Book Review: Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Operation Galleon Grab by Giorgio Cavazzano

While never a major draw in the United States, comic book stories starring the main line Disney cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Uncle Scrooge, were and still are enormously popular in the rest of the world. Europe in particular has been the major market for these creations. And while the most famous Duck comic artist and author was American Carl Barks, several of the artists and authors are based in Europe.

Not that this was known to the general comic reader. It was uncommon for any of the creators of the comics to be credited in the books until around the late ’80s. And while any creative work from diverse hands is going to have varying quality, some specific artists of these comics became recognizable from their styles. Barks was amongst these, and in this collection, Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Operation Galleon Grab, we have another: Italian illustrator Giorgio Cavazzano.

The collection has five comic stories: two Uncle Scrooges, two Donald Ducks, and a brief Super Goof tale. They were published between 1973 and 1995. The titular story, “Operation Galleon Grab” is about an expedition by Uncle Scrooge (accompanied, as always, by Donald Duck and his three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie) following Donald’s discovery of an ancient treasure map. When they arrive at the bay where a sunken treasure supposedly waits, they find another duck billionaire, John D. Rockerduck, is already on the spot. He claims he’s sardine fishing. While Donald and Scrooge try to do their treasure hunting in secret, the nephews investigate Rockerduck’s reason for being there, and uncover how both rich ducks might be being manipulated.

The best story in the collection, “Brother from Another Earth”, has Uncle Scrooge swapping places with himself from Earth D. At first, it seems the only difference is that Earth D’s Scrooge, Scrooge-B, is married to Brigitta MacBridge. But Scrooge-A finds out that the other difference is on this Earth, Scrooge-B was up to his neck in debt, all his businesses were falling apart, and his creditors were going to calling in their chits within the week.

This is my favorite kind of Uncle Scrooge story because it highlights the strength of his character. Uncle Scrooge is not interesting because he’s rich. He’s interesting because he gets rich. Through hard work, business acumen, cost cutting ,and perception manipulation, he turns things around for Scrooge-B’s world within a week. His penny pinching isn’t just through miserliness but because he respects every cent he makes.

This collection is published by Fantagraphics who are the main (perhaps only, currently?) publisher of Disney comic collections in America. It’s part of their Disney Masters collection, and is meant to highlight the art of Giorgio Cavazzano. It’s interesting judging art on Disney books because there are definite models that the artists must follow, so there aren’t extreme shifts book to book. You have to look for details, aspects the artists choose to focus on to find their individual character.

In the earlier works, Cavazzano has a sketchier style. The lines are lighter (that might be due to the inker, but that isn’t credited, so I’ll assume that was Cavazzano). There is a prominent level of caricature and cartoony exaggeration to the characters. In the Donald Duck story, “The Snacking Sleuths”, the Duck cousin Fethry almost looks like he could have come from an underground comic, while still fitting into the Disney duck comic aesthetic. But what Cavazzano was best known for was his “techno” art – plausible technical drawings of vehicles and machines. These contrast with his generally plain, sometimes non-existent backgrounds and settings.

One thing that’s constant through the art, which evolves in the over-20-year span this book covers, is the energy. Characters are rarely static. Their poses look ready to be key frames in an animation. The later works have less exaggerated character movements and thicker line work but still maintain Cavazzano’s propulsive sense of movement.

Disney Comics, and the duck books in particular, are always fun reads. It’s a shame that they seem to be a secret the rest of the world keeps, and the United States is barely let in on. Part of that is, I imagine, that in America the domination of superhero comics over every other genre leads to a kind of ghettoization. And even in bringing the Disney comics into American bookstores, the two Scrooge Titans, Carl Barks and Don Rosa, dominate the conversation. I’m glad that Fantagraphics is bringing other artists to light in their Disney Masters series. It’s a lovely hardback edition, with a short essay about Giorgio Cavazzano in the end.

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Kent Conrad

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