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  Biographies : Keno Don Rosa

Gioachino 'Keno' Don Hugo Rosa was born the 29th June of 1951 in Louisville (Kentucky, U.S.)

His father was born in Italy and was a kid when his family emigrated to United States ; his mother's family was in the country for a long time, despite of its German and Irish-Scottish origins.

The little Keno experiences a happy childhood in the city of Saint Matthews, then later in a house near the freeway ‘US 42’ freeway. He grows reading his older sister ‘s comic books collection, particularly Carl Barks’ stories which impress him a lot. Even before he can write, he draws some comics himself, asking his parents to fill the balloons. For him, drawing is no the most important : it is telling a story that matters.

At the age of ten, he throws all of his comic books as well as his sister’s, excepted his two favourites. He will start shortly after a large-scale collection that he will stop in 1985, not appreciating their style anymore (he will own up to 40000 comics), and in which all those he had thrown before will notably appear. At school, the young Keno is a pretty brilliant student ; that doesn’t prevent him to draw occasionally during the class about their content ; but on the other hand, he never took any drawing class.

In 1969, he goes to the University of Kentucky, from which he graduates as a civil engineer in 1973. It is during those years that he writes his first real comics. He indeed takes part in the students’ paper, the Kentucky Kernel in which he carries out editorial drawings, advertisements, graphics and above all a daily strip : the « Pertwillaby Papers » where the hero, Lancelot Pertwillaby, is Don Rosa himself. After a semester, he is allowed to put his characters into a treasure hunt story, called « Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes », in the best Barks tradition and written thinking very strong about other web-footed characters…

After graduating, Don Rosa start working from the bottom in the « Keno Rosa Tile Company », which had been established by his grand-father and taken over by his father, with the intention of becoming the boss one day. At the same time, between 1974 and 1979, he takes over, illustrates and develops the column « The Information Center » of the largest and oldest fanzine of the country on the subject : The Rocket’s Blast Comicollector. That’s how he becomes quite famous in United States to comic books collectors answering the reader’s questions about it, but also about old TV series and movies, or publishing indexes of all sorts, as he already did in 1971 for a fanzine (« An index of Uncle Scrooge comics »). Between 1976 and 1978, he also goes back to the « Pertwillaby Papers » in the form of comics for some fanzines.

From 1979, for lack of time, he devotes only his spare time to carry out weekly episodes of « Captain Kentucky » for the Louisville Times ; this character is the superhero alter ego of Lance Pertwillaby. In 1980, he marries a school teacher, Ann Payne, on a tropical beach, bare feet and wearing a T-shirt. The couple still lives together in Louisville and Ann has now retired. They never had children. In 1982, considering that the game isn't worth the sweat, he stops all activities in either drawing or writing until 1986, even if he remains nevertheless a collector.

One day in 1986, he discovers in the window of a shop a Gladstone comic book, the first in America to contain Disney characters since the 70’s. He can identify in the comic a remarkable quality of production and the same respect towards those characters that he feels himself. He quickly decides to call Byron Erickson, Gladstone editor and states that it is his destiny to write Uncle Scrooge comics, then Erikson authorizes him to submit a story, what Don Rosa gets to work immediately and transforms the plot of « Lost in (an alternative section of) the Andes » into a story with Scrooge, Donald, his three nephews and Glomgold, as it has always been in his head.

« The son of the sun » is published in the United States in April 1987 and is a immediate success. Gladstone asks Don Rosa to write more and he complies. Since the company can’t commission so many stories from him that he could make, he carries out at the same time the drawing of several stories for the Dutch company Oberon. As comics production become a full time activity, he agrees with his associate that he should liquidate the family company he had taken the head.

In 1989, he stops his collaboration with Gladstone when Disney told them not to return any art to him. From 1990, he starts working with the Danish company Egmont. The next year, during his first visit in Scandinavia, he assesses the scale of his great popularity in Europe. Besides, he makes it a point of honour to answer personally to each mail, postal or electronic, that he receives from his fans ; that occupies him two to four hours a day !

Between 1991 et 1993, he takes over his most accomplished work : « The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck » in twelve episodes, which makes him earn in 1995 a Will Eisner Award (« Best Serialized Story »). Two years later, he gets a second one (« Best Writer / Artist : Humor »). He carries on making stories, with plot and drawing more and more meticulously arranged, bursting with references to the work of his idol, Carl Barks. Don Rosa only ever shook his hand one day in a crowd, a few years before ; he eventually meets Barks in his house in Oregon the 12th August of 1998 this time for a long talk.

In 1999, because of the lack of interest from Egmont for some of his stories, Don Rosa begins to work also in a sporadic way for the French Picsou Magazine. On this occasion and on top of several stories, he takes over an important series of pin-up pages for the French magazine. That sort of illustrations will take besides a significant part of his work afterwards, on top of the making of the stories strictly speaking.

This considerable production and this success have a downside : the increase of the number of reprints and by-products. In the early summer of 2002, after years of frustration with regards to the use of his name by different editors to promote all these reprints often slapdash, without paying him in no way, Don Rosa decides to stop all production of any sort which got a link with Disney. It’s only in late December that he announces that he puts an end to his « strike », after having come to a mutual agreement with Egmont ; so new stories come out, at a much less steady rhythm. In 2005, from some of his admirers’ questioning on the small quantity of produced stories, he explains that even if his passion remains intact, he has to think about his future, particularly now that his wife is retired ; and that the sale of a fraction of his comics’ collection (1970 -1985) brought him more money in six months than doing comics for six years.

His last work to date is the making of a twelve posters’ series for Scrooge’s 60th anniversary in 2007.


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