Sir Brian had a battleaxe with great big knobs on. He went among the villagers and blipped them on the head.
– A. A. Milne, demonstrating with his poem Bad Sir Brian Botany how to excel at opening lines.
To me personally, this will always be one of the finest graphic novels in existence, putting Don Rosa up there with the likes of Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman. Of course, my opinion is coloured by a multitude of particular factors — by having read this excellent saga doled out in tiny chapters over the course of half my childhood, by before that having already spent my entire living memory immersed in stories set in this universe, by being a person who loves continuity finally being given the backstory of one of my favourite characters in what was (and is) usually considered a continuity-devoid universe …
But in fairness, a lot of these factors can be boiled down to me being the exact target demographic when I first read The Life and Times of $crooge McDuck. In age, and in interests. And one can hardly hold that against it.
Don Rosa provides his usual masterstrokes in this book. He manages to capture the sense of both slapstick and character (and character relationship) based humour that a traditional, solid Disney Duck-story should have, and crams every panel with hilarity and memorable personalities. He provides the sense of grand, impossible and yet tantalizingly immersive adventure that are the hallmarks of the more serious subset of adventuring stories in the genre. But this can be said to be the case in nearly all his longer form Duck-stories. What makes ‘Life and Times’ stand out so much are all the layers added on top of this.
An iconic character is here given not only a backstory, but a full, vivid life. There is not only a sense of tangible adventure to be had, but of tangible history. The historical framework of $crooge’s surroundings and experiences are impeccably researched and presented, with every new chapter having a new historical phenomenon to present (be it river boats on the Mississippi, the immigrant experience, the gold rush or American colonialism). This gives the book a real sense of progression (both in time and in narrative), with each chapter having a distinctive look and feel. But it is more than just the trappings of history — these events and places colour $crooge (and, I think, even the reader) perhaps even more than the checklist of cameos and tidbits from Carl Barks’ original stories that Don Rosa is so fond of weaving his narratives around.
The protagonist here does not just go on an adventure and return the same as he set out, more or less, as in a traiditional Duck-tale. Rather, he grows, he learns, he changes. And we learn with him. What other Duck comic tackles leaving for a new continent on one’s own at age 13, or, for that matter, the loss of one’s parents?
From a behind the scenes perspective, this book is also something quite special. Providing an epic, complex narrative with real, human characters in a world traditionally built on gags or one-off premises, and somehow not feeling incongruous or forced is in and of itself very impressive. However, Don Rosa’s stubborn (albeit, I think, genious) decision to do so built entirely around the tidbits dropped in the silliest lines and tiniest minutia in Barks’ old stories might be the most impressive thing of all. This herculean labour of love is perhaps why it doesn’t feel incongruous — after all, since $crooge mentioned them all at one point or another, the avid reader sort of knew all these things had happened before we even read them. It also provides the book with an emotional arc positively dripping with pathos when he brings $crooge’s story current with the final chapters catching up to Carl Barks’ original introduction of the character as a hateful, misanthropic old man, and seamlessly use the contradiction between this character’s personality and the later incarnations of the modern $crooge as the driving force between not only the resultion of the book, but in hindsight, the entire journey to get there.
I get misty-eyed just typing it, a good twenty years after I first read it. If you skipped everything else in the wall of words this review turned out to be, perhaps it is enough if you caught this:
I still laugh, and I still cry, two decades on. And the whole thing is about a miserly duck with whiskers.
Happy New Year! So, for the past two years, this weblog has basically been dead, or (at best) some kind of shambling ghoul-esque state of not so much passing on as passing on and on and on and on …
Clearly, the days of me finding the time to list and minireview every new TV show I watch are long gone. But I still watch exuberant amounts of the stuff, so here is a little write-up of my favourite three new 2016 shows, as well as my wife’s picks (as she watches the vast majority of them with me). I’ll try to name-drop other new shows that I think are worth checking out as I go, ’cause, well, why not.
The first time around, success. The second time, ambition got the better of me, and the third time around, I did not fare much better — though in that case, I blamed spending all year on moving and remodelling. In 2016, alas, I did not have such a great excuse, and so the miserable result I now have to show is mine to bear without the convenience of mitigating circumstances.
That said, I’ve been enjoying having these little lists to revisit throughout the year, so I’m making another one. Mostly just carrying failed goals over from last time, of course. Fingers crossed!
Now Cupid being more and more in love with Psyche, and fearing the sudden austerity of his mother, returned again to his tricks, and did pierce on swift wings into the heavens, and arrived before Jupiter to declare his cause: then Jupiter alter that he had eftsoons embraced his dear relation and kissed his hand, began to say in this manner:
‘O my lord and son, although thou hast not given due reverence and honour unto me as thou oughtest to do, but hast rather soiled and wounded this my breast (whereby the laws and order of the elements and planets be disposed) with continual assaults of terrene luxury and against all laws, yea even the Julian law, and the utility of the public weal, hurting my fame and name by wicked adulteries, and transforming my divine beauty into serpents, fire, savage beasts, birds, and bulls. Howbeit remembering my modesty, and that I have nourished thee with mine own proper hands, I will do and accomplish all thy desire. But still thou shouldest beware of spiteful and envious persons, and if there be any excellent maiden of comely beauty in the world, remember yet the benefit which I shall shew unto thee, by recompense of her love towards me again.’
– Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, Book VI,
in J. Arthur Hanson’s translation.
Finally, one of the biggest mice spoke.
‘Is there nothing we can do,’ it asked, ‘to repay you for saving the life of our Queen?’
‘Nothing that I know of,’ answered the Woodman; but the Scarecrow, who had been trying to think, but could not because his head was stuffed with straw, said, quickly, ‘Oh, yes; you can save our friend, the Cowardly Lion, who is asleep in the poppy bed.’
– The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.
It is a popular superstition in Denmark, that under every church that is built, a living horse must be buried: the ghost of this horse is the death horse, that limps every night on three legs to the house where some one is to die. Under a few churches a living pig was buried, and the ghost of this was called the grave pig.
From the footnotes on page 360 of The Complete Illustrated Works of Hans Christian Andersen (originally published in 1889 as Stories for the Household)