Review by Frank Plowright
Little Lulu deserves more than a cursory mention, but those who know, really know, insist that the pinnacle of American children’s comics is the exceptional work of Carl Barks on Uncle Scrooge. Such is the complexity, the skill and the attention to detail that the best of Barks’ Scrooge stories match the best of revered European children’s material such as Asterix or Tintin, and let’s not forget he wrote and drew over fifty Uncle Scrooge stories. That’s widely known and conceded across Europe, where his albums continue to be available at station newsstands, but for over fifty years now Barks’ work has been largely restricted to the collectors market in the USA.
The benefit of that is for those who can get hold of them, the book publications are appealing and durable. This 1990s series reproduced every issue of Barks’ Scrooge in the oversize European album format, although they occasionally lack the essays accompanying Barks’ other work in this format from Gladstone.
Introduced in Donald Duck’s 1947 Christmas story, Barks returned Scrooge in further material, increasing his role, and by 1950 he was frequently the prime motivator within the ten page gems produced for Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories. ‘Only a Poor Old Man’ was the first extended outing with his name on the cover, although Donald along with Huey, Dewey and Louis play prominent roles. As defined by his name, Scrooge is incredibly wealthy, and incredibly mean, keeping his entire fortune in cash within a giant money bin. In a memorable stroke of inspiration Barks depicted him diving through his coins to open the story (see sample page), but he also invested him with finer qualities. Scrooge earned every penny of his fortune, and beliefs in persistence and hard work are core principles.
Scrooge’s perpetual fear is that the Beagle Boys will drain his money bin, and they’ve bought the vacant lot next door and are involved in heavy construction. The only solution appears to be to move the money elsewhere. Barks constructs a masterful story where Scrooge’s desire to save his money is in conflict with his absolute unwillingness to spend any more than the bare minimum necessary to do so. As he explains, he knows how every coin has been earned, and in an often quoted line it was by being tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties. The gags flow, the money flows, and the laughs flow. The accompanying one page gags are also good.
It’s still possible to locate this as an individual album, along with free trading card, but the story is now better purchased along with several others in the 21st century Fantagraphics collection Only a Poor Old Man. There it’s contextualised and that volume is available at roughly the price this slim album now fetches.