As I write this introduction, Don Rosa has just made a reappearance online as a most welcome visitor in the Papersera forum. The official language of the forum is Italian but, fortunately, this does not seem to get in the way of the interaction. With the unofficial demise of the DCML it's nice to have once again a public online place where Don and his fans can meet.
In this episode we go back to discussing Don's pre-Disney days. We already talked about his first character, Lancelot Pertwillaby, which appeared in the student newspaper of Don's university. A few years later, while Don was working in the tile and terrazzo company founded by his grandfather Gioacchino (Keno), Lancelot had a second series of adventures as an unlikely superhero, this time in a real newspaper.
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FS: Shall we go back to the times of the beginning of your...
...of the world!
FS: Well, I thought I suggested the beginning of the world and then you went back to before the world existed! [Both laugh] I think I started by leading you into how you got to publish your first story with Gladstone, the Son of the Sun, and then we went back into prehistory and Lancelot Pertwillaby and so on. So, we were leading up to that and saying: OK, you managed to do the first version of the Son of the Sun, with Lancelot, in your university newspaper; and then, I think before we went out for lunch, I was asking you about the second run of Lancelot with Captain Kentucky, and that we didn't talk about yet, and then after that we would lead into you discovering Gemstone.
OK. So, we didn't talk about this for that  book?
FS: Yeah yeah, that's why I said, I apologize if I'm asking you things that I asked you a million times ten years ago. Because now people can hear them from the horse's mouth.
Oh, I got you, ok! So, what came after I was doing the fanzines work? I was doing that [from] 1974 to about 1978 and then, about 1979, the features editor of the local major newspaper called me up. I was already a known local eccentric, a local personality, cartoonist, comic book collector, you know, people had done articles on me now and then. Anyway, he said he wanted to have a weekly newspaper comic strip. And I was the first person he thought of. He called me up and he said I could do anything I wanted, I could suggest anything I wanted, see if he liked it, and he wanted a weekly strip. I think I had two ideas. That's all he said: "Suggest some ideas!". Right away I knew I wanted it to be... it had to be local, I wanted to make it local and I'd use real people and real places; and I think it was either going to be a detective, like a Sherlock Holmes parody, that would involve local personalities and mysteries, or that it was easier to do superhero, that seemed like there'd be more action.
FS: What kind of paper was it that posted this?
It was for the major Louisville newspaper, The Courier-Journal. Actually for The Louisville Times which was the afternoon edition with the C-J being the morning edition. Both papers were owned by the Bingham family. If you were listening carefully last night [when we went into town to watch Shakespeare's Tempest], I'm sure you don't remember but the lady who came down in the theater and introduced the plays said "Thanks to the Barry Bingham foundation" that helped sponsor this play. Barry Bingham was the publisher of both of the main local newspapers. And his morning edition C-J was a major newspaper in the country. I think it was sometimes regarded as one of the five or six most prestigious newspapers in the country. Anyway, it was a major newspaper, not just like some local neighbourhood [paper]. And this was their Scene magazine, sort of the entertainment section of the Saturday paper. A magazine: on newsprint but it's magazine style, folds out, there's articles on movies, cooking, television and interesting articles on lifestyle and everything; and then he wanted to have a comics page which would have all sorts of interesting national cartoons, like Larson's THE FAR SIDE and other national strips that he handpicked as being unique and different; and he wanted to have a local comic strip so he called me. And so I suggested a superhero comic strip; but I also suggested not because I personally wanted more space but I said: once a week, it has to be like a Sunday page. If it's just once a week, we can't get anything done in one tiny strip per week, because I wasn't going to do just gags, it was going to be a continuing story. And he, without any hesitation, he said "Sure!", he'd give me half a page in the paper and I came up with Captain Kentucky. And it was a comedy superhero, and it was Lancelot Pertwillaby again, I mean there was no reference made to the early Lancelot Pertwillaby, I just figured it'd be fun if I used my same character. One reason it was fun was that it was me. Readers didn't know it was me but it was fun to draw myself into these adventure stories. For instance I guess it was fun to draw myself into that Pertwillaby Papers story that I regarded as an Uncle Scrooge adventure. I was the hero of an Uncle Scrooge adventure! It's hard to imagine it was me looking at me now, but that's what I looked like in those days.
Oh yeah, from the first episode of the Pertwillaby Papers in 1972, I was drawing myself as Lancelot Pertwillaby, yeah!
FS: Consciously making it yourself?
Sure! But nobody knew it was me, it was just an in-joke to myself. Just for the fun of it. Certainly I wasn't doing it because I thought I was handsome! Gosh no, red hair and thick glasses... it was just fun to do. Plus, it looks like an unlikely hero! It's not the person you make the hero of a comic strip. So, like a Woody Allen kind of character. That's why Woody Allen puts himself in his movies: because he was a very unlikely-looking hero, so he is a comedy hero.
FS: When I visited you eight years ago in 2000...
...you thought I was Woody Allen!
FS: No, I thought you were Captain Kentucky! Because you got out your outfit and you had your mantle [= cape] and stuff, you still have it over there I guess...
You remind me I've got a copy of Scene magazine, it's funny I didn't notice it in there when we were flipping through that stack last night... I'm on the cover of Scene magazine in my Captain Kentucky outfit, but bald... as I look now. They did that a couple of years ago.
FS: So, that Captain Kentucky outfit, is that something you did after this was all over or while it was running?
Oh, while it was running! Yeah! My wife made it and I would make some personal appearances on television or at special events as Captain Kentucky. I remember one, they were doing a special series of TV shows, I think it was a local channel, it was one of their anniversaries, thirtieth anniversary or something, and so they were having lots of local celebrities and local personalities come and appear. And I was down at the [TV] station waiting to go on live and there was some group of little girls, seven or eight years old little girls, and they were going to go out and sing, and I was standing there in my Captain Kentucky outfit... Now, you have to know that part of the outfit, the cape, was a Kentucky flag, which I thought would make a really nice flag because the Kentucky flag is possibly one of the only flags of States that has a fringe around it, an old fashioned gold fringe, you know, tassels all the way around it. So that would always be fun to draw as a cape. I was the only superhero with a cape that had tassels all around it! So I'm standing there, waiting to go on air, and this little tiny girl looks up back at me and says "Is that cape you're wearing... is that a Kentucky flag?" I said: "Yes it is! I'm Captain Kentucky!" She said: "Isn't that disrespectful?" [Both laugh!] Now I said "Ah, uhm, er... Excuse me! Where's the window..." [Just at that moment, a bird smacks into the glass pane of one of the windows (!!) of the studio and then flies away, somewhat perplexed] A bird hit the window! That's what I did, I took off, like that!
FS: Did you also hit the window?
Yeah, hit the window, escaping from a little girl!
FS: That would suit Captain Kentucky, I guess...
The images in this blog post are © Don Rosa. I received the signed copies of the three volumes of the Captain Kentucky Collection from Don himself when I visited him in 1996 while writing the book about him (Don Rosa e il Rinascimento disneyano) with Leonardo Gori and Alberto Becattini. The black and white photo of Captain Kentucky flying over what I guess must be Louisville appears on the back of volume 2. The panel in which Lancelot Pertwillaby has acquired super-powers but hasn't realized yet is the one that opens episode 3 (of 150) of Captain Kentucky.