Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Eleven: "The Empire-Builder from Calisota"

Okay, here we go! Scrooge's downfall! Ready?!? Yeah, I know--you were born ready.

Here's the story in a single panel, more or less--richer and richer and meaner and ornerier. As you've seen, I have struggled in the past with the depiction of Scrooge, how "mean" he's supposed to be, and how this is meant to compare the present-day version of the character. This story is not devoid of such confusion also, but it's finally absolutely clear that, to a very large extent, he's meant to be seen as a big ol' jerk.

Somewhat awkwardly shoehorned in, we get a brief rehashing of the events referred to in "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad," and the only appearance in the series of the elusive Katie Mallard. I must say, I'm disappointed that Rosa didn't give more space to the character and her relationship with Scrooge. Given that he's nothing but glad to see her in "Ghost Town Railroad," in spite of the way she's making him pay for broken furniture, it must have been a pretty good one, after all. It seems like such an obvious and enlightening thing to do--but nothin' doing. She's no less prominent in her single Barks story than Goldie is in hers--though of course, Barks would include Goldie in paintings and things, retrospectively increasing her stature. But Katie isn't as glamorous and is unlikely to have been romantically involved with Scrooge, so forget about her, I guess. Too bad.

She does appear in a few more panels in the sketch version of the story:

So apparently, this is where they first meet each other, before they have any kind of relationship--which really just makes me more curious about how things went after this rocky start.

The sketches are definitely worth looking at, as they feature substantial alterations of the story. For instance, we get a second Glomgold appearance:

Oh ho ho, fifty years indeed. You've gotta figure, though: if that's the case, Flinty must've been making money at a way faster rate than Scrooge.

This also provides some evidence that Scrooge must have been aware of Glomgold before "The Second-Richest Duck"--even if the guy never actually surpassed him, he's obviously hyper-aware of anyone who might present any sort of threat to his status.

I know I've been belaboring the point, and I know that every time I do it I've been noting how often I've been doing it, but still: him being a jerk to Miss Quackfaster (making her debut) is meant to show he's becoming meaner, but really, how is that different from this?

Just sayin'...

Anyway, the idea is that the sisters insist on tagging along with him to Africa, where he really lets loose with the dickishness. It's not at all clear at what point this devotion to "playing it square" is meant to have eroded away, or to what extent it was ever anything more than a meaningless bromide used to justify bad behavior. But it's clear enough where we stand now. This section coming up is meant to represent his definitive ethical failure.

I cannot praise the portrayal of Foola Zoola here highly enough. It's just so bracing--how many have you seen a "native" in a Disney comic who is A) violently hostile towards the protagonist; B) quite rightfully so; and C) isn't some kind of racist caricature? I'm going to go ahead and say "zero." It just suddenly opens the world up and provides an important perspective that we've never seen before or since. This part isn't in the sketch version; it just goes straight from him scamming the other tribe out of their mine to him getting the thugs to fuck shit up. Also, in that version his sisters aren't along to witness all this. The finished version is a huge improvement in that regard.

I tell you, probably the one Rosa story I most regret that we never got to see is a sequel to "Voodoo Hoodoo" in which Scrooge has to deal with his old rival again and come to some sort of understanding. I realize that might have been a politically tricky thing to pull off, but wow could it ever have been great.

And Scrooge's response--wow that's potent. These are special circumstances, of course, but it's definitely the case that this is the worst thing any Disney protagonist has ever done. It's just an amazing depiction of his corruption, and I very strongly applaud Rosa for it.

And then, of course, he has to deal with a zombie. I should explain for anyone just tuning in that the idea is that Rosa has--pretty brilliantly, actually--repurposed this guy--who was just meant as an antagonist with no moral content in "Voodoo Hoodoo"--as the physical representation of Scrooge's moral failure--which, of course, leaves open the question of why he's so fucking jolly about it in Barks' present.

But what can you do? I still think this was the best possible way to pick up this plot thread.

Mind you, this "one foul deed" business is a bit much. Of course, definitions of "foul deed" may vary (though if you have to quibble about it...), but you may have noted that right before the Foola Zoola stuff, he stole another tribe's diamond mine. Is that not foul? Or is that just meant to go together with the other thing, like how multiple items of the same kind of produce count as a single thing for the "fifteen items or less" lane?

This story covers a LOT of ground--twenty-seven years, in fact. Lotta pastiche stuff like this, with Barks references aplenty. It absolutely succeeds at creating a sense of epic scale. That bag in the bottom left is meant to be marked "nutmeg," in reference to "A Spicy Tale," and is in the printing in the Gemstone book, but it got screwed up in the initial Gladstone version that this scan comes from.

Then there's the part where he gets pushed off a cliff and learns he can swim in money. The sketch version also features this extremely regrettable bit:

For fuck's sake, Don--"camel jockeys?" Really? And amazingly, that's the least of the problems here. And you had been doing so well with these things up to this point…thankfully, common decency prevailed in the published version.

Anyway, after a lot of this (and even more in the sketches) he finally returns to Duckburg. Great use of silhouette there--he looks every inch the heartless robber baron that he is.

Even here, though, things are a little weird. The people with signs look like a lazy right-wing editorial cartoonist's mindless idea of OWS protesters--and yet, we're apparently still meant to think of Scrooge as a jerk for blowing them off. Disorienting, is what it is.

And this is about it--his sisters are still willing to forgive him, but he just won't stop being like this. There's not really one climactic moment that severs the relationship--it's just him doing what he does at this point. I feel like something definitive might not have been a bad idea.

But young Donald DOES kick his ass, which is certainly a welcome sight.

Aw man--subtle it ain't, but fuck subtlety; this is some really strong stuff here.

This is great, too--he has to quite explicitly choose between money and family, and well, he makes his choice.

And there you go. Really, really amazing stuff. I know that's not a particularly cogent comment, but when Rosa's good, he's really damn good. And the tragedy remains: sure, he reconnects with his nephews, but Hortense and Matilda are gone baby gone (well, at least until "The Old Castle's Other Secret," in the case of the latter).

I'm done. I'm drained. I'm thinking that this may be the best chapter in the series. But, of course, you'd have to be some kind of fucking chump to not tune in tomorrow, Christmas Day, for the grand finale of this enterprise, "The Richest Duck in the World." Forget your loved ones! Forget your festivities! You need to be reading about cartoon waterfowl, dammit!

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Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

On a completely unrelated note, this chapter marked something I will NEVER forgive Gladstone for!

The switchover to unbelievably cheap and cheesy paper covers!

So, how’d THAT work out for ya, huh?!

Couldn’t they have just COMPLETED the original American run of “Life and Times” BEFORE doing this nonsensical thing?!

Of ALL the different formats that “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" has appeared in over the years – the ONLY one I ever really wanted to see it in was the “traditional format comic book”!

And, thanks to the single most ill-advised move to EVER emerge from Gladstone, it NEVER HAS, and most likely NEVER WILL!

December 24, 2011 at 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I agree that there's something very jarring about the depiction of the protestors outside the money bin. They recall Barks's sardonic view of the counterculture, protestors, and people appealing for charity. They *are* just freeloaders, and Scrooge is right to despise them, and Fergus is wrong to object to his judgment (cf. my comments on chapter 9). This doesn't fit into the whole picture of Scrooge's moral downfall which Rosa is trying to paint, here. It doesn't even fit with the "voice-over" comment in the following panel. Would the young Scrooge indeed have felt compassion for people who are not apparently in real distress, but who simply feel entitled to what they have not earned and who have not eaten since breakfast?

December 24, 2011 at 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always interpreted it as this being how Scrooge saw them. But if it's real, it's an oddly Barksian touch in a very, very Rosa chapter.

My favorite little detail in this chapter is Scrooge's devil horns when he's telling the thugs to go destroy the village. It's a wonderfully subtle touch.

This probably is the best chapter of the series when looked at as a unified whole (I could write PAPERS on the remix culture as influenced by Rosa) but the next one is a personal favorite, just because... well, I don't know why. But it is!

December 24, 2011 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine writes:
“I agree that there's something very jarring about the depiction of the protestors outside the money bin.”

Jarring? I dunno… How different was it, really, from the Barks protestor-type who famously demanded that Scrooge give “…a billion dollars to the L.T.A.B.” – The League To Abolish Billionaires” “Down with the rich!”

I always figured Rosa’s bit had its origins there.

Now, the paper covers… THAT was “jarring!” He says still beating the flimsy, coverless horse after all these years!

December 24, 2011 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, but there's no indication that you're supposed to sympathize with Barks' protesters. Whereas that caption in the second panel suggests that you are with these guys.

December 24, 2011 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Perhaps so, but I’d say that was because Scrooge was SUPPOSED to be a louse, here… or, a “scrooge”, if you will! It was a time before his Bear Mountain-born conversion.

But, “Help! Haven’t Eaten Since Lunch!” and “Fund to Abolish Funds”, etc. sure smacks of the “L.T.A.B.” to me.

We just don’t sympathize with Scrooge at this point. HE changes, but the world around him (at least in this aspect) does not!

December 24, 2011 at 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Bence said...

There are still some holes in the Life and Times of Scrooge Mcduck saga to fill and I've always felt that the largest one is after this chapter. Can you imagine a story about Scrooge's life between 1930 and 1947? I've asked Don about this and he told me that he never made a chapter 11b because it would have been to depressive...

December 25, 2011 at 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Jasper Y. said...

Now, why isn't Uncle Jake the one bouncing lil' Scrooge on his knee? Rosa, the detail-maniac, must have forgot about that line from "Shacktown".

December 25, 2011 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

...but why would we be *supposed* to sympathize with Scrooge in Tralla La for exactly the same things we're supposed to *not* sympathize him for here? This seems like a shaky argument to me.

Re a chapter 11b, Rosa's right--there would be little point in a story about Scrooge in those years. We've already established that he's going to experience no character development for those seventeen years, so what would be the point? A story where we watch him being emotionally dead? Whee.

You might have better luck with a story focusing on his family members in those years--a meditative thing about how his lingering influence affects his sisters and his nephews and niece. Might not lend itself too easily to a comic, though.

December 25, 2011 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Geo writes:
“...but why would we be *supposed* to sympathize with Scrooge in Tralla La for exactly the same things we're supposed to *not* sympathize him for here? This seems like a shaky argument to me.”

Because, by the time of “Tralla La”, things like this pushed Scrooge over the edge and toward a nervous breakdown.

He had, of necessity, been softened in order to become the star of his own series. This has happened to characters as diverse as Yogi Bear and Lobo. Even Doctor Smith of “Lost in Space” and “Stewie Griffin of “Family Guy” were softened of similar necessity in order to become the central characters of their respective series.

By this time, we are meant to sympathize with the kinder, gentler Scrooge – and really pity him the vast responsibilities of his life as a “job-creator”!

December 26, 2011 at 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Bence said...

"Re a chapter 11b, Rosa's right--there would be little point in a story about Scrooge in those years. We've already established that he's going to experience no character development for those seventeen years, so what would be the point?"

He's not experiencing any character development in most of the stories set in the "present" either. The point of a chapter 11b would be to explore a Scrooge we haven't really seen yet.

For a lot of Duck-fans the "Holy Grail of Disney comics" would be a story about the parents of Huey, Dewey, and Louie but for me the Holy Grail would be this lost chapter set after the end of "The Empire-Builder from Calisota". Scrooge is left alone in 1930 but only retires in 1942 (according to chapter 12). What does he do between 1930 and 1942?

December 27, 2011 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The Life and Times is the story of Scrooge's rise and fall. The "fall" portion of this is complete when his family breaks off ties with him. Symbolically, he's *dead* after chapter eleven. There's nothing more to say about him until his nephews revive him. What did he "do" during that period? I'll tell you: he ran his businesses, and then he retreated into his mausoleum. That's ALL. This hypothetical chapter Eleven B would be incredibly pointless.

December 27, 2011 at 2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be too worried that a Chapter 11b would include dealings with some certain Nutzies overseas, and we can't have them in a Disney comic, now can we?

December 31, 2011 at 8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Rosa draft version among the other things you mentioned it also had a scene where Scrooge obtain the patents and worldwide distribute for the airplane and the film camera. Can see why that got cut, one thing to have Scrooge be a sharp eyed business man but that was just taking it to far.

September 22, 2015 at 5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scrooge has a possible old flame named Katie MALLARD?! And here I thought he and Darkwing were related through his paternal grandmother Molly Mallard! (Seriously, with the way Internet fandoms love to form off-the-wall theories based on the tiniest details, especially when it comes to blood relations, you'd think the Duck series fandoms would have jumped on that years ago...)

Maybe the "jolly" attitude when he told the tale was just a front so his family wouldn't know how much the story tormented him...?

Maybe the protesters are supposed to set up a contrast...? There's no excuse for Scrooge becoming such a jerk, but that shot makes it easier to understand the circumstances that helped drive him there...? Not just his own guilt but dealing with a world of envy, laziness, and entitlement, reinforcing his conclusion that he's "the only honest man in this cock-eyed world"...? Hmmm... I'm now thinking maybe that shot would have been better at the beginning, before he leaves for the Congo, to explain where that attitude came from.

"Is that not foul? Or is that just meant to go together with the other thing, like how multiple items of the same kind of produce count as a single thing for the "fifteen items or less" lane?"

No, I think they're meant "meant to go together" as 2 parts of the same process. Nobody just wakes up one day and instantly decides, "I'm gonna completely forget about honor and get what I want by any means necessary from now on, no matter who I have to hurt or what laws I have to break!" It's a journey -- you start small, then when you get used to it, you let things get bigger, head farther down the road, at a faster rate, until you reach a point where you stop short and wonder, "How did I get here?!"

For all the reasons you've given above, this is one of my fave chapters, too, despite that it contains the one sequence in the series I truly HATE: the Titanic sinking. IIRC, Don Rosa's commentary doesn't list a "Barksian fact" where Scrooge once claimed to have sailed on the Titanic, so why is this here?! Why would you use such a terrible tragedy as a backdrop against one, unrelated incident in the life of your hero and then never mention it again? How can you show a wealthy, grown man just getting in one of the lifeboats without a multitude of horrible implications? I cannot justify the existence or depiction of this sequence in any way to myself -- fortunately, since it is so pointless and disconnected from the rest of the story, I can just pretend it's not there.

February 19, 2016 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

The evidence that Scrooge and Katie might've been romantically involved is pretty nonexistent, but you should read "Mystery of the Ghost Town Railroad"--it's a good story, and it's kind of amazing to see this character from Scrooge's past just appear totally unexpectedly.

I never thought about it, but you certainly have a point about the Titanic business. That's just odd. The fact that he depicts the eruption of Krakatoa (orders of magnitude more lives lost than the sinking of the Titanic) might also raise eyebrows, though in that instance Scrooge isn't culpable in any way.

February 19, 2016 at 4:21 PM  

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