Keno Don Hugo Rosa, known simply as Don Rosa, (born June 29, 1951) is an American comic book writer and illustrator known for his stories about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck and other Disney characters. Many of his stories are built on characters and locations created by Carl Barks. He has 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".
Don Rosa's grandfather, Gioachino Rosa, lived in Maniago, a town at the foot of the Alps in Northern Italy, in the province of Pordenone. He emigrated to Kentucky, United States around 1900, established a successful tile and terrazzo company, then returned to Italy to marry and start a family. In 1915 just after the birth of his son Ugo Rosa, Gioachino returned to Kentucky with his wife, two daughters and two sons. Ugo Rosa grew up and was later married in Kentucky. His wife was born to a German American father and a mother with both Scottish and Irish ancestry.
Don Rosa was born Keno Don Hugo Rosa on June 29, 1951 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named after both his father and grandfather. Gioachino was called "Keno" for short. Don's father was named Ugo Dante Rosa, but used the name "Hugo Don" Rosa in America.
Don Rosa was exposed to comics at a very young age, as his 11-years-older sister was a comics hoarder, and had thousands of comics for Don to look at and later read. Rosa began drawing comics before being able to write. Until high school, of which he attended Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky his featured characters were a large cast of stick figures featured in comedy-adventures like the Barks comics and old movies Don enjoyed most. He never tried to draw more than stick figures because the drawings, for him, were illustrations to get the story told. Only the story was important to him, not the actual drawings. His favorite comic books growing up were Uncle Scrooge by Western Publishing and Little Lulu comics from Dell Comics (Western Publishing), and his sister's collection of MAD comics and magazines. When he was 12 years old he also discovered and enjoyed the Superman titles by DC Comics of the editor Mort Weisinger period, drawn mostly by his favorite Superman artists Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger. Shortly after starting to collect Superman comics he started to trade the collection of his older sister for Superman Comics. Since a comic book shop in his area traded 2 old comics for 1 new, he only had 2 Duck comics left from his sister's collection by the 70s, one of them being The Golden Helmet. When he became a serious collector of older comics, he particularly enjoyed the classic E.C. horror and science fiction comics of the 1950s, Will Eisner's The Spirit, Walt Kelly's Pogo, and most comics of the 1940s onward.
Rosa entered the University of Kentucky in 1969. He graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in civil engineering.
In 1969 while still in college, Rosa won an award as "best political cartoonist in the nation in a college paper". "I'm not really an editorial cartoonist. I'd much rather be doing comedy adventure. But I must have done something right, for at one point The Journal of Higher Education named me one of the five or six best college newspaper cartoonists in the nation."
His first published comic (besides the spot illustrations in his grade school and high school newspapers) was a comic strip featuring his own character, Lancelot Pertwillaby entitled “The Pertwillaby Papers”. 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 switched the strip to comedy-adventure which was his favorite style of comics, 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 in 1973.
Meanwhile Rosa participated in contributing art and articles to comic collector fanzines. One 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 his bachelor degree, Rosa continued to draw comics purely as a hobby, his only income came from working in the Keno Rosa Tile Company, a company founded by his paternal grandfather and which had 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. This was a question-and-answer feature dealing with readers' queries on all forms of pop entertainment of which Rosa was a student, including comics, TV and movies.. He also revived the Pertwillaby Papers in this "RBCC" fanzine a comic book style story rather than a newspaper comic strip from 1976 to 1978.
By now having become a locally known comics collector and cartoonist, Rosa accepted an offer from the editor of the local newspaper to create a weekly comic strip. This led to 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. The pay was $25/week and not worth the 12+ hours each week's strip entailed, but Rosa did it as part of his hobby. 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 "Don Rosa Archives" volumes, The Pertwillaby Papers and The Adventures of Captain Kentucky.
In 1986, he discovered a Gladstone Publishing comic book. This was the first American comic book that contained Disney characters since the 1970s. Since early childhood Don Rosa had been fascinated by Carl Barks' 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 one Scrooge McDuck adventure. 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 success and Rosa’s very first professional comic story was nominated for a Harvey Award “Best Story of the Year”. The plot of the story was the same as his earlier story Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes. As Don Rosa explained 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 did a few more comics for Gladstone till 1989. He then stopped working for them because the policies of their licensor Disney did not allow for the return of original art for a story to its creators. This was unacceptable to Don Rosa, since a part of his income came from selling the originals, and the original art is the property of the freelance artists unless otherwise agreed upon. 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 an American Disney children's magazine called DuckTales (based on of the animated series of the same name) offered him employment. They even offered him a much higher salary than the one he received at Gladstone. Rosa made just one script (Back in Time for a Dime). The publishers never asked him to make more, and due to problems with receiving the payment, he didn't care.
After working with the DuckTales magazine, Rosa found out that the Danish publisher Egmont (at that time called Gutenberghus) was publishing reprints of his stories and wanted more. Rosa joined Egmont in 1990. Two years later, at Don's suggestion, Byron Erickson, the former editor at Gladstone also went to work for Egmont and has been working there as an editor and later as a freelancer.
In 1991 he started creating The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, a 12 chapter story about his favorite character. The series was a success, and in 1995 he won an Eisner Award for best continuing series. After the end of the original series, Don sometimes produced 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 magazine Picsou was eager to publish the stories. From 1999, Don started working freelance for Picsou magazine as well. All of these chapters were compiled as The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion.
During early summer 2002, 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. Rosa had discovered 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. Rosa has never, to this day; as with any other Disney artist, received a penny in royalties for a single use of any of his stories worldwide.
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.
Rosa's eyesight had been very poor since his childhood. In 2006 and 2007 he began having new difficulties which made drawing a very slow and tedious process for him, even more so than normally. In March 2008 Rosa suffered a severe retinal detachment and underwent emergency eye surgery that ultimately proved to be not completely successful. Further surgery in both eyes made drawing even more difficult. 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 eye troubles, low pay, and the constant use of his stories in special hardback or album editions by international Disney licensees without any payment of royalties or requests for permission for the use of his name.
Rosa is popular with readers in Europe. He considers himself rather obscure in his native United States. According to him, even his next-door neighbors do not know his profession.