Donald Duck has starred in dozens of comic-book and comic-strip stories published each month (in certain parts of the world, each week) around the world.
Donald may well have made his first printed appearance in Mickey Mouse Annual 3 (published 1932; the annual for 1933), a 128-page British hardback. This book included the poem Mickey's Hoozoo, Witswitch and Wotswot, which listed all of Mickey's then-current barnyard animal friends (most of Disney's major characters developed out of this barnyard scenario). Among them was a duckling named Donald Duck. Besides the name, however, there is little similarity between this character and the one introduced in The Wise Little Hen during 1934. Mickey Mouse Annual 3 was drawn entirely by Wilfred Haughton.
Comic strip debut
The Donald of The Wise Little Hen made his printed debut in the newspaper comic strip adaptation of that cartoon. It was released between September 16 and December 16, 1934, in the Silly Symphonies Sunday pages by Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro. On February 10, 1935, Donald appeared in the Mickey Mouse daily strip by Ted Osborne and Floyd Gottfredson.
A supporting character in Mickey's strip, Donald came to dominate the Silly Symphonies strips between August 30, 1936, and December 12, 1937. At the time, Ted Osborne was credited as writer and Al Taliaferro as artist and inker. Later studies of their work, however, show that Taliaferro probably contributed plot ideas and gags as well. The duo turned Donald from a countryman to a city dweller. They also introduced the first members of The Duck family other than Donald himself, namely Donald's identical triplet nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, who debuted on October 17, 1937. The sons of his sister Della Duck (his sister in the animated shorts), the triplets were sent to spend some time with him as guests while their father recovered at the hospital from their latest prank. Nevertheless, Donald ended up serving as their adoptive parent.
Comic book debut
At this time, the first Donald Duck stories originally created for a comic book made their appearance. In the United Kingdom, Fleetway also created original stories with Donald Duck. "Donald and Donna", published in Mickey Mouse Weekly #67 (May 15, 1937), was the first Donald Duck adventure ever. The story was fifteen pages long and published in weekly episodes. The last appeared on August 21, 1937. All episodes were drawn by William A. Ward.
Disney had also licensed the Italian publishing house Mondadori to create stories with the Disney characters as their stars. The first to star Donald, under his Italian name Paolino Paperino, was "Paolino Paperino e il mistero di Marte" (later reprinted in the United States as "The Secret of Mars", Donald Duck 286) by Federico Pedrocchi, first published on December 30, 1937. The story was only eighteen pages long and crude by later standards, but it is credited as the first to feature Donald in an adventuring rather than a comedic role. It is also the first of many to depict Donald as a space traveler, in this case traveling to Mars (see Mars in fiction).
Developments under Taliaferro
Back in the USA, Donald finally became the star of his own newspaper comic strip. The Donald Duck daily strip started on February 2, 1938, and the Donald Duck Sunday page began December 10, 1939. Taliaferro drew both, this time co-operating with writer Bob Karp. Taliaferro continued to contribute plot ideas and gags, and some studies credit Taliaferro with most of the ideas that would turn his run of the strip into a classic. He continued to work at the daily strip until October 10, 1968, and at the Sunday page until February 16, 1969.
Among other innovations, Taliaferro made several additions to Donald's supporting cast. Bolivar, Donald's pet St. Bernard first appeared in the strip on March 17, 1938, following his animated appearances in Alpine Climbers (July 25, 1936) and More Kittens (December 19, 1936). Donald's second cousin Gus Goose, the son of Fanny Coot, made his first appearance on May 9, 1938—the first member of the Coot Kin to appear (he would make the leap to animation a year later in 1939's Donald's Cousin Gus). Daisy Duck first appeared in the strip on November 4, 1940, following her first proper animated appearance in Mr. Duck Steps Out, first released on June 7, 1940. Donald's paternal grandmother Elviry (Elvira Coot, usually just called Grandma Duck), first appeared in a portrait on August 11, 1940, and in person on September 28, 1943. Taliaferro also reintroduced Donna Duck as a separate character from Daisy. This old flame of Donald rivaled Daisy for his affections between August 7, 1951 and August 18, 1951, before leaving him for another. Though he did not create most of those characters, Taliaferro is credited with the development of their personalities as well as of Donald's own personality. It has been said that Taliaferro laid the foundations for the character's subsequent development under Carl Barks and his successors.
First treasure hunt
Donald had already been familiar to the American reading public through his newspaper comic strip by 1942. Then Disney licensed Western Publishing to create original comic book stories, with Disney characters as their stars. But the first American Donald Duck story originally created for a comic book was created by Studio-employed artists: Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, first published in October 1942. The plot for the story had been originally suggested by Harry Reeves and Homer Brightman for a cartoon that never reached production (Morgan's Ghost). The notes for the cartoon were given to Bob Karp, who had been assigned to write Western's script. As intended, he used it as the basis for his story. Then it was given to Carl Barks and Jack Hannah to illustrate. Each of them drew half of the story's 64 pages. The story places Donald and his nephews on a treasure hunt for the lost treasure of Henry Morgan, and it manages to combine elements of humor and adventure with dramatic moments and mystery rather well. Though it is one of his early drawings, Barks's attention to detail is already visible. The script asked for drawings of a Harbor and a sailing ship. Barks decided to use issues of National Geographic, which he collected, as reference sources. The result was a largely accurate depiction of his subjects. Probably because the story's contributors had written mostly cartoon shorts and comic strips, the comic book had very little dialogue. Its story is considered significant as both the first Donald story drawn by Barks for a comic book and the first to involve Donald in a treasure hunting expedition. Barks would later use the treasure-hunting theme in many of his own stories.
Origins of the comic book version
Until this point, the development of both the animated and the comic strip version of Donald was the result of a combined effort by a number of different creators, but the comic book version of Donald was mainly developed by Carl Barks beginning in 1943.
The comic version had already diverged from the animated one in a number of ways, as was the case with Mickey at then off from Disney's Mickey Mouse strip. This same division between Mouse strips and Duck strips was generally followed in the comic books. This suited Barks, who did not particularly like the Mickey stories. Carl later credited Floyd Gottfredson and his adventure stories for influencing his own work. However, he seemed to find Mickey and his supporting cast less than interesting as characters. In fact, his only story featuring Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Clarabelle Cow was The Riddle of the Red Hat (first published in August, 1945, otherwise considered insignificant). Pete, however, remained his villain of choice for the first few years of his comic book work.
To give Donald a world to live in, Barks developed the city of Duckburg in the American state of Calisota. He was allowed to focus entirely on his own cast of Duckburg citizens, such as the richest duck in the world, Uncle Scrooge McDuck, lucky cousin Gladstone Gander, and peculiar inventor Gyro Gearloose. In the comics, Donald lives in a Duckburg house with Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck.
Much of this scenario would resurface in the 1987 television series, DuckTales. In that cartoon, however, Donald works and lives as a sailor on an aircraft carrier, and Huey, Dewey and Louie live for a time with Uncle Scrooge. The new animated DuckTales reboot series also takes inspiration from Barks's work, with Donald notably having a larger role than in the original series.
Early developments under Barks
Barks quit working at the Studio and found employment at Western Publishing with a starting pay of twelve dollars and fifty cents per page. According to a later interview by Barks, the company originally expected him to illustrate stories based on the scripts of others. They had sent him a script along with the following note: "Here is a 10-page story for Donald Duck. Hope that you like it. You are to stage it, of course. And if you see that it can be strengthened, or that it deviates from Donald either in narration or action, please make the improvements." Wanting to script his own stories, Barks started working on the script provided, freely changing whatever he wished. When he had finished with it, very little of the original remained. The story was The Victory Garden, first published in April, 1943. Barks had made his point by improving the original script beyond what had been expected of him. From then on, Barks both scripted and illustrated his stories.
His production during that year seems to be at the pace he would follow for much of the following decade. Eight 10-pagers to be published in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, published in a monthly basis, and one longer story for the sporadically published Donald Duck. In this case the story was The Mummy's Ring, 28-pages long, first published in September, 1943. The shorter stories would usually focus on Donald's everyday life and on comedy, while the longer ones were usually adventure stories set in exotic locales. The latter would often contain more dramatic elements and darker themes, and would place Donald and his nephews into dangerous and often near-fatal situations. To add realism to his illustration of those stories' settings, Barks would still seek reference sources. The magazine National Geographic would usually provide most of the material he needed.
In both cases the stories presented Donald's personality as having multiple aspects that would surface according to circumstance. Or as Barks would say later: "He was sometimes a villain, and he was often a real good guy and at all times he was just a blundering person like the average human being." Adding another note of realism was the fact that Donald could end up being either the victor or the loser in his stories. And often even his victories were hollow. This gave a sense of realism to Donald's character and the characters and situations around him.
His nephews accompanied him in those stories and Barks also gave many aspects to their personalities. In some cases they acted as the mischievous brats Taliaferro had introduced, often antagonizing their uncle. In some cases they got in trouble and Donald would have to save them. But in others they proved remarkably resourceful and inventive, often helping their uncle out of a difficult situation. But most of the time, they would appear to have developed a deeper understanding of things and level of maturity than their uncle.
An early supporting-cast addition
The first recurring character that Barks would introduce was Donald's next-door Neighbor Jones. He was mentioned by name and made a cameo in Good Deeds, first published in July, 1943. He was mentioned as a neighbor that Donald likes to harass, but more as a form of teasing than anything more serious. Then he made his first full appearance in Good Neighbors, first published on November 11, 1943. There Donald and he appear to have agreed to a truce. But when they misinterpret a number of chance events to be covert attacks by their respective neighbor, they resume their fighting with renewed determination. In the process of their backyard warfare, they almost managed to destroy each other’s houses. The Nephews, who had enough of this fighting, reported it to the houses' owners. The two neighbors had to find new houses to rent. But to their disappointment, they found themselves as next-door neighbors. The fighting, not surprisingly, continues. Jones seems to always be in a bad mood and Donald just serves to make him angry. The two irrational and easily irritated neighbors would serve as the focus of a number of short stories. From 1947, Jones was also used by non-Barks comics writers; from the 1960s onward, he has frequently reappeared in stories by a great number of authors.
Introduction to Scrooge and Gladstone
The next two recurring characters to be introduced by Barks were arguably more significant. Donald's maternal uncle Scrooge McDuck made his first appearance in Christmas on Bear Mountain, first published in December 1947. The first member of The Clan McDuck to appear, his name was based on Ebenezer Scrooge, another fictional character from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. The story's title was based on A Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky, a scene of Fantasia. Scrooge's first appearance was almost immediately followed by that of Donald's first cousin Gladstone Gander in Wintertime Wager, first published on January 1948. In fact this is acknowledged in the stories' internal chronology. The first story occurs at December 24, 1947, and has a scene occurring on the night of December 25, 1947. The second occurs on the morning of December 25, 1947.
Both characters didn't yet have their now-recognizable characteristics. Gladstone was presented as a rather arrogant cousin that had a claim on Donald's house. More specifically, in summer he had gotten Donald to agree to a wager. On Christmas, he had to either swim in a lake near his house or to pass his house to Gladstone. Gladstone does not yet lay claim to the title of The Luckiest Duck In the World. Daisy, who saves Donald from losing his house, still seems to have no interest in Gladstone. Their love triangle hadn't formed yet.
As for Scrooge, he was a bearded, bespectacled, reasonably wealthy old man who is visibly leaning on his cane. He was living in isolation in a Huge Mansion, said to resemble Orson Welles's Citizen Kane's. Scrooge planned to entertain himself by inviting his nephews to his mountain cabin and then scaring them out of it.
Developments on Gladstone
In the following years both characters would become prominent members of Donald's supporting cast. In Gladstone's case, he soon started to rival his cousin in a number of personal wagers and organized contests. His incredible luck was introduced in Race to the South Seas, first published in 1949. This story also was the first to present Donald and Gladstone trying to win Scrooge's favor in order for one of them to become his heir. They both claim to be Scrooge's closest living relative, as Donald is the son of Scrooge's sister and Gladstone is the son of Scrooge's sister's sister-in-law. Scrooge would later express his doubts that the latter constitutes an actual familial relationship. Gladstone would also rival his cousin in a treasure hunt in Luck of the North, first published in December, 1949. The later story is still considered as one of his strongest appearances. It is one of the rare occasions where his luck is combined with conscious efforts on his part and he proves to be a rather competent and resourceful adventurer in his own right. Gladstone soon also became Donald's rival for Daisy's affections. The love-triangle of Donald, Daisy and Gladstone would become an on-going theme for the following decades. Daisy actually dates both cousins and is said to have them both wrapped around her little finger.
Losing ground to Scrooge
While Gladstone's development and establishment seemed to take about a year after his appearance, Barks continued to experiment with Scrooge's appearance and personality for the following four years. Barks would later claim that he originally only intended to use Scrooge as a one-shot character, but then he decided he could prove useful in further stories.
Scrooge was soon established as a recurring character and various stories cast him as a featured character alongside Donald. By 1952, Scrooge had gained a magazine of his own. From then on Barks produced most of his longer stories in Uncle Scrooge with Scrooge as their star and focusing in adventure, while his ten-pagers continued to feature Donald as their star and focused on comedy. Scrooge became the central figure of the stories while Donald and their nephews were cast as Scrooge's Helpers, hired helping-hands who followed Scrooge around the world. Other contemporary creators also reflected this change of focus from Donald to Scrooge in stories. Since then Scrooge remains the central figure of their Universe, coining the term Scrooge McDuck Universe.
Barks wasn't the only author to develop Donald. All over the world hundreds of other authors have used the character, sometimes with great results—for example, the Disney Studio artists that made comics directly for the European market. Two of these, Dick Kinney and Al Hubbard, created Donald's cousin Fethry Duck, an obsessive dreamer with a love of discovering new lifestyles and hobbies. Fethry remains one of the most popular Duck characters in Italy and Brazil, frequently with his own comic book title in Brazil.
The American artists Vic Lockman and Tony Strobl, working directly for the American comic books, created Moby Duck.
Italian publisher Mondadori created many of the stories that were published throughout Europe. They also introduced numerous new characters that are today well known in Europe. One example is Donald Duck's alter-ego, a superhero called Paperinik in Italian, created by Guido Martina and Giovan Battista Carpi.
Giorgio Cavazzano and Carlo Chendi created Umperio Bogarto (no consistent English name as of 2010), a Sam Spade-like detective. They also created OK Quack, an extraterrestrial Duck who landed on earth in a coin-shaped spaceship. When his ship shrank in size, OK Quack lost track of it among the coins in Scrooge's money bin. But OK befriended Scrooge and is now allowed to search through the bin time after time, looking for his ship.
Romano Scarpa a very important and influential Italian Disney artist, created Brigitta MacBridge, a female Duck who is madly in love with Scrooge. Her affections are rarely reciprocated, although she perseveres. Scarpa also created Dickie Duck, granddaughter of Glittering Goldie (Scrooge's prospective love interest in the Klondike), and Kildare Coot, an eccentric nephew of Grandma Duck.
Italian artist Corrado Mastantuono created Bum Bum Ghigno, a cynical, grumpy, and not very good-looking Duck who teams up with Donald and Gyro a lot.
The American artist William van Horn also introduced a new character, Rumpus McFowl, a rather fat and lazy old Duck with a giant appetite who in Horn's earliest stories is said to be a cousin of Scrooge. Only later, Scrooge reveals to his nephews that Rumpus is actually his half-brother. Later, Rumpus also finds out.
Working for the Danish editor Egmont, artist Daniel Branca and scriptwriters Paul Halas and Charlie Martin created Garvey Gull (British name "Sonny Seagull" more commonly seen), a mischievous orphan who befriends Huey, Duey, and Louie and his rival, Mr. Phelps.
Among the most productive Duck artists today is Victor Arriagada Rios, who is better known as Vicar. He has his own studio, where he and his assistants draw stories send in by Egmont. With writers Stefan and Unn Printz-Påhlson, Vicar created the character Oona, a prehistoric princess who traveled to Duckburg in the 1990s by using Gyro's time machine.
The best-known and most popular Duck-artist of this time is Keno Don Rosa. He started doing Disney comics in 1987 for the American publisher Gladstone. He later worked briefly for the Dutch editors, but moved to work directly for Egmont soon afterwards. Rosa created numerous sequels to Barks's stories as well as a 12-part series on "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck," which won Rosa two Eisner awards. Also for Egmont, Rosa developed a popular edition of the Donald Duck family tree.
Other important artists who have worked on Donald are Freddy Milton and Daan Jippes, who made eighteen ten-pagers in the 1970s and 1980s that some claim are as good as Barks's work. More recently, both Jippes and Milton have continued to produce Duck stories on a solo basis.
Paperinik (Duck Avenger)
Paperinik (also known as PK [Italy; USA video game], Duck Avenger [USA], Superduck [UK], Fantomerik [Dutch, 1970s], Taikaviitta [Finland], Fantomiald [France], Fantonald [Norway], Φάντομ Ντακ (Phantom Duck) [Greece, 1970s], Super Paja (Super Donald) [Yugoslavia, 1980s], Superkwęk [Poland], Patomás [Spain], Phantomias [Germany], Stålanden [Denmark], Stálöndin [Iceland], Stål-Kalle [Sweden], and Superdonald [Dutch, today], and Superpato [Brazil]) is a comic book-costumed vigilante, Donald Duck's alter ego. Donald originally created Paperinik as a supercriminal alter-identity to secretly seek revenge upon relatives such as Scrooge McDuck and Gladstone Gander, but he soon found himself fighting other menaces a superhero. The character is an Italian invention and, though dominant in stories in which he appears, very much not in canon with stories that do not feature him. The creators (Elisa Penna, Guido Martina, and Giovan Battista Carpi) introduced Paperinik in the two-part, 60-page story "Paperinik il diabolico vendicatore" ("Paperinik the Diabolical Avenger") published on June 8 and June 15, 1969.
The debut story featured Donald receiving the ownership papers of Villa Rose (Italian: Villa Rosa), an abandoned villa outside of Duckburg whose owner had disappeared decades ago. Donald soon finds that the ownership papers were actually intended for his cousin Gladstone, but he is content not to correct the mistake. Visiting the villa with his nephews, he discovers the diary and an abandoned suit of Phantom Duck (Italian original: Fantomius), who was known as a notorious gentleman burglar and sometime vigilante active long ago. Donald learns Phantom Duck's methods of maintaining a secret identity by acting as a harmless and rather incompetent gentleman during the day and during the night as a vindicator, taking revenge for his grievances against society.
In the early stories, Paperinik was not actually a superhero, but an anti-hero vindicator inspired by Diabolik and Fantômas. The writers toned this aspect down later and turned him into a Batman-style heroic avenger instead, and he started targeting the criminal population of Duckburg, in particular the Beagle Boys. This still remains his main mission today, although he occasionally faces higher profile adversaries and finds missions which require him to travel away from Duckburg. His most important ally in his heroic identity is the inventor Gyro Gearloose, who fabricates most of his special equipment, but in some stories, without knowing his identity.
The character was renewed in PKNA, a series of comics published in Italy between 1996 and 2000. The series was science fiction and introduced its own universe of characters, and existing Disney characters aside Paperinik himself were rarely seen.
In 2002, a video game loosely inspired by PKNA was released for PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube, entitled Disney's PK: Out of the Shadows (sometimes called Disney's Donald Duck PK, or just PK). In the game, Donald Duck is transported into the future and tasked with saving the world from the Evronians; a race of aliens who also serve as the main antagonists in the PKNA comics. He is given special powers, and told that he has become a "platyrhynchos kineticus", an energized duck, or PK for short, stepping around his Paperinik roots. The game was a commercial failure and represented the only English language use of the name PK. Before the game and after it, "Duck Avenger" has remained standard in American comic books.
Donald's character history
According to Disney comics author Don Rosa, Donald was born somewhere around 1920, however, this is not an official year of birth. According to Carl Barks, Donald's parents are Hortense McDuck and Quackmore Duck. Donald’s sister is named Della Duck, but neither she nor Donald's parents appear in the cartoons or comics except for special cases, like The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. According to Rosa, Donald and Della are twins.
According to Donald Duck comics #85, Donald Duck grew up in Elm City, a town not far from Duckburg.
Barks's comments on Donald and his stories
- "The thing that I consider most important about my work is this: I told it like it is. I told my readers that the bad guys have a little of good in them, and the good guys have a lot of bad in them, and that you can't depend on anything much; nothing is always going to turn out roses." — May 29, 1973.
- "In fact I laid it right on the line. There was no difference between my characters and the life my readers were going to have to face. When the Ducks went out in the desert, so did Joe Blow down the street with his kids. When Donald got buffeted around, I tried to put it over in such a way that kids would see it could happen to them. Unlike the superhero comics, my comics had parallels in human experience."
- "I always felt myself to be an unlucky person like Donald, who is a victim of so many circumstances. But there isn't a person in the United States who couldn't identify with him. He is everything, he is everybody; he makes the same mistakes that we all make."
- "I carried in my head the idea that there was a whole town and a whole family of characters around these ducks at all times, he recalls. There were cousins and nephews and nieces, and villains and bankers and all kinds of people that they dealt with in everyday life. So whenever I needed a character, I would create one that apparently had been around but just hadn't been used yet. The way I presented these characters was the way they were in my head: they had been there all the time". — August 4, 1975.
- "I've always looked upon the Ducks as caricature human beings. Perhaps I've been years writing in that middle world that J. R. R. Tolkien describes, and never knew it." (After his retirement Barks started reading Tolkien, and discovered similarities between their stories. At this point he was comparing his Ducks to Tolkien's hobbits of Middle-earth.)
- "I broadened his character out very much. Instead of making just a quarrelsome little guy out of him, I made a sympathetic character. He was sometimes a villain, and he was often a real good guy and at all times he was just a blundering person like the average human being, and I think that is one of the reasons people like the duck." — Spring, 1981.
- "I didn't expect any great rosy things out of life for my characters and it's a good way to be, I think. If you get too darned optimistic, your stuff gets sweet like Pollyanna."
- "I even tried to tone down the malicious streak in Donald's character. I resented it in Bugs Bunny; it just turned me off. I thought: why put that same character into Donald and turn off millions of readers? It was okay for the Ducks from time to time, provided there were reasons for it."
A famous quote from Donald Duck himself:
- "I've still got to raise four dollars! That ain't much when you've got it, but an awful lot when you ain't!" (From the Carl Barks story "A Christmas for Shacktown".)
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