by John Bloner, Jr.
How often do you think about Donald Duck?
Until recently, the Disney character didn’t occupy much of my grey matter. When my daughter was small, she’d roar when I would gargle a rough imitation of Donald’s exasperated, unintelligible, spit-flying, duck-speak. That was a long time ago, though.
Recently, however, I’ve become intrigued with the cartoon star since discovering The Donaldists, a group of academics who’ve spent the past fifty years pouring over the work of Carl Barks, the writer and artist of the first Donald Duck stories, and sharing their research at annual conferences, monthly meetings, and in several zines, including Der Hamburger Donaldist.
The South-Nordic Academy of Donaldism (SAD) considers Carl Barks as a medium between the world of humans and the world of ducks. In its research centers and departments, SAD’s scholars examine the financial structure and physics of Duckburg, home to Donald and his family.
In Sweden, Donald Duck is more popular than Mickey Mouse. As the latter is flawless in his manner, Donald is tempestuous a skinflint, and not nice to his nephews. In short, he’s a lot like us.
The Donaldists have a lot of material to draw from for their studies, as Carl Barks created over 500 full-length stories of the irascible waterfowl, setting him, his uncle and nephews on adventures around the world. These Duck Tales inspired Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in developing their own worlds on film. Cartoonist Jeff Smith, creator of the epic graphic novel, Bone, tells of how Barks’ work inspired him.
“I always wanted Uncle Scrooge to go on a longer adventure. I thought, ‘Man, if you could just get a comic book of that quality, the length of say, War and Peace, or The Odyssey or something, that would be something I would love to read, and even as a kid I looked everywhere for that book, that Uncle Scrooge story that was 1,100 pages.”
Over a period of 12 years, Smith created the adventures of Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone, published initially in short comic books, and eventually as one 1,300 page opus. This page count pales, however, next to a collector’s edition of Donald Duck comics, published in 2009 in Germany, and which included 8,000 pages and sold for $1,900.
Donald Duck, in German translation by Dr. Erika Fuchs, is unlike his English language original, as Fuchs took creative license with the duck’s dialogue, peppering it with quotes from Goethe, Wagner, and Friedrich Schiller, referencing her country’s infamous history of Nazism, and urging children to pay attention to poets and thinkers.
As Daisy Duck says to her beau in one of these comics, “Donald, du bist ein Schatz!” (“Donald, you’re a sweetheart!) I heartily agree.