Keno Don Hugo Rosa, known simply as Don Rosa, is a comic book writer and illustrator best known for his stories about Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck and other Disney characters. Rosa created about 90 stories between 1987 and 2006. In 1995 he won the Eisner Award for "Best Serialized Story" for his 12-chapter work The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
The name Rosa originates from Italy. His grandfather, Gioachino Rosa, lived in Maniago, a small village at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy, in the province of Pordenone. Gioachino Rosa emigrated to Kentucky, United States in 1915 just after the birth of his son Hugo Rosa. Hugo Rosa was later married in Kentucky. His wife was born to a German American father and a mother with both Scottish and Irish ancestry.
Hugo Rosa and his wife became parents to Keno Don Hugo Rosa on June 29, 1951. The boy was named after both his father and grandfather. Gioachino was called 'Keno' for short.
Don Rosa had always been fond of making cartoons. Don began drawing comics before being able to write. But he was always mostly focused on the story. The drawings were just mere illustrations to get the story told. Until high school his featured characters were mostly small men called Holey and Joe. His 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. He 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. He did not earn very much though 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 authored and illustrated the monthly "Information Center" column in the fanzine "The Rocket's Blast Comicollector" from 1974 to 1979. He also revived the Pertwillaby Papers from 1976 to 1978.
Rosa took a chance 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 and did not draw a single line for the next four years. Years later, as his fame grew, 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. He immediately called the editor, Byron Erickson, and told him that he was the only American who was born to write and draw Scrooge McDuck comics. Byron agreed to let him send a story, and Don Rosa started drawing his first Duck story, Son of the Sun, the very next day.
Son of the Sun was a huge 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 a part of his income came from selling the originals. Without that extra money, he could not make a living drawing comic books.
After making some stories for the Dutch publisher Oberon, the publishers of the DuckTales magazine offered him employment. They even offered him a much higher salary than the one he received at Gladstone. But Don only wrote one script (Back in Time for a Dime) for the magazine, and due to problems with receiving the payment, he didn't care that the 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 has been working there as a freelancer since then.
In 1991, he started creating The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a twelve chapter story about his favorite character. The series was a huge 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. Fortunately, the French publisher Picsou was eager to publish 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.
During early summer 2002, Don Rosa suddenly laid down work. As an artist, he could not live under the conditions Egmont was offering him, but he did not want to give up making Scrooge McDuck comics either. So his only choice was to put down work for a while and try to come to an agreement with Egmont. His main issues were that he had no control over his works. Don had discovered far too often that his stories were printed with incorrect pages of art, improper colors, poor lettering, or pixelated computer conversions of the illustrations. Another matter was that his name was used in promotion of books and collections of stories without his agreement and without sending royalties to him.
He came to an agreement with Egmont in December of the same year, which gave him a bit more control over the stories and the manner in which they were publicized.
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 comic, citing three reasons: Eye troubles, finding out how low his pay as a professional Disney artist was (he made more money from selling his personal comic collection than in 6 years of working for Egmont), and repeated copyright/royalties issues with many international publishers.
Don remains popular with readers across Europe but considers himself rather obscure in his native United States.
In Europe, Don Rosa is recognized as one of the best Disney comics creators ever. 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. His stories are very easily recognized due to his unique drawing style, his pictures being extremely detailed. 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 huge 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. To add more to his admiration and consistency to Barks and Barks' stories, Rosa makes all his ducks' stories set in the 50's. This is because Barks writes most of the stories about Scrooge, Donald and all people of Duckburg in the 50's (it also conveniently resolves continuity errors, such as Scrooge's age). As explained in text pages in the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and its companion volume, Rosa does intense research of time periods to ensure not only that he gets the physical details right, but also to ensure that all characters could have been present.
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.
As most of the characters Rosa uses were created by Barks, and because Rosa considers Scrooge rather than Donald to be the main character of the Duck universe, he does not regard himself as a pure Disney artist, nor the characters really as Disney's. Rosa prefers to say that the characters he uses are Barks', while "Disney only happen to own the licenses" upon these characters except Donald (even Huey, Dewey, and Louie were created by a licensed artist as well, Al Taliaferro). Because of his idolization of Barks, he repeatedly discourages his fans to use an absolutist way of saying his clearly different drawing style would be better than Barks', and he found that notion confirmed when Barks himself spoke about Rosa's style in a critical tone.
Beside Rosa's constant effort to remain faithful to the universe Barks created, there is also a number of notable differences between the two artists. The most obvious of these is Rosa's much more detailed 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 discouraged the use of extreme grimacing and gesturing in any other panel for comical or dramatic effect, Rosa's stories are rich with colorful and bizarre facial renditions and physical slapstick. Barks had over 600 Duck stories to his name while Rosa only created 85 until his eye trouble set in, but whereas Barks made many short one and two-pagers centered around a subtle, compact gag, Rosa's oeuvre consists almost exclusively of long adventure stories.
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. Ironically, almost every time Don Rosa gets an article about him in the weekly Disney comics (at least in European editions), the D.U.C.K.-dedication is mentioned.
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 the second Rosa 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 Mouse. 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 a good deal of recognition in the industry, including nominations for the Comics' Buyer's Guide Award for Favorite Writer in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Heidi MacDonald of Comics Buyer's Guide also mentioned Rosa's 1994 story Guardians of the Lost Library as "possibly the greatest comic book story of all time".
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! has recently been 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
- Interestingly, Don Rosa's Donald Duck universe has a static timeframe. That is, Scrooge McDuck was born in 1867, made his first dime in 1877, retired in 1942, met Donald in 1947, and died in 1967 at the age of 100 (because it's the last yearCarl Barks wrote his comics, and thus where Rosa puts an end to his universe). 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.
- Not only does Rosa's timeline only apply to his own stories, it's also officially 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 universe operates in Comic-Book Time, and anything going against this is simply considered fan theories by the editors.