Interview with Don Rosa
by Didier Ghez
By mail, June 1996
Don Rosa is one of the best artists currently working on Disney comics stories. Having started working for Gladstone in 1987, he relived in the US the character of $crooge Mc Duck, writing and drawing for him brand new stories and adventures. His most famous work to date is without a doubt the huge saga The Life and Times of $crooge Mc Duck. His art-style might remind some of Robert Crumb, but his compelling scenarios compare with the best of Barks. His fame around the world is building everyday. Let's hear what he has to say about it.
Could you tell us about your career before writing and drawing Disney comic books ?
Before I started writing and drawing Duck comics for Gladstone in 1987, I operated the family construction company which my grandfather started here in Louisville when he came from Italy in 1905. My education is in civil engineering, not cartooning. The only cartooning I ever did, or even intended to do, was as a hobby for school papers, comic fanzines, local newspapers and for my own amusement when I was very young. And the most important part of that "training" was the comic books I did that no one else has ever seen, when I was 5-13 years old.
What do you consider as the big landmarks of your career as a Disney comic books writer ?
The biggest landmarks in my career might be the publication of my first Duck comic (which was also my first professional comic job of ANY sort), "The Son of the Sun" in Uncle $crooge #219. It boggles my mind STILL to imagine I actually wrote and drew an entire issue of the very comic I loved so much from my earliest childhood memory. 9 years later, it still seems like a dream. The next landmark would be when I went to work for Egmont. Another when I made my first trip to Europe to help promote the Duck comics. And then, certainly, when I won the Eisner Award for Best Serializes Story of 1995.
What are the stories you consider your best achievements ?
I especially enjoyed doing the sequels to the very same Barks stories I loved so much as a kid, "Return to Xanadu" and "Return to Plain Awful". I also liked "Last Sled to Dawson" and "The Duck Who Never Was". But if Life of $crooge is all ONE story, that's my favorite. But still, generally speaking, I dislike most all my work as a rule. I'm sometimes pleased with the overall, general result, but embarrassed by the amateurish particulars of the art or script.
Were some of your ideas ever rejected ? Why ? Were there some funny ones or some that were dear to your heart ?
Ideas might be rejected in a particular story, which would only result in a slight rewrite. But on rare occasions an entire story or almost an entire story is rejected. My wise and worthy editor, Byron Erickson rejected two entire "Lo$" scripts, and he was right both times. He once rejected one I did later for a different publisher titled "The Money Pit", which I think is one of my best... but maybe Byron thought it was too preachy (it was a comic story "speech" against comic book speculators). He recently rejected another I liked which followed a coin on its travels around Duckburg, because I believe he said it featured the coin as the main "character" rather than one of the Disney Ducks - and I hope to do that one for somebody else someday, also.
Your drawings are always very detailed. Can you tell us about the hidden details of some of your stories ?
Cripes, there's too many hidden details in my stories to even begin to describe them. You don't so much mean "hidden" as obscure. They aren't hidden if you know where to look. Of course, one thing that's truly hidden in each cover and splash-panel is the dedication "D.U.C.K", "Dedicated to Unca Carl from Keno" (my first name, Don being my middle name). I originally intended to write it plainly, but Disney does not allow signatures in the art, and that would look or act as my signature. So the editors would remove it from the art until I started hiding it.
If you were to single out just one of your drawings, what would that be ? Why ?
One drawing ? You mean one panel ? No, I couldn't do that ! So many are important for different reasons ! One might be the funniest. another might be most exciting or action-packed. Another might be filled with insane amounts of detail, but be otherwise insignificant. My single favorite COVER drawing would be the cover to Gladstone's WALT DISNEY GIANT #1 - $CROOGE McDUCK IN THE YUKON - "Hearts of the Yukon", especially the way Susan Daigle-Leach colored it. But... there were other covers that I like as well. I'd need to study on that a spell.
Who are the Disney artists who influenced tour art and style ?
The only "Disney artist" who could have influenced my style would be Barks, though I would think of him as a dell artist who worked on their Disney comics, if that makes a difference. I was never a fan of "Disney comics" - I was a fan of whoever the heck it was who was doing those good Duck stories.
What is your favorite Barks' story ?
Picking a favorite Barks story is the unfair question. I'm always asked. So many are so good for completely different reasons. But, even though I adore many of the 10-page "gag stories", since my tastes run more towards adventure-comedy, i usually name a few long adventures. And there's also the problem that some of the stories I grew up with, and others I discovered later after becoming a adult collector of back-issues. The ones I discovered later can never hold that special place in my heart that my childhood favorites do, even though they might be better. The best story I did not grow up with might be the Tralla La story. My favorites from my youth were the first issue of UNCLE $CROOGE (I didn't know it was the first issue - the cover said #386) with "Only a Poor Old Man", not so much for the plot as for the character sketch of Donald and $crooge on the last page, and for that panel of the dam breaking which is perhaps my favorite panel of comic book art ever. I also loved "The Golden Helmet" since it was so well based in history that, as a kiddie, I even believed it could happen. I love the stories most solidly based in fact the most. As a result, even though it's a dandy, I don't name the same favorite as the rest of the planet, "Lost in the Andes", simply because it featured impossible beings, which would prevent it from becoming a top choice with me.
Are there some barksian characters you do not like to draw ?
Do you mean is there a character I do not like to USE ? Or to DRAW ? It's hard to find a good story in which to use Gladstone in a fresh way, but I don't dislike DRAWING him. It's kinda hard to draw Magica with her silky hair flying around, but I still like to do it. No, I like to draw or use any character that I need for a story. It's BACKGROUNDS that I hate to draw ! That takes more time than the characters and isn't the least bit of fun ... but y'gotta put the backgrounds in ! I wish I earned enough money to hire an assistant to ink backgrounds ! But then, I still like doing the job 100% alone, even if parts are tedious. I'm glad I did it alone when it's done.
Barks used National Geographic, what do you use ? and how do you use it ?
The first thing I did when I knew I'd get a chance to do $crooge stories is to go to a neighbor and to take her offer of the last 50 years of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. I'm sure I use them just as Barks did, but they are only a beginning point for research, since they don't feature in-depth articles. It's often more like a travelogue by some professional writer. The NATGEOs lead me to research in more detailed books.
Who are the non-Disney artists you might consider as your masters ? Why ?
Since I never intended to be a professional cartoonist, I never tried to imitate anyone's style since when I did my art as a hobby I wasn't trying to impress an editor, only amuse myself telling stories. The art wasn't all that important to me (as you can probably tell, otherwise I would have learned to do it better !) But I must have been influenced by some of the comics and magazines my sister brought home, and readers often tell me they can see certain influences, even if I'm not conscious of it myself. Barks was probably more of an influence on how I write than how I draw.
I imagine I'm influenced by the MAD MAGAZINE artists since I liked that stuff a lot. I also liked Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger in the Superman comics, and the two Will Eisner comics published by Harvey I saw as a teenager. I'm sure I was influenced by the one ASTERIX book I found in my high school library - if I had grown up in Europe and lived in a society where comics like Asterix were the norm rather than the super-hero stuff that took over in America by the mid 60s, my life surely would have been quite different. I probably WOULD have always intended to go into it as a living if I'd been surrounded by the sort of comics I liked. I haven't been influenced by any "funny animals" comics I can think of since I didn't care for those in particular. I liked adventure stories. Swashbuckling stuff. Horror and SF comics. I can't begin to list all of my favorite comics artists here, since I collect virtually ALL comic books of 1945-85, and like many different artists in many different kinds of comics.
Why do you seem to refuse to enlarge the universe that Barks created (for example by creating new characters like the Italian artists do) ?
I don't purposely "refuse" to enlarge the Barks universe as the Italians do. One reason I might seem to is that the tradition that America and Scandinavia have grown up with and accepted is to simply treat the Barks universe as a static thing, and not purposely seek to enlarge upon it. There aren't all that many characters in it, but it is a SUPERB cast with limitless possibilities. Now, the Italians as a nation were inventing a Donald Duck universe ever since the 30s, so Barks is simply a worthy addition to their cast, rather than the foundation for it as with us. It's probably just a matter of tradition for both ideologies. But I hope I don't refrain from creating characters if I think of a good story. Of course, one never gets a share in the profits from one's own creations in this line of work, so perhaps we're subconsciously resistant to the idea ?
Can you tell us about the genesis of the Life of $crooge in details ?
I have written even more about the genesis of the "Lo$" in our new Internet web-foot-site. I'm both drained of anything else to add and, frankly, POOPED about talking about that. But get access to the Internet, and read through the stuff in our section all about the "Lo$".
Is there anything you would handle differently if you were to write this saga today ?
I think the only thing I'd look at changing a bit is the scene where $crooge is "supposedly" destroying a riverboat in part 8. I think some readers, knowing that I came from the philistine land of violent super-hero comics, took that sequence too literally, so I obviously mishandled it. Aside from that, the only thing I regret is that Egmont didn't want me to do more than 15 pages per most episodes. I wouldn't say that wasn't a wise choice for them, but if I only do the series once, it might have been interesting to have had more breathing room at times. But that's what they call "Monday morning quarterbacking"... them, not me, since I'm not the sports fan.
I saw that a few panels were changed between the version that was published in the US and the one published in France. Why is it so ? Which version do you prefer ?
I wish I knew why France published the WRONG version in PICSOU ! I do all my 3-part stories in TWO different versions, so that if any country intend to publish the stories as SINGLE parters (as does Gladstone) there is additional art with all-new gags, etc., to fill in those awkward half-page splash panels. And yet France and the Netherlands NEVER USE the proper art when they publish one-part versions of those stories, despite the fact those versions would look and read so much batter in their comics. So, I don't know the answer to that one ! I wish I did ! Let me know the answer if you find out !
You left a blank spot in the Lo$ between 1889 and 1893. Do we know what happens to $crooge during that period ? Will we know it through one of your future stories ?
I will soon do an episode in the "Life of $crooge" which will be episode 6B and will cover the years 1889-1893.
If we include Barks' story, Goldie appears to have "met" $crooge at least four times. We are getting lost in terms of chronology for those meetings. Could you clarify that point for us ?
$crooge and Goldie have only met three times. Once in Barks' "Back to the Klondike" flashback, where she steals his poke ands he kidnaps her for a month into the gold fields, the second time in that same story in the present, and the third time in my "Last Sled to Dawson" a few years later. In "King of the Klondike" they never meet, even though they yell at each other from distances a few times (since I fully intend that Barks' story tells of their first meeting), and in my "Hearts of the Yukon" they are never both conscious at the same time during the climax of the story. This is my intention. I NEVER want a story where they have any further contact; That would ruin the magnitude of the three times they did meet. 1- when they were lovers in 1898; 2- when $crooge realized he still loved her in the present in "Back to the Klondike"; and 3- when she finds out in "Last Sled..." that $crooge intended to propose marriage in 1899, but never made it. Any further meetings will spoil it all. I don't know about other writers, but I will NEVER allow them to meet again.
What are you currently working on ?
I'm currently doing a long adventure about $crooge and Flintheart going in search of the lost city of gold, Eldorado. It's about time $crooge searched out the greatest legendary treasure of the Americas - Eldorado was practically the whole reason for the early exploration of this entire hemisphere. And, as usual, my research has uncovered such fantastic true stories about the search for Eldorado that whatever imaginary stuff I come up with will pale by comparison (simply because it's imaginary - truth is more fascinating than fiction to me).
Who is your favorite Disney character ? Why ?
My favorite Disney-owned character is $crooge McDuck. My favorite Disney character is Donald Duck, as done by Carl Barks. But I strictly prefer the comic book style versions of these characters which I definitely set apart from the Disney versions. First of all, of course, Disney never had anything to do with $crooge. As for Donald cartoons - it was Dell and Barks that made him into a personality with character and depth and background and substance.
Do you enjoy Disney animation ?
I enjoy Disney animation as much as the next guy - I have most all their feature cartoons on laser disc. But I prefer animated features that are done on a more sophisticated, adult level; My absolute favorites are the works of the Japanese animation producer/director/designer Hayao Miyazaki. I think the best animated feature ever made is his "LAPUTA" - the animation is limited, but the design and the plot and the style is, to my way of thinking, far superior to anything Disney ever did. But Disney might be able to do this sort of thing if they wanted to... they simply choose to aim at the more lucrative market of "family fare". It's possible to admire their technique, but the stories are naturally kept on a level so children can understand. Animated cartoons, like everything else, should also sometimes be done on amore sophisticated level, and Miyazaki can do that since he's working for a culture where everything is not done on one level.
Next year we will celebrate $crooge 50th birthday. Do you plan to do anything to commemorate ?
I don't know what *I* will personally do, but numerous publishers around the world will be reprinting my "Life of $crooge" in deluxe editions. I hope to contribute something to their efforts, such as signing special editions.
I think you collect $crooge items. What is your favorite piece ? Why ?
I collect Disney Duck figurines in general not just $crooge. There have never been $crooge toys or such in America since he was a comic book character and toy companies were far more interested in licensing the normal Disney characters that more people see at Walt Disney World and on T-shirts and so forth. There was a bunch of "DuckTales" toys and "Mickey's Christmas Carol" toys about 8 years ago, but those don't count since those were not really $crooge McDuck of the comic books. I guess my favorite $crooge item would be a rubber bank-safe with $crooge sitting on top surrounded by Huey, Dewey and Louie - it was made in 1960 actually by DELL comics itself... so this means it is the ONLY $crooge item ever made anywhere in history by the people who actually created him - so it's the only "REAL" $crooge toy there ever was.
Do you have any dreams for the future of $crooge, the characters you draw or Disney in general ?
The only desire I have for the future of these comics is that the freelance artists who create the stories might someday be granted the respect of being able to have their artwork returned to them, with the right to do with it whatever they please, as it is with freelance artists on all other sorts of comics; I pray every day that someone will decide it's time we received that small reward.
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