Don Rosa January 2008, part 2

At least I clearly said in the first post of this blog that, knowing my other commitments, I would not be able to post very frequently, so I make no apologies for that. For me this is a labour of love towards Don and it must be done properly or not at all. It's taken me two months to find the time to transcribe, annotate and illustrate the next piece. Oh well. If only I were retired...

A suggestion for the esteemed members of this small audience of comics lovers: load the audio chunks of the interview in a corner of your mp3 player, keep them there and listen to them again and again, when you feel like. I've been doing that myself, with the interview in my headphones as I cycle to the university, and I find it really enjoyable! First, it's a bit like being back in Don's studio with him, which for me is always great even if I've listened to (or indeed taken part in) the conversation before. Second, there's always some extra bit you only discover on a second and third and fourth pass, or maybe a point you made a mental note of looking up but which you later forgot about. I find it well worth listening to Don again and again.

When I posted the first part of the interview in April, Don had recently undergone surgery for retinal detachment. The resulting gas bubble took many weeks to shrink and disappear but it finally did so just in time for him to attend a comics festival in Copenhagen last weekend. (There are photos of the event on Sigvald Grøsfjeld's site; me, I was in New York at the time.) I'm so happy that he is getting better and he can now even fly! I hope his eyesight will continue to improve and that his recovery will be complete.

I'll visit Don again at the end of the month (June 2008). Although I am quite sure I won't have finished to transcribe the January interview by then, if you have any questions for him then feel free to post them as comments on this blog. If he allows me, I'll ask him to answer them in his own voice then, and I'll post them here in a future issue of the podcast.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the second installment of the January interview. Download the audio as mp3 or play it directly from the browser using the flash gadget below.

FS: You were not new to thinking to yourself of Carl Barks adventures in terms of adventures with other human people that you would draw, like [the ones] we dug out when I came 10 years ago for the book...

DR: Oh! Yeah! You mean in the sense that back when I was still in grade school, 13 or 14 years old, is when the first Carl Barks reprint comic books came out, the Best of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge editions in the mid-60s, and that's when I had already gotten rid of all my childhood comics because it's... it's not the sort of thing I would have done, I have met at least one friend who knew not to get rid of the things from his childhood, he knew those would be important to him his whole life. I did not know that. I thought the things you enjoy when you're a kid, you enjoy because you are simple-minded [laughs]. Plus the comics, I should point out, like I said, that the comics by the late 60s weren't as good as they were when I was... they really weren't as good, even the Carl Barks stories weren't as good as they were 10 years earlier.

Plus you were reading older comics because of your sister, you weren't really reading in real time.

Well, my sister was not buying the comics any more, so I had started buying comics; and when I went out to look at them for myself I could see that the Disney comics didn't look as good as they used to. But now I was interested in Superman comics and these were comics with a... they were adventure comics and well drawn but they also had a continuity... Ah, that's always a dangerous thing to talk about: people nowadays think of Marvel comic style of continuity where the whole universe is tightly bound. It wasn't that sort of continuity, it was simply that when something was mentioned in one story, it might be mentioned again in another story, simply that! And that was more interesting to me than the way even Carl Barks would do a comic where an adventure that the ducks would have would never be mentioned again. Whereas, in a Superman comic, [something] like the bottle city of Kandor could be used again a year later, or the kryptonite could be referred to again or... generally Superman would sometimes make a reference to when he did this, when he went back in the time machine to Krypton the last time. I really enjoyed that! I actually don't enjoy the Marvel style, tight, strict continuity, which these critics, the few of them, always think they want to accuse me of. Because I think even though they know they are wrong, I just do the... it's some Mort Weisinger, he was the editor of Superman in the 50s, it's that style of just very loose continuity, is just normal, what you'd expect, because the total lack of continuity in a Disney comic is unnatural. I thought it was unnatural even when I was reading them as a kid! [Uhm, how did we get here?] Oh, I was talking about how I lost interest in the comics because I had moved on to other ones so I got rid of all the comics I grew up with when I started collecting the... okay that's the main reason I got rid of them: because when I went down to the used comics store, the used magazine store that's always down in the slums of the city, since my father grew up down there he'd be glad to take me down to the ghetto or the slum; shh, go on, it's not that bad but, you know, it's the really sleazy part of town, you know, right next to this used comic magazine store was the follies, what do you call them, the strip joints, all in that whole area, but I mean he was a city boy so he knew it was okay if he took me down there, we weren't going to get killed; I don't think he would have let me go into the strip joint but he wouldn't mind if I went into the comic book store or the bookstore next to it. Anyway, the reason I got rid of my sister's comics I guess was not so much that I was trying to purge myself of them but that, when I went in there to buy some used Superman comics, I found out you could get two for one, or rather one for two: if I brought in two comics, I could get one for free. So that's when I downloaded my sister's comics: I carried them down there, then I could get half as many comics in exchange and I didn't have to spend any money! So that I guess is the main reason I got rid of my sister's comics. Anyway, in 1965 I think it was, Gold Key published the Best of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. And in fact I didn't see that on the newsstand: I actually saw it used, it was just a month old, at this used magazine store, while I was looking for Superman comics. And I picked this up and, unless I'm mistaken, it was those two stories in it: the reason it caught my eye is it had the Golden Helmet which was my favourite Donald Duck story. In fact when I got rid of all of my sister's comics, there were two that I just couldn't bear to part with: one was the Golden Helmet and one was Only a Poor Old Man. My two favourite Donald Duck comics!

And that's the one we found earlier on; so we might talk about that later.

Yeah! But anyway, the golden helmet was one that was being reprinted and that caught my attention because it was my favourite comic and am looking at this and it said the editor's choice or something, you know, the most classic story of Donald Duck and I'm thinking: so, other people like that story? Maybe I'm... maybe I liked it for more than... that I was just a stupid kid. Maybe it was a good story, and I've got good taste... and then I looked at what else was in the issue and it was the Old Castle's Secret and that was actually an older comic than my sister had, she started maybe a year or two after that one was published, in 1948, and I looked at that and... I had never seen a Donald Duck comic like that! It had an atmosphere like an old movie, it was scary, it was not cute and a lot more detailed than even Barks's later art was! So I took that comic home and what you just handed me here in the magazine [page 29 of the Italian Rosa book] is an example of... all I wanted to do was the joy of telling that story myself. But I went about it in a strange way, you know, ideas that occur to kids, you can't explain them, but I thought if I just copied that story, with my own characters into my own little comic books, that would be fun and I would participate in telling the story, even though I was copying the story. I was creating new parts, there would be parts that I would tell differently, I think the villain would get killed, like in a movie.

Maybe it's a bit like some 14 or 16-year-old kid who listens to some music on the radio and it's really good and he wants to pick up the guitar and play it again and maybe do some variations, just like that...

Okay, sure! And I never did that, I was never interested in music, like rock 'n' roll, but lots of people did that, they wanted... just for the pure fun of creating that same sound, they weren't so much interested right away (that would come later) in creating their own music, they wanted the joy of hearing those sounds come out of their hands and then that would inspire them to say "oh that's so cool, what if I change a little bit here, and add this" and then later on they got some... that's very good! But to me it was comics that I enjoyed.

Are these the things that were in ledgers that your father brought from work we can see and they were only for your own amusement? Nobody ever saw them?

Right! Nobody saw them.

The first guy to see these is me, 10 years ago when I was writing the book?

You'd be one of the first people. I imagine I'd show them to Ray, my friends, my comic book collector friends, I'd show them what I do and still nobody has ever sat down and looked all the way through any of them.

Would you show them as in: "here's the thing, have a look" and flick the pages, or would you give it to them and "give it to me next time"?

No, nobody has ever read any of those. And I'm sure the ones I did when I was eight or nine years old, those are impossible to read. I mean, they make sense to me because I knew what was going on. And if I look at them now maybe I can get a sense of where I'm going and I can maybe understand them but if I look at some of them I'll have no idea what the story is about because, you know, it's not being explained properly. But yeah, my father from the office would get these blank business ledgers, they were like diaries, daily appointment diaries, but the thing was the pages were blank instead of ruled, you know, there were no lines on the pages so each page was blank and it was already a bound book so that was fun to be able to put... I started out originally doing them on separate pieces of paper and then stapling the pages together but I don't think I had a stapler, I think I sewed them together.

We had seen them, some of them were sewn, yes!

They were sewn with yarn, not even with thread! But then my father showed me one of these books and from then on I would always use one of these blank business diaries and it was like we had in America Big Little Books, that was a comic book but with one illustration on each page. They were small, they were not giant books, so there was one comic book panel per page, but they were thick books, you should point out they were not thin books like a comic, they were big, thick, hundreds of pages. So I did one book of the Golden Helmet with my characters and a few of my own plot twists and then I did another book with the Old Castle's Secret with my characters and maybe a couple of extra scenes and so on.

Right. So, we started on all this backward trip because we were going to talk about you getting to the Son of the Sun, right?


So we have seen the first version of the Son of the Sun, then you were doing Lancelot, then you got another...

The first version was in the school [newspaper]; we had talked to the point where I was leading up to it and then they told me they didn't want it, so I sat out the rest of that year; that was the second semester of junior or senior year. And then in the next semester they had a new editor! So I went back and I said, I would like to do your political cartoons and I'd like to do a comic strip, and at that time they said "okay!". And this was an editor who wasn't so serious: he wanted to be maybe a different type of editor. Maybe the first editor wanted to be the "editorial page" editor, so he had a much too serious outlook as far as I was concerned; and this next editor was more general, like "put together a nice newspaper", because there should be parts with serious news commentary and then serious news reporting and maybe a little bit of fluff...

Now, just as a curiosity, do you remember who these people were?


Do you know if they ever knew that they were grooming the Don Rosa that would become world-famous?

No! One funny thing though: I've never heard back from the University of Kentucky! And I would think that somebody has pointed out to them that one of the world's apparently most famous Uncle Scrooge stories, my very first story (and whatever you can call my career came from that), was first published in their newspaper. I would think that college-aged editors would think that was an interesting story and they'd want to interview me, especially nowadays that comic books are supposed to be hip. Even though not many people read them, they are still considered to be hip and businessy: all the Superman and Batman and Spiderman movies... Of course I'm not doing Spiderman, I'm doing Donald damn Duck! Which is probably what they [think]; if anybody ever showed it to them, they would say: "Donald Duck! Who wants to read that!". You know, in America, nobody reads those kinds of comics or even knows they ever existed. But I'm surprised that nobody from the Kentucky Kernel, that's what it was called, a play on words, it's a kernel of information and it's also the Kentucky Colonel, c-o-l-o-n-e-l [as opposed to] k-e-r-n-e-l...

The one of the Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Yeah, Colonel Sanders is an imitation of an old Kentucky Colonel. Then there is the kernel, like a corn kernel, of information; anyway, I'm surprised that nobody has ever wanted to interview me about that.

The cover of the BDDUS comic is from outducks.org and is © Disney. The images of Don's early comics are from photocopies given to me by him in 1996 and are © Don Rosa.