Carl Barks was never especially interested in the Christian holidays of Christmas, but he was usually asked by his publisher Western to deliver a Christmas story every year, and he usually complied (see them all HERE). A few times he had the main ideas and plotlines sent to him, but mostly he invented the stories himself. This is also true with the most widely known and most often published long adventure from FC0178 Donald Duck's Christmas on Bear Mountain from 1947. This is the story of the story.





The adventure begins

Slapstick action
Surprise ending

A good funny animal story is constructed of (at least) 3 main parts; a beginning that triggers the story and starts the events, a middle part containing the action (often slapstick), and an ending that preferably has a surprising climax. If you venture through Barks' many long adventure stories you will find that he managed to incorporate said main ingredients thus making the stories very interesting to read.

One can argue that Bear Mountain has several beginnings; at first we witness how the Duck family look forward to Christmas in a melancholic mood, then we visit the Christmas hating Scrooge in all his gloom, and then the story takes off with the arrival of the Ducks at the mountain cabin. From then on the action escalates with wild and cartoonish chases between the Ducks and the elusive bear cub, and they continue with an overwhelming meeting with an enraged mother grizzly bear. Even the ending goes in different and surprising directions; Donald is seen sleeping peacefully with the giant bear, the miser Scrooge presents Donald with an expensive gift in the form of a Siberian silvertip bearskin, and, lo and behold, Scrooge finally embraces the spirit of Christmas...




Donald and the nephews are borrowing Uncle Scrooge's mountain cabin for Christmas but Scrooge's intention is to figure out just how brave Donald really is...

During an interview in 1975 Barks confessed: The office wanted me to do a Christmas story. Casting around, I began to think of the great Dickens Christmas story about Scrooge. Now I was just thief enough to steal some of the idea and have a rich uncle for Donald.

Scrooge's errand is basically to test Donald's character and bravery from behind the scenes, and he uses the cabin (filled with ample quantities of appealing Christmas presents and food) to reel him in. Later in the story, when he joins the Ducks, he gets a kick out of the fact that his wealth actually manipulates his family to jump at his whim. This is not a question of family love from Scrooge's side, it is simply a question of total power over his next of kin!
Barks also tries to convey a non-Christmassy version of what pressured men are willing to fight for; in this story, however, it is merely a question of the nephews' persistence to defend their gifts from intruders.

Barks once said that 'Uncle Scrooge is Donald except for sideburns' and this debatable piece of information is illustrated nicely in the story. In the beginning the two characters sit in large chairs both with explicitly negative and parallel remarks on the upcoming holidays, and later on, when collecting a suitable Christmas tree Donald uses one of Scrooge's later favourite expressions 'Phooey' a number of times.




For this Christmas farce Barks needed a rich family member. Scrooge McDuck was born, but in this, his first story he was not fully modelled as Barks did not intend to use him again. However, after his initial instant success his personality, wealth, and general appearance would be defined during the stories that followed. Barks: Scrooge in Christmas on Bear Mountain was only my first idea of a rich, old uncle. I had made him too old and too weak. I discovered later on that I had to make him more active. I could not make an old guy like that do the things I wanted him to do.

Barks developed a host of new elements in his duck stories over the years, and most of them appeared on some sort of a need-to-know basis, meaning that when he needed a certain ingredient in a story he simply invented one! The most famous example was the 'birth' of Scrooge as a purely secondary character who basically appeared in a supporting role in his first story, because Barks needed a rich uncle to play against Donald. Later on Gladstone Gander, the Junior Woodchucks, Gyro Gearloose, the Beagle Boys, and Magica de Spell (just to name a few) were added for the same reason.

Scrooge is one of the least changed characters in Barks' duck universe. Apart from his first appearance as little more than a grumpy uncle he hardly ever changed except for the few times when Barks decided to regulate the length of Donald's and Scrooge's beaks.
In this first story featuring Scrooge we meet him in different clothing throughout; he wears a casual smoking jacket at home (as he also did in FC291 The Magic Hourglass), later on when he is outside he wears a coat and a knitted wool hat somewhat similar to that of Flintheart Glomgold's, and in the end he wears a posh and stylish jacket and a tie.
The most significant change was made later on when his spectacles, which started as wireframe glasses with wires to his ears(!) were changed to the familiar pince-nez.
Otherwise Scrooge rather quickly began to wear the same top hat (
I bought this hat for 2 dollars in 1910 and it will still last many years), a woolly broadcloth coat (that I bought at a rummage sale in Scotland in 1902), and spats. Furthermore, he seems to always carry with him the same cane, although we know that he owns a cane factory...




During the first years, when he was working for his publisher Western, Barks was paid per job, i.e. each story, with a few occasional fringe benefits such as bonuses added.
As a free lancer until 1957 he could, in essence, determine his own income as Western gladly paid him for all the artwork he could muster.

Western's Remittance Advice, as the payslip was called, shows Barks' payment for the Bear Mountain story. There are several interesting remarks to be made:
1. The full name of the employer and the branch office address to which Barks frequently drove in his car to deliver some of his work by hand instead of mailing them.
. Barks' professional address at the time.
. The date the story was delivered to the branch office.
. The actual payment for the one-shot (which also includes payment for 3 one-pagers (not covers as indicated!) that went into the same issue.
. Barks' scanty, added information on the story ID (Western was never generous as for explanatory information) by simply writing 'Bears'.
. The conclusive proof that this was the first story featuring Uncle Scrooge - which Barks just jotted down...



The stamp booklet's front cover

Barks never managed to produce an oil painting from the story when he, in his golden years, took up painting the Disney ducks. The nearest he came was a pastel produced in 1997 - as an ingredient to commemorate Scrooge's 50 years' anniversary - featuring a chaotic scene displaying some elements from the story.
The artwork was published the year after as the front cover of a special philatelic stamp booklet marked Guyana that rendered the whole story in two-panel stamps officially valued at 35 Guyana dollars each. The booklet can still be purchased (see more HERE).



WDCS178 - 1947

Barks never got to draw the front cover for his story. It was instead drawn by one of Western's many staff artists, presumably Dan Gormley (1918-1988) who worked as an illustrator for Dell Publishing at the time. Apparently, the illustrator never read the story beforehand...

Clothing closure...

Inside the mansion Barks furnished Scrooge with a smoking jacket which, alternately, was closed to the right and to the left throughout the panels (look it up for yourself)! It seems rather peculiar that Barks did not pay any attention to the consistency of the jacket's appearance...

Close quarters...

Astonishingly, mother bear and her cub used to live in the small fir tree the Ducks chop down for a Christmas tree. Notice in the story the extreme lack of space in both the hollow tree (not to mention the very narrow entry hole!) and in the stub left behind.

The Gumps comic book

It is well known that Barks modelled Scrooge McDuck after Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. But he also used Sidney Smith's character Uncle Bim from The Gumps' daily strips which premiered in 1917 (see more HERE).

A lively place...

Barks liked to add knick-knacks of all kinds into the homes of the primary families. Common for all of them was that they served no purpose except to make the reader wonder and smile - and that itself is a commendable purpose (you can see a variety of examples HERE)!
In this first panel presenting Scrooge sitting in his lifeless mansion you are able to find several examples of funny vignettes despite the fact that Scrooge is presented as a humourless character...

  Date 2016-01-05