Thursday, January 26, 2012

Interview with Rob Klein

This is a special interview done by Andrea Cara with the great Robert Klein in July 2011. We would have liked to publish it in our - unluckily - neverbeen online fanzine "The Gazette". I don't know if the fanzine will never be run... in the meantime, you can taste this wonderful interview.
                                                                    Simone L. Cavazzuti

Vi proponiamo oggi una bella intervista con Robert Klein.

Robert Klein è un cartoonist di origine americana con radici canadesi e fiamminghe. Cresciuto in casa con i cugini più grandi, ha avuto occasione di accedere sin da piccolo alla loro collezione di fumetti Disney, per poi diventare un vero appassionato di Floyd Gottfredson e Carl Barks. Ed è proprio con quest’ultimo che ha avuto occasione, tramite Malcom Willits, che lo aveva “scoperto” ed intervistato nel 1962, che ha avuto occasione di incontrarsi nel 1969.

Una bel ricordo del suo incontro con Carl Barks lo troviamo all’indirizzo di seguito:

La vita del futuro disegnatore di storie Disney da quel momento non è più la stessa, come ci dice lui stesso nell’intervista che ci ha rilasciato appositamente per questo blog. Robert ha poi nuovamente incontrato Carl Barks nel 1973, senza dimenticare la loro stretta corrispondenza e le loro telefonate. Insomma, parliamo di un vero fan di Carl Barks.

Infine, e ce ne accorgiamo dal tenore delle sue risposte alle nostre domande, dietro il “cartoonist” c’e una personalità complessa ed interessata agli eventi che si svolgono intorno a lui. Difatti, non dimentichiamoci che Robert Klein ha avuto una formazione scientifica, avendo lavorato come ambientalista per le Nazioni Unite per progetti di sviluppo in Africa.

Informazioni sulle storie Disney di Robert le possiamo ovviamente trovare a questo indirizzo:

Mentre, nel frattempo, buona lettura!!

AND: We know that you are an American artist who is very well known for your work with Disney's characters especially Donald Duck and Gyro Gearloose.
Do you have a particular reason for preferring these characters?

ROB: I write stories about Donald Duck, because he was Carl Barks' "everyman"-a normal, fallible "human", with strengths and weaknesses, just like all of us have. He is really the main character of Duckburg and The Duck Universe's stories, despite Uncle Scrooge's interesting character and heaps of money, and Huey, Dewey and Louie's precociousness, intelligence and courage.

I write stories about Gyro Gearloose because Carl Barks made him a very funny character, who invented the most unexpected machines to perform the most impractical, unnecessary tasks for both worthy and unworthy customers. That made for a lot of ironic comedy. First of all, I am a scientist. I studied the chemistry of air and water pollution, weather and climatology in university, and was an environmental scientist, planner and economist for 18 years, working on United Nations development projects in Africa, The Middle East and The Far East. So, I can identify with Gyro's goals of wanting to help make our World a better place. In addition, I am compulsive and have a one-track mind, when I set my mind to a task or project (such as making my hard bound "Carl Barks Library" (of hand-coloured photocopies of all his published and non-published comic book pages) starting at age 15, and finishing at age 19. Gyro is very much blind to everything else when he gets involved in his inventing projects. Using Gyro to invent outlandish machines that can do just about anything one could imagine, allows a writer to use his imagination to come up with fantastic scenarios.

Of course, I love to write about Uncle Scrooge as well, and I have written many stories with him as the main character. Several of them were bought by Egmont (Gutenbeghus), but many of the longer adventure stories never got published because of the big backlog of extra story pages that was built up in their story stock by 1995. Unfortunately, those stories were shelved, and never given to artists to draw them up. It is a shame, because I was paid for them, I cannot offer them to another Disney Comics publisher.

I have also written some stories starring non-Duck characters (Mickey Mouse, Goofy, José Carioca, and Bre'r Rabbit) that I plan to submit to Sanoma Uitgevers, and possibly other Disney Comics publishers. I have written the stories and drawn their storyboards in their classic 1940s style. I hope to capture that feeling I had as a reader (fan), when first reading them in my childhood. I hope that the publishers will like that, and not have a problem with their story length. Sanoma uses mainly 3-page story size for José Carioca (and my 2 short stories are 8 pages), and I also have written a 32-page adventure story with him, in the style of his original newspaper strip, which could be chopped up into 4-page "mini-chapters"/episodes, for publication in our weekly magazine. Of course, I'd rather that it be published, intact as one long adventure story (but that is not likely to happen (at least not until it could be placed in a special book (such as "Big Fun" or another collection of reprinted stories book). My 2 Bre'r Rabbit stories are also 8 pages, and Sanoma's are usually only 4 or 5. Generally, only lead stories with major characters (Donal, Scrooge, Mickey) can be 8-12 pages. But, I hope the classical feeling, and my finishing artist partner's classical drawing style will make the Editors want the stories badly enough to print them intact, and not split them in half.

AND: Do you prefer to write short or long stories and why?

ROB: I like to write BOTH short and long stories, for different reasons. Just as I discovered when reading Carl Barks' stories, the epic longer Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories allow the reader to experience heroic adventures, and the short stories allow one to experience an event in the Ducks' everyday domestic lives. The reader (and writer) can experience what happens in everyday life in Duckburg, to The Duck family, in the short stories. They are funny throughout, but can also show the happiness and sadness, little successes and failures in everyday work and play with which we all can identify. The longer, epic tales have a mixture of swashbuckling adventure and interludes of comedy, while showing off The Ducks courage and foibles of their characters. I have had a LOT more short stories published, because my editors have a lot more space in their books to publish short stories than the longer ones, and, unfortunately, so far, I have not gained the reputation for writing very good quality long adventure stories, to allow these publishers to bend their rules to print them (as Egmont did with Don Rosa, and Oberon/Geillustreerde Pers/Sanoma has done with Daan Jippes, Ben Verhagen and Jan Gulbransson). But, nevertheless, I am still writing longer stories, and hoping that they will be published eventually.

AND: We know that you met Carl Barks on a couple of occasions. How do you feel about it?

ROB: Well, I am sure that you know that I have an article published in "The Carl Barks Collected Works", published in Scandinavia and Germany. So, I don't want to give a long-winded recitation here. But, for those fans who don't have access to that publication, I will give a short answer. I feel very privileged to have had the good fortune to have met the great master (who is also my hero). I was glad that I was introduced to him by Malcom Willits, so early after the first fan discovered him, that I could visit him a few times, and also correspond by letters and long telephone calls for several years. He was a very nice man, and I'm glad to have gotten to know him as a person. His long adventure stories gave me the ambition to travel all over The World (my UN career), and his wonderful storytelling made me want to write and draw my own Disney character stories (as I have done since 1985). His inspiration also was the catalyst for my meeting and befriending so many creative artists and writers such as Jan Gulbransson, Freddy Milton, Daan Jippes, Frank Jonker, Mau and Bas Heymans, Santiago Scalabroni, Lars Jensen, David Gerstein, Byron Erickson, and young up-and-coming talented artists such as Henrieke Goorhuis and Tim Artz (whose names you will soon hear).

AND: Obviously now you have to expect a question of the famous “Golden Apples” story….can you tell us something about it?

ROB: From as far back as 1966, when I learned about that shelved story from Malcom Willits, and Carl told me he never had the story returned to him, I wanted to re-create it. I asked Carl several times, to pick his brain to try to remember everything he could about that story. I was busy with other projects for years, hoping that the original pages or photostats of it would be found. But, finally, in the early 2000s, I decided to write it and draw the storyboards. I asked Daan Jippes if he would like to draw it, because he could do the best job of trying to mimic Barks' drawing style from 1952, and his wonderful staging and laying out of the panels. Much to my joy, Daan agreed to draw it. Before he would start drawing it, we wanted to submit the story to a publisher, to make sure that the storyline wouldn't have any changes. We submitted it to Egmont. Byron Erickson told us that a "re-creation" of that story was part of a long project of several Barks story ideas that were being written up by Geoffrey Blum (and drawn by various artists). So, he kept our story to compare with Blum's, to decide which he would buy and publish. One year later, we were told that Blum's was the version chosen. This distressed me greatly, as my version included more information directly from Carl Barks about what had been in the story, and I made it 10 pages long, which was its original size, as it had been scheduled for Walt Disney's Comics & Stories issue No. 144 (September 1952). Geoff Blum had read about the story from Michael Barrier's 1970s interview with Barks. And, Blum had decided to just use the general plotline of Barks, and essentially write his own story (thus the additions of Uncle Scrooge and Magica De Spell into the story). Subsequently, Daan and I offered the story to Dutch Disney Comics. But, editor, Thom Roep declined it, saying that the story was too "unBarkslike". I still hope that a Disney Comics publisher (perhaps Disney Italia?) will publish it some day (although, now, I suspect that Daan Jippes will not draw it, as he ended up drawing Geoff Blum's version).

AND: How do you write a story (Can you outline the process)? And, do you also work on other people's story ideas or plots?

ROB: Well, first, I get the germ of an idea that is interesting enough for readers to be attracted to a story about it. There are hundreds of story ideas that spring out at us from everyday life. There is never a problem thinking of an idea for a story. The key issue is whether or not the writer can produce a story with suspense, human emotions with which the reader can identify, a satisfying, non-predictable ending, and lay it out in the proper timing. Once the idea is crystalised, I think about who the hero or protagonist will be, and if a villain is required. Then, I work out the general plot line, to see what needed elements are missing (not yet decided upon). This usually includes working out of the climax of the story (main confrontation of the hero with the villain-or against the difficult circumstances with which he is faced), and almost always, includes finding a twist ending that will be a complete surprise to the reader, and yet result in a satisfying ending. I try to think of a fantastically attractive, interesting and action-packed splash panel that I would like drawing and like to see in a story, and build some of the plot action based on that. Once I have the story elements and event order in my mind, I draw small layout pages, with very basic sketchy scribbles in the panels, just to identify which action will be portrayed there. Then, I refine the action, little by little making the story timing unfold properly, and making sure the aesthetics of each page are as good as possible. That includes making sure to have a good mixture of up-close, medium and long distance views, making sure to balance what panels are on one page with panels which will show across from them on the facing page; and making sure each page-ending panel will have some suspense (a page-turner), that will compel the reader to turn to the next page, to see what will happen.

When I am satisfied with the storyline and page layouts, I draw the storyboard pages. Each writer/storyboard artist has his or her own style with respect to competedness. They can range from crude scribbles (or even almost as basic as sick figures) to almost finished pencil drawings, and every stage in between. I tend towards the most complete end, to ensure that the final penciler and inker will stick as closely to what I had in mind for the story as possible. That did work for me in having Jan Gulbransson, Santiago Scalabroni, Daniel Branca and Tino Santanach stay fairly closely to my staging, except where they thought they could improve the storytelling aesthetics (which required a drastic change in camera distance or angle and/or character positioning).

When the storyboards are completed, I send copies of them by e-mail to colleagues for their comments and suggestions. After I read all their comments, I review my story, and make the changes with which I agree. Then, I send copies of the storyboards to my editor. The editors send back the copies with their comments I then make the appropriate changes, and re-send them to the editor.

I have worked a few times on other people's plots and story ideas. Usually, in that case, we then work on the story together, and share the pay and credit. I have co-written several stories with Jan Gulbransson and Frank Jonker. But, in many of those cases, I had the original story idea. But, most often with Frank Jonker, we come up with the story idea, together, in a joint effort. Back in the 1990s, I worked together with Gorm Transgaard in many brainstorming sessions. Generally, we each ended writing up the stories in which we had the original idea.

AND: Do you think there is a particular problem related to your business you would like to convey to our readers?

ROB: If there is a problem in our industry, I guess it would be the fact that each year, less and less people are reading printed material (books, magazines, comic books, newspaper strips). That has resulted in lower sales for comic books, and may well be related to Egmont's, Abril's, and Sanoma Uitgevers' lowering of number of pages produced in the last few years. If that situation continues, and even worsens in the near future, that would likely lead to less Disney Comics work for artists and storywriters. It seems that the trend towards less printed on paper, and more posted on The Internet must lead to Disney Comics pages being read on The Internet, and downloaded from it. If that is the way of the future, I hope that it still allows The Disney Publishing Division and comic magazine franchises to continue to operate, using that medium, and, accordingly, allow writers and artists to continue making a living drawing and writing about Disney characters.

I enjoyed participating in this interview. I will now draw a special drawing for "The War Drum".


Rob Klein


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