Keno Don Hugo Rosa, known simply as Don Rosa, is an American comic book writer and illustrator, best known for his stories about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, and other Disney characters. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in the United States. His most famous work is the comic series The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
The name Rosa originates from Italy. His grandfather, Gioachino Rosa, emigrated to Kentucky, United States in 1915 just after the birth of his son Hugo Rosa.
Rosa's favorite comic books while growing up were reportedly Uncle Scrooge by Western Publishing and the Superman titles by DC Comics. He entered the University of Kentucky in 1969, and graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in civil engineering.
His first published cartoon was a comic strip featuring his own character, Lancelot Pertwillaby. He created the strip in 1971 for The Kentucky Kernel, a college newspaper of the University of Kentucky which wanted the strip to focus on political satire.
Rosa later talked them into letting him feature adventures starring Lancelot Pertwillaby and drew the story Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes. (The title is a reference to Lost in the Andes!, a Donald Duck story by Carl Barks, first published in April, 1949.) The so-called Pertwillaby Papers included 127 published episodes by the time Rosa graduated.
Meanwhile Rosa participated in a fanzine. His contribution was An Index of Uncle Scrooge Comics. According to his introduction: "Scrooge being my favorite character in comic history and Barks my favourite pure cartoonist, I'll try not to get carried away too much."
After receiving his bachelor degree, Rosa continued to draw comics as a side job, but earned little from his creations. His main source of income came from working in the Keno Rosa Tile Company, a company founded by his paternal grandfather and which had by that time been taken over by Hugo Rosa.
Rosa did an attempt at more professional cartooning with his creation of the comic strip character Captain Kentucky for the Saturday edition of the local newspaper Louisville Times. Captain Kentucky was the superhero alter ego of Lancelot Pertwillaby. Publication started on October 6, 1979. The comic strip ended on August 15, 1982 after the publication of 150 episodes. After three years with Captain Kentucky, Don decided that it was not worth the effort. He retired from cartooning a for the next four years. Years later, as he became less obscure, his non-Disney work was published by the Norwegian publisher Gazette Bok in 2001, in the two hard-cover books The Pertwillaby Papers and The Adventures of Captain Kentucky.
Rosa married schoolteacher Ann Payne in 1980. They have no children.
Working for Gladstone
In 1985, he discovered a Gladstone comic book in the window of a small comic shop. This was the first American comic book that contained Disney-characters after the 1970s. Since early childhood Don Rosa had been fascinated by Disney stories about Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. Artist Carl Barks was an especially big idol for him and would remain so for the rest of his career. Rosa immediately called the editor, Byron Erickson, who agreed to let him send a story, and Don Rosa started work on his first Duck story, Son of the Sun.
Son of the Sun was a success and was nominated for a Harvey Award. The plot of the story was exactly the same as his earlier story Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes. As Don Rosa formulated it, he was just "(...) turning that old Pertwillaby Papers adventure back into the story it originally was in my head, starring Scrooge, Donald, the nephews, and Flintheart Glomgold."
Rosa continued to do Duck comics for Gladstone until 1989, having to stop working for them because Disney policies did not allow for the return of original art for a story to its creators. This was unacceptable to Rosa, since selling the originals provided him with extra income.
After making some stories for the Dutch publisher Oberon, the publishers of the DuckTales magazine offered him employment. However, Rosa only wrote one script ("Back in Time for a Dime", published in the Spring 1990 issue) for the magazine, after which his publishers never asked him to make more.
Working for Egmont
After working with the DuckTales magazine, Rosa found out that the Danish publisher Egmont (at that time called Gutenberghus) had been publishing reprints of his stories and wanted more of them. Don joined Egmont in 1990 along with Byron Erickson, the former editor at Gladstone and started working there as a freelancer.
In 1991, he started creating The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a twelve-chapter story arc about his favorite character. The series was a success, and, in 1995, it won him an Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series. After the end of the original series, Don started producing additional "missing" chapters. Some of the extra chapters were turned down by Egmont because they were not interested in any more episodes. However, Don Rosa went to a different publisher, French publisher Picsou, who published the stories. From 1999, Don started working freelance for Picsou as well. These extra chapters were compiled as the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion in 2006.
Early in the summer of 2002, Don Rosa suddenly laid down work. He was not satisfied with the conditions Egmont was offering its artists, and went on strike with the purpose of coming to an agreement with Egmont. Rosa was irritated by the fact that his stories were printed with what he considered incorrect pages of art, different colors than the ones he had in mind, different lettering, or pixelated computer conversions of the illustrations. Another matter was that his name was used in some promotion of books and collections of stories without his agreement and without sending royalties to him (which has always been Egmont's and other Disney comic publisher's conditions for all its artists).
He came to an agreement with Egmont in December of the same year, and resumed work on his comics.
In 2008, Rosa underwent eye surgery. On June 2, 2008, during an interview at the Danish Komiks.dk fair, Don stated that he would not do any more Disney comics, citing three reasons: Eye troubles, being dissatisfied with his pay, and copyright/royalties issues with some international publishers.
Don has found popularity with readers across (Scandinavian) Europe but remains obscure in his native United States.
In Scandinavian Europe, Carl Barks and Don Rosa are some of the few artists who have their name written on the covers of Disney magazines when their stories are published. Rosa enjoys including subtle references to his favorite works of fiction as well as his own previous work. He normally uses about 12 frames per page, instead of the more common 8. He needs to use the extra frames because his stories usually are too long to be published if he does not minimize them.
Don Rosa has a large following in Finland, and in 1999, he created a special 32-page Donald, Scrooge, Gearloose, & nephews strip for his Finnish fans; Sammon Salaisuus (translates to The Secret of the Sampo, but it is officially named The Quest for Kalevala in English), based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. It was published in many other countries as well. The cover for the comic book was a spoof of a famous painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
With a bachelor of arts degree in civil engineering as his only real drawing education, Don Rosa has some unusual drawing methods, as he writes himself: "I suspect nothing I do is done the way anyone else does it." Because of being self-taught in making comics, Rosa relies mostly on the skills he learned in engineering school -- which means using technical pens and templates a lot. He applies forms of plastic artifacts to draw curves, circles, and ovals. He usually draws just under a page per day, but that depends on the amount of detail he puts in the picture.
Rosa's drawing style is considered much more detailed and "dirtier" than that of most other Disney artists, living or dead, and often likened to that of underground artists, of which he is most frequently compared to Robert Crumb. When Rosa was first told of this similarity, he felt rather estranged, because he had never even read an underground comic before and also because he soon found out about underground-related themes he would never tackle, and he went on to explain these similarities to underground artists with a similar background of making comics as a hobby:
- "I think that both my style and that of Robert Crumb are similar only because we both grew up making comics for our personal enjoyment, without ever taking drawing seriously, and without ever trying to attain a style that would please the average comics publisher. We drew comics for fun!"
Don Rosa's greatest idol when it comes to comics has always been Carl Barks. Rosa builds almost all his stories on characters and locations that Barks invented. Many of Rosa's stories contain references to some fact pointed out in a Barks story. Rosa has even created sequels of old Barks stories. For example, his "Return To Xanadu" is a sequel to "Tralla La", where the Ducks return to the same hidden country. Rosa makes all his ducks' stories set in the 50s, since a large portion of Barks' comics were created during the 1950s. However, it should be noted that Rosa's approach contradicts Barks' stories; Barks' work had a "floating timeline", where everything takes place in the "present", and therefore were not frozen in the 1950s. For example, the stories that Barks created during the 1960s clearly take place in the 1960s (the then-present), e.g. "The Not so Ancient Mariner", where a beatnik Gladstone and Daisy have been updated to the trends of the 60s, and "North of the Yukon" (first published in 1965), where the year 1898 is referred to as "67 years ago".
Barks either created most of the characters used by Rosa or is credited for greatly developing their personalities. Rosa thus feels obliged to make his stories factually consistent. He has spent a lot of time in making lists of facts and anecdotes pointed out in different stories by his mentor. Especially The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck was based mostly on the earlier works of Barks. Rosa admitted, however, that a scene of the first chapter was inspired by a story by Tony Strobl. However, Don Rosa also ignored references to Scrooge's past from a number of classic Barks stories that he does not like, such as "The Magic Hourglass" (which describes how Scrooge obtained an hourglass when he was a cabin boy in Morocco), "Flour Follies" (specifically Miss Penny Wise, who has a history with Scrooge and owns a note that could ruin Scrooge), "September Scrimmage" (in which Scrooge mentions that he used to play football in college during the 1880s), and "The Floating Island", where Scrooge mentions having traded coconuts on the Samoan Islands during the 1880s.
Because of his admiration of Barks' work, Rosa thinks of his own art as inferior to that of Barks, and he found that notion confirmed when Barks himself spoke about Rosa's style in a critical tone.
There is a number of notable differences between the two artists. The most obvious of these is Rosa's much more detailed and stiff drawing style (as opposed to Barks more fluent, animated drawing style), often with many background gags, which has been credited as having a distinctive underground appearance to them (see section Drawing style above). While Barks himself, a professionally trained and experienced artist and cartoonist before starting work on the Disney comics, discouraged the overuse of extreme grimacing and gesturing, or having characters overact, and advised to save the most outrageous expressions for the moments that genuinely required them, Rosa's stories are excessively filled with bizarre facial renditions. Furthermore Barks had over 700 Duck stories to his name while Rosa only created 85 until his eye trouble set in.
In 1994, when Carl Barks went on a tour through Europe (where his work has led him to become a household name), Barks held a large number of interviews, which appeared in Disney publications throughout Europe. Here, Barks admitted that he did not like Rosa's stories, and spoke critically of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and the way it handled his characters. Barks also spoke disapprovingly of Rosa's attempt at creating a Duck family tree, as Barks felt that the exact familial relations should remain malleable and open to addition/change when a story required it.
Most Don Rosa stories have the letters D.U.C.K. hidden somewhere in the first panel. Rosa's covers also usually have D.U.C.K. in them. This is an acronym for Dedicated to Unca Carl from Keno. Because Disney would not allow for personal signatures in the comics, and thought that D.U.C.K. looked too much like one, Don Rosa later started hiding the letters in various unlikely places. Many of his readers made a sport out of finding them. D.U.C.K. is in most cases hidden in the very first panel of the story. D.U.C.K. is also often hidden in Rosa's cover-art, which he makes for his own stories and reprints of old Carl Barks stories.
Another curiosity is his Hidden Mickeys. Don Rosa is only interested in creating stories featuring the Duck family, but he often hides small Mickey Mouse heads or figures in the pictures, sometimes in a humiliating or unwanted situation. An example of this is in the story "The Terror of the Transvaal" where a flat Mickey can be seen under an elephant's foot. This is mostly a gag done for the fun of it. Rosa has admitted to neither liking nor disliking Mickey Mouse, but being indifferent to him.
In the story "Attack of the Hideous Space-Varmints", the asteroid with Uncle Scrooge's money bin on it crashes into the Moon among with two missiles, creating a large Mickey Mouse head on the surface. When Huey, Dewey, and Louie tell Scrooge that the missiles hit the dark side of the Moon, Scrooge is thankful no one is going to see it - "For a minute there, I thought we were going to have some legal problems."
In Rosa's second story featuring The Three Caballeros, Donald Duck is shocked by the sight of a capybara standing on its hind legs, with shrubs, leaves, and fruit in front of its body, coincidentally making it look like Mickey. José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, never having seen Mickey Mouse, ask Donald what is wrong, but Donald replies he is just tired. Later in the same story the Caballeros free several animals from a poacher and one panel shows the animals flee. Mickey can be seen among them.
In "The Quest for Kalevala", this running gag can be seen on the original, Akseli Gallen-Kallela-inspired cover art. In the original work, Louhi is depicted as bare-chested, but the Disneyfied version has been drawn a top, of fabric patterned with Mickey Mouse heads.
His work has won Rosa recognition in the industry, including nominations for the Comics' Buyer's Guide Award for Favorite Writer in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
In 1995 he was awarded the Eisner Award for "Best Serialized Story" for The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
His story The Black Knight GLORPS Again! was nominated for the Eisner Award 2007 in the category Best Short Story. He has also been nominated for 2007 Harvey Awards in five categories (more than any other creator for this year) for Uncle Scrooge comics: Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Cartoonist, Best Cover Artist, and Special Award for Humor in Comics.
- The Don Rosa Archives - The Pertwillaby Papers
- The Don Rosa Archives - The Adventures of Captain Kentucky
- The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
- The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion
- The Barks/Rosa Collection
- The Don Rosa Library
- Don Rosa's take on the Duck universe has a static timeframe, in which Scrooge was born in 1867, made his first dime in 1877, retired in 1942, met Donald in 1947 (the year of Scrooge's first appearance), and died in 1967 at the age of 100 (which was the year in which the last comic that was both written and drawn by Carl Barks was published, although Barks writing more Disney comics, which were illustrated by artists, such as William Van Horn and Daan Jippes, until 1994). The stories take place in the late 40s and early 50s. All technological innovations get a hand wave as coming from the decades-ahead-of-the-times mind of Gyro Gearloose. Of course, under other authors, comic-book time still applies.
- However, not only does Rosa's timeline only apply to his own stories, it's also officially rejected and unacknowledged, and Rosa is forbidden from making specific references to this passage of time beyond subtle references and background details that will go unnoticed by most. The direct mentions of the years have only appeared in behind-the-scenes editorials in the trades reprinting his works, and the date of Scrooge's death only in a fanzine. Officially, the Donald Duck universe operates in Comic-Book Time, and anything going against this is simply considered fan theories by the editors.
- Rosa wrote two episodes of TaleSpin: "I Only Have Ice for You" and "It Came From Beneath the Sea Duck".
- interview by Frank Stajano.
- Statement from Danish writer Lars Jensen, and specifications by Sigvald Grøsfjeld jr., owner and maintainer of http://duckman.pettho.com/.
- Scoop - Where the Magic of Collecting Comes Alive! - Don Rosa and The Quest for Kalevala
- Interview with Don Rosa, by Didier Ghez, June 1996
- Rosa's First Steps, translated back from Greek original article in Komix magazine #172, September 2002, translated by Kriton Kyrimis
- "Those sight gags are quite limited. You know, there are only so many things you can do with a human body or a duck body and then you start repeating yourself, otherwise you'd kill him.", www.cbarks.com: The artistry: Comics writing, "Avoid excessive distortion of beak and brows. Tilting eyes is key to most expressions. [...] Use this eye tilting cautiously! It's awfully easy to tilt these eyes too far!", Barks model sheet #1, 1950, "Using the hands to 'talk' with is fine sometimes. But this kind of emphasizing is wearing on the reader! [...] Overacting can be overdone. Save big takes for direst calamities!", Barks model sheet #2, 1950
- The D.U.C.K.man - A site dedicated to the greatest living Duck-artist: Don Rosa
- The Harvey Awards