This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Evan Narcisse and Douglas Wolk talk about three all-ages comics: Uncle Scrooge #401, the debut volume of Takio, and Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1.
DOUGLAS: I was talking a couple of days ago with a friend who was rhapsodizing about Don Rosa’s Uncle Scrooge comics, and naming particular, individual stories, all the way back to Rosa’s first one, “Son of the Sun”–that’s the mark of one kind of great cartoonist. I know that my adoration for Rosa’s Scrooge stuff isn’t quite universal, but I think he’s amazing.
The story reprinted in Uncle Scrooge #401, “The Universal Solvent,” was first published back in 1995–its only American appearance split it into three eight-page chunks over three issues of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, and I don’t think I’d actually read it before. As I understand, Rosa’s basically retired from drawing comics now, and I gather that the gag on the first page hints at one of the reasons: “the toughest, most impervious substances known to mankind” include tungsten steel, carbide steel, titanium steel and a Disney contract.
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This isn’t even close to the top rank of the Rosa stories I’ve read, and I still love it–it’s such a weird, intense, obsessive comic book! Most of his Scrooge stories are character-based comedies that have some kind of historical element. (I’ve been reading his “Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” serial as bedtime stories for my five-year-old, and he and I are enjoying them in what I suspect are totally different ways.) This one, though, is just a single-minded working-out of a conceit that’s basically an engineering problem: what would happen if you found a genuine universal solvent that could eat through absolutely anything except one substance, and then what would happen if some of it got spilled on the ground? (“Mayhem ensues” is the short version.)
The thing that makes this a delight, though, is how beautifully choregraphed it all is. There are throwaway sight gags in nearly every panel, consistently hilarious character acting (Gyro Gearloose’s little light-bulb-headed assistant is pushing at the limits of how expressive a stick figure can be whenever it appears), and a really playful approach to layouts–which is not something you see very often in Disney comics, especially Disney comics that stick as close to the tone of vintage Carl Barks stories as Rosa usually does. I don’t think Rosa’s ever used panels that occupy the entire vertical dimension of a page before; of course, that makes sense here. Just a joy to read.
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GRAEME: Completely agreed. I’m not sure I’ve read that much Rosa before, and this pretty much ensures that I’m going to fix that sooner rather than later. Everything just works so well here, from high concept to the way that the story moves along past that idea before it’s even gotten old, turning into an exploration, then an escape, then a chase, all the way keeping faithful to the original notion that started the whole thing off. And the visual comedy is great–both the “glorp” when the solvent comes into contact with something, and the damage it leaves behind. (The remains of the truck later on in the story are my favorite, but I liked Scrooge’s first rampage from Gyro’s lab to Donald’s house, too.)
There’s something classical (okay, maybe that’s the wrong word, but it’s the one I’m sticking with) about the balance of imagination and execution here, and it reminds me of the Silver Age Superman stories that I’m a complete sucker for: a weird understanding of a fictional world in which anything is possible as long as it follows the rules set by the characters’ personalities, even if everything else goes haywire. I’m surprised that this is as recent as 1995, because it feels older, maybe because of that classicism, but I’ll admit to being weirdly comforted knowing that things this ideal were still being made so recently. This was just spectacular–I loved it.