The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
If you grew up watching Duck Tales – or better yet, if you’re really super old and remember watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol on the Disney Channel way back in the day – you already know that Scrooge McDuck is the richest duck in the world. As a matter of fact, he has so much money that he keeps it inside a skyscraper-sized bank vault (his famous money bin) and swims around in it during his free time. But where did all this money come from? How did the world’s richest duck get so rich? Don Rosa tells the whole story in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
Why I Decided to Read It
My decision to read a novel-length biography about a fictional duck began with an article in an old issue of Liberty Magazine (“Scrooge McDuck and His Creator“). In this article, writer Phillip Salin explained how Scrooge McDuck was a great symbol of initiative, hard work, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility.
Like a lot of libertarians, I place tremendous importance on these virtues and often find myself drawn to the character of the tycoon – the hardworking individualist who uses his time on Earth wisely and creates a meaningful life and legacy for himself. It had never occurred to me to think of Scrooge McDuck in these terms before I read the Liberty article, but once the seed had been planted I started watching old episodes of Duck Tales looking for pro-market subtext. Before long I was searching for old Scrooge McDuck comic books on eBay; and when that proved a little too pricey, I started looking for anthologies on Barnes & Noble and Amazon instead. In the process I came across The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and knew I had to read it.
Comics and Creators
Like ancient history and economic theory, American pop culture has entire chapters that most people know absolutely nothing about. If you know anything about comic books, for example, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Marvel and DC.
If your knowledge runs a little bit deeper, you might know about Dark Horse and Image.
If you’ve ever looked at the comic book selection on a grocery store magazine rack, you’ve probably seen a collection of Archie and Harvey Comics.
And if you’re slightly (or more than slightly) on the weird side, you might even have unearthed the grisly classics of EC.
But did you know that some of the most insanely popular comic book titles of the 20th century were published by the Walt Disney Company? Maybe you did, but it was definitely news to me. Growing up, I knew kids who were into some of the more offbeat Marvel titles like Moon Knight and Doctor Strange. I knew guys who were reading the Star Wars comic books long before the prequels were released. I even remember when the Simpsons comics turned out to be way better than anyone expected and garnered a loyal fan following of their own. But Disney? I didn’t know anyone who read those comics.
As it turns out, though, between the 1940s and 1960s Disney comic books were really kind of a thing. In the mid-1950s, one title alone, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, was the best selling comic book in the United States and had more than three million subscribers.
I’m sure every major character had their own group of fans, but there was an especially intense fanbase for the Disney ducks: Donald, his nephews, Scrooge, etc. This was due in no small part to an illustrator known only as “the good Duck artist.” Disney illustrators were never credited by name, of course – “sharing credit” wasn’t very high on Uncle Walt’s list of favorite pastimes – but it was obvious to anyone with eyes that someone working on the Duck titles could write incredible stories and draw amazing artwork to go along with them. This “someone” turned out to be a man named Carl Barks.
When Barks’s identity was finally revealed years later, he became one of the most revered artists in history, adored by comic book collectors and fine art aficionados alike. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are just two of the many creative personalities who have acknowledged his influence on their bodies of work. In fact, the rolling boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark was taken directly from one of Barks’s stories.
Of all the things he accomplished during his time at Disney, Barks should be especially commended for adding significant background and depth to the character of Scrooge McDuck. Rather than simply portraying Scrooge as a greedy old miser (the predictable fate of most tycoons in popular culture), Barks saw him as an aging adventurer whose success was merely the by-product of a life well-lived. As a nod to this illustrious past, Barks would often have Scrooge say things like “This cold weather reminds me of my winters in the Klondike” and “I’m not afraid of you! I tamed hungry lions in the wilds of Africa!” The genius of Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is that it collects all of these offhanded autobiographical remarks into a coherent timeline and then patches them together to tell the story of Scrooge’s life.
Reading these stories, you follow Scrooge from his young boyhood (ducklinghood?) in Scotland to exotic locations around the world as he attempts to build his fortune. He works on a steamship along the Mississippi River. He braves the Badlands with Teddy Roosevelt. He struggles to achieve victory in the Highland Games. He meets Czar Nicholas II and survives the sinking of the Titanic. Story after story after story. His journey is not always easy, and Scrooge is not always an admirable character, but his biography is well worth reading.
Keep an Eye Out for This
(1) Mixed in with all the great lessons and good-spirited fun in Scrooge’s life story is an unsettling, somewhat racist episode entitled “The Empire-Builder from Calisota.” Set in Africa, this chapter finds Scrooge exchanging harsh words with a tribal leader who refuses to sell his land. When the tribal leader forces him away, Scrooge retaliates by enticing an angry mob to burn his village to the ground.Lest you think we’re supposed to find this behavior acceptable, Scrooge’s actions are roundly condemned by his family (bottom panel) and he is then stalked by a zombie for years on end until he atones for what he has done.
(2) As a gift to readers, writers, and researchers everywhere, Don Rosa has included a long essay at the end of each chapter detailing his timeline, methods of research, references to Carl Barks, and placement of hidden gems. (The word D.U.C.K. is hidden throughout the story along with hard-to-find images of Mickey Mouse.) For me, a huge part of the enjoyment of this book comes from the fact that it’s cobbled together from so many far-flung pieces. Just think, this is the story that was hiding underneath the work of Carl Barks. I know a lot of people skip over the long written sections of graphic novels, but take your time and read these essays. They really give you an appreciation of Rosa’s layers.
(3) In one of the most surprising coincidences I’m ever likely to experience, an album based on The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck was released just a week or so after I first started reading it. Turns out, Tuomas Holopainen of the symphonic metal band Nightwish is a huge fan of these stories and wrote an entire soundtrack to go along with them. It’s a pretty good album. Even better if you read the stories first.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7JwprGVSjA&w=560&h=315]
(4) You’ll notice that one of Scrooge’s sisters has an especially nasty temper. I’m sure you can guess whose mom she turns out to be in later years.
(5) Despite the otherworldly success we usually associate him with, Scrooge McDuck is not a born winner. He is simply someone who refuses to accept defeat as destiny. In one of the book’s most optimistic passages, he admits to his failures but boldly asserts that he “won’t fail forever.”
Anyone using this book as a teaching tool for children should call attention to the number of setbacks Scrooge encounters before he (literally) strikes gold.
Overall Rating5 (out of 5). For its superb concept, execution, and artistic detail, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck receives my highest recommendation. Find it. Read it. Share it.
As I mentioned before, my initial attraction to the story of Scrooge McDuck was based on his embodiment of libertarian values. In this respect, he almost never disappoints. While the current generation of young Americans sinks farther and farther into the traps of political correctness, economic illiteracy, and unearned entitlement, it is becoming more and more important to seek out stories and role models that extol the principles of hard work, discipline, and self determination. If you’re looking for a character that symbolizes all these things and more, look no further than your dear old Uncle Scrooge.
The Liberty-Minded Musings of J. Wiltz