Review Or Die

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Don Rosa in Review – Nobody’s Business (1987)

It was my intention to write a single article on Don Rosa’s Duck comics. I would talk about why his work is so popular and acclaimed, what failings I think he is prone to in his stories, the themes, what I thought of him compared to Carl Barks… after all, he is one of the most popular living cartoonists in the world. Over the course of twenty years he wrote some of the most enduring Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories since The Old Master himself, and is all but a rock star in Europe.

But then I actually sat down and read all of his stories straight through, and that plan went right out the window. It’s not really possible to explain exactly what he did without talking more in depth than is readable in a single essay.

So instead of the single article format, I will look at each of Rosa’s Duck stories, one by one, in a series called Don Rosa in Review. I will discuss the faults and strengths of the story, Rosa’s progression as an artist, give production history whenever it is available and of interest… and most importantly, I’m going to discuss the continuity in Rosa’s stories. Not just the continuity of Rosa’s connections to Barks, but of the continuity Rosa created within his own work, which is by far a more complex entity.

Each review will have a synopsis, a review which will be the bulk of the text, and a note regarding continuity to keep in mind for later stories.

I will include the INDUCKS story code so you can find what publications the stories have been printed/reprinted in. By the nature of the review, spoilers will be shamelessly bandied about.

[AR-103] Nobody’s Business (10 Pages, Gag)

The Story: Scrooge, in an effort to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in Donald and Gladstone, gives each of them a thousand dollars to invest. Donald serves as his own worst enemy, while Gladstone’s luck allows him to make a small fortune.

The Review: This… isn’t the worst story he’s ever done, I guess. It’s not bad, exactly, insomuch as it is not particularly good. There are issues with the layouts…

Scrooge tells his nephews to get some perspective.

Issues with his art style…

That is the second ugliest/scariest fish I have ever seen in my life.

An issue with the final gag, which needed to be explained to me when I read this in a reprint…

“Nobody’s Business”, published in Uncle Scrooge #220 by Gladstone Comics. Get it?

And an issue where it’s just not a very funny story. There are a LOT of gags here, and I mean a lot, some obvious and some hidden, but this is really hindered by its failure to set up a good story, and the problems here are pretty much on Rosa’s treatment of Gladstone.

Gladstone was used sparingly in Rosa’s body of work, this being the first time, but when he did appear he rarely took the outright antagonistic role that he played in many of Barks’ comics. Gladstone is certainly insufferable to the characters in this comic, that part is accomplished with no problems at all, but it’s difficult for the readers to find him funny here because he is in no way pro-active. The best Barks stories with Gladstone that I’ve read had him competing and interacting with Donald. Here, he literally sits and waits for the plot to continue around him. That’s not funny or engaging. That’s boring.

Continuity: Surprisingly, this story that I didn’t really like (and Rosa himself admits wasn’t very good) has a lot of elements in it that set the tone for Rosa’s Duck universe.

The first is that Gladstone is shown reading Mickey Mouse and Pluto comics. If you look closely at this panel, you can even see the words “Walt Disney” and a picture of Goofy on the cover.

I would put good money on that being a real Disney Comics cover.

This is the first attempt by Rosa to show that the Ducks as real people rather than taking place in the shared Disney ‘universe’. You could call this a background gag since the climactic joke hinges on comics (in fact, Gladstone is reading comics for most of the story), and such a little background gag wouldn’t be out of character for him. After all, Rosa isn’t really a fan of Mickey Mouse, calling him a series of cute lines without personality (and resenting his popularity amongst the non-comic reading public compared to Donald, at least in the United States), but moving onward with his stories this is clearly not the case. I think this is the first indication that he believes the Ducks are best characterized as real people in the real world, even if it does have the fantastic elements that make Duck comics so great. We’re going to see a lot more of this later on, and you won’t need me to explain it to you, but it’s worth pointing out where the seeds were first sown.

The second is an appearance of Gyro Gearloose, a character who mostly appeared in solo stories under Barks’ tenure for reasons having to do with the mail code of the time. But Gyro will take his place as a supporting cast member in the Rosa universe, fitting Rosa’s science fiction slant on the Ducks.

Donald is aware that Gyro is fully capable of destroying the world by accident three times before breakfast.

The third is, in retrospect, actually our first hint that Rosa’s stories appear out of order within the context of the Barks/Rosa universe.

Peekaboo, I see you!

Why on earth he included Azure Blue and Lawyer Sharky in this throwaway gag story I will never ever know. These two are from the Barks classic “The Golden Helmet”, a tale which will be examined in more detail when I review the Rosa-penned sequel “The Lost Charts of Columbus”, but their appearance here is in exactly one panel and totally superfluous. You could just see it, remember the reference, and move on. But… it’s worth noting for a couple of reasons, not because it’s important to this story, but because of what happens in “The Lost Charts of Columbus”.

In that story Azure Blue has become a fisherman, searching in vain for the Golden Helmet lost at the end of Barks’ tale, and Sharky has disappeared to parts unknown. The two of them walking together implies that they have not yet severed their partnership, indicating one of two things: “Nobody’s Business” occurs before “The Golden Helmet”, or immediately after. I’m certainly applying continuity to a story where none was intended, but within the context of his stories as a whole it fits.

We’ll see many more appearances where Rosa’s comics are printed out of order within the internal chronology of the Barks/Rosa universe, but this is our very first real, genuine indication that this is the case.

The final (whew!) bit of continuity that comes up is our first appearance of Clerkly, an incredibly important figure in Barksian comics (and by that I mean he was a recurring and background character who worked in the Money Bin and lacked a consistent appearance).

Truly a character whose impact cannot be denied.

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Don Rosa In Review – The Son of the Sun (1987)

It was my intention to write a single article on Don Rosa’s Duck comics. I would talk about why his work is so popular and acclaimed, what failings I think he is prone to in his stories, the themes, what I thought of him compared to Carl Barks… after all, he is one of the most popular living cartoonists in the world. Over the course of twenty years he wrote some of the most enduring Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories since The Old Master himself, and is all but a rock star in Europe.

But then I actually sat down and read all of his stories straight through, and that plan went right out the window. It’s not really possible to explain exactly what he did without talking more in depth than is readable in a single essay.

So instead of the single article format, I will look at each of Rosa’s Duck stories, one by one, in a series called Don Rosa in Review. I will discuss the faults and strengths of the story, Rosa’s progression as an artist, give production history whenever it is available and of interest… and most importantly, I’m going to discuss the continuity in Rosa’s stories. Not just the continuity of Rosa’s connections to Barks, but of the continuity Rosa created within his own work, which is by far a more complex entity.

Each review will have a synopsis, a review which will be the bulk of the text, and a note regarding continuity to keep in mind for later stories.

I will include the INDUCKS story code so you can find what publications the stories have been printed/reprinted in. By the nature of the review, spoilers will be shamelessly bandied about.

[AR-102] The Son of the Sun (26 Pages, Adventure)

The Story: The story begins with a cavalcade of Barksian references as we walk through a exhibit showing Scrooge’s vast collection of treasures, on loan to the local Duckburg museum. But the reader’s trip through memory lane is halted when Flintheart Glomgold challenges Scrooge’s claim that he is the richest duck in the world and the champion treasure hunter. A contest ensues to find the gold pulled from the Incan Gold Mines (located in the Temple of Manco Copac) back in the 1500s, with Glomgold spying, cheating, sabotaging, threatening, and outright resorting to an attempted murder to get there first. It’s a death-defying flight through the mountains…

That poor llama


But thanks to Flintheart’s deception Scrooge manages to get there first. Having radioed his claim on all the gold in the temple, Scrooge feels he has won… but in a scene right out of Raiders of the Lost Arc, Flintheart manages to find a treasure even greater. Attempting to remove it from the temple, however, causes it to plug a hole that leaked ionized gas (naturally occurring and used used by the Incans as camouflage mechanism), building up an incredible pressure until…

The temple flies through the air, crashing in to the lake below. The displaced water helps end a drought the locals have been suffering through for years, and thanks to a sharp deal with the locals Scrooge helps end their drought with a water pump and claims ownership of the lake and all its contents… the treasure included.

The Review: To long-time Rosa fans, the story behind “The Son of the Sun” is well known. Shortly after Gladstone Publishing began its run with the licensed Disney titles, Don Rosa stumbled across one of them in a local bookstore. Seeing the Daan Jippes cover (and thinking it was a lost piece of Carl Barks artwork), he purchased it, and upon reading realized that the editorial team understood what made Disney comics so great. It wasn’t long before he wrote a letter which, in hindsight, isn’t nearly so presumptuous as it sounds (quoted/paraphrased in part): “I am the only American born to write and draw $crooge McDuck comics. I have always known it was my manifest destiny.”

The editor in chief, Byron Erickson (a wonderful writer in his own right) gave him a shot. Recognizing Rosa from his work on The Pertwillaby Papers and other work for the Rocket’s Blast Comicollector, he asked for a script and a series of test drawings. Rosa delivered both, the script being a revised version of his first Pertwillaby Papers adventure story, “Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes” (1973). Why rework a fifteen year old comic for his very first Duck outing? That’s simple enough to answer.

So I started doing the “Son of the Sun” story; in other words, turning that old Pertwillaby Papers adventure back into the story it originally was in my head, starring $crooge, Donald, the nephews, and Flintheart Glomgold. – Don Rosa

Rosa refers to himself as not a professional, but a fan who happened to have a job in comics, and it shows here. I simply don’t have enough Barksian knowledge to list every single reference Rosa makes to past stories, and even if I had access to every Barks comic I think it would still take quite a bit of digging to find them all. Short of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, this is the most reference-heavy story he ever worked on, and the first three pages are only a taste.

And boy is it glorious. To someone who grew up reading Carl Barks, I can only imagine the delight that must have crossed their faces when they saw the enormous amount of references to some of the classic tales from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I was a latecomer to Duck comics, so I lack a nostalgic attachment to both Rosa and Barks (though I am a big fan now having now been exposed to their work). But the story itself is very well constructed, with the shock of Flintheart pulling a gun on the Ducks being a particularly effective sequence. This is what allows the story to cross from the realm of Scrooge fanfiction to a fantastic story in its own right, setting up hints of the the continuity that Rosa’s work would be so famous for. He hasn’t yet grasped the anatomy of the Ducks, but he has a keen eye for detailed, impressive visuals that would only strengthen with time.

Something of particular interest is that this story is light on the characterization relative to Rosa’s later stuff, with the exception of Flintheart Glomgold. GeoX, in his own excellent commentary on The Life and Times, notes that Flintheart’s characterization in the original Barks tales is not presented in a way which gels well with Rosa’s interpretation.

In his first appearance (“The Second-Richest Duck”), he is all but a mirror image of Scrooge, with the only real exception being the lack of a family and slightly more sinister character design. They are so similar, in fact, that they can only compete by measuring the amount of string they have collected!

In his second appearance, “The Money Champ”, he is unquestionably the bad guy. But he is a remorseful one, even mentioning his regret that his mother would be ashamed of his actions. That doesn’t excuse his blatant cheating for no other reason than his own vanity, but it is a far cry from his final Barks story.

In his third and final appearance under Barks, “So Far and No Safari”, Scrooge and Flintheart once more race for a treasure, this time bidding for a gold mine. Their interactions are limited, but it is notable for Flintheart actively trying to murder them with machine guns mounted to his plane. The story is not terribly good, and Barks didn’t seem to know what to do with the character, so he was retired.

It is largely from the second and third appearances that Rosa appears to draw his characterization of Flintheart, but the third in particular this time around. Rosa’s Flintheart is Scrooge without morals or honor. Does this give him more interesting story opportunities? Perhaps. Is he a funnier character? No. Did that matter to Rosa? Absolutely not. In my eyes, Rosa has defined Flintheart more than Barks ever did, using him in six stories (and a seventh as a cameo) and developed him as Scrooge’s most lethal foe.

On a note of what might have been, there was a scene scripted where Flintheart discusses with Donald and the nephews that when he was younger, Scrooge inspired him to become the man he is today. This scene (along with about a third of the original script) was cut from this story by Erickson. Rosa stated on a few occasions that he had intended to redo “The Son of the Sun” with better artwork, the expanded script, and someone else doing the lettering, but that never came to pass.

One couldn’t ask for a better first effort, and the story was justly nominated for a Harvey Award for “Best Story of the Year”. While Rosa had originally intended to do this one story and no more, it was only the beginning.

Continuity Notes: I wouldn’t dare list every Barks reference, but for the purposes of this series we must note the portion of the treasure of Croseus, for reasons which will be discussed in depth at a later time. For now, it is simply an unassuming hint of things to come.

An Interview With Don Rosa

I conducted an interview with Don Rosa. Even typing those words seems odd, as though I’m writing a lie, even though I have the proof in front of me. He’s my favorite cartoonist, popular all over Europe, been on national talk shows… and he agreed to do an interview with me.

Huh.

For those of you not in the know, Don Rosa is one of the most popular Disney Duck comics authors of all time, most likely second only to the departed Carl Barks. Active as a Duck author from 1987-2007 (and STILL active in reprint editions of his comics!), his best known work is the Eisner award winning The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a 212-page story covering the life of the world’s most popular comic book character, multikazillionaire Scrooge McDuck. His stories have been reprinted all over the world, signatured by one of the most unique art styles out there and truly inimitable writing which delves deeper in to the characters than any Duck author before him… or since. But Rosa didn’t spring forth from day one as a Duck comics legend, pen in hand.

As far back as his freshman year in 1971 at the University of Kentucky, he was a published cartoonist with The Pertwillaby Papers, an action/comedy strip in the spirit of Barks’ Duck comics, in his college newspaper. The Pertwillaby Papers ran in The Kentucky Kernel until 1973, picking up in a new comic book style format in the fanzine Rockets Blast Comicollector from 1977-1979. That same year he returned to the newspapers with Captain Kentucky. Running for 150 half-page strips in The Louisville Times, the comedic superhero strip took place in real Louisville locations with real people, commenting on current events and lavishly destroying Louisville landmarks.

Both The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky are currently being reprinted under the expert hand of Jano Rohleder under the title “The Don Rosa Classics: Deluxe Edition”. Packed to the brim with special features, this collection is the most complete to date, available at the following link: www.indiegogo.com/donrosa

In support of the reprint collection I held an email interview with Rosa, posted below.

1 – So how did this reprint project come to be?

Jano apparently talked to me about it a year or two ago, and at the time I said it was okay with me if he reprinted the comics, and apparently he even obtained the art-scan CDs from the Norwegian publisher of 12 years ago. Then I completely forgot about it. 2 or 3 weeks ago he mentioned it again, and directed me to that Indiegogo site, and I was amazed both by what classy books he was planning, but also by the whole “Indiegogo campaign” process. I was not at all aware of that phenomenon! I won’t say that reprinting those weird old comics of mine is a “great idea”, but that Indiegogo concept is brilliant (assuming some of those charity campaigns are not phony).

2 – These comics are filled with homages to more things than one could reasonably count, in style and content. It’s very clear you appreciate all sorts of media, television, movies, comics… spot-the-reference is a very fun game to play with your work. But amongst all the homages, what were some of the bigger influences on these comics and your work in general?

I never have written or drawn my comics to consciously imitate the style of any other author or artist. I just loved to tell funny stories and I let the stuff pour out in the only way I knew how without analyzing it. The best part of that is that I never intended to do it for a living, so I never had a reason to force myself to develop a style that anyone liked but ME. So my influences (besides Barks) were not conscious ones.

But when readers tell me what my storytelling and humor remind them of, I know who those influences are, such as Bill Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, John Stanley — my sister had LOTS of MAD comics and magazines and LITTLE LULU comics of the 1950’s along with all her Barks Ducks. And in the early-mid 1960s when *I* started buying my own comics, I discovered Will Eisner, Walt Kelly and the Superman writers and artists who worked under editor Mort Weisinger in the late 50’s – mid 60’s. Those latter comics are what gave me my love of limited-continuity, “untold stories” and “secret origins” — Weisinger introduced those to comic books.

Readers mention all of those as obvious influences, and considering what comics I loved to read proves them right.

3 – What separates your work with The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky from your work in Duck comics? For example, are there elements you deliberately chose to (or not to) use with these comics versus the Ducks?

Hm. I never thought about what I had done stylistically in any previous comics once I started doing stories of Barks’ Ducks. I only thought about what sort of story *I*, as a Barks fan, would like to read. That’s not to say what ANOTHER Barks fan would like to read — I can’t know what that is. All I can do is do my stories my way. Which is what I always did. I was never told what to do by editors — they seemed to know that they had to let me do it my way (with limited guidance). And since I was never paid a royalty on sales… in other words, I never benefited from the popularity of what I did… I never cared if it sold well or not. That was the publishers’ concern. I just did what I wanted. And maybe, since I knew how a Barks Duck comic should be, I did it right enough that the editors let me fly free.

Yes, I reused the plot ideas from past comics, but I did not try to duplicate the style.

4 – After the end of your first Pertwillaby Papers adventure in 1973, no new episodes were made for three years, at which point it switched from the newspaper strip format in The Kentucky Kernel to 10-15 page episodes in The Rocket’s Blast Comicollector. What was the story behind that?

You mean what did I do between 1973 and 1977? That’s when I was writing and illustrating the “RBCC Information Center” where I would answer readers’ questions about the history of comic books, movies and television. In those days, I was the only public source IN THE WORLD for answers to such questions — like “list all the TV appearances of so-and-so actor” or “list all the movies that so-and-so directed” or (my specialty) “write an index of such-and-such a TV series with airdates, episode titles, plot, character names and cast, writer and director. I could do things like the latter since one of my (many!) collections was a complete set of TV GUIDE magazine, and in the “old days” the listings for each TV show included ALL that info. And I had many other limited-edition movie & TV reference books. And for comics, I had my exhaustive comic book collection which included virtually every American comic published since WWII. And as I said, I included many wacky illustrations to go along with my Q&A subjects.

Nowadays you can get such info, and all other info, instantly off the Internet! That’s a LOT better than me being the only such source with my tiny audience!

Anyway, after doing that for 3 or 4 years, I felt like I missed creating funny adventure stories. So I turned over the illustrating of my “Info Center” to others, and recreated “The Pertwillaby Papers” as a comic book style thing.

5 – Your most well known works are in color, but the reprint collection is all in black and white. What sort of differences are there in the way you draw when you know the end result for the reader will be black and white?

Oh, yeah, there’s a BIG difference. When I knew my work would only be in b&w (which I thought was fine) I had to use “Zip-A-Tone” to create “simulated color”. “Zip-A-Tone” is an obsolete method of adding texture to artwork for b&w printing, used in all magazine ads and comic strips up until the computer age. It was VERY tedious! It involved hundreds of different types of texturing printed on a clear plastic adhesive-backed film… all different sizes and % of teeny-tiny dots and stripes, plus an endless variety of weirder patterns, as well as symbols used on architectural and engineering drawings. You would place the transparent sheet over the art, use an X-acto knife to cut out the intricate shape you needed to cover the area you wanted to fill with a texture, peel the cut section off the film, lay it precisely over the area on the art, and rub it down with a wooden burnisher. When you see how MUCH of this I used, and you realize that each textured area was done in this tedious fashion, and how complex my art was then (much more than my later Duck comics), you can imagine how LONG this process took even AFTER I’d drawn those panels filled with millions of ink lines. No amount of money could pay for that sort of labor! That’s why it was lucky it was done as a hobby, always for free!

6 – It’s fairly well known that elements of your Pertwillaby Papers were re-used in Duck comics, which makes sense considering how much you were inspired by Barks’ wonderful work to begin with. While you’ve stated that “Lost in (an Alternative Section of) the Andes” was directly written with the Ducks in mind, is that true of your other Pertwillaby Papers stories?

Um… let’s see. My “Universal Solvent” story used a lot of the plot elements from my “Vortex!” adventure, though I skipped the idea of the solvent being distilled from a Black Hole from outer space. My “Once and Future Duck” story used some of the plot from my old “Knighttime” adventure. (But I don’t think either of those made good Duck plots. Too weird and/or SF-y.) “Incident at McDuck Tower” reused a sequence from my “Sub Zero” adventure. And there was at least one other incident which I’ll save for an answer to your question #18!

7 – I could have phrased that question differently (but there is also a “Sub-Zero” sequence which is similar to one from “Last Sled to Dawson”, with the hot air balloon!). I was actually referring to this quote I have here:

So I started doing the “Son of the Sun’ story; in other words, turning that old Pertwillaby Papers adventure back into the story it originally was in my head, starring $crooge, Donald, the nephews, and Flintheart Glomgold.”

I read Sub-Zero from an old Fantagraphics reprint, and I could ‘feel’ Donald and Scrooge Barks moments, if you catch me (largely in the gags) and the villain seemed like a very Barksian one-shot character. There’s certainly a unique feel to it, and it doesn’t feel like an imitation. But I had to wonder how close the Ducks were to your consciousness at the time of the writing, and whether these Pertwillaby Papers stories were in a way Ducks in disguise.

The PLOTS were Duck stories in my mind, but I was never equating any of my characters or their roles in the plot with the Barks Ducks. I know that Schuyler Roatch was a bit annoying like Gladstone Gander. And Prof. Gerry Atrix was a bit like $crooge in that he was short and old and had done a number of interesting things in the past… but he had none of $crooge’s vitality or wealth or other personality traits. No, I saw no Barks Ducks in my characters.

8 – Is there a reason that the main plot of “Sub-Zero” was never re-used as a Duck comic? It certainly seemed like it could be an interesting Arpin Lusene story.

You’re asking why I never sent the Ducks on a search for the art treasures looted from Europe by the NAZIS during WWII??? The same reason I could never send $crooge on a quest for the Holy Grail, even though many readers requested it! Why would I want to involve Barks Ducks with the terrors of WWII or with religious dogma?!?! Those are not proper elements for a Duck story! (I later included the Holy Grail as an unexplained item in a story in such a way that the reader needed to decide for himself what the thing was and whether he believed in Christian dogma.)

9 – I was thinking Brutopians, actually! Though I have your Duck version of the Captain America cover, I’m pretty sure Scrooge could take on Nazis just fine… but I’m certainly glad that you chose not to deal with such things too much in your Duck comics.

But this does get me to a point I’ve wondered about for awhile, fanboyish as it might be. My memory is hardly perfect, but I seem to recall only two mentions of Brutopia in your work. One from “The Crown of the Crusader Kings” and one from “Attaaaack!” With all the Barks homages in your story, was there a reason it wasn’t used more often?

The Brutopians are the Russians, and they could not have looted European museums in WWII (if you refer to that specific plot in “PP”). Nor would I make even a mention of the Nazi atrocities of WWII in a Duck comic. In fact, in my mind I decided that $crooge had retired around 1942 due to the outbreak of the World War, as he did not want to be involved in war profiteering which would be unavoidable for him otherwise. But, as I say, I only allowed myself to say he retired “5 years before 1947”, but I would never mention WWII in a BarksDuck comic.

(I did mention WWII in “Return to Plain Awful”, but only as a time frame with no reference to the actual war itself.)

>>>>>My memory is hardly perfect, but I seem to recall only two mentions of Brutopia in your work. One from “The Crown of the Crusader Kings” and one from “Attaaaack!”

And once in “Curse of Nostrildamus” and maybe somewhere else.

>>>>>With all the Barks homages in your story, was there a reason it wasn’t used more often?

Simply because I didn’t need to have $crooge’s adventures involve world politics. It’s MUCH better to have individual villains acting for their own personal avarice or malice.

10 – What was the inspiration for the creation of Captain Kentucky? He’s most certainly not a traditional superhero, and the strip itself is not a very traditional comic!

By the late 1970s I was known around Louisville as a local “eccentric” in that I was a comic book collector and cartoonist. In those days, that was ODD. So the editor of the major local newspaper entertainment magazine section invited me to contribute a weekly comic strip. I think he wanted just a 3-4 panel single strip, but I told him that I only did comedy-adventure and it was impossible to do a continuing story in only 3 or 4 panels a week. He agreed to a “Sunday” style strip… but he didn’t increase the pay… but that was okay, I was still a cartoonist strictly as a hobby. He also didn’t tell me to draw in the ugly overly-complex style that I have. The pay was $25 per week, which I think averaged to about $1-$2 per hour. So, what? It was fun.

Oh, but how did I decide on a superhero? I recall that my two ideas for a continuing adventure story was either a detective (titled “Investigations of Noah Vale”) or a silly superhero. But I chose the superhero for the possibility of drawing spectacular stunts which would result in terrible disasters, and so forth.

Oh, and I also decided to use actual locations and local people as the other characters. Yes, THAT idea I thought was unique in the entire nation! And I was half expecting that I would be on the national news in a matter of weeks. But not only did the strip not garner national attention, I couldn’t even tell after 150 episodes that it was having any LOCAL attention. When that happens, rather than thinking “it sucked!”, I decided it must have just been “ahead of its time”. So I quit and that’s when I decided that cartooning would no longer be a hobby since it was too frustrating that no one much liked the kind of stories I wanted to tell. I put the old drawing table in the basement and didn’t draw another line until fate stepped in four years later.

11 – Could you give the readers a little taste of what might have been with Investigations of Noah Vale? Even a brief synopsis of what it would have been would be a treat.

I never got beyond the title before I decided on a superhero instead. I could see the funny-private-detective idea did not have a fraction of the potential humor and action as the funny-superhero idea.

12 – There is something of a physical resemblance between Lancelot Pertwillaby and yourself, to say the least! I’m curious why you chose to do that, and why you kept that up with Captain Kentucky.

Same reason I did it in the previous strip. Just for fun. Readers did not know that was what I looked like. And I thought, with my wimpy face, red hair and glasses, I was certainly an unlikely looking “hero”.

13 – I’ve seen you quoted that you tend to view your stories as movies. What kind of musical scoring would you assign to The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky? And of course I have to ask the same about your Duck comics.

Franz Waxman. Or Bernard Herrmann. Maybe Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Perhaps Max Steiner. I dunno — I’d hafta hear what each one could come up with if I hired them. Which would be difficult since they are deceased.

14 – Both The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky are serialized stories, even marked as episodes in the titles. It’s a big difference from the “one-and-dones” of the Duck comics you are so well known for. How did that serialized nature affect the way you wrote the comics?

I can’t recall specifically, but I really enjoyed doing serials with cliff-hanger endings! And yet, I would never have wanted to do that in my Duck comics since that’s NOT how Barks’ Duck comics were done. Of course, Europeans are forced to get used to seeing Barks stories serialized since that’s how their Disney comic system has been set up for 60 years. And my stories were always serialized in Europe. But I always wrote them as single-part stories that the publisher could cut into parts without too much damage. Comic book stories should NOT be continued. Then all you have is a modern American super-hero comic book story and that’s what happens when writers don’t feel like creating more than one plot every year, but still get paid by the page.

15 – Amen to that. I do still actively buy and read current comics (in addition to the old ones) and with the modern style, it creates some serious pacing problems, all for the sake of trade paperbacks. Part of what I think makes your work so interesting is how much you cram in to your layouts with the way you use panels… I seem to recall you mentioning in between panels of an episode of “Sub-Zero” that you had two pages of plot that you had to squeeze in to one. How often did you experience that page count limitation?

In “PP” it was probably a matter of me limiting myself. I was doing all that in my spare time, and I’m sure I couldn’t manage more than 10 pages every 6 weeks. I imagine the RBCC editor would have given me as many pages as I wanted. (I found out years later that my work was the most popular feature in the magazine, and the editor was profiting rather nicely from all my free labor. But that’s okay.)

As to my Duck stories, I was ALWAYS suffering under the page-count limitations! It was only towards the end, when I was really getting fed up with the Disney comics system (for many reasons) that I stopped worrying about the page counts, and I would let the story run over my allotted page limitations… I guess I was to the point of “They can take it or leave it… I don’t care anymore”.

16 – I found this picture of you actually dressed as Captain Kentucky, and flying at that (or at least rear-projected/green-screened)! Care to give a little background on the subject?

Out of context, this might look a little odd.

Don Rosa as Captain Kentucky

Well, back around 1980 my wife made me a Captain Kentucky outfit so I could make personal appearances on TV or such. I think I only did that once or twice. The main use was when I did the 100th episode of “CK” which I did in all-photographs. The pic you have was very simple to achieve. I simply stood leaning backwards with my arms in the air so my cape would hang straight down, then had a photographer stand on a ladder and photograph me from above and to one side. Then they pasted that onto an aerial view of Louisville. Simple. I also used that photo as my “8 X 10 glossies” to autograph and send to the few fans who would write.

17 – At least three additional non-Pertwillaby Papers/Captain Kentucky stories, Khulan, Tagdenah and Phalanx are also being published in Deluxe Collection. Could you tell me a little about them?

Well, I guess I’ll write complete descriptions of their origins for Jano’s books, but in short: I did “Khulan” in high school in the late 60’s when “sword & sorcery” stories became so popular. A good friend was a Robert E. Howard fan and wrote that story for me… notice that “Khulan” seems to maybe be a combination of the names of Howard’s main heroes Kull and Conan. “Tagdenah” was written by another S&S fan I met around 1977… she had a drug habit and I thought maybe a sense of pride in some creation would help her out (I failed in that… she eventually died of a drug overdose, so I was told). “Phalanx” was something I tried in college around 1972 after discovering “Asterix” in a library (to this day, neither Asterix or Tintin or any other Euro comics are known to the American public — people think Tintin was created last year for that new movie). “Phalanx” was going to be an attempt to duplicate the Asterix style of funny adventures based on actual history, and it was written by a college history professor pal I’d gotten to know after he probably mentioned a Barks story in one of his lectures. Um… I don’t recall why we did it as a daily strip rather than a comic-book style story for a fanzine.

18 – From what I’ve been able to glean through research, “Knighttime” (the last Pertwillaby Papers story) was intended to have at least one more episode. I know this is something of a pipe dream, but what would it take in this fundraiser for the readers to see either a storyboarded or fully drawn conclusion in your collection?

No chance of that. My eyes are too far gone. Retinas falling off onto the floor. But there’s no need! The ending to “Knighttime” WAS used as a Duck adventure! At the end of the story, the Black Knight (Merlin) would die when a rug was pulled out from under his feet and he fell to the center of the earth (a demise I softened for Arpin Lusene in the Duck version), then when the heroes tried to transport back to the present, Lance was to have succeeded in sending everyone back using the power of the machine, but he was a microsecond SLOW in sending HIMSELF back, and he materialized at the edge of outer space, the Earth having moved slightly in its orbit during transfer. But, by gravity, he would then fall to Earth protected (slightly) by the space suit you see him wearing in the story for other reasons. This ending was used as the ending for “The Duck Who Fell to Earth” story with $crooge and Donald.

19 – People sometimes talk about ‘the ideal reader’, the type of person whom above all else an individual author writes for. Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader? The one who can see past my crude and cluttered art, with the “needless and irritating detail” and appreciate EXACTLY what I’m REALLY trying to do. You make me think of something I wrote to another of Jano’s contributors last week on the same subject — I see he posted my comment on his blog so I guess I can share it with you as well:

“It is nice when people like my stories, but there is no happiness greater than when I see that a reader TOTALLY UNDERSTANDS what I am trying to achieve. Looking back on my own work, I realize more than ever that I was NEVER a “professional”. Everything I did was done as a FAN… that’s why everything I did was based strictly on someone else’s work and makes constant allusions to all my favorite movies and TV shows and everything else. I (my ego) never felt an urge to create anything totally new that would be “all my own”. I (the fan) only wanted to pay homage to everything that I love. That never changed.”

There are sometimes Barks-snobs who resent my popularity (which surprises ME more than anyone), and there are a few professionals (only one or two) who resent my popularity when they know they draw better than I do (they don’t know that good art is not the same as “boundless fannish enthusiasm” which is where my popularity lies), and these people often invent all sorts of imaginary malevolent or egotistical intentions to read into my stories. But their pathetic sour grapes are in the minority. Most readers appreciate that I’m just another Barks or comics fan trying to give them a few minutes of entertainment in a low-paying endeavor. (Or, as regards the stories in Jano’s reprint volumes, a NO-paying endeavor!)

20 – My last question is not so much related to the project itself or even your work, but it’s one I’ve been dying to ask. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of a truly good (or great) comic book story?

That’s the kind of question I don’t know the answer to. I have NEVER analyzed or given any thought to what I do. Sometimes fans or critics would say things like “your pacing is perfect! Your timing is wonderful! The plotting is magnificent! Blah blah” … and it would worry me a lot! I knew that I never did anything but let it pour out of me. And I was thinking “They think this is so good… but it’s just dumb luck! Surely I can’t keep accidentally doing this so well!” And I don’t think I *did* — a lot of my stories I think are dreadful mistakes. (But, yeah, I’m sorta proud of a few others.)

But let’s see… as far as I’m concerned, a truly great comic book story is one that is contained in ONE issue, one comic or one album. And I also happen to think that all the truly TRULY great comics are those done by ONE person… written and drawn by a single mind. I am 100% positive of that. Those stories will always have a special quality that no multi-personality creation can ever achieve. That’s not to say that the multi-personality stories may not be entertaining. But they can never have that same magic indefinable spark as those done by a single brain. My stories would never have been noticed if I had not been both the writer AND artist. As a writer-only, I could never insist on the level of detail and sheer unbounded enthusiasm and endless background gags that an artist would waste his time inserting into his art. (Besides, that stuff is not in my own scripts — it just pops out spontaneously when I’m drawing.) And as an artist-only, I would never insult the writer by inserting all of those background gags and hidden plots and homages as if telling the writer that his story wasn’t good enough until I “punched it up”. Also, no writer would want to work with an artist who worked as painfully slowly as I did due to my lack of training and professionalism — he’d want his paychecks faster than that! But as the writer AND artist, I had no one to answer to but myself.

The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky collections are available at www.indiegogo.com/donrosa

The Don Rosa Papers Episode #2: Thanks a lot, Lancelot

This series of articles is meant to promote awareness of the Indiegogo campaign to independently print Scrooge McDuck legend Don Rosa’s classic works, The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. For the first time, a truly complete collection of these comics will be available, helmed by Jano Rohleder (translator and editor of the German collection of Rosa’s Scrooge/Donald Duck comics) and overseen by Rosa himself. You can purchase the books along with a host of other rewards at www.indiegogo.com/donrosa

It’s hard to talk much about The Pertwillaby Papers in its proper historical context. At least, it’s hard for a 23 year old who’s never held an old issue of The Kentucky Kernel or The Rocket’s Blast Comicollector, where these stories originally appeared. After all, I’ve grown up in a world of trade paperbacks, the direct market and webcomics. I even had to look up what a fanzine was as research for this article!

But to the older generation of comic book writers, artists and historians, including Kurt Busiek (Astro City), Ed Brubaker (Gotham Central, Daredevil), Roger Stern (Superman) and Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!), The Pertwillaby Papers was as much a piece of their formative years as comics fans as Batman was for mine. They have all stated their public appreciation and support for Don Rosa’s early indie classic and his reprint efforts.

While my first episode briefly covered The Pertwillaby Papers’ inception at The Kentucky Kernel, I didn’t talk much about the comic itself. The comics starred Lancelot “Lance” Pertwillaby, a University of Kentucky student whose curiosity and obliviously good nature served as the catalyst for his adventures.


Don Rosa and Lance Pertwillaby. Don’t let the pictures fool you, they don’t look at all alike… after all, one of them is in black and white!

His constant adventuring companion was Feather Fluffnuthin, his patient and oft put-upon girlfriend.

Forensic abdominal surgery should be saved for the 128th date.

His most constant foe was Viktor Domitrius Smyte, a professor at the college and loyal Nazi. His murderous hatred of Lance, and Nazi past, is expertly concealed.

I said EXPERTLY CONCEALED.

While it began its first 65 as a political cartoon (as per his editor’s request), after a change in staff the final 62 strips in The Kentucky Kernel became “Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes”, ending on Episode #127. With a colorful cast of recurring and one-shot characters, The Pertwillaby Papers allowed Rosa to cut his teeth and develop the style for which he would be so well known. But the upcoming collection boasts Episodes #1-141. But 141 newspaper strips certainly don’t make a full book.

Lancelot Pertwillaby in his natural habitat.

Which is why they don’t. The Rockets Blast Comicolletor, a comic book fanzine, resumed publication of The Pertwillaby Papers in 1976. Maintaining the comedy/adventure style of “Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes”, each episode was expanded from four to five panels to 10-15 full pages apiece. The first story in this format, “Sub-Zero”, weighed in at six full episodes and a whopping 64 pages total, and there are two more stories on top of that (as well as a never before reprinted bonus episode). “Vortex” runs for five episodes, 55 pages, and the final story “Knighttime” for three episodes beyond that.

Rosa has made clear that the adventure stories of The Pertwillaby Papers were inspired by the works of Carl Barks, and while some elements of these stories were re-used in his later Duck work, make no mistake: those stories are not mere remakes. Without the restrictions of the Disney license they became something else altogether, though I would consider the ‘unfiltered’ Rosa to be no more child-unfriendly than a PG-13 movie.

From the perspective of a Duck fan, these stories provide a fascinating insight in to his development as a cartoonist and the stories that they grew up reading. But the most pertinent question as to whether you should purchase the books, however, is this: How do the stories hold up to a reader who simply wants to enjoy some good comics?

In the interest of full disclosure, I only have access to “Sub-Zero” and “Vortex”… and I can safely say that they hold up well. While he has not yet mastered his style of art or storytelling, he uses more visual and textual gags in a single episode than many do in full issues, and improves with each episode. They are packed with homages to his favorite movies, television shows and comics, and I couldn’t begin to pinpoint them all, but I smiled at this one in particular.
Caption:

Huey, Dewey and Louie traveled time and space to plant that thing.

He even makes an effort to use metatextual humor, absent in much of his Duck work.

What thrilling conclusion comes in the next panel? Read the book!

His playing with the medium is most immediately recognizable with The Pertwillaby Papers’ signature word balloon usage: Each character assigned an individual style of balloon, befitting their voice and personality.

While different from his work on the Ducks, focusing far more on comedy and spectacle, this does not diminish the quality of the work, instead showing a different side of one of the most prolific living cartoonists. I have never seen Rosa more experimental than he was with The Pertwillaby Papers. Each episode shows a clear improvement in the pacing, writing, art, timing and so much more. His layouts cleanly pack in twice as much content as any other artist I have ever seen. Some creators’ early work can be skipped without missing a thing, but with The Pertwillaby Papers, you experience the rare treat of a young, ambitious author with a natural inclination for storytelling, finding his voice by creating the kinds of comics he himself would want to read.

You can purchase copies of The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky from the fundraising campaign at www.indiegogo.com/donrosa

The Don Rosa Papers Episode #1: An Introduction

This series of articles is meant to promote awareness of the Indiegogo campaign to independently print Don Rosa’s classic works, The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. For the first time, a truly complete collection of these comics will be available, helmed by Jano Rohleder (translator and editor of the German collection of Rosa’s Scrooge/Donald Duck comics) and overseen by Rosa himself. You can purchase the books here, along with a host of other rewards: www.indiegogo.com/donrosa

“Scrooge being my favorite character in comic history and Barks my favourite [sic] pure cartoonist, I’ll try not to get carried away too much.” – Don Rosa, An Index of Uncle Scrooge Comics

Don Rosa (1996), not getting carried away

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Review or Die. For my inaugural articles, I have chosen to feature my favorite cartoonist, Don Rosa. He is currently holding a fundraiser to reprint The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky, his first two professional comics, and the most impressive and complete collection of those works to date. I was even fortunate enough to be granted an interview with Mr. Rosa, which will be conducted and posted next week. In the meantime, I will post a series of articles reviewing his professional work and importance as a creative force in comics.

“Looking back on my own work, I realize more than ever that I was NEVER a ‘professional’. Everything I did was done as a FAN…” – Don Rosa

To say Don Rosa is an Eisner award winning writer/artist of Uncle Scrooge comics understates not only his popularity as an author, but the care which went in to every single frame in his body of work. Having grown up on Carl Barks’ classic work on Donald and Scrooge, it was his unspoken dream to write and draw an Uncle Scrooge story in that same vein. And when he finally got that opportunity in 1987 with “The Son of the Sun” he paid tribute to the stories of Unca Carl, a tradition which continued throughout his 19 year career as a cartoonist down to the very last panel he ever drew. With a sense of reverence for the characters, their history, and the comics themselves, his unique voice has made him the most popular living Duck comics author in the world.

Not that that stops him from keeping a sense of humor about himself. (The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. 1994)

Once I finished my first Rosa story, I was hooked. I devoured everything he had written or drawn with the Ducks, and his comics are without question some of my favorite stories in the medium. As a lifelong comics fan, with all that I’ve read, “Prisoner of White Agony Creek” (his final story) remains my favorite comic of all time. And perhaps I would have been left at that, adoring his work on the Ducks, if I hadn’t stumbled across this quote:

So I started doing the “Son of the Sun” story; in other words, turning that old Pertwillaby Papers adventure back into the story it originally was in my head, starring $crooge, Donald, the nephews, and Flintheart Glomgold.” – Don Rosa

My curiosity was piqued. I had to know more.

The Pertwillaby Papers was Rosa’s first serialized comic, premiering in the University of Kentucky newspaper The Kentucky Kernel in 1971 as, of all things, a political cartoon similar to Doonesbury. Admittedly uninterested in politics at the time, he wrote and drew 65 episodic strips in the newspaper format, biding his time until he could unleash what the first sign of things to come: A comedy/adventure story titled “Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes”.

An homage even in its title to the classic Carl Barks “Lost in the Andes”, the tale ran from Episode 66 to 127 before ending its run in The Kentucky Kernel, coinciding with Rosa’s graduation. But that wasn’t the end for The Pertwillaby Papers, and only the beginning for Rosa’s career. In 1976, The Pertwillaby Papers resumed in Rockets Blast Comicollector, which we will examine in the next installment.

You can purchase copies of The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky from the fundraising campaign at www.indiegogo.com/donrosa

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