Don Rosa in Review – Recalled Wreck (1987)
[AR-105] – Recalled Wreck (10 Pages, Gag)
The Story: Donald, in a surprising display of thriftiness, completely dismantles and re-everythings each part of his custom-built car (old 313). While Donald leaves to get a faulty part repaired, Neighbor Jones, seeing the parts on his lawn, sells them at his yard sale under the assumption that they were meant for the garbage. Donald must track down his misappropriated car parts piece by piece from his neighbors.
The Review: Rosa has said that in the early days he actually copied facial expressions and poses from the Barks’ versions of the Ducks (and I know on later occasions, outright traced them for panel recreations). I’m not totally sure when (or if) this practice ceased, but until I read this post on the DCML archive I would never have known it:
I also recall an interview where he stated that he has been told that his pencils look very much like Barks, but when inked they become a different animal altogether. So it’s difficult for me, as an observer, to articulate why it feels like this is the first time he really drew Donald correctly. But it’s clear that the anatomy is much more solid, his face is a lot more expressive, and most of all the extremely odd eye shapes that went on in his last few stories were gone, gone, gone.
Part of the difference between Barks’ training and Rosa’s is that Barks had, well, training. He worked under the Disney shorts program, which pioneered most animation principles in the United States. He understood the way you constructed a movement frame by frame, and the panels of his comics correctly chose each frame to present to the reader. There is a real artistry to it. He also understood that realism, for all its great qualities, was immaterial if you could not convey the character’s emotions believably.
Take a look at Barks’ model sheets for Western Publishing, in particular how Scrooge’s hat changes depending on his mood. Hats do not move involuntarily the way our face does, but Barks understood that this was a simple, elegant way to help convey the mood without changing the face overmuch. I would argue that Barks’ strengths lie in his composition and writing, while facial expressions were simply an element to consider within an individual drawing. Each frame was a picture that happened to have a character in it, and every single element of that picture was designed to convey that mood.
Rosa, however, is entirely self-taught, and takes a totally different approach. He uses a frame to focus on a character within a location. You’ll notice in stories to come that he uses a real sense of place with his drawings, full of rich detail to help the reader feel like they are part of the action, while the visual emotion of a scene is largely conveyed with facial expressions and body language. The first elements of this emotionally expressive character style really start developing here, not in the emotionally gripping way of the pathos-heavy stories or intensive detail he would be known for, but simply in the way emotion is conveyed on Donald’s face.
As for the story itself? This is one of my favorite of his gag pieces. The jokes are extremely solid, with a good mix of verbal and visual, and it seems like an extremely believable slice-of-life story for Donald.
Continuity: When it comes to characters, this is the first of only two Neighbor Jones appearances. But more importantly we’ve got our first Rosa occurrence of a veeblefetzer.
This isn’t too surprising considering how much of a fan Rosa is of MAD Magazine, especially the Kurtzman/Elder team. If you’re familiar with Elder’s art, you can see a lot of his influence in stories to come.