Never Argue with Manifest Destiny

by Byron Erickson

You know, one of the drawbacks of being Don Rosa's editor is that I don't get many chances to talk about Don. This is partly because most people don't know who I am or what the heck an editor does anyway, but mainly because Don has made himself very available to his legion of fans and doesn't need me to do his talking for him. After all, why should anyone ask the stable boy when they can just as easily go straight to the horse's mouth?

But now, thanks to the kind invitation of the authors of this book, I finally get a chance to blow my own horn, step into the limelight, and proudly reveal how I single-handedly changed the course of Disney comic book history. In other words, I finally get to tell everyone how I discovered Don Rosa.

The details are simple. They start back in mid-1986 when I was Editor-in-Chief at Gladstone, a small company that had been publishing the Disney comics in the United States for less than a year. The contents of our comics were made up partly of Barks and Gottfredson classics, and partly of contemporary Disney stories written and drawn in Europe. We printed a lot of good stuff, but something was missing: new stories written and drawn by Americans. This was important to me because the Disney comics tradition had been started by Americans, and I thought it would be a real shame if we couldn't continue it.

But who could we get to write and draw new stories for us? We didn't have a clue. Carl Barks had long since retired, and we were not thrilled, to put it mildly, by the new stories published by Gold Key during their last sad years. The new crop of young American cartoonists were only interested in drawing superheroes. They had no knowledge of the Disney characters since the glory days of Disney had ended before these youngsters were born.

And then I received an innocent little letter from Don Rosa, in which he asked, no begged, for a chance to write and draw an Uncle Scrooge story. Don said it was his manifest destiny to do so, and I replied that since I was never one to argue with manifest destiny, he should go ahead and show me what he had in mind.

To be honest, I was acting on pure instinct when I encouraged Don to start work on what became "The Son of the Sun". Oh, sure, I knew Don's fan work, and sure, his sample drawings of Scrooge showed promise, but really, that was very little to go on. Besides, I AM one to argue with manifest destiny (it's a concept that was used to justify all kinds of historical atrocities). So what was there about Don's letter that was so compelling?

The answer is simple: passion. I'd define that as a brightly burning love for the characters and the kind of emotional storytelling that makes a Disney story different than all the rest. I've always believed that if a cartoonist has this kind of love for what he's doing, all the technical details will eventually fall into place as he learns his craft. If the love is not there, the most highly polished writing and art will lay stillborn on the page.

To make a long story short, Don's passion came through loud and clear in "The Son of the Sun", and it has continued to shine bright and clear in every story he's done since then. It’s what makes them so memorable, not his great plots or his funny gags or his nifty lines of dialogue. We can tell just by reading one page that he puts his heart and soul into his work.

est of all, Don's passion has been contagious. Other writers and artists with a love for the Disney characters have seen Don's stories succeed both aesthetically and commercially, and this success has encouraged them to tell their own stories. The result of this burgeoning talent pool is that Disney comics have gone from being a creative dead-end in the history of the comics to an exciting outlet for contemporary comic book storytellers. All thanks to Don Rosa daring to follow his "manifest destiny."

As the man who discovered Don, I'm tempted to take credit for all of that. But in reality, I know only too well that I discovered Don in the same sense that Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity. You see, just like with gravity, Don was a natural force already there, just waiting for the chance to make his impact felt. I'm glad I got to be the first to feel it, but I'm even more glad that I still get to be "first reader" for all of his new stories. That's my favorite fringe benefit to being Don Rosa’s "quiet" editor, you know.

This is the preface of the book Don Rosa e il Rinascimento Disneyano, © 1997 Becattini-Gori-Stajano and Comic Art.