Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review: WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE $CROOGE AND DONALD DUCK: THE DON ROSA LIBRARY, VOL. 1 by Don Rosa (Fantagraphics, 2014)

Quick turnaround time, indeed: Volume 2 of this collection just landed at my comics dealer's this past week.  (Volume 3, by contrast, isn't slated to be released until next June.)  Since a good deal of the matter in these initial tomes has been reprinted several times in the past -- by Gladstone and Boom!, to be more specific -- and can easily be found to pristine-or-close-to-it condition, I'm not all that surprised that Fantagraphics got this new reprint project off to a fast start.

I was an anomaly among the many unsuspecting readers who bought Gladstone's UNCLE $CROOGE #219 (July 1987) and were hit square in the face with a brand-new $CROOGE adventure story, crafted by an American, no less.  Thanks to an article in COMICS INTERVIEW magazine, I knew who Don Rosa was, how much he admired Carl Barks, and even something about THE PERTWILLABY PAPERS, the fan project that provided the template for the plot of "Son of the Sun."  I even recognized Rosa's nascent art style -- which one of the very few negative letter-writers to the U$ lettercol criticized as "nervous and scuzzy-looking" -- as an extension of sorts of the style he had previously used for his personal comics.  (I was not aware of the fact that Rosa basically cribbed virtually all of the Duck-poses in "Sun" from Barks drawings... though, now that Rosa has made me aware of the fact, said fact seems pretty obvious in retrospect.)

You'll pardon me if I classify the appearance of Rosa in general and "Sun" in particular as one of TWO great "booster shots" that Scrooge's career received in '87, the other, of course, being DuckTales.  At the time, I was unaware that DT was on its way -- the good thing AND the bad thing about today's instant-gratification world is that very few such pop-culture bombshells still catch us by surprise -- but the arrival of a new and promising American Duck creator clearly presaged a future for American Disney comics that went above and beyond "simply" reprinting Barks classics and serving up treats from abroad.  And so it proved to be.

In the COMICS INTERVIEW piece, Rosa said that Barks' anonymity during his working career could be considered an advantage of sorts, because it gave Barks the freedom "to just try and please himself."  And that is precisely what the Rosa adventures, short stories, and gag pages of 1987-88 reflect: an inexperienced, but talented and enthusiastic, creator, who was simply trying to craft the best Duck tales he possibly could.  Yes, a lot of the artwork is crude and clunky by Rosa's standards of the 90s and the aughts, but it's not REALLY that terrible -- William Van Horn's early gag pages for Gladstone got more catcalls -- and the writing is good from the off.  Rosa's bold willingness to put his pen to the service of eye-popping, oversized individual panels (the explosion that hurled the Temple of Manco Capac into the empyrean in "Son of the Sun" was the first and, arguably, the most famous example) indicates a creator who is willing to punch above what would seem to be his artistic weight, at least at this time, and such risk-taking would serve Rosa well as his sense of finesse improved.  Most importantly, the pretension and "weight-of-the-worldishness" that beleadened numerous Rosa projects during and after THE LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE McDUCK is almost entirely absent.  In "Last Sled to Dawson" (UNCLE $CROOGE ADVENTURES #5, June 1988), Rosa's first stab at Glittering Goldie, the sentiment underlying the entire story is only revealed at the very end and is kept quite low-key, Rosa's spangled and flashy "staring into my memories" final panel notwithstanding.

Most indicative of the fact that Rosa was still taking these early jobs with the lightheartedness that they reflect is the observation that he was perfectly willing to do "ten-pager"-style domestic stories during this period.  In his "Behind the Scenes" story notes, Rosa has some fun with the idea that he doesn't have much to say about the content of these stories, but, then again, there wasn't a lot of content in most of Barks' "ten-pagers," either.  (There were exceptions, of course, but a lot of fans tend to remember those "sports" and then make mistaken generalizations as to the quality of the lot.)  A couple of these efforts -- "Mythological Menagerie" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #523, October 1987), in which Rosa wears his considerable research into obscure mythological creatures rather lightly, and "Metaphorically Spanking" (WDC&S #531, August 1988), in which Rosa delightfully subverts his soon-to-be-ironclad rule that Donald, and NOT HD&L, should always be the member of the Duck clan to take the major abuse -- stand out as legitimately superb.  Even in these tales, though, I get the sense that Rosa was straining at the leash, unsatisfied with painting on such a relatively small canvas.  By the time he got to the "operatic" part of his career, such "minor" creations would, for the most part, be set aside.  When you're comparing Rosa to someone like Barks in terms of being a "complete" creator, that does have to count as a debit.

"The Rosa Archives," presented at the back of the volume, appears to be Rosa's version of a biography of sorts.  If so, then he's booking through it at double time, since part one takes us from his birth up until "The Son of the Sun."  Oh, please tell me that I'm wrong... does this mean that part two is going to be one gigantic rant about how that evil Disney corporation (does any "artistic type" believe in a GOOD corporation anymore?) refused to give him back his original artwork to help him make a living?  I haven't opened Volume 2 yet -- a few other items on my current "pile" are on top of it -- but I'm hoping that Rosa exercises good judgment on that score.  (BTW, there's a funny photo in this section of a teenaged Rosa smiling like a split cantaloupe over a pile of comics that he's just recently acquired.  He looks for all the world like a maniacal teenaged Bobby Fischer with glasses.  I kid you not.)


Pan Miluś said...

I order this book in my local comic book store. Can't whait :)

Chris Barat said...


Both it and volume 2 will be well worth it, I can assure you! ;-)