Alberto Becattini and the biography of Don Rosa

One could really describe Italian Alberto Becattini as an comicbook expert. In the past 25 years he has written loads of articles and books about comics, mostly about American comics and about Disney comics in particular. Becattini with his fellow countrymen Francesco Stajano and Leonardo Gori have also written the so-far-only biography of Don Rosa back in 1997.

Alberto Becattini (b. 1955) graduated from university in 1981 and has teached English in highschool since 1983. From early childhood he's been collecting comics, especially American ones. Since 70's he has been writing to fanzines, and in 1978 he and some friends founded a fanzine called Funnies that concentrated on Carl Barks and American comics. Later this hobby transformed into a job. In the late 80's Alberto translated some Italian stories to American Gladstone and wrote articles for them as well. Since 1990 he has been writing to publications of Comic Art in Rome. For the last decade or so, he has been working as a freelancer-writer and a consult to Disney Italia. Additionally, he has written or co-written several Disney-related books such as biographies of such legends as Romano Scarpa, Floyd Gottfredsson, Giovan Battista Carpi, Romano Scarpa ja Carl Barks. In his website Alberto concentrates on American animators.

On this interview I concentrated on the biography of Don Rosa. Let's start:


The cover of Rosa biography looks like this

The book Don Rosa e il rinascimento disneyano is currently only available in Italian. Could you tell us, who have never seen the book, what kind of information it contains. What kind of articles and material never seen anywhere else?


Well, there are, besides an introduction and a first chapter which briefly retells the history of Duck comics from Gottfredson, Al Taliaferro and Barks to the best current artists, different chapters about Don's life and works. A biographical chapter is followed by one about his underground efforts, Captain Kentucky and The Pertwillaby Papers. Then comes another philological chapter in which the origins of Don's style are traced, from the early cartoons and comics to Robert Crumb. The next chapter explains how Don builds up a story. Then comes a chapter about Don's own philological references (to Barks, of course). And a long chapter on "Life and Times". The whole book is interspersed with bits of Frank's long interview with Don. There are also short bits by other authors, namely Gianfranco Goria, Fabio Gadducci and Mirko Tavosanis, and Stefano Priarone, who give their own personal view of Don's microcosm. The final part of the book is devoted to the Duck Family Tree (with entries for all the main members of the family, as well as for the more obscure ones) and to a checklist of Don's Disney and non-Disney stories.

How was the book received in Italy?

It was received pretty well by critics and scholars, but of course the printrun and distribution were so limited that very few "lucky ones" were able to actually buy and read it!

You have written, among others, about Romano Scarpa, Giovan Battista Carpi, Floyd Gottfredsson and Carl Barks. They are legends with long careers. What was there in Don Rosa that made him to be the subject of a new project, he was a relatively new name in the mid 90s when you probably got the idea about doing such a book? How did you team up with Leonardo Gori and Francesco Stajano on this one?

Well, actually the book came out on the occasion of Don's being the guest of honour at the 1997 Expocartoon comic convention in Rome. We thought that would be a good chance to write a book about him, and so did publisher Rinaldo Traini of Comic Art. In a way, the book served as a catalogue for the exhibition of Don's original art at the convention. As for my personal contributions to the book, I wrote most of the first chapter myself, and all of the "Duck Family Tree" appendix. Of course I contributed bits to the rest of the text and edited the whole thing, as did the others.

Since Italy has so many great duck artist/writers of its own, why is Rosa so popular? Has this anything to do with his roots being in Italy?

I don't think his Italian roots count that much, although of course Don likes Italy a lot and considers it his "second home". I guess Don is so popular here on account of his being an excellent narrator and gag writer. His stories appear in the monthly magazine Zio Paperone, which is mainly read by people who want quality stories, so that they logically appreciate Don's great talent as a narrator and as a follower of Barks's "teachings".

According to latest survey one out of four Finns reads Aku Ankka-magazine (Donald Duck weekly) regularly. You could almost say that there is nothing as popular as Donald Duck in Finland. Among the various duck artists, Don Rosa is the most popular here. Have you thought about getting Don Rosa e il rinascimento disneyano translated to Finnish? Folks who publish Aku Ankka are already doing some direct translations of Italian stories that are published in pocket book format. I guess a book about Don Rosa could sell pretty well here.

If you say so... Well, I'd be delighted to see it published in Finland - - or anywhere else there are people who show interest for Disney artists and for the efforts of us Disney chroniclers. Anyway, if it were published, it should be updated, I think. And that would be kind of a problem. For different reasons, the three of us are much too busy to work on it again.

Magica de Spell is of course immensely popular character in Italy. Is she your favorite, too? What do you think makes her so likable?

I do like Magica, but I can't honestly say that she's my favourite. I like her sensuality a lot (remember that she's Neapolitan, as Barks apparently drew inspiration from Sofia Loren - - or maybe from Gina Lollobrigida), but at the same time I don't think that she an author may have unlimited possibilities with her. I definitely like Scrooge more than her - - he's a much more complex character, with such a long history behind him that you can always discover something new.

When Rosa did his Kalevala story, it was a huge success in Finland. He became almost a national hero for bringing the ducks finally to Finland. When Don Rosa visited earlier this year in Napoli, he spent much time for example in Pompeii. Afterwards, he told me that he's planning to do a big story taking place in Italy. Probably featuring Magica as well. What do you think of this? Will it receive special attention by the Italians and be big news, or will it be regarded just be another good story? I understand the reaction of the Finns when Rosa did a story about Kalevala, but the ducks visiting Italy isn't actually anything new, since you have so much Disney production of your own.

Yeah, Don talked about this at a panel at the recent comic convention in Naples. Well, I guess that a story of his completely set in Naples would make big titles in the papers (at least, in the Naples papers), and I'm sure all Italian readers would be fascinated. Of course we've had lots of Scrooge/Magica stories set in Naples written and drawn by Italian authors, but it's always interesting to see foreign authors - and U.S. authors in particular - reinterpret Magica's "native environments". Don, of course, is always very accurate, so I have no doubt that he'll be creating another masterpiece.

When Gladstone published Disney comics in U.S., you translated some italian stories for them. Will you be doing the same for Gemstone? Or do you have some other interesting duck-related projects underway?

I got in touch with John Clark at Gemstone offering my collaboration, but he said that at the moment they're not going to run any articles in their comics magazines. As for translations, I'm busy enough translating 90 % of the stories that appear in Zio Paperone...

Alberto at home with his Disney-originals

I am about to stop asking these pesky question really soon. But I must ask a couple of more light-hearted ones in the end. First, do you have any funny memories about Don Rosa you would like to share?

Sure. Well, the funniest one, I guess, is that concerning a dinner during the above-mentioned 1997 Expocartoon convention. Don didn't know me that well at that time, and though I was only competent in Disney comics (I've been collecting U.S. comic books and syndicated strips for 35 years, and writing about them for 25!), so he said something like "Well, you may know everything about each and every Disney comic artist, but you don't know who drew The Texas Kid for Atlas/Marvel!" "Joe Maneely!", I immediately responded, and he was flabbergasted. He never would have thought I could answer that question!!! Every time we meet, we always remember that funny incident.

And finally, what's your favorite story by Don Rosa and why?

Well, although I've learned to appreciate every single story Don does (as I've been translating them since 1999), I have two personal favorites, Hearts of the Yukon and A Matter of Some Gravity. The former is the best possible story to illustrate Scrooge's inner personality and his relationship with Glittering Goldie. The latter is, in my opinion, the funniest Don has written and drawn so far. The visual gags are absolutely irresistible!

Kai Saarto