Comics aren’t just for kids anymore. In fact, it’s been quite some time since they have been. With heaps of violence and overblown sexuality appearing in a good chunk of the books on the market, comics have acquired an even worse label than childish: sophomoric. While I would certainly contest this point with works by Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and the like, this stereotype certainly isn’t without some merit, and this negative view of comics hurts the industry in more way than one. For example, what parent is going to want their child reading comics when all they know of comics is the abundance of blood and the massive amounts of cleavage? What happened to the innocence? Think about it: some people may get into comics from the films or from a friend’s insistence, but a large chunk of comic fans were reading comics when they were kids. The industry needs to start appealing to younger readers or else the comic-reading generations will just cycle out.
All of that being said, follow the jump to see what I find to be the perfect example of the all-ages comic. This is the Friday Recommendation, after all. Would it help if I said it won the Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story — overall, not just for kids — in 1995?
Bet you weren’t expecting that, were you? Now, I’m sure some people have already skipped this week’s column because it’s about “kid stuff,” but I find there to be a fine distinction between something written for children and something written for all ages. If a book is written for children, it appeals only to childish fancies, and loses all appeal upon the child’s maturation except maybe in cases of nostalgia. Something written for all-ages, on the other hand, has to appeal across a huge variety of possible viewers and be easy enough for a child to follow while remaining interesting enough to enthrall the most enlightened adult. The same is true of comic books. It’s simple enough to write a comic aimed for kids, but to write one for somebody of any age? Now that takes something special.
Don Rosa has that special something, and The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is more than enough evidence for that. First published in 1994, Rosa’s most well-known and beloved work follows Scrooge over the course of his past travels, fully fleshing out how everyone’s favorite McDuck acquired all that money he so lovingly swims in. The series is both written and drawn by Rosa, and his work is no less than stellar in both fields. The comic displays nearly every quality of great comic writing that you can think of: the story is interesting and fun to follow, the dialogue witty and Rosa gets the reader very invested in the various characters, even though many only appear for an issue each. All this, and Rose still manages to keep the story accessible to even the youngest readers. Just as enjoyable is Rosa’s drawing ability. He does an excellent job of conveying that classic Disney feel while still retaining a completely unique and interesting style.
There’s one thing in particular that I found while researching this comic that really stood out to me as a testament to how much Rosa cared about what he was writing. Before Rosa, the definitive writer of the Disney Ducks was a man by the name of Carl Barks, a man who should be considered among the ranks of creators such as Will Eisner himself. Barks created the town of Duckburg and many of its more famous inhabitants, including Scrooge himself, with most of his most famous work being published in the 40s and 50s. As Rosa worked on various other Duck-related comics in the late 80s and early 90s, he read and researched the work of Barks, who often alluded to previous adventures in Scrooge’s long lifetime. By the time he started working on The Life and Time of Scrooge McDuck, Rosa had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the character, and avoided contradicting almost anything penned by Carl Barks. He would even set his brand new Duck stories in the 50’s so as to not deal with a sliding timeline, going so far as to even set a death date for Uncle Scrooge, despite it never being shown in a comic (his death is sometime in 1967). Neither you nor even I, the notorious stickler for continuity, would bat an eye if he contradicted Barks’ old material, but he cared so much about what he was creating that it didn’t matter to him that he was just making “a kid’s comic.” If someone puts that devotion and thought into what they’re creating, you’re typically going to get content that matches in quality.Continued below
Am I saying that all comics that are published need to be wholesome family entertainment? God no, seeing as one of my favorite series of all time is Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. However, if the industry wants to keep the number of readers up in generations to come, they should follow Rosa’s model for an all-ages comic that is pleasing even when not wearing the nostalgia glasses (as a note, I’m not being hypocritical in this regard because I didn’t read this as a child). Many comic companies are publishing series for young readers, but not enough are publishing comics for all-ages. No matter how much they may enjoy these as children, prospective readers will most certainly be lost when they look back at the comics they read as a kid and think “…well, that was dumb.” Boom! Studios seems to have the right idea with some of their comics, with the legendary Mark Waid writing their Incredibles ongoing series, but it seems like the other comic companies have been mainly putting out less than great content (thought Marvel Adventures and Tiny Titans have been doing alright). If you’re a comic reader and want to give your children something to enjoy, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck would be a great first (or second, or third) comic for them. If you’re a parent and haven’t read comics at all but somehow read this article out of curiosity, it would be a great first one for you too. You can find Rosa’s masterpiece in either a hard to find old paperback or in two hardcovers, the second of which is forthcoming from Boom! Studios.