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.
His constant adventuring companion was Feather Fluffnuthin, his patient and oft put-upon girlfriend.
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.
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.
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.
He even makes an effort to use metatextual humor, absent in much of his Duck work.
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