By Joshua Miller (Facebook)
What I’m Thankful For:
Carl Barks (1901–2000) was a low-on-the-totem-pole Disney animator who burnt out on the system (partially because his sinuses couldn’t take the wonky air-conditioning in Disney’s animation studio), and ended up finding his place in the world writing and drawing Disney comic books. The Disney comic books were exactly what one would expect – minor stories like one might see in the popular animated shorts – but Barks’ imagination could not be contained as such. When assigned to Donald Duck’s comic, Barks would embark on a creative world and mythology expansion unheard of for the format.
In short, Barks created Duckburg and its myriad of colorful inhabitants, like Donald’s lucky cousin Gladstone Gander, the pathologically imprisoned Beagle Boy clan, the solution-for-every-occasion Junior Woodchuck organization, the quirky inventor Gyro Gearloose, the second richest duck in the world Flintheart Glomgold, the sinister sorceress Magica De Spell, and of course…
Scrooge motherfuckin’ McDuck.
I’ll say this now… Uncle Scrooge is by far my favorite Disney character, and, I am not ashamed to say, one of my favorite fictional characters period.
Like most people of my generation my first exposure to Uncle Scrooge was 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a twenty-minute short originally packaged with a re-release of The Rescuers. Here Scrooge was playing the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (from whom Barks originally got the name, of course). The popularity of the short inspired Disney to create Ducktales for their new “Disney Afternoon” television line-up. I recall as a wee lad being confused as hell by the new twist on the Ebenezer Scrooge character, but I didn’t care. Ducktales + Me = Love at first sight.
I was obsessed with the show, beyond just its catchy theme song. Apparently I must have talked about it a lot because while visiting a family member in Maryland I was confronted with a surprise. “Oh, you like Uncle Scrooge? You’ll probably like this then.” Then I was handed a copy of Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life & Times (1981), a coffee table sized collection of classic Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comics.
At first I thought, “This book is lame, these are just retellings of Ducktales episodes, except there is no Lanchpad!” Then my lil’ brain started piecing things together and I realized, “No wait, my favorite TV show must be based on these comics!” Everything was slowly starting to make sense. I realized all the best Ducktales episodes were based on stuff this Carl Barks dude had written, and the crappier Ducktales episodes (such as those featuring the caveduck, Bubba) were not based on stuff this Carl Barks dude had written.
For my friends, Ducktales was a show they loved, but one which they nonetheless lumped in with Rescue Rangers or Tailspin. It was all the same to them. But it really connected with me. It also influenced me creatively; the original Barks comics did even more so, as they lacked a lot of cutesier kids show stuff that Ducktales had. The sense of adventure and grand scale of Barks storytelling was simply unlike anything I had seen before, and his love for using world history as source material for his stories helped turn me into a history nerd. Uncle Scrooge just seemed so much more epic compared with the rest of the Disney stable. While Goofy was busy getting his head stuck in jars or some shit, Uncle Scrooge would be exploring a lost Mesoamerican temple or journeying beneath the Earth’s crust.
And Scrooge himself… I’m really not sure why, but I’ve always loved greedy capitalist fictional characters. Phoney Bone is my favorite character from Bone (which I’ve always described as Lord of the Rings, as done by Carl Barks), and I’m sure if I was a kid right now my favorite character on Spongebob would be Mr. Crabs. Maybe as a bored little kid I just secretly wanted a rich uncle to come whisk me away on treasure hunts in far off lands. I don’t know. Though I for sure wanted to swim in a money bin, I’ll tell ya that much.
Fun fact: Spielberg and Lucas said they got the idea for the giant rolling boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc from an Uncle Scrooge comic.
Several years back, to celebrate my first decently paying writing job, I dropped $100 on a used copy of Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life & Times, which has shamefully been out of print for years (or at least was at the time). It was a happy moment.
So, for fostering a love for adventure and for showing me that the boundaries and scope of storytelling need not be determined by the medium and genre they are in…
…I am thankful for Carl Barks.
I was previously thankful for… Video Store Memories.