Listening to the news from Comic-Con this past weekend sent me rummaging around in the ever-shrinking stack of boxes left over from my most recent move. Beneath a box of family photographs I have yet to exhume and next to a box of my mother's best china was one of my real treasures: My box of Uncle Scrooge comics.
Anyone who, like me, grew up with the wit and wisdom of Carl Barks, duck artist extraordinaire, will be experiencing a warm, happy feeling somewhere in their bellies at the thought of Unca Carl.
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My earliest reading memories revolve around Scrooge, Donald and Huey, Dewey and Louie. As my mother tells the story, they actually taught me to read.
For whatever reason, my mother eschewed more traditional early readers and instead snuggled with me and the ducks. To begin with, she read the dialogue and prompted me to read the sound effects, reasoning that I would pick up phonetic logic just as well from "grunch," "splut," "flump" and, of course, "wak" as I would from Dick and Jane readers. And she'd have lots more fun. Apparently, one magic day, I said, "Why don't you read Uncle Scrooge and Donald now, and I will read Huey, Dewey and Louie."
I don't remember that, but I can say that my earliest conscious memory of reading is of "A Financial Fable," in which Scrooge has turned gentleman farmer and decides to store his three acres of money in a corn crib, instead of his money bin. There he can indulge in his favorite activity: diving around his money like a porpoise, burrowing through it like a gopher and tossing it up and letting it hit him on the head. One day a disaster strikes, in the form of the cyclone that sucks up every last coin, leaving Scrooge penniless.
Or is he? With money falling around the countryside like manna from heaven, everyone is suddenly a millionaire. En masse, they all quit their jobs and head off to see the world. Huey Dewey and Louie fret, but Scrooge just tends his turnips. In short order, the newly minted men of leisure realize that with no one working, there is nothing to spend all those dollars on—and nothing to eat, either. Pretty soon, they are all lined up back at Scrooge's farm, where a giant billboard proclaims the rates: At $1 million for an egg or a ham and $2 million for a cabbage, it's no time before his corn crib is full again.
There it is—literacy and a pointed lesson in economics at the same time.
Regardless of Unca Carl's politics, he sure could spin a tale and dream up characters to populate them. The core characters all have their trademark quirks—Scrooge's overweening greed, Donald's terrible temper, the nephews' preternatural competence (abetted by their trusty Junior Woodchucks Guidebook, which, in less scrupulous hands, could surely facilitate world domination). The villains are likewise beguiling, from the humorously interchangeable Beagle Boys to Magica deSpell, sure that Scrooge's old No. 1 dime will give her awesome mojo, to old Flintheart Glomgold, Scrooge's colonialist counterpart in Africa.
My collection is smaller now than it once was, thanks to the predation of various members of the next generation. They, like me, have traveled all over the world with Scrooge & Co., to the Yukon, Nepal, Peru, Egypt, Atlantis and Duckburg. They have not, to my knowledge, absorbed the questionable lessons in economics and ethnographics, but they have laughed and laughed and laughed. And they have joined that fellowship of souls who smile involuntarily whenever they think of Carl Barks.
Vicky Smith is the children's and teen editor of Kirkus.