The Talent and Tragedy of Don Rosa
Carl Barks is recognized as Disney’s duck man because of his extensive work in Disney comics. But there’s another, lesser known genius who not only recognized the canonical Duckburg Barks built, but expanded and, at times, improved upon it, while remaining true to the beloved Disney characters.
“Don Rosa tied up my entire Italian Legacy theme. He was an Italian-Irish-Scottish-American whose full name was Keno Don Hugo Rosa and was named after his Italian grandfather Gioachino Don Rosa. Mr. Rosa was without a doubt the undisputed master of modern duck storytelling. He picked up all of the qualities that made the Carl Barks adventures memorable and then expanded upon them. He was able to connect the dots between actual historical events and phases through Scrooge’s lifetime, all while managing to fold those adventures right into Barks continuity. Not unlike the research required to pull off historical Forrest Gump or Dan Brown sleight-of-hand.”
One of Rosa’s best works is The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Rosa took Bark’s stories and filled in all the gaps. Just about everything that Scrooge mentioned offhand about his formative years, Rosa cleverly crafted into a backstory and put it in the comics, fleshing out Scrooge’s history while staying true to Barks’ original creations.
Rosa started out as a fanboy, drawing comics before he could even write – he asked his parents to help him fill in the speech bubbles. He got hired by telling the publisher he was the best person to do Scrooge McDuck. He considers himself more of a storyteller than a professional artist. He says he just “knows” what he wants.
He was right.
The Documentary about him, The Life and Times of Don Rosa, outlines his career – and the end of it. His European fanbase is much larger than his American one, oddly. Well, perhaps not so oddly – the comics are wildly popular there, especially in Italy, to this day.
For more details, read Noe Valladolid’s Topolino series.
His style is different from Barks’, with more of an “underground” feel to it, meticulously detailed. Perhaps it’s his engineering degree (not art – he’s completely self-taught) that ensures that things are made to feel logical – at least in the comic world of Duckberg – and that just about everything that happens has a plausible (again, for comics) explanation to it. Something that happens in one story can link to another. But Rosa is a huge fan of Barks. In fact, in each comic (usually on the cover or first page) he hides “D.U.C.K.” – Dedicated to Uncle Carl from Keno (his real first name). He also had a few hidden Mickeys in the comics, even though he was not known to be a huge Mickey fan – Mickey, he says, is not part of the Duckberg universe.
Noe talks about Scrooge’s legacy here (Why so many links? Because Noe knows more about the Duckberg universe than anyone else I’ve ever met, and that’s saying somthing).
Rosa’s drawing hand was crushed in an accident, and retinal detachment in his eyes (he had surgery but it didn’t help much), as well as legal and business disputes were the reason Rosa retired with so much still left to do in 2008. Rumor had it that he couldn’t draw at all because of the accident. Fortunately, this is not true. But the loss of his art continuing on is a tragedy for Disney fans – and most Disney fans don’t even know his name, which is probably the biggest tragedy of all. He should have his handprints in the Legends courtyard at the Disney studios in Burbank. He does, however, have two Eisner awards – evidence that his peers recognize his genius.
He lives on his farm in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and occasionally comes out to talk to fans and even draw beloved characters for them: Don draws Klondike Scrooge in Italy, 2010
Thank you, Don Rosa.