Biggest Comic for the Biggest Fans: ‘Don Rosa Artist’s Edition Vol. 1’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

When I recently reorganized my room to accommodate two new bookshelves, I had to be economical with my use of space. Sure, there are my trade paperbacks, but there’s also my computer, some storage, actual books, a Nintendo Switch with an enticing Shantae: Half-Genie Hero for me to finish, a desk, and a bed… mini-house fetishists would be proud. But the thing I’m most proud of, in terms of ingenuity, is my reading area. I’ve specially dedicated the space to reading, to keep me free of distractions. A fold-up stadium chair, a re-purposed cushion, blank space on my shelves for what I’m reading at the time, even a makeshift table for my netbook, a place to store whatever I’m eating… and giving my cat a place to sleep.

Don’t you even start judging me.

The thing is, as proud as I am of this reading area, there is exactly one book in my collection which alters the look and feel of the space to something less ingenious and more in the realm of ridiculous. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The Don Rosa Artist’s Edition – The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Volume 1.

Artist's Edition open in a comically small area, taking up all the available space
The box is perfect for storage, and protects it even as you read it.

My Favorite Comics

Don Rosa is my favorite artist in all of comics (and both wrote and drew my favorite story of all time, The Prisoner of White Agony Creek), which is no small feat given that I currently own over 800 trade paperbacks. Rosa’s work with Scrooge and Donald are brilliant comics, not just relative to other Disney comics, but within the context of the medium as a whole. His detailed art, meticulous research, and dramatic plotting within a comedic work all blend together to create the best reading experience I’ve had in comics, period.

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is Rosa’s 212-page, 12-chapter biography of Scrooge McDuck (from his 10th birthday to the year of his 80th Christmas, ending at his first appearance in the comics, Christmas on Bear Mountain). It tells a story of the rise, fall, and rebirth of a man destined for greatness… and what happens when he fails to recognize that there’s more than one kind of greatness to be had. A full review here would be a disservice to both the story and the physical item I’m reviewing, but I recommend the story to anyone who likes comics even a little bit.

Why Did I Need an Artist’s Edition?

Cover Images from Volumes 4 and 5 of Fantagraphics Don Rosa Library
Fantagraphics’ Don Rosa Library Volumes 4 and 5, containing The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

For those of you unfamiliar with an Artist’s Edition, they’re a special kind of book where the original art is scanned and printed exactly as it was—with blue pencils, coloring notes, what have you. Not only that, they’re printed at the same size as the original. My copy is 20.2″ by 14.4″, with the individual pages at 20.1″ by 14″. It’s a collector’s item meant for the uber-fans, and worth every penny.

Black and white image of young Scrooge McDuck staring at a distant castle
Hal Foster by way of Don Rosa

Don Rosa’s Artist’s Editions are unusual, coming in three volumes to cover the entirety of his magnum opus, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Volume 1 covers Chapters 1-6, Volume 2 will cover 7-12, and Volume 3 will cover the bonus chapters (0, 3B, 6B, 8B, 8C, 10B). This edition also includes the speech balloons, something no other volume which I am aware of does. Why? Because Rosa, despite hating his own lettering, drew his own speech balloons within the art.

An angry young Scrooge with two empty word balloons over his head.
A mockup of what it would look like without lettering.

Rosa and the publisher agreed that lettering the blank balloons (along with signage, captions, etc.) was a better fit, as the art is awkward without it. Rosa didn’t do the lettering, Todd Klein did, and it makes this edition distinct from others: it’s not just a showcase of his art, but a finished, readable comic.

the same image of angry young Scrooge with word balloons, now with lettering.
Seeing the difference between those two is like taking a deep breath.

While I have and love Fantagraphics’ Don Rosa Library, seeing this edition demonstrates Rosa’s skill as an artist, and how colorists don’t always serve his art. I can only imagine the difficulty that comes from trying to deal with art this detailed. George Pérez often has similar issues; he just has the chance to work more closely with his colorists.

Full color image of young Scrooge gazing at a distant castle.
Chapter 1: The Last of the Clan McDuck (Fantagraphics Don Rosa Library Volume 4)
Black and white image of young Scrooge gazing at his ancestral castle.
Chapter 1: The Last of the Clan McDuck (Don Rosa Artist’s Edition)

Why Shouldn’t I Want the Artist’s Edition?

This is one of the most beautiful pieces I own in my entire collection. It’s beautifully constructed with a sewn binding, and it comes in a cardboard box that protects it both for storage and for reading. There are even the rough thumbnails (Rosa didn’t use scripts for his comics) for each chapter, including rejected sections that were later rewritten. I have never seen a comic show its artist’s intent so purely.

Four panels of Rosa's rough illustrations, showing two ducks in conversation.
An excerpt from Chapter 1’s rough storyboards, prior to having 9/10ths of it rewritten.

Truth be told, I had to wait awhile to read this book simply because I was afraid I would cry on the pages. Rosa’s work started my career as a writer, and his work is simply beautiful outside of that. I feel comfortable admitting that because of a thing I think we all know: there is often an internalized shame that comes with being a nerd.

When someone buys an original Megazord, or a collector’s item like this, people often make excuses when they discuss it. “I just couldn’t help myself, I had to have it.” “Yeah, I know it’s weird, but I wanted it so bad.” “Is it awesome? Yes. Am I obsessive? Yeah, that too.” But I see no reason to justify joy.

If you love Don Rosa’s comics, if you love beautiful art and brilliant writing, you owe it to yourself to check out Fantagraphics’ collections. If you want to see even more of it, you owe yourself the chance to read this book—and to stop trying to justify your joy when you dive in to something incredible.

Full color image of Scrooge McDuck surrounded by his memories of his adventures

Additional Reading Material

Volumes 4 and 5 of the Don Rosa Library contain The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck in a traditional (and more affordable) format, perfect for readers of any age.

Don Rosa Library Volume 4: The Last of the Clan McDuck

Don Rosa Library Volume 5: The Richest Duck in the World

Carl Barks first created Scrooge McDuck for the 1948 story Christmas on Bear Mountain, the titular story of Volume 5 of the Carl Barks Library.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Christmas on Bear Mountain by Carl Barks

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