The Dream of a Lifetime

interview with Don Rosa

Let's talk about your first Disney work. The legend says that sometime around 1986 or 87 you noticed that these chaps at Gladstone were reprinting the classic stories and doing comics as good as the good old ones, and because they had some new authors you phoned them up just like that and said that you were the one born to draw Duck stories. What's the truth behind this? Do you want to tell us the story?

This "legend" is absolutely true. To retell it in more detail for you: by 1986 I was already dropping out of keeping up with what was currently going on in American comics. I had stopped buying all comics a few years earlier and was concentrating on my old collections. Then one day I saw a Gladstone comic which was a total surprise to me. It had a Jippes cover as it turned out, but what amazed me at the moment was that I THOUGHT I was seeing a Barks cover that I was unaware of, and I knew I had a complete Barks collection. After buying several months of Gladstones I was delighted to see Disney comics coming from a company that obviously knew and loved the stories, and that the Jippes cover was from some amount of Disney comic material that had apparently been published overseas; however, I didn't have a CLUE how popular these comics were overseas or what a vast body of Disney comic work existed that I was totally unaware of. I slowly learned that and wasn't completely aware of it until my first visit to Scandanavia in 1991, Germany in 1993, Italy in 1995, and somewhere else yet that will further amaze me. Anyway, I was buying the Gladstones and after a few months they used a new story by a guy named Martin Greim, whom I knew as a "fanzine artist" like myself. It was a short gag story and had the typical Greim type art -- simple, nice, but each panel seemingly traced from something. I never thought that they would be using new material, much less work from an amateur. So, I knew this was my moment that I'd always dreamed of -- to write and draw just ONE $crooge adventure story. I called up editor Byron Erickson on the phone and said something very similar to "My name is Don Rosa. I am the only American BORN to write and draw $crooge McDuck comics. I have always known it was my manifest destiny. I want to do one story for Gladstone." Now I didn't know any of the people at Gladstone except Bruce Hamilton, but they knew me from when I was one of the most prominent fan writers or cartoonists in America and had been for about 13 years. So Byron asked me to send him some art samples to make sure I could draw Ducks at least as good as people (which isn't saying much) and then told me to proceed with a story. And as you know, I chose the plot that I'd written in 1971 and used in 1973 as a "Pertwillaby Papers" adventure, though even then I'd pictured it as a $crooge story. But that was the only story I planned on doing, just to fulfill that childhood dream. But later, as they say, "one thing lead to another".

But at the time you discovered the Gladstones you had stopped being an active comics collector, hadn't you? How did it happen that you bought some?

I saw them at a normal comic rack in a book store (one of last of those sorts of mass-media normal stores that now no longer sells comics in America).

How did you, as a fan, like the new stories used by Gladstone next to the Barks classics?

Eh. Interesting. Nice stories, but not something I would have started buying Disney comics to see. I just loved the high-quality look of these Disney Gladstones and knew I HAD to have them as a "collector". Oh, but certainly the Euro-reprints were infinitely better than the hack work that Gold Key and Whitman had been churning out before they finally folded. WHY Gold Key hadn't been reprinting Dutch or Egmont stories for two decades by then, rather than paying people to produce crud, is a major mystery! Actually, in the LAST issue of the Whitman WDC&S before it ceased publication, they used a Euro DD story... but I didn't know that till years later when I went back to collect all those years of awful American Disney comics just to tie my old comic sets into my Gladstone comic sets.

What did you think other fans might think of seeing new stories next to old classics?

I didn't worry about what they might think of the Euro stories I was seeing. These were obviously GREAT work compared to what Americans had been getting for 20 years! How could they possibly object? They should be leaping for joy.What worried me in this sense was when I did MY first story that I could tell was trying to harken back MUCH more directly to the stories of all our childhoods. I was very afraid that Duckfans like myself would resent this.And I know a few do, but they seem to be in an infinitely tiny minority. I probably would have resented somebody doing what I was doing, especially somebody as untrained and as poor an artist as I was. But I've always been astounded and grateful that virtually all the readers understood what I was trying to do -- I was not (and really AM not) a professional, trained cartoonist; I'm a Duckfan doing fanboy comics for other fanboys -- and the readers were kind enough to look past my bad art and enjoy the fun I was having along with me.

Did you send a letter with sample art and a script? A scribbled storyboard or a typed script?

I guess it was a typed script.

Did you have a big party at home when they said yes?

Hm. An odd question. No, we didn't have a party. Actually, I think I've only been to one and given one party in my life. In other words, I'm pretty quiet and introspective. I was doing mental handsprings of joy, but no one around me cared. My wife wasn't interested. I imagine my father was sick about it, finding out how little I cared for the family business compared to the work of some old guy who did "children's comic books" that he didn't think anyone over 4 years old should read. If anything, I'm sure my small family was saddened by the news. And I didn't even tell local friends since none of them were Duckfans. I recall the FIRST person I ever told... it was Denis Kitchen when I saw him at the next convention I went to. I said (and this is true!) "Denis, guess what I'm going to be doing?" and he immediately said "Does it have anything to do with Ducks?" See, I wasn't the only person who'd always known what my manifest destiny was. I think it was pretty well-known to anyone who'd been reading my fanzine articles or my fanzine comics for 14 years.

Was your first script for Son of the Sun much different from the one that was approved? Did they change much? Did they cut anything?

I might see if I still have a copy of the original script. That's a good question. I know that I planned a scene around the campfire where Flintheart is telling about his early life and why he decided to become the World's Richest (?) Duck, and it would become evident that he was inspired by the adventures or influence of $crooge on one of his early trips through Africa. But I don't think I ever actually wrote that portion since I would have seen it wouldn't have fit into the 28 pages. So, I did that story in chapter 6 of the "Lo$".

How did you feel when you had the final comic in your hands? You'd been wanting to do this ever since you were a kid!

When I finally had a copy of the finished, printed, lettered, colored U$#219 in my hands, with a complete $crooge adventure credited to being both written and drawn by "Don Rosa"? After I had dreamed of that so much all my life... and I mean ALL my life, from my earliest memory... dreamed of it somuch that I copied Barks stories just for my own amusement as a child? How did I feel? Words fail to express it. Can you imagine what that would feel like? Can you imagine how PROUD I was? I've always seriously pictured myself at some impossible reception somewhere, and someone coming up to me and saying "hello, I'm the personal physician of the Queen of England." and I would say "So what? *I* write and draw Uncle $crooge comics!" Does that give you any idea of how proud I was? Also, consider this. What if a pixie had whispered in my ear "Don... this won't be a one-shot story for you. You'll go on to do more for Gladstone. Then in only 3 years you'll be hired by the biggest Disney publisher in the world. Then just a few years after that you'll be being hailed as the most popular Duck writer-artist since Carl Barks, and you'll get free trips to Europe and be on the front pages of newspapers and on national TV shows and you'll do the 213 page life story of $crooge and win the Eisner Award and some crackpots in Italy will be writing a book about you!" How would I have felt, I wonder. What would I have done? I never planned on doing more than the one story, and even if I had, I would have been overjoyed to have just been another anonymous Disney comic cartoonist. I NEVER dreamed of any of this. How do you think I STILL feel? What could be more wonderful? (Getting lots of $ for it, maybe, but then I would have EVERYTHING and it would be too grossly unfair to the rest of humanity!)

What was the first reader feedback you received for that story? A letter to the comic? A letter to you personally? Do you remember the first letter you ever got as a Disney author? Did you get lots of feedback, only a little, or none at all?

The first letter I got was from Geoff Blum who read an advance copy of the "Son of the Sun" and wrote me a long letter about how much he liked it and how it was the first non-Barks story that he'd ever read that captured even a hint of that olf spirit. Geoff was an early supporter, and for years after that I would send him advance copies of my stories to get his opinions -- I always value the opinions of other Barks-fans since I know that I might have stumbled into this job but I have no more right to be messing with people's childhood heroes than the next Duckfan. But Geoff eventually soured on me for some reason.... I think he began resenting my work when I was doing the "Lo$"... perhaps he felt I was trying to "steal" $crooge from Barks by presuming to "create $crooge from scratch". This is a silly notion, and may not have anything to do with why Geoff started disliking my stuff. Maybe he was seeing that I was being too widely hailed and he decided I wasn't good enough to be compared to Barks (which I'll agree with). But you'd have to ask Geoff all that. Anyway, besides that, the only mail I ever saw were the letters that Gladstone would print or the letters they let me read when I visited their office a few months later. The letters were 100% positive (which only means the people who didn't like me felt no reason to write)... but what interested me was that American Duckfans were SO relieved to see some decent Duck comics for the first time in 20 years (since we were all unaware of all the great Duck comics being produced in Europe), that many of the letters would have odd things like "bless you" for bringing these characters back. I wasn't just being praised, I was being blessed! And Gladstone, too, of course, and as Gladstone SHOULD be for being the savior of American Disney comics, and for making this realization of my childhood dream possible.

How and after how long did you decide that you would do another story? Was this "just another story and that's it", or was it an "as long as they let me do them in my spare time, I'll keep on doing them 'cos I like it"?

The second answer was how it was, exactly.

Was it hard to persuade them to accept it, or were they the ones who asked?

I think they just said they'd take another, then another, and we just went on one at a time for about 6 months.

Did your partner at the tile and terrazzo company mind that you were doing this?

I don't really know. I was still working there 3 days per week, and I could get all my work done in that amount of time (being "boss" is easy). But he finally said something like that if I didn't care about the company that was in my name and in my family, why should he (he was my uncle's step-son, so not really any relation)... and he suggested we liquidate it and go our separate ways from there. And I guess I would have been too unsure of my future in Ducks to have suggested that, but if I was being sort of "pushed" that way, it made it fine. Afterwards, working for Gladstone, I was making about 1/3 of my previous income, and making another 1/3 by selling my original art.... so I was making only 2/3 of what I was previously making, but staying home all the time and living my dream, and I figured that was a lot more than most people get outta life. (And, of course, my wife the teacher was still working and earning most of our income by then, so I figured I wouldn't starve.) But now, with Egmont, I'm making at least as much as I used to with my little construction firm, but having LOTS (!!!) more fun, so that ain't bad.

This is one of four interviews with Don Rosa included in the book Don Rosa e il Rinascimento Disneyano, © 1997 Becattini-Gori-Stajano and Comic Art.