Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Don Rosa Part 3-The Duck Years

In his COMICS INTERVIEW appearance, Don Rosa referred to his cartooning as a "hobby." According to legend, he had pretty much put it aside to concentrate on his marriage, his home and his family business. Then one day in late 1986 or early 1987 he saw that Gladstone Comics had brought his beloved Disney characters back to the US newsstand for the first time since licensee Gold Key had folded years earlier. He contacted the editor and supposedly told him that he HAD to let him do at least one Scrooge McDuck story. The editor agreed and a few months later, THE SON OF THE SUN appeared. With Don’s rep as a big Carl Barks fan, the story got touted and highly recommended in the fan press. As a big Don Rosa fan, this became the very first issue of UNCLE SCROOGE that I ever bought in what was then some two decades of comic collecting.

It was a revelation. Not only was the story entertaining and exciting but the anthropomorphic characters seemed surprisingly more realistic than any found at Marvel or DC at that time. The art was wonderful and funny and Don’s storytelling, honed by years of PERTWILLABY PAPERS (from which this story was adapted) and CAPTAIN KENTUCKY and filtered through years of Barksian continuity made for an absolutely amazing epic.

The bookstore I was running at the time happened to carry comics including the new Gladstones but I hadn’t paid much attention to them as all true comic fans only cared about (or so I thought at the time) "serious" comics. My store got its books a couple of weeks after the local comics shops though which gave me an idea. I would write to Don and ask if he would like to do a booksigning at my store when we received his issue in.

In a long, rambling but interesting letter rejecting the idea of a signing, Don said that the response to the story had been gratifying. "After wanting to do this for 35 years," he said, "it woulda been kinda nasty if I’d flopped right off."

As he put it, he was still unsure about his "place in the cosmos" and feared "…mothers bringing their children to see the funny man who draws Mickey Mice…" or typical comics fans who preferred "crap like mutants and trolls and turtles" and who were a few years away from realizing that "those beautifully-drawn mutant comics are the ones that are pretty childish.’

I understood his apprehensions. I also decided to keep checking the new Disney comics for more work by Don Rosa. He may well have thought he was just getting this one-off story out of his system but the fans loved it and it was nominated for an award right away! More stories began appearing. Ten pagers, one page gags and booklength epic adventure stories alternated and Don became known among the cognoscenti as the true successor to the great Carl Barks. On nearly all of his covers, he placed the hidden initials, "D.U.C.K." meaning "Dedicated to Uncle Carl from Keno!" There are whole websites dedicated to Don’s D.U.C.K. dedications.

A couple years into his Duck career, Don had a falling out with the Disney folks themselves and refused (quite rightly) to produce any more work directly for them. Instead, as the demand for his work continued to increase in Europe where the Disney comics had long been held at loftier heights than in the US, Rosa began working for the various European Disney licensees. While his work would still appear in America, it would now take months or even years as Gladstone (and later Gemstone) would have to purchase it from the other countries.

I finally met Don Rosa in person at a local comic shop where he was doing a signing (having long since lost his reluctance for same) and he remembered my original invitation. I had him draw me the picture of Scrooge seen here. In the years since, his work has become more and more polished and entertaining, with epics based on Finnish legends and sequels to classic Barks strips. Perhaps his masterpiece was THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK, a multi-part epic that has been praised and collected throughout the world for its having placed the $crooge legend in perspective. Don did this by taking throwaway bits and asides from Barks stories and fitting them into one more or less cohesive biography of McDuck and his fortunes, in the process making the character one of the most "human" characters in the history of the comics.
In Finland, Don Rosa leads parades and in Italy, there is a hardcover biography of him. He continues to turn out Disney Duck stories that, to me, are quite obviously miles above the most worthy of his fellow Duck artists. Quirkier and funnier, Don Rosa’s real contribution to Disney history seems to be to bring an unexpected Looney Tunes sensibility to the traditional Disney world.

In recent years, even as I’ve drifted away from buying mainstream comics, I’ve begun buying Dell, Gold Key, Gladstone, Disney and Gemstone back issues. I enjoy Barks and a number of the European writers and artists but to me, its Don Rosa who will always be my "good duck artist." Local boy makes good indeed. Thanks, Don! Here are some links to really great and obsessive Don Rosa sites:D.U.C.K.burg - [Don Rosa fansite] , The - Introduc(k)tion to Don Rosa, DuckMaster, The - A site dedicated to the greatest living Duck-artist: Don Rosa, Don Rosa - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1 comment:

  1. That explains why it took me so long to hear about Don Rosa: he only began drawing Disney stories in 1986. OK, that's 20 years ago, but to me that long after I stopped reading comics as often as I used to, though I remained faithful to my favorite titles for a while (and began to read them in English whenever I could). Don Rosa was featured in the first volume of a Brazilian series called "Mestres Disney" (Disney Masters):

    I still prefer Carl Barks, though. Barks's "Disney ducks" and John Stanley's Little Lulu are my favorite "children" comics (they're actually enjoyed by people of all ages).