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-Interview with Tarjei Don Rosa -An Interview

Don Rosa is a 'Disney Duck' artist and writer who has become one of the most admired, respected and at times controversial creators within todays circle of Duck fans. In some countries these circles are small, with only miniscule amounts of disney comics in publication; a good example would be America, where the glory days of Disney comics started waning in the sixties. Nevertheless a small company called Gladstone *has* strived to reverse the trend and increase the popularity of the original Disney comics; are they to succeed? Only time will tell..... In other countries however (notably here in Scandinavia), the ducks have attained a huge popularity through the years, one which even dominates the comics market at times.

Rosa -who was born and lives in Louisville, Kentucky in America- started drawing disney comics in 1987. His series detailing the life of $crooge Mc Duck (entitled "The Life And Times Of $crooge Mc Duck") won the Eisner award for 'Best Serialized Story' in 1995. In 1997 he won an Eisner for 'Best Author/Artist In The Field Of Humour'.


Tarjei: From where do your ancestors stem?

Rosa: My father came from Maniago, Italy (near Venice) with his family when he was very young. That half of my lineage is 100% Italian. My mother's families had been in America for many years, and was mixed. Her father was German, and her mother was Scotch/Irish.

Tarjei: Were/are any of your relatives serious artists?

Rosa: My Italian grandmother's last name was Tiziano (Titian), and it was claimed that she was a direct descendant of Tiziano and there had been proof of this which was lost many years back. I don't have any way to know whether that's true. And I also heard that Salvatore Rosa (a famous sculptor/painter) was on my grandfather's side, but there's no proof of that either. But those are "ancestors". I don't have ANY relatives that expressed any sorts of artistic abilities. Maybe some distant cousins that did tile mosaic murals... I don't know if that's "art" or just a "craft", like being a woodworker.

Tarjei: What first brought comics to your attention?

Rosa: My sister read and saved comics. She was 11 years older than I was, so our home was always filled with many, many comic books from the day I was born.

Tarjei: What did your parents think of your interest in comics?

Rosa: They thought it was a total waste of time. My father has never read a comic and thinks that only a 3-year-old child would want to do so (even though I don't think he can read or understand things well enough to even understand a simple comic book... he never read much).

Tarjei: Do you collect comics or only create stories for them?

Rosa: I collected comics for 25 years (and read them for over 35) before I ever stumbled into the chance to write and draw them professionally. It was never my intention to do it for a living -- I was in the family construction company. My professional career started "overnight", and was never something I expected. I still maintain and add to my vast collection of old (American) comic books, one of the largest in the world.

Tarjei: Have you done any cartooning work or projects other than with the Disney-ducks?

Rosa: Not professionally. I used to do lots of amatuer cartooning for free, for fanzines and school newspapers... but that was only a hobby.

Tarjei: Do you have any other interests?

Rosa: YES! Movies, old TV, various types of music, history, computers, nature, backpacking, gardening, animals (wild or as pets), reading, collecting lots of different stuff -- I could go on and on. I have enough special interests and serious hobbies for any 5 people.

Tarjei: How did you initially get your work published with Gladstone, and what was the first story you did for them?

Rosa: When I saw their comics on the newsstand, I called them up and told them it was my "manifest destiny to write and draw an Uncle $crooge adventure", which was something I'd felt since my earliest memory. They said "okay", so I did one ("The Son of the Sun", based on a story I had already done for my college newspaper 12 years earlier). I didn't plan to do a second story, but I did. Then a third. Then.......

Tarjei: What brought about the creation of "Life And Times Of $crooge Mc Duck"?

Rosa: Disney had taken Gladstone's license away and were doing a very sad job of producing their own "Disney comics". And one day one of the editors called me and said that their marketing people had decided that they would do a "Life of Uncle $crooge" series, but no one there knew how to go about it. They knew I had refused to work for them because of their hideous policies towards artists, but I told them that I'd suggest the idea to my European publisher. And Egmont agreed that it would be a tragedy for Disney to produce such a series, and that people who truly understood the characters (the European publishers) should be the ones to handle it. So they said I could give it a try.

Tarjei: What enamoures you to $crooge?

Rosa: That he has such a rich background, having lived through so many adventures in so many eras of history, that (as I see him) he is a mixture of a glorious adventurer and a lonely old man... that he shows the uselessness of wealth if there is no guts in your enjoyment of life... some people think I over-romanticize him and that Barks never intended this much in his character, but that's the way I see him, and I enjoy that vision.

Tarjei: Could you mention some of your favourite stories (that you have created)?

Rosa: That "Life of $crooge" series, altogether. "Hearts of the Yukon". "A Little Something Special" "Guardians of the Lost Library". "Return to Plain Awful". "Return to Xanadu". I guess I'm proud of lots of others for various reasons. I often think they could be done better (especially DRAWN better), but I'm proud of what I was *trying* to do.

Tarjei: Would you ever create a Mickey Mouse story?

Rosa: No, I have no special interest in Mickey Mouse. He bores me.

Tarjei: Why are you now working for Egmont and not Gladstone?

Rosa: Well, because Gladstone has no money to pay people to write and draw stories. They only print reprints from Europe or old American issues.

Tarjei: Does the fact that your stories now get exposure in a wide variety of countries -often with very different cultures- influence your decisions as regards plot, "speech-bubble" dimensions, script-dialect/references and imagery?

Rosa: Only in the size I make the speech-bubbles. Otherwise, I simply write and draw a story that I, as an American Duck fan, would enjoy reading. I can't put myself into the mind of what a European or Asian would want to see, and even if I could, which of the 25-35 different foreign nationalities should I try to think like? No, I just do the stories for myself since that's the only way I know how.

Tarjei: Would you like all Disney stories to follow a more strict timeline similar to yours?

Rosa: Absolutely not! My stories are for older readers... they are too complex for the youngest readers. I like the fact that these comics try to contain stories for different types of readers.

Tarjei: What do you enjoy the most about your work, and what do you enjoy the least?

Rosa: I most enjoy that I am allowed to do the entire job, alone, with virtually a completely free hand (but with occasional advice from my very wise editor Byron Erickson). I enjoy least the amount of WORK it is to draw these complex stories... that's sheer labor! And I also don't like the Disney system that does not allow us the share in the proceeds off our own work that we "creators" deserve... but if I don't like that, all I need to do is quit, I guess.

Tarjei: What do the Eisner Awards you have received mean to you?

Rosa: Well... mighty special recognition, of course. They are exactly like the "Academy Awards" of the movie industry -- very prestigious, very honest (impossible to manipulate like CBG awards) and voted on by the rest of the industry professionals.

Tarjei: What -in your opinion- made Carl Barks work so great?

Rosa: That he had a job that he knew was considered (in those days) to be hack-work... but he had respect for himself and his readers, and still did the best job he could. His stories were real... they involved authentic characterisations and locales and history... not made-up childish silliness like other so-called "funny animal" comics. In fact, I never saw his Ducks as "funny animals"... they were the most realistic-flavored stories in comics.

Tarjei: How long do you plan to continue creating Disney stories?

Rosa: I don't create "Disney stories". I create my own stories based on my particular interpretation of Carl Barks' Ducks. And I'll do it as long as they let me, or until frustrating policies make it too impossible to continue.

Tarjei: How would you like to be remembered?

Rosa: Hm. I guess just as someone who did the best he could for his fellow Duckfans, even though he knew he could never please everyone all of the time. As someone who always gave 100% despite the pay or bad policies. I dunno.... that's not the sort of thing I worry about.