How Was a Christmas Comic Used to Introduce Uncle Scrooge McDuck?

Summary

  • Carl Barks, the most acclaimed Disney comic book artist, created Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck in the 1947 story “Christmas on Bear Mountain.”
  • Barks initially introduced Scrooge as a super miserly, joyless character who tests Donald’s worthiness for a Christmas present by scaring him with a bear costume.
  • Despite being introduced as a villain, Barks was intrigued by Scrooge and transformed him into the adventurous and beloved character we now know.


It’s our yearly Comics Should Be Good Advent Calendar! This year, the theme is the Greatest Christmas Comic Book Stories Ever Told! I had you all vote for your all-time favorite comic book Christmas stories and I collected all the votes, and now I am counting down the results! Each day will spotlight the next story on the list as we count down from #24 all the way to #1!

Every day until Christmas Eve, you can click on the current day’s Advent Calendar post, and it will show the Advent Calendar with the door for that given day opened, and you can see what the “treat” for that day will be! You can click here to see the previous Advent Calendar entries.

The drawing for this year’s Advent Calendar, of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine celebrating Christmas together is by Nick Perks.

And now, we open the second door on the calendar…

The second day of the CSBG 2023 Advent Calendar

as we continue the countdown with #23 on the list, 1947’s “Christmas on Bear Mountain” from Four Color Comics #178 by Carl Barks, the first appearance of Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck!

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How did Carl Barks get into doing Donald Duck comic books?

A recurring theme I return to when I discuss the Golden Age of comic books is the importance of newspaper comic strips. They were ubiquitous in the late 1930s/early 1940s and most comic book creators really would have MUCH preferred to have been a comic strip creator. For instance, while Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were happy that their Superman character became a comic book star, they were OVERJOYED when Superman made the move to a syndicated comic strip. Similarly, Bob Kane gave up doing comic book work when Batman received a comic strip in the 1940s (and when that strip ended, Kane never really recovered, and eventually just started paying other artists to do ghost his comic book work for him).

Thus, when Western Publishing (who would create the comic books that would be published by Dell Comics) got into Disney comics, it was all about reprinting Disney newspaper comic strips into comic book form (there were some new Disney comics in Europe by this point). By the early 1940s, though, Western realized something – they were starting to run out of Disney comic strips to reprint! They were going to have to come up with some original Disney content to meet the high demand for Disney comic books. In 1942, the West Coast editor for Western, Oskar LeBeck, was given permission to examine Disney’s archives for ideas for original comics (Western had already begun to do a few original comics, such as Carl Barks’ first ever comic book story, Pluto Saves the Ship, in Large Feature Comics #7).

As I noted in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed, he found an almost fully complete cartoon, so he hired Bob Karp, who was contributing to the Donald Duck comic strip at the time, to write a script based on the story. Animation studio partners Carl Barks and John Hannah were recommended to do the art, and so, in 1942’s Four Color Comics #9, we saw “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold,” Carl Barks’ FIRST Donald Duck comic book story (I did a more recent Comic Book Legends Revealed about how Huey, Dewey and Louie took the place of Mickey Mouse and Goofy in the comic)!

Donald Duck discover pirate gold!

Well, soon after this story was finished, Barks decided to quit working for Disney, citing unsuitable working conditions (including the air conditioning being bad for his a sinus condition). He planned to start farming instead, but he asked Western if they needed any more stories and, well, they obviously did, so Barks then spent the next few decades of his life steadily working as the most acclaimed Disney comic book artist of all-time.

By 1947, he was already a steady contributor of Disney comics, mostly Donald Duck stories.

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How was Uncle Scrooge McDuck introduced?

Famously, the introduction of Uncle Scrooge all came down to a bear. Barks had an idea for having Donald Duck run afoul of a bear while in a mountain cabin, but he had to come up with a way to get Donald and his nephews (Huey, Dewey and Louie) TO the mountains, and so he came up with the idea of them visiting a miserly old relative named Uncle Scrooge McDuck. The Uncle Scrooge of this comic, though, is a SUPER miserly duck…

Uncle Scrooge makes his debut

He is a joyless, well, you know, Scrooge, who suddenly has the idea of using his shiftless nephew, Donald, for some amusement. He invites him to stay in his remote mountain cabin for the holidays…

Uncle Scrooge has a dark plan

and then proceeds to show a bear costume that he plans on using to scare Donald, as a “test” to see if he is worthy of a Christmas present…

Uncle Scrooge has a fancy bear costume

Meanwhile, an adorable baby bear has broken into the cabin, and hijinx ensue for a little bit…

A bear breaks into the cabin for real

Donald decides to confront the bear, not knowing that its adult mother has now entered the fray, and Donald unexpectedly finds himself confronting a giant bear!

Donald Duck faces off against a mama bear

Scrooge, of course, happens to see this and is shocked by his nephew’s bravery, so he decides that the test has been passed with flying colors and he gives them a great Christmas celebration…

Donald Duck won Uncle Scrooge's admiration

Now obviously, as you can see, Scrooge was just a plot device for this one comic book, and he was basically a villain, but Barks ended up being intrigued by the character enough (and just a fan of continuity in his comics anyway) that he began to bring Scrooge back, but eventually mellowed him out and made him more of an adventurer and soon we had the Uncle Scrooge that we all know and love (and that was the inspiration for DuckTales).

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