"Metropolis has Clark Kent, Gotham City has Bruce Wayne, but Louisville has Lancelot Pertwillaby….!"

§ September 24th, 2007 § Filed under Uncategorized Comments Off on "Metropolis has Clark Kent, Gotham City has Bruce Wayne, but Louisville has Lancelot Pertwillaby….!"

My first exposure to the work of Don Rosa was in the early 1980s, as installments of his Captain Kentucky comic strip were reprinted in the very late and much lamented Comic Reader fanzine.

I loved those strips for many reasons…every square inch of the page was filled with art and writing, even including little messages to the reader between the panels. And within the panels themselves, the art was busy and detailed but never felt cluttered. In a way, in reminded me of Mad Magazine, where paying attention to the background details revealed additional jokes.

The character of Captain Kentucky himself had great appeal — an everyday guy with great powers protects the great city of Louisville with some success but little respect, his tales told with a great sense of the absurd, a lot of satire, and just the rare moment of schmaltz. And, of course, plenty of in-jokes for fellow Kentuckians…I didn’t get the local references at the time, but I recognized that they were in-jokes for the locals, and appreciated these additional personal touches of Rosa’s.

In fact, that may be one of the main reasons I liked the Captain Kentucky strips as much as I did. Every single element of the strip just reflected Rosa’s personality…reading, say, Superman or Batman comics didn’t tell you much about the creative teams working on them. They’re processed, prepackaged, created to fill a marketing niche and to appear on toys. The character is more important than the creator. But here, I think this was my first exposure to the idea that even a superhero comic can have a point of view, an expressive personality. (Some of Jack Kirby’s work would fit this mold as well, I think, but at this point I was still a few years away from a true appreciation of the King’s work.)

That this was all by one person, too, appealed to my obsession with amateur creators…folks creating stories and art outside of the usual corporate outlets, just for themselves or for otherwise limited audiences. And here was Rosa’s Captain Kentucky, a one-man show, which to my eyes, then and now, was just as polished and well-written and entertaining as any superhero comic Marvel or DC could crank out…but with the additional advantage of being personal.

It wasn’t until a little later, when Fantagraphics published Don Rosa’s Comics & Stories #1, that I learned of the Captain’s pre-superhero life as non-powered intellectual adventurer Lance Pertwillaby. I think I may have read that first issue dozens of times, enjoying the wide-ranging scope of the story, along with its humor and its fascinatingly-detailed art style. I patiently waited for the second issue…and waited, and waited, but I never did see it, somehow, and I wouldn’t find a copy of it until about two years ago (and it was a moot point by then, anyway, which I’ll get to in a moment).

After that, I learned Rosa was going to be working on a story for the recently-relaunched Disney comics line from Gladstone Publishing. I hadn’t read Disney comics since sometime in the mid-1970s, but if Rosa was going to write and draw an Uncle Scrooge comic, I’d be willing to give it a try.

That comic was the classic “Son of the Sun” in Uncle Scrooge #219 (1987), and like the other Rosa comics I read before it, it was filled with detailed art, humorous adventure, and Rosa’s personality. And as a side effect, it reopened my awareness of the Duck books, as I kept buying each new issue containing Rosa’s work. That brought me to, of course, the work of Carl Barks, which got me to buying the entire Carl Barks Library series…so I have Rosa to thank for that as well!

Now, I started thinking about Captain Kentucky again because of Tom Spurgeon’s Five for Friday from last week, in which he asked what our favorite non-Marvel/DC heroes from the last 50 years were. As I was making my list, I realized that a couple of the answers that popped into my head were fairly obvious — Nexus, of course, along with one Spurgeon already mentioned, Zot! — but thinking about it made me recall how much I loved those old Captain Kentucky strips, and how I looked forward to each new issue of the Comic Reader to read the latest installments.

I didn’t have all the issues of TCR, so I missed some strips, but in 2001 all of Rosa’s Pertwillaby work, including all the Captain Kentucky comics (and that second issue of Comics & Stories I missed), were reprinted in two handsome hardcover volumes from a Norwegian publisher. Here’s the CK volume:

I think I’ll be spending the next couple of days rereading this book, reimmersing myself in the world of Captain Kentucky, its in-jokes I sorta get, its craziness, its sledgehammer satire, and its pure fun. Thanks, Mr. Rosa, for this great strip, and thanks, Tom, for inspiring me to remember how much I enjoyed it.

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