Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Reader's Diary #1431- Carl Barks: Uncle Scrooge "Only a Poor Old Man"

In 1987 the three inaugural inductees into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, the crème de la crème of comic book awards, were Will Eisner himself, Jack Kirby (the artist behind a plethora of the most well-known superheroes), and Carl Barks. From a 2017 perspective, the artist behind Disney's Uncle Scrooge comics might seem like the odd-man out.

Looking at the best selling comic book characters of all time, however, you would quickly learn that while Disney's contributions to comics were once nothing to scoff at. And leading the pack, in terms of both popular and critical success was Carl Barks. Primarily Barks took on the duck line. Yes, he also did Donald comics, and Donald is arguably the more remembered character due to the animated version, but Uncle Scrooge comics is where Barks shone. Today you'll still find creative types ranging from George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg to Jeff Kinney citing Barks and Uncle Scrooge comics as an influence.

Wishing to explore more of the early days of the medium, I was finally able to find a collection of Barks' Uncle Scrooge comics in a great comics book store in Vancouver. Collected by Fantagraphics in 2012, it reprints the best of his classic 1950s run, including such memorable tales as "Only a Poor Old Man" and "Back to the Klondike."

Last year I reviewed Yusuke Murata's One-Punch Man Vol. 1, enjoying it enough but skeptical that the series could sustain itself when seeming revolving around a single premise. Wouldn't it wear thin? Now after seeing Barks' success with a similarly limited premise, I'm a bit more optimistic.

Uncle Scrooge, of course, doesn't defeat all of his enemies with one punch, but all the stories have just two essential plots: Scrooge must keep his money or, less common, Scrooge must make more money. It's almost amazing that such great adventures can arise from such basic constructs.

Yet arise they do. Blending humour with a multitude of genres from western to sci-fi to fantasy, these are wildly entertaining plot-based stories. On the flip-side of that, of course, there's not a lot of character building. Huey, Dewey, and Louie literally speak with one voice and Donald is surprisingly patient throughout. Uncle Scrooge himself has slightly more depth. You suspect he has a nicer side for Donald and his nephews to be so loyal to him and there are rare glimpses into his past and his motivations.

The art is great with highly expressive characters and attention is always paid to the background details.

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