One of the best things in the world is reading the work that someone has wanted to do all their life. Consuming that material, there’s a pure pleasure and enthusiasm behind everything they place on paper a deep-founded passion and intense joy at having the opportunity to play in a sandbox that they had only dreamed of visiting. There’s an almost childlike joy at getting to explore places that you’ve visited many times but never got to explore yourself, and that enthusiasm can delight a reader as well as the creator.
Don Rosa’s Duck adventures are those types of stories. You can see Rosa’s happiness in every panel, witness his glee in every brushstroke. His Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck tales are the creations of a man living his dream. Fantagraphics’s first collection of Rosa’s Duck escapades, The Son of the Son, has a joy and optimism about it that can make even the most heartless reader (hello, Uncle Scrooge!) smile a broad smile.
Thus this is the type of book that feels as much like a scrapbook as a gathering of published material and ephemera, similar to a friend sharing his spectacular adventures of him getting to live out his dream, and wanting to share those adventures with his friends. Which is precisely what the Rosa Collection is – the stories in it are wonderful, but what makes it even more special is the meta-tale that this book tells of Rosa’s aspirations.
We can see those dreams on display beginning with the very first adventure in this wonderful anthology. “Son of the Son” reads like a classic Barks adventure tale, all travels to mysterious lands, double crosses and thrilling high adventure in which Uncle Scrooge tries desperately to acquire more (and more and more) gold. It’s generated with a pure joy and energetic spirit that overcome Rosa’s occasionally imperfect artwork – a flaw that Rosa himself almost glories in when describing it.
One of the aspects of the book that delights Rosa the most is how he has many call-backs to original Duck stories – he even calls them out specifically in his comments at the end of this assemblage – and the panel above shows the depth of Rosa’s deep, deep knowledge and enthusiasm for the work of his hero, the great Carl Barks. Rosa throws out references to the world that Barks created all throughout this volume. In fact, one of Barks’s pieces, the delightful “Last Sled to Dawson”, specifically refers back to a previous Barks tale.
It’s charming and fanboyish and super fun how Rosa applies continuity to the material he loves and then uses that continuity as the springboard for his own takes on the characters. In “Dawson”, for instance, a flashback to Uncle Scrooge’s past helps to illuminate his approach to the world, as well as add depth and interest to an important supporting character. It also helps to create the macguffin that triggers this adventure, in a head-over-fins, breakneck but organized sort of pace.
Rosa does a wonderful job walking a tightrope between continuity porn (maybe the least appropriate use of the term ‘porn’ ever) and telling fresh tales. The continuity provides a trigger for the stories, but it doesn’t depend on any previous knowledge from the reader; Rosa spells everything out for even the newest Duckophile.
So we get beats that echo Barks but don’t quote the Good Duck Artist, with thrilling conclusions such as the scene above, a classic sort of Barks grand finale when everything seems to end in a giant explosion or literally earth-shattering moment. The three “long stories” in this book, obviously Rosa’s real favorites in this collection based on his commentary, read like pastiches created by a fanboy who truly knows the work he’s pastiching.
I somehow haven’t called out that these yarns are funny, too. The long story “Cash Flow” is a deliriously silly Beagle Boys/Scrooge battle that strings absurd sight gag on top of ridiculous pun on top of crazy world-play to tell a tale that flows and streams similar to the frictionless material that’s at the center of his wild creation.
What he lacks in artistic power, especially in these early stories (spoiler: Rosa’s art gets better and better the more he draws the ducks), Rosa makes up with raw unadulterated enthusiasm for the material. Just look at all the detail and sight gags he packs into the panels above. Duckburg comes alive under Rosa’s brush and there’s a sense that all of those creatures in the first panel above actually live or work in those buildings that they’re running out of.
Along with the three long stories in this book, the good people at Fantagraphics also give readers several ten-pagers and a few shorter pieces in Son of the Sun. Each of these is as absurd as the longer strips, filled with ridiculous gags that work because Rosa builds them well and because he has so much enthusiasm for his work. How can you not at least smirk at a scene like the one below?
He, I just noticed the line “duck out this door.” That’s cute. Way to go, Rosa. Do they say that in Duckburg?
Don Rosa would never claim to be an artist Carl Barks’s caliber, but it’s an absolute delight watching him try to walk in Barks’s shadow. The Son of the Son will bring many smiles to your face.