Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE $CROOGE: ONLY A POOR OLD MAN by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics Press, 2012)

Remarkable timing, I must say -- Volume 12 of Fantagraphics' BARKS LIBRARY, containing the first six issues of UNCLE $CROOGE (yes, I know that "Only a Poor Old Man," "Back to the Klondike", and "The Horseradish Story" were technically FOUR COLOR releases, but we aren't fooled, are we?), being released in exquisite conjunction with the heavily-Barks-flavored early entries in my DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE.  I wish it were something more than a mere coincidence, but, sadly, no such luck (Old-#1-Dime-fueled or otherwise).

These are the legendary tales and gags that transformed Scrooge McDuck from an intriguing supporting player in Barks' DONALD DUCK stories and "ten-pagers" into comicdom's great champion of high adventure and low (yet surprisingly amusing) cheapness.  There's really no need for me to add to the piles of praise that have been justifiably heaped upon these efforts, except to note that Fantagraphics' production values easily live up to the high standards set in the first released volume of this series.  In this case, that even includes posing a stiff challenge to Duck fans' eyeballs and reproducing the exact same coloring schemes from the original Dell comics.  Did the color of Scrooge's broadcloth coat really travel the precipitous route from red-with-green-trim to green to plum to red to blue over such a short span of time -- sometimes changing from feature to feature within a single issue?  Did the Beagle Boys really have blue sweaters in "Only a Poor Old Man" before switching over to their trademark red/orange?  Yes, and FG faithfully depicts every single twist and turn.

I was a little disappointed to see that George Lucas' foreword tribute to Barks is "merely" a reprint of the piece he wrote for the Celestial Arts book in the early 1980s.  C'mon, George... to cadge a metaphor from "Only a Poor Old Man" (not to mention a certain tangentially related DuckTales ep), a lot of water has crashed through the dam since then.  Don't you have any updated insights to provide to us, on the order of those you imparted to eager fans during your triumphant revisiting of the Star Wars "universe"?  (Or perhaps I should be careful what I wish for.)  The Story Notes continue to be quite good, though I can certainly see the point made by other reviewers who wish that the Notes for a particular story could precede that story.  It is a little awkward to have to flip back to the rear of the book to read the Notes.  That being said, the Notes section also presents visual, as well as textual, information, such as story panels, covers, and, in the case of "Back to the Klondike," some redrawn "lost" art (which is incorporated quite magnificently into the reconstructed original tale, I might add).  It is difficult to see how all of this could be broken up and presented on a story-by-story basis without making the job of reading even more confusing and wrecking what is presumably one of FG's aims, namely, to give the reader something as close to the original Dell-comic reading experience as possible.  Perhaps FG should consider putting a discreet footnote at the bottom of the title page of each story, indicating where the Notes for that story can be found in the back of the volume.  The purists may not like the move, but it may serve to satisfy more people.


Joe Torcivia said...

Should the series get that far, it will be interesting to see how FG handles UNCLE SCROOGE # 40 – the First Gold Key, with all elements of the odd, UPA-influenced, early Gold Key look exhibited therein.

…Especially the Gyro with the Pastel Borders.

Chris Barat said...


My guess is that they'll reproduce the original look as faithfully as possible -- with explanatory Notes included.


Joe Torcivia said...

As I, too, suspect they will - and it will be the first time it will be reprinted in its original form domestically.