What a difference a few months make. When we first contacted Don Rosa, last spring, KOMIX magazine was still around. The stories that helped raise so many of us, still had a home. Now, 6-7 months later, everything has changed. All but perhaps one thing, the love Greek readers have for his work, his Duck stories, published through KOMIX magazine for the better part of the last 25 years.
Whole generations of readers in Greece grew up reading Scrooge and Donald stories by Barks and Rosa, so finding big fans of Rosa’s work here is not that rare. So, my first reaction when Rosa replied to my initial e-mail, was to send him a previous article we did a few months ago, right after KOMIX shut down. (It’s in Greek, but you can see pictures of several of the best KOMIX issues ever published.) I even offered to translate.
He declined — “I read the entire article and all the comments using a computer translating program,” he replied. “Yes, that always results in some weird wordings, but I felt like I was getting a clear idea of the gist. And it was because of how perceptive and appreciative it all seemed to be, that’s why I “granted” an interview.”
So there it is. We got to talk about many things; Scrooge, Barks, Disney, Goldie, the adventures he never got to write, and KOMIX itself.
(This interview was made possible with help from Manos Michalos, Mara, and Stelios Nikolaou.)
Personally speaking, you were probably the first creator of any sort that I learned to recognize based on specific traits in style and theme. So I’d love to know who are the authors/creators from any medium that helped you realize what art is.
I don’t know what “art” is. What interests me is “quality entertainment” that respects the audience. For me, that is “high art”, but I don’t care to debate that with anyone. “I know what I like”.
So, my answer will be whose work I enjoy most in comics or movies.
Comics: Carl Barks, Will Eisner, virtually everyone who worked for EC comics in the early 50’s (I’ll save space and let you and your readers Google who they were), Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Walt Kelly, Steve Ditko, Mike Kaluta, Jack Kirby, John Stanley… I could go on and on.
Movies: (directors) Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Billy Wilder. There are MANY other great directors, but those three are, to me, the Holy Trinity.
I have favorite music composers and jazz/swing bands… but storytelling is what I consider the highest form of what I think of as “art”.
The ducks universe was always rich in character and detail but you brought something completely new to the table by installing a sense of continuity and mythology that took it to another level. Was there a specific point in time where you realized this was happening? Was it a conscious effort where you decided you wanted to flesh out some backstories or did it happen step by step?
I already had a safe and comfortable career having inherited the family construction company. The decision to create Barks Duck comics was done purely as a comics fan in general and a lover of Barks’ work in particular, to use his creations as my sandbox to play in. So it was my conscious intention from my first story “The Son of the Sun”, not so much to introduce a “continuity” into the BarksDuck Universe, but to clearly show that I knew what had gone before, that I loved it, and to make sure readers knew I loved it. Note that the very FIRST panel I ever drew, that first panel of “Son of the Sun”, had the characters in a museum showing the history of Scrooge’s adventures.
Sequels and backstories came as European readers, seeing that I was a Barks fan like them rather than just another Disney-comics-worker, started writing to Egmont asking for those types of stories from me. The editors passed those desires on to me, and I was delighted to implement them!
(*) One thing that Rosa wanted to make clear throughout our conversation, each time I mentioned phrases like ‘Disney comics’ or ‘Disney universe’ was this distinction: “American Disney comic books disappeared when the American comic industry collapsed in the 1970’s. The big comic publisher, Gold Key, which licensed the Disney characters (and all the other most popular movie and TV properties), dropped out of the failed market. Smaller companies who own their own characters, like DC and Marvel, still hang on but only make a profit off licensing their characters to movies and TV and video games and toys. American comics are a cult collectable sold only in a few comic shops in each large city. The average American doesn’t know that comics are still published since they never see them anywhere, and has long forgotten that Donald Duck comics have ever even existed.
Those characters, details or stories was all the work of freelancers like Carl Barks working for independent licensed publishers. That is a sore point with me. I know that virtually everyone else assumes that all Disney comics are produced and published BY DISNEY. And Disney not only allows people to think that, but they actually CLAIM IT THEMSELVES so as to take credit for all that work done by others. So, I never pass up an opportunity to state the true case in interviews. It’s like a life mission.
It was not ‘the Disney universe’. It was ‘the Carl Barks Universe’.”
(*‘Barks Duck’ stories/comics, throughout the interview.)
Is there a particular character where you’ve inserted yourself more than the others in terms of mannerisms or dialogue or thought process?
Naturally I did not want to change the personality of any of Barks’ characters. “The Son of the Sun” was originally intended to be the ONLY Duck story I did, just on a lark, before going back to the family business. But when I began to realize that I was going to continue to do more Scrooge McDuck stories, I realized I had to come to grips with the fact that readers perceived him as a purely GREEDY character. But greed is “the root of all evil”. And I knew I could not continue to create stories about a character that I disliked on that basis. So I had to gradually twist Scrooge’s personality away from being simply greedy to being competitive, proud, adventurous and with a deep respect for his past.
After all, according to Barks he kept every cent he ever made in that Money Bin. He didn’t spend any of it. Greedy people accumulate wealth to buy material goods or power. “My” Scrooge preserved all of those coins as myriad trophies to his grit and glory. The coins were his memories of his life, not symbols of greed.
(I should digress here to set straight a terrible misconception that all of Europe has always had about $crooge’s Money Bin. It is NOT filled with gold coins as it has always been depicted in European comics. The whole point behind Barks’ original creation of the Money Bin is that it is filled with ordinary pocket change. Quarters and dimes and pennies… NOT valuable coins! The idea is “here’s a guy who is SO CHEAP that he saves a whole building filled with pocket change”. To depict the Bin as being filled with valuable golden coins misses the whole point of the Money Bin. That’s a sad misconception in European comics that bothers me a lot.)
Did you ever feel the need to leave ‘Barks Duck’ comics and do something different altogether?
I never had any interest in creating any other comics other than those based on Barks’ characters. I like many other comics, but if I had not been able to work on Barks’ creations I would have simply stayed and operated the family construction company and been a comic collector strictly as a hobby, as before.
Some of my favorite of your stories are these little sci-fi gems where Scrooge is in danger of losing his fortune to some exceedingly out-there scheme by his foes. Liquid money, time stopping, anti-gravity rays, some great stuff in there. Which one of these stories would rank as your favorite and why?
As my own favorite? Hm. Several of those science-fictiony adventures were remakes of stories I did using my own characters back when I worked for free, as a hobby, in comics fanzines. I reused the plots because I liked playing with the scientific principals I’d studied in engineering college, but I never liked the Duck versions very much. Barks grew up in the age before modern science-fiction, and he used that genre very sparingly, on a very basic level. Sort of a Jules Verne level. I always thought my SF Duck stories seemed “wrong”. Take the one about the Universal Solvent — that involved the potential destruction of the Earth. That’s too much for a Duck story!
But on a sorta related topic, there were three short stories I did about Scrooge defending his #1 Dime from Magica DeSpell. “On a Silver Platter”, “A Matter of Some Gravity” and “Forget It!”. Magic rather than science-fiction — the same thing by another name? Nonetheless, those stories seemed more proper for Barks’ characters to me. I was very proud of all three of those.
Scrooge has the wealth, Gladstone has the luck, the three nephews have the future, Donald has always helped others before him. In cases of dire economic situations such as the one that’s been going on a while, who would survive and thrive more than the others?
Well, given Gladstone’s luck, I guess the correct answer would be him. But we wouldn’t want him to, that’s why he’s the Barks character we love to hate.
By their own wits, it would be the Nephews. They are the characters that seem to always be the most mature and resourceful.
But… I guess the only correct answer is Scrooge.
If you could do one big, huge adventure right now, where would you send the ducks? Is there any place left unexplored for you?
Seriously, the one story that I would like to do is “The Death of Scrooge”. Many fans requested it. And the story that I would use as a spiritual guide would be Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”. This was a story done in 1986 when DC Comics decided to “reboot” their main character. But the editors wisely knew that old Superman fans would not like that idea one bit! And they were right. So, their ingenious solution was to create a story that ended the legend of the original Superman, before recreating a new version. It concluded all old plotlines, concluded the careers of all old villains, and resolved all the traditional aspects which had made the Superman comics so great for nearly 50 years. It was a beautiful story!
The trick was that even though the world thought Superman had died, he actually did not, and… well, it was just a perfect ending! I would do something similar for Scrooge McDuck.
But Disney comics readers and publishers, in general, may not be sophisticated enough to want something like that, not even just for the enjoyment of the older readers. So, I knew such a story could never be published, and I never spent much time thinking about it.
And then I quit. That ended that.
As you noted earlier, KOMIX magazine has shut down bringing a circle to its end. For a child or young adult growing up in Greece, this mag was pure bliss. What has been the thing you believe your work has inspired in younger readers, what are you most proud of?
Well, I never actively tried to inspire or educate anyone. I just tried to entertain Barks fans for maybe 15-20 minutes at a time. And now I think I know why contact with fans like me always made Barks a bit uncomfortable. He never expected that the funny stories he thought he was creating would MEAN SO MUCH to generations of kids worldwide. Now I am having that same experience! I am getting more and more long and very thoughtful messages from readers now in their late 20s or 30’s who seem to have been quite effected by the funny adventure stories I thought I was creating. But I understand how they feel. When you enjoy something when you’re 12 years old, you PROFOUNDLY enjoy it on an almost cosmic level, especially if you’re a smart, perceptive kid. And it sticks with you FOREVER. But, as I think it was with Barks when he would meet someone like me, it feels sorta “creepy”. It’s definitely a GOOD “creepy”… but it is still sorta scary to be told how my stories were as important to kids of the 80’s & 90’s as Barks’ stories were for us in the 50’s. It’s a responsibility I never realized I would have, and it worries me that I was oblivious to it. Should I be blessed or damned?
But to directly answer your question, I guess the thing many people write to me and tell me my stories instilled in them, and it’s always my “Life of Scrooge” stories that did it, is that if they believe in themselves, embrace enthusiasm and passion, never give up in the face of frustration, be honest and fair, they will achieve their fondest dreams. But furthermore, they should not let success warp their sense of the true values in life. That’s the story of Scrooge’s youth and it’s also the story of my life.
I guess if I inspired all that in even one reader, maybe I did okay.
For one day, you get to live in the universe of your stories. Which character would you go and hang out with?
I don’t know if anyone has ever asked me that before.
I’m not sure I’d want to be around any of these Barks characters too long. Their most important trait is that they all have flawed characters, which makes for great stories, but maybe not lengthy friendships. Maybe I’d like my Scrooge if I understood him down deep. Donald might become annoying. The Nephews are so perfect, they might get on my nerves. I know I wouldn’t want to spend any time with Daisy — what an insipid, insultingly stereotypical-female character! That’s why Barks didn’t use her much, except AS that type of character. He, himself, created INTERESTING female characters with integrity and personality, like Magica and Goldie.
Goldie? Okay, yeah. I’d like to hang out with Scrooge and Goldie in White Agony Valley in 1898.
I understand the reasons for never getting to tell the story of the nephews’ father, as it would have to be some shade of sad. But in LIFE AND TIMES, they say “We know how that feels uncle Scrooge” when he says his relatives always disappear. In your mind, was there really ever any specific explanation even if you’d never actually let yourself draw it as a story?
This is an often asked question that I’ve answered a number of times in the texts that are supposed to accompany my stories when reprinted in books. Sadly, these are the texts that you in Greece have never seen because the Greek publisher, for unknown reasons, never wanted to cooperate with me when publishing their Rosa book collections.
For the entire 20+ years I was creating Barks Duck stories, fans would always beg me to tackle the question of what happened to the parents of Huey, Dewey & Louie (hereafter “HD&L”). And I thought long and hard about how to go about it. What would the possible plot resolutions be? I could think of four.
1) HD&L go on an epic search for their lost parents. They never find a trace. There’s no point to the story! Nix.
2) HD&L go in search of their parents, and discover they are dead. Depressing and pointless. Nix.
3) HD&L go in search of their parents, and find them! Alive and well! So… they go to live with their parents rather than staying with Unca Donald? I can’t do that! That would threaten to rend the very fabric of the universe! Nix!
4) HD&L go in search of their parents, and find them! But… they stay living with Unca Donald? Rather than with their own parents? I can’t do that! That would be depressing and probably result in all manner of litigation and paternity suits and I don’t know what. Nix.
Is there a #5? I had one in mind as far back as 1990 when I first went to work for Egmont and learned that (unlike America) Europe was an entire continent of Barks Duck lovers who wanted someone to tell this tale. I even put a scene into the storyboard-script for one of my first Egmont stories that would hint at this 5th possibility. But I did not include it in the finished version of the story because it would still have been very problematic as to how to deal with such the plot or its final outcome.
It feels very “wrong” for me to discuss this with a detailed explanation. I prefer to simply let people see the storyboard-script of the deleted scene and let them decide for themselves. Besides, I never thought it out beyond that scene.
But the Greek readers have been deprived of seeing these behind-the-scenes texts of mine. If your readers want to see the script page that has been seen in the rest of Europe, it was recently shown on the Don Rosa Facebook Page (operated by fans, not by me). If they go there and scroll a ways down the page, they’ll spot a post of a sketched storyboard sequence. That’s it.
You took basic elements of the ‘Barks Duck’ universe and created something huge and emotional on top of it. But if there was any other universe of characters you’d have enjoyed working on, which would that be? Or would you just tackle something completely original?
What other classic comics series would I have enjoyed working on? Hm. I really loved the Superman comics of the late 50’s to mid 60’s — that was a great era.
Or Eisner’s “The Spirit”.
And I really love ASTERIX.
But I can’t draw well enough to work on those comics. I wasn’t even good enough to draw Barks Duck comics. But I hid that fact by lavishing all that “needless and irritating” detail into my art.
Which one of your big stories did you happen to re-read lately? What did you think of it?
I never sit down and reread any of my own stories, mainly because there have never been nice convenient hardback or even softback collections of my work in any language I can read. And I’d never bother to dig out all the old flimsy individual comics. I have carefully examined a number of reprint collections of my work that have been published around Europe produced by publishers who, unlike in Greece, are willing to cooperate with me. But I can’t read the text so I am only inspecting coloring and sound effects and such, and otherwise too busy to do anything else.
The only stories of mine that have appeared in a nice reprint edition in America are my “Life of Scrooge” stories. And when that book came out and I reread that entire series after not having looked at it for many years, I do recall thinking “Wow. That was actually pretty @#$%& good!”
But when I originally created my stories, I would spend SO MUCH time on each one for 3 to 4 MONTHS, day after day, that by the time I finished each one I would be certain it was all a dreadful mistake. I guess that’s because I don’t like my own art very much and I would get really tired of looking at it and struggling over it for so long. But maybe if my stories ever are reprinted in my own language, I’ll read them and actually sorta like some of them… like those Magica stories I mentioned being pretty pleased with.
In my opinion, Scrooge is the most well-rounded Disney character, which has obviously a lot to do with your and Barks’ work. He’s got a rich history, a great personality, he’s gone to a dark place, he still got some rough edges, he’s loving, he’s contradictory at times- he’s exciting. But I get a feeling that he’s not too widely appreciated when it comes to the ‘face’ of the company, the marketing, etc. Why is that?
It has ALL to do with Barks’ work, not just “much”. The main answer to this falls back on my annoying manner of correcting your phrasing — Scrooge is NOT a “Disney character”. In fact, you would have a great deal of trouble finding anyone in the modern Disney company in America who knows who the character is! A few might recall the 1987-88 “DuckTales” TV series, but they would think that was the beginning and the ending of the entire history of the Scrooge McDuck character.
But what about Donald Duck? He IS a Disney-created character (even though Barks created a new version of Donald to appear in the comics) and he has been much more popular than that Mouse character since the Duck’s first appearance in 1934.
But how can you have a hot tempered character or a wealthy, greedy (?) character as a corporate symbol for a company that is SO concerned about its imaginary public image as is Disney?
They need a cute, harmless, smiley-face character who makes for boring stories but looks nice on T-shirts. Mickey Mouse.
Or is your question simply why are there so few, if any, Scrooge McDuck toys or figurines or other products? But again it’s the same answer. Disney promotes the merchandising of the characters, and in America no one knows of Scrooge McDuck or of Barks’ work. Scrooge is worthless for merchandising because he is unknown here.
Epilogue: On a follow-up e-mail, Rosa felt the need to say a few words for KOMIX, the now-shut-down publication through which he became well-known in Greece.
“It occurred to me that I had no opportunity to talk about KOMIX. And perhaps you didn’t know? But it was one of the best Disney comics publications in the world. I mean it was edited and written by people who were doing an excellent job of producing a magazine for all ages, filled with excellent articles and illustrations, with quality paper and coloring, but particularly a publication for older readers and comics scholars.
The only other publications of that level of quality are Germany’s DONALD DUCK SONDERHEFT, France’s PICSOU and Italy’s ZIO PAPERONE. But ZIO PAPERONE, like KOMIX, ceased publication some years ago. I think KOMIX was the best of the remaining ones. I also proudly own a full set of KOMIX back to an early issue.
I don’t want to cause Greek fans to be even sadder than they already are, but they should take pride in that. Even though I lost contact and cooperation with Mr. Christos Terzopoulos, that never changed the fact that his company produced some of the finest Disney comics in the world.”
Related: My 25 favorite KOMIX issues (GR)
Main picture: via