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Archive for the tag “Don Rosa”

Don Rosa In Review – Return to Duckburg Place

So… there were some delays since my last Don Rosa in Review came out! I’m sorry about that. You can thank Dr. GeoX for inspiring me to put out this little birthday present to myself. I had waited for two Don Rosa books to come out to allow me to better discuss the material in relationship to his development as an artist, one being the Fantagraphics release, the other being the third volume of the Don Rosa Classics. I’m not holding my breath on that last one coming out any time soon, more’s the pity, but I do have the Fantagraphics releases. With them, I finally, finally have an opportunity to go through Don Rosa’s Duck stories the way I had intended!

Well. Except for one. Return to Duckburg Place was written in 1970 with Ray Foushee, who also collaborated on ‘a handful of [Pertwillaby Papers] episodes’, and is technically the first Disney Duck comic Rosa ever worked on. I say technically because it was produced as an underground comic, starts with Huey Dewey and Louie smoking pot, and actually gets more messed up from there. While this comic was published in European territories as part of various Don Rosa collections, the more uptight Disney of America wouldn’t allow publication of this story in the Don Rosa Library. I was fortunate enough to find a copy from an acquaintance to work with for this column. Funny what happens when Disney tells him not to publish things he worked on that fans want to read: somehow, it gets out there anyway.

This is one of only three Duck comics he did in black and white, all of which were unofficial productions. This is why you see Zip-A-Tone on most of the characters, later used to remarkable effect on The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. It is also easily the darkest thing he’s ever done, outdoing even his “Casper the Dead Baby” jokes made during conventions and interviews.

I really, really hope he’s joking. It makes sense the more you think about it, just look at that head… but anyway. I couldn’t think of a better way to return to Don Rosa in Review than this, with Return to Duckburg Place.

Summary: Don Rosa holds nothing back in a dark, satirical, amateur production that slams the Disney Duck world and its characters, and I laugh hysterically at the thought of this same guy being most well known for his heart wrenching, brilliant stories that thrive on extreme pathos. Everyone has a dark side, and this is definitely his.

The rest:

db-place1 (600 x 809) Read more…

Don Rosa in Review – Oolated Luck (1988)

[AR-110] – Oolated Luck (10 Pages, Gag)

Story: Donald and Gladstone compete in a contest sponsored by the manufacturers of Oolated Squiggs, because Donald has never read this kind of comic before and doesn’t know how this is going to end. Through the use of SCIENCE, the contest becomes farcical, and the nephews cleverly attempt to cheat fate on their uncle’s behalf. But even when Gladstone loses, he wins.

The Review: I’m not sure how to react to this story. It’s a Donald versus Gladstone story with a… twist? I guess? The perpetually lucky character lucks out in the end, and Donald fails. That’s kind of the opposite of a twist, but it’s played as one. Usually in Barks comics when Donald suffers it’s because he was acting like a twerp, not just because Donald is the universe’s chew toy. It just doesn’t seem quite right.

I take some satisfaction in knowing he probably broke his teeth.

The whole story feels workmanlike in that it takes no chances, the artwork is serviceable, it has a number of solid jokes in it, and as such it fits the bill for a typical ‘good’ Disney comic. If that sounds like an indictment against Disney comics… well, there’s a reason Rosa stood out, and it’s because he usually didn’t make comics like this.

Unrealistic dialogue from the nephews? Only if you’re not dealing with Gladstone.

That said… look at this guy. I want to punch him so hard he flies in to next month’s issue. He is obviously not a very active villain, very much like “Nobody’s Business”, but here you hate his guts so much you really want him to lose. This is solid, (though somewhat ham handed) characterization, because it means you want Donald to win. You care what happens. For good and for ill, that’s really all Gladstone is meant to be and it’s all he can be in a story like this. He’s an antagonist that you hate and want to see not just lose, but beaten. It’s exactly what you need in a story like this.

I’m talking about the art in this series a lot more than I really want to, but a big part of that is because Rosa’s early art is weird. It’s not that he started off bad, but he has some quirks that you can’t really ignore. Like in this story, where Rosa appears to intermittently forget how to draw Gladstone. I mean, on a technical level, he’s obviously capable of doing a very well drawn Gladstone.

It’s like looking at a beautiful, narcissistic coin.

… you know, if you only ever draw him at that angle. But looking at these panels…

Any artists want to tell me what’s up with these panels?

Well this… this is really not right. His bill is screwed up, and the perspective is all kinds of weird. He’s actually drawn fine in some parts of the story, but out of the 26 panels Gladstone appears in within this story, the profile angle is used in 9 of them. His Gladstone became much better throughout later stories. But even when he drew a Gladstone poster ten years after the publication of this story, he used the profile shot.

Part of the problem is that no other characters are really drawn like Gladstone. With his unusually large bill and curly head of hair, even when he’s drawn ‘correctly’ (meaning to Barksian standards) he still looks out of place amongst the other Ducks. Even Barks didn’t really succeed with fitting him in as often as you would expect, based on my reading. That said, I would bet there is a specific Barks panel that Rosa is drawing from for these profile shots (which he uses in this story and many others), but as always, my Barks knowledge is not up to snuff.

But that unusual bill length brings me to a point I have wanted to express for quite some time. And since I’ve had a series of negative reviews up in a row (that streak’s broken next time, folks), pardon me while I have a strange interlude: Gladstone Gander is drawn weirdly because he is biracial. Oh yes, I’m going there, and you can’t stop me.

The official Rosa family tree… and yes, Gladstone is drawn in profile.

For reasons unknown to me, “humans” in Disney comics are drawn with black noses and dog ears. They are colloquially referred to as Dognoses, and are the default ‘race’ within the Disney comics universe.

Look at those noses.

Compare this to our heroes, who are, well, Ducks. We don’t see anyone with their body type in the crowd. You know who else we don’t see in the crowd?

Yes I did come up with those names on my own, thank you.

The more you think about it, the more confusing it gets. Are all Mousemen black? What would a black Mouseman look like if they’re not? Why are the Ducks of Tralla-La all Dognose sized?


I’ve thought about this a lot.

But the point is this… Duckburg is basically a honky town, and Gladstone Gander is the son of a Duck and a Gooselip by way of Daphne Duck and Goostave Gander. His bill looks like neither of theirs. Either he is some sort of mutant freak in a way totally unrelated to his race, or his mixed parentage gave him a totally different physical attribute than his racial background would suggest. Is his pain that of a man searching between two cultures, a minority even amongst other minorities? There are but a few Ducks in Duckburg, and the only Gooselip known to us is a farmhand miles outside of town. Could this be the secret behind his obnoxious, hateful acts?

I know a guy like this. I almost punched out a guy like this.

Oh come on now. Just cause you’re a minority doesn’t mean you lack the capacity to be a jerk on your own merits. The fact is Barks didn’t do a great job designing the character, and he got stuck with a weirdly out of proportioned face that’s just hard to draw. At least to everyone in the comic he’s considered ridiculously attractive, so it all evens out in the end. Heck, it wouldn’t be a bad argument to say the larger bill symbolizes…

… nah… couldn’t be… right?

These fish people scare the crap out of me, and my chart has no explanation for them. I’m not perfect, what do you people want from me!?

Continuity: Beyond the obvious oolated item in question, a Barksian reference, and a one-off panel relating to “Race to the South Seas”… that’s it. Sorry folks. The ball really gets rolling next time, with the deservedly classic “Last Sled to Dawson”!

Don Rosa in Review – The Paper Chase (1988)

[AR-107] The Paper Chase (2 Pages, Gag)

The Story: Scrooge buys a newspaper, and must chase it down when the wind blows it out of his hands.


I grew acquainted with the Ducks from The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Then I read some of Rosa’s stories, realized how referential they were to Barks, read some of Barks, more of Rosa, more of Barks, back and forth, until I had read all of Rosa’s stories and a good deal of Barks’. That background is how I knew that this story was not written by Rosa, because the Barks/Rosa Scrooge would never, ever pay for a newspaper.

“The Paper Chase” was written by Gary Leach, one of the higher-ups at Gladstone. As far as I can tell this is Leach’s first ever original comic script, having served mostly as a translator and letterer prior to this. Rosa would draw two more Leach scripts, both of them two-pagers. Of the three, this is the bad apple of the bunch, and earns that distinction by… well, you’ll see.

The story is ultimately harmless in that it isn’t some hyperbolically terrible monstrosity or anything, but it’s very easy to break down the problems of this script and why it needed another draft before it went to an artist. And since I like to give you some bang for your buck, I’m going to do just that with a session of Comics 101. Apologies in advance, Mr. Leach, I promise you wrote other gag pieces I really liked.

It only LOOKS like an ominous sequence of Scrooge about to be run over by a truck.

1. It violates common sense regarding how someone like Scrooge would get details about the stock market. If Scrooge needed a paper it could have been for a number of other reasons, but because the stock market has to do with money, it’s why Scrooge needs a paper. It’s lazy and obvious and worse yet, removes the opportunity for an actual joke about why he would need a paper.

2. It goes against the Barksian detail of Scrooge not paying for a newspaper. Some of you are going to think “Well, Disney comics as a whole don’t take place in any established canon, it’s all open to interpretation by the individual artists and writers”, and you’re right. Further, while Rosa’s comics take place in his own canon, this is not a Rosa story, it is a Scrooge story that has Rosa art. We’re going to talk about continuity a lot in this series, but for the purposes of this entry let’s confine ourselves to being true to the character. I think we can all agree that Scrooge wouldn’t pay for something unless there was a pressing need for it and there was no other way around it. At least, not when he’s on-panel. A character can act outside of his regular pattern if there is a convincing reason like a ticking clock or other extenuating circumstances, but that isn’t what’s happening here.

Scrooge has no need to pay for a paper for any logical or gag-based reason. There is no time crunch, so he can simply find one tossed aside in the garbage, on a park bench, or any number of other places, and has actually done so in other comics. This makes his chase seem not humorously over-reactive, just pointless and stupid.

An entire page of setup in a two page story. This is wrong.

3. I didn’t really think a two page story could be poorly paced, but I was wrong. The entire first page establishes that Scrooge has purchased the paper, is walking down the street, and has the paper blown out of his hands. The second page devotes three panels to actually chasing the paper (one being irregularly sized), and the last three to set up and deliver the final joke. This story could have been told in one page with more economical layouts, and I probably would have had less of a problem with it if that was the case. If it was going to be two pages anyway, the actual chase should have started earlier, been more visually varied, and given a better sense of visual continuity from joke to joke.

Bored much, Scrooge?

4. This one is entirely on Rosa, because the artwork for this story doesn’t work. He doesn’t create a sense of motion for the papers in the wind and far, far worse, Scrooge’s expressions during these action panels are oddly flat. Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes said that whenever he couldn’t come up with a good script he went all out on the art, but here Scrooge is incredibly subdued in the places he needs to (and logically would) BE at his most expressive. It doesn’t even match the visual jokes in the final panel, because Scrooge doesn’t appear to be exerting himself with these feats of acrobatic wonder.

This picture compared to the one above is an example of what I like to call a “complete and total disconnect”.

And of course, to top it all off, Scrooge enters his office without the paper he had been chasing the entire story.

The complete failure of the artwork dashes the only chance the story had to redeem itself to me. I say ‘only’ chance because we have yet to come to the most difficult problem with the story…

5. “Paper Chase” isn’t funny. You can’t objectively prove something isn’t funny, that’s not how humor works, but this is my shot at trying. The opportunities for gags are either misfired or not taken at all.

And that’s that. The actual concept has a lot of potential for humor, but a story’s success is always, always in the execution. I’m not saying Leach can’t write (I actually really, really like “Fiscal Fitness” and think “Rocket Reverie” has a lot of good gags in it, but those are other entries), but I think whoever approved the script really failed him here by letting him turn in what should have been an early draft. Rosa’s art didn’t do him any favors either, being just vaguely serviceable rather than an enhancement of the script.

Despite all that I said, I wish Leach had continued working on gag stories like this. I very much enjoyed “Fiscal Fitness” and “Rocket Reverie”. The only non-Rosa story I’ve seen from him was a DuckTales story, “Flights of Fancy”, and I thought that had some great gags too, so it’s not like Rosa ‘carried’ him through those other two stories. But like many early efforts from writers and artists alike, this story just isn’t good.

Continuity: This gets the very first appearance of the non-canon stamp from me, simple as the story is, by virtue of it not being in character for Rosa’s Scrooge.

I will award the non-canon stamp to any story that irreconcilably contradicts established Barks or Rosa canon by virtue of ignoring plot points of past stories, character motivation, or other such factors.

But if it was canon, it would be Rosa’s first appearance of Scrooge’s secretary Miss Quackfaster.

Don Rosa in Review – Fir-Tree Fracas (1987)

[AR-109] Fir-Tree Fracas (4 Pages, Gag)

The Story: The Universe hates Donald Duck and doesn’t want him to enjoy a Christmas tree he spent months planning to set up for his family. I wonder what Donald did to the Universe to ruin its Christmas spirit.

The Review: Carl Barks tended to work in four distinct formats. The 1-page gags, the 4-7-page gags, the 10-page gags, and the full length adventure stories. The 1-pagers were for the inside and back covers, the 10-pagers for Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, and the adventure titles were whatever length he needed them to be, topping out at 33 pages. The 4-7 pagers were used either because of mail code restrictions or because the adventure story didn’t fill out the page count needed to fill the full comic. They established the plot, escalated quickly, and led it all to a strong finishing gag. They weren’t so much stories as much as jokes with a big, enjoyable build-up. It really is a testament to Barks’ efficiency as a storyteller and sense of humor that he could do so much in such a short period of time, and you can point to “Somethin’ Fishy Here” as a perfect example of this format.

So now you understand the template this story was based on, and what I am forced to compare it to. “Fir-Tree Fracas” has a nice sense of escalation throughout its first three pages, but it falls apart with its climactic gag. So let’s examine the entirety of page four!

Page 4 of 4

I’m often impressed by the way Rosa uses motion and timing in his comics. Looking at this page, you can see the scene playing out between panels, and the panels he chose serve as shots that wouldn’t be out of place as storyboards in animation. Panels 2-5 are extremely well constructed, conveying Donald’s emotion with a strong opening expression that carries the tone of his voice while he remains off-panel. The sound effects sell the ruination of the tree and give it a sense of believability (though I wonder if FOOMP! is the best he could have chosen for panel five) by drawing you further in to the scene. Panel Six gives you a further sense of buildup from the perspective of the characters, which is a necessary change of pace to draw you back in to the scene. But… when you hit panel seven, the punchline falls totally flat.

You could pretty much go two ways with this punchline: The family is drawn to look outside by what became of Donald’s tree, or the tree itself is ruined in a way which is funny to the reader. Here, we have a mixture of both, with the visual focus being put on the ruined tree. Visually, this is… boring. The reaction shots of the characters aren’t particularly funny, and the minimalist tree isn’t an eye-catching visual. I need one or both to work for the joke to land. But more worryingly, I’m left wondering what the ornaments outside look like because the characters are pointing out that there is something interesting for me to look at off-panel.

For a joke like this, if you have a choice between an interesting, spectacular visual or a bland one… go for the spectacular one! It’s a very bad sign when your reader is thinking of something off-panel when you’ve just delivered the joke you spent four pages building up.

I suppose if there’s something positive to say about this story, you could consider dealing with this compressed space as a necessary experiment in his development as a storyteller. For me, I’m glad it’s an experiment he didn’t delve in to again.

Continuity: This is also Rosa’s only attempt at a Christmas story, which surprised me when I went to check my facts considering how beloved Barks’ own Christmas tales are. I suspect this has something to do with his attempt to maintain a consistent timeline within a Barksian universe. That’s not in any way possible considering the number of Christmas stories Barks wrote, but to any readers out there I present to you this challenge: I will award you, in the fine tradition of Stan Lee’s Marvel comics, the No-Prize for determining which Barks Christmas tale this could fit in to. Just post the story you think it could fit in (and your reasoning) in the comments section, and I’ll post the best responses in a separate post.

Daisy makes her first appearance here and it’s a pretty boring one. Sadly, her later appearances wouldn’t fare much better. Rosa gives his thoughts on Daisy in a video below, and not to spoil it for you, but they’re not flattering.

Don Rosa in Review – Fit to be Pied (1987)

[AR-108] Fit to be Pied (10 Pages, Gag)

The Story: Donald and Neighbor Jones allow their pride to cause mass chaos and destruction in an effort to win a pumpkin-carving contest worth $50.

The Review: Of all the gag stories Rosa did, this one feels the most like a Barks tale. With the simple goal of Donald trying to get a pumpkin and Jones trying to carve a pumpkin, all to win fifty dollars, the conflict escalates to a hilariously disproportionate scale. The gags are well crafted, Rosa has used his art style in a way that doesn’t make the physical comedy look too real or jarring, and the story stands for what it is: a great piece of comedy.

I can’t believe it’s not Barks! (TM)

One of the big differences between Carl Barks and Don Rosa is the former’s satirical tendencies. He used the Ducks to point out the foibles of humans, altering their characterization (subtly, of course) to fit the little message behind an individual story. It never got in the way of his writing, nor were the characters inconsistent. These variations on the characters between stories actually added a level of depth to them when his body of work is looked at as a whole, which was certainly unusual for the time and holds up today as an example of well-rounded characters. They were people, not props.

If you’ve ever seen people who are heavily involved with say, the Parade of Homes or other vanity contests, this story might seem familiar to you. The elements in it are exaggerated, but that level of competition over such a trivial prize and the smallest element of prestige is what rings true to life, and the exaggeration is what makes it ring true as a Duck comic (and Donald’s character). Pride, pettiness, escalation, rivalry are all things that we can relate to and learn from when we see them brought to comical heights. This satirical approach is a very unusual tact for Rosa, but he shows it is well within his wheelhouse if he had chosen to let his career as a Duck artist follow that path.

The moral of the story is obvious: Be nice to your neighbors or your house will turn in to a jack-o-lantern.

I’m not yet ready to discuss in detail the differences between a Barks story and a Rosa one (that will have to wait until I have a better example of a Rosa comic in front of me), I believe it does both artists a disservice to say Rosa’s stories were nothing more than ones made in the tradition and style of Carl Barks. But as I said, that is a discussion best left for another story.

“Trick or Treat”, Neighbor Jones!

Continuity: The only piece of criticism I could lob at this story is the anachronism of the One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple Pumpkin Eater, a gag reference to the comedy song “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater”, put out in 1958. This isn’t so an issue within the context of the story, merely within the internal timeline Rosa crafted.

Sure looks strange to me!

Rosa would later establish that Donald and the nephews’ adventures with Scrooge began taking place in 1947 (the year that “Christmas on Bear Mountain”, Scrooge’s first appearance, was published), eleven years before that song came out. You could argue that Donald (within the Duck universe) might have eventually ended up somehow inspiring the song, and that would certainly fit Rosa’s Forrest Gump method of inserting the Ducks in to history. It’s actually the method I use to justify it within the continuity of the Ducks, but you can easily take it is a sign of timeline problems that will show up in later stories.

Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to Neighbor Jones. This story marks his last Rosa appearance, with not even so much as a cameo to come. Bye Jonesy! I will miss you! I see only two possible reasons for this: He moved away to get from that crazy Donald Duck, or he was arrested for the massive property damage he did to Donald’s house.

… or Rosa got bored with him and just wrote other stories that didn’t need to include him in a perfunctory manner. You know, one of the three.

Don Rosa in Review – Cash Flow (1987)

[AR-106] – Cash Flow (26 Pages, Adventure)

The Story: The Beagle Boys, in an effort to raid Scrooge’s Money Bin, get hold of ray-guns that negate inertia and friction. The only natural result of such shenanigans? The Great Duckburg Money Flood!

The Review: Don Rosa has claimed that the finest comic book in existence is “Only a Poor Old Man” and the finest comic book panel to be the dam breaking in that same story. So it’s no surprise that his first crack at a Beagle Boys tale would reference that classic tale, with the flowing of money like water, Scrooge saying the titular phrase, Scrooge beating the Beagle Boys at their own game, and a final verbal callback joke.

Rosa even copied Scrooge’s pose directly from the last panel of “Only A Poor Old Man” in homage!

There are a number of reasons “Only a Poor Old Man” worked so well, but the most critical one is the emotional core of Scrooge and Donald’s characters. For all the grief his money puts him through, Scrooge considers a swim in his money to be worth every bit of hassle he goes through, even after he almost lost it all. Donald’s characterization of a slyly amused assistant gives us a grounded proxy by which we can experience Scrooge’s adventures, and hook the reader in to delivering part of the moral at the end, where we question the reason Scrooge is so invested in his money, and when the famous closing lines are delivered the reader feels they are being answered directly by Scrooge, without breaking the realism of the story.

The way Rosa interprets “Only a Poor Old Man” will be the most important influence throughout his entire body of work, and I will go in to more detail on that in later entries. But it must be pointed out that while there are references and homages to that tale in “Cash Flow”, they are not the same type of same story. Instead, this is Rosa doing one of the things he does best, taking real world scientific principles and applying them to the fantasy land of Duckburg. It gives a great balance of tension, humor, and a little bit of education thrown in there on the sly, but it does not delve in to the characters’ emotions, nor is it meant to. That type of exploration would be saved for other stories which Rosa is so famous for.

All things considered, it’s a great adventure tale and rare for Rosa in that it’s an adventure story that takes place entirely in Duckburg. The anatomy of the characters is excellent, there’s a much better use of composition this time around, and for a story where playing with inertia and friction is so important there is a real sense of motion.

Sound effects are incorporated more frequently, lending some atmosphere to the science fiction elements of the story.

Rayguns and sound effects for all!

The last page is the most important (in this story) in terms of his artistic development, showing a use of cross-hatching to create a sense of foreboding to Scrooge’s dialogue. This technique would be used more often and to greater effect in stories to come.

Continuity: This story gives confirmation that Leavenworst Prison (a take on the real-life Leavenworth, and first mentioned in “Recalled Wreck”) is the official Duckburg prison and not simply a throwaway gag, and another Barksian reference in Two-Gun “Buck” McDuck, a name which will take a far greater importance when we examine The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

I love this panel.

This story is unusual in that the Barksian reference of the Cabbage Professor from “The Mysterious Stone Ray” kicks off the plot, but “Cash Flow” is not actually a sequel to that tale. When people discuss Rosa, I often hear a lack of distinction between ‘reference’ and ‘sequel’ and it bothers me. Almost all of Rosa’s stories are references to Barks (or his own stories) in at least a cursory fashion, but his sequel tales are a horse of a different color, and one that we won’t see until 1988’s “Last Sled to Dawson”.

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:

When I started writing & drawing Duck stories in 1987, I learned by copying Barks poses, as is or with any changes as suited my needs. – Don Rosa

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.

Son of the Sun: Weird.

Mythological Menagerie: REALLY weird.

Recalled Wreck: There we go.

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.

Image originally found here:

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.

Sidenote: I don’t get it.

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.

Don Rosa in Review – Mythological Menagerie (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.

[AR-104] – Mythological Menagerie (10 Pages, Gag)

The Story: In an effort to salvage his wounded pride, Donald attempts to ruin the endeavors of three small children by staging a sighting of an animal that isn’t real. But Rosa read up on his mythological animals and so did Huey Dewey and Louie, and Donald’s efforts end in failure.

The Review: Well look at that, we have a rare sighting of a Junior Woodchucks acronym!

I don’t know why these weren’t used more often in Rosa stories and couldn’t begin to speculate. I will say that this is a much stronger effort than “Nobody’s Business”, probably because Donald is usually at his funniest when he’s trying to ruin someone, and the schadenfreude you can get from that is comedy gold. Rosa capitalizes on schadenfreude a lot when writing Donald, and we’ll examine that as we go; but for, we have a simple, harmless story good for a few laughs.

Rosa makes a point of using real, historical facts and legend in many of his stories. That said, I’m not going to point out the historical events very often both because I am not a student of history and because it is not the point of this series. But I do find no small measure of amusement that even in his third story, the animals that Donald fabricates in “Mythological Menagerie” are all based on, well, mythological animals (a break in realism that I suspect Rosa allows because real world mythology in the Duck stories is an established Barksian trait, seen most recognizably in “Trail of the Unicorn”).

Continuity: Grandma Duck and Gus Goose make their first appearances here, serving as much-needed straightmen for Donald’s antics. I want to point out Donald’s membership in the Little Booneheads, a rough-and-tumble counterpart to the Junior Woodchucks that will be mentioned later.

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.

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.

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