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…
Issues with his art style…
An issue with the final gag, which needed to be explained to me when I read this in a reprint…
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.
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.
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.
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).