home", which always felt to me like the epilogue of the series. Even if not, I am definitely looking forward to this month at Duck Comics Revue, since this is my favorite set of Disney comics and my first exposure to them!

December 7, 2011 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I'm not covering it right now, but in the future it might be fun to do a series consisting of all the stories that led to that one; ie, "The Old Castle's Secret," "The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone," "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan," "Tralla La," "Return to Xanadu," "Crown of the Crusader Kings," and then "The Old Castle's Other Secret" itself.

December 7, 2011 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger Jasper Y. said...

As a longtime reader of this blog, I can think of no better celebration than diving deep into the book that got me into this whole duck comic thing in the first place. Onward, Geo!

P.S. The "Templar Series", as I call it, are definitely some of the best non-L&T stuff from Rosa.

December 7, 2011 at 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, another long time reader/anonymous here wishing happy holidays to all, and best of luck to GeoX in this endeavour. I look forward to reading it :)

December 7, 2011 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...

Geo,

I'm looking forward to your dissection of this opus. I have some problems with the whole concept of L&T, to be sure, but, when I reviewed them back in the days of the APA WTFB, I tried to handle each piece of the puzzle fairly and give Keno D. credit where credit was due.

Maybe we can compromise a little on the Mudhen issue and let Minnie "Muhen" (the world-weary hash-slinger who served the "synthetic hamburgers" in that very early Barks 10-pager featuring Donald as a lifeguard) serve as a placeholder for Matilda? I'm sure that she could use the extra income...

Chris

December 7, 2011 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Christmas has come early… he says, picking up his socks!

December 7, 2011 at 8:57 PM  
Anonymous David K. said...

Oh Boy! Oh Boy!

December 7, 2011 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Yes! My diabolical scheme to render humanity (or at least the part of humanity that reads this blog) sockless is going according to plan!

December 7, 2011 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Assuredly, my socks are well and truly knocked off!

Of course, speaking as a historian, one of the joys of picking your own topic is getting to do the research you really want to do. By setting up the methodology he did, Rosa got to review Barks's entire Scrooge canon ostensibly to find the little details about his past.

December 8, 2011 at 1:38 AM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

I’d have to agree with “L&T” being the “most ambitious project in Disney comics history”, save Barks’ creation of the Duck Universe itself -- and even that “just happened” as he went along.

Indeed, I’ve tried to refer to it in either homage or satire in nearly every Duck story I’ve dialogued – adding new and fictitious “Chapters” that Scrooge offhandedly refers to (“Wizard of the Windwards”, “Midas of the Marianas”, etc.) or something as ordinary as Donald referring to his “Aunt Matilda”.

May its influence go on and on…

Joe.

December 8, 2011 at 7:52 AM  
Blogger Comicbookrehab said...

I imagine a Romano Scarpa "Life & Times of Scrooge" would've included Gideon McDuck and Dickie Duck, and probably have a lot more jokes and sight gag props, but not quite a trainwreck - unless there's an example out there that hints that it could've been.

By the way, HD&L's dad - R. Lee Ermey Duck. That's what I got from that image - with a buzzcut you could set your watch to. :)

December 8, 2011 at 10:31 AM  
Blogger Ryan Wynns said...

It's a bit of a stretch for him to claim that he's just trying to imitate Barks--that much is obvious of course, but he brings his own sensibility to duck comics to the extent that his work is really wholly his own, even if it's meant to just be expanding on that of the master. I want to call his work "Barks in high-definition," but I also don't, because that implies a criticism of Barks that I don't intend. But you know what I'm saying, right? You read his work, and you think, yeah, this is Barks. Only…more so. For both better and worse.

Ooo, ooo, ooo, this is similar to an argument I made in the 30-page Barks-Rosa research paper that I wrote last semester! I've thought about serializing it on my blog, and now you've inspired me to make that happen this weekend!

I swear that I remember, at some points during the serial's original U.S. run, courtesy of Gladstone II, some sort of editorial account (a Geoffrey Blum article? An editor's note in a letter column) that quoted a letter Barks had written to Rosa in which he chastised Rosa, stating that the characters "are myths", but Rosa ruined the fun, whimsical, escapist nature of those myths by striving to give the characters realistic autobiographies! I've tried to find this quote, and can't -- it's not even in Blum's introduction (which I found scans of online) to Another Rainbow's deluxe edition of Lo$. Did I only read that Barks had written that to Rosa in a dream?

Of course, "fun, whimsical, escapist" is me paraphrasing and interpreting what I (falsely?) remember being the point that Barks was making. In a different sense, Rosa's entire body of Duck comics work -- not just Lo$ actually made the Duck universe, and Scrooge in particular, even MORE of mythic...

"A Letter From Home" beautifully told of Scrooge's ultimate reckoning, and was the pinacle of what Rosa single-handedly pulled off over the course of his career: Scrooge McDuck deserves to stand with Superman and Batman as the three noblest American comic book icons of the past 70 years (even though Scrooge isn't widely recognized as being of such stature!), their mythologies deepened and enriched by successive generations of comics creators. Is Don Rosa to Scrooge as Frank Miller is to Batman? Well, I flirt with such a comparison in my paper, but it's not the main focus...but still, I'll say no more, or else, once the paper is posted on my blog, you'll have heard it before!

A Scarpa Lo$ would've been ridden with ludicracies. The idea evokes that Rota-drawn "Life of Donald" story, where Donald hatched from an egg in a nest and he was raised jointly by Scrooge and Grandma, who apparently lived together... *shudder*

Great work, Geo. Thorough reviews, and all kinds of sharp, on-the-money (er, no pun intended...) insights. You're really gonna do one review a day 'til the 25th? I could never keep up with such a self-imposed schedule...if only it were what I was paid to do for a living, that'd be a different story...

Ryan

December 8, 2011 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

I'm looking forward to reading your essay. I sort of have a similar vague idea of reading something about Barks having reacted that way to the L&T, but like you, I can't exactly remember where. We DO clearly see two different conceptions of the character; of what he is and what he "should" be. I'm kind of ambivalent on the matter. Barks' points do have merit, I think--I sort of alluded to this with my comment about the series "sucking the air out of the room"--but on the other hand, well...at its best, at least, it can be a lot of fun, even if it can't quite escape that fan-fictiony impression. I think there's room for both schools of thought to coëxist, if not always peacefully.

December 8, 2011 at 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I think it's clear that at some point Barks got annoyed by Rosa's drive for consistency. Just a different spirit; I agree with Geo that both approaches can be honored and enjoyed by the same reader. I wish people who are annoyed by Rosa's approach would acknowledge, though, that he himself has never tried to say that everyone should go along with his reading of the history, his keeping to a historical timeline, etc. Far from it. He's always been perfectly clear that everybody gets to take her/his own approach in creating stories. And he's always been clear that he himself does all this insane detail-harmonizing because he *enjoys* it, not because it's morally or artistically superior! The Baker-Street Irregulars do the same sort of thing, and the sane ones acknowledge that they do it for the *fun* of it.

December 9, 2011 at 12:14 AM  
Anonymous KDR said...

Thank you, Elaine. At least *you* completely understand...

December 11, 2011 at 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

Great, you're going to do the L&T series! I'm in love with Rosa's work (just like many others) but I've read them too much to love them as much as I used to.
The mid-90s are Rosa's top period, so we're very lucky he did this series at the exact right moment. Like Scrooge, who would've been a completely different character if "Only A Poor Old Man" was written in 1945 or 1963.
This series has some great stories, but as a whole it's not my favorite. He made single stories which are better than this complete epic (the perfect word to describe the L&T saga, don't you think?). Like "Treasure Under Glass", "The Last Lord of Eldorado" or "Back to Xanadu".
Anyway, I'll comment on each chapter individually myself.

December 13, 2011 at 12:05 PM  

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