Donald Duck in Germany: a Bird of Arts and Letters

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Filed under: Media Literacy

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III (whose LiteratEye series will resume shortly on The Art of the Prank after a brief hiatus):


Why Donald Duck Is the Jerry Lewis of Germany
by Susan Bernofsky
Wall Street Journal
May 23, 2009

ob-ds827_dieduc_d_Germany, the land of Goethe, Thomas Mann and Beethoven, has an unlikely pop culture hero: Donald Duck. Just as the French are obsessed with Jerry Lewis, the Germans see a richness and complexity to the Disney comic that isn't always immediately evident to people in the cartoon duck's homeland.

Comics featuring Donald are available at most German newsstands and the national weekly "Micky Maus"-which features the titular mouse, Goofy and, most prominently, Donald Duck-sells an average of 250,000 copies each week, outselling even "Superman." A lavish 8,000-page German Donald Duck collector's edition has just come out, and despite the nearly $1,900 price tag, the publisher, Egmont Horizont, says the edition of 3,333 copies is almost completely sold out. Last month the fan group D.O.N.A.L.D (the German acronym stands for "German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism"), hosted its 32nd annual congress at the Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, with trivia and trinkets galore, along with lectures devoted to "nephew studies" and Duckburg's solar system.

"Donald is so popular because almost everyone can identify with him," says Christian Pfeiler, president of D.O.N.A.L.D. "He has strengths and weaknesses, he lacks polish but is also very cultured and well-read." But much of the appeal of the hapless, happy-go-lucky duck lies in the translations. Donald quotes from German literature, speaks in grammatically complex sentences and is prone to philosophical musings, while the stories often take a more political tone than their American counterparts.

Whereas in the U.S. fans of Donald Duck tend to gravitate to the animated films, duck fandom in Germany centers on the printed comics published in the kids' weekly "Micky Maus" and the monthly "Donald Duck Special" (with a print run of 40,000 copies), which sells mainly to adult readers.

Donald Duck didn't always find Germany so hospitable. In the years following World War II, American influence in the newly formed Federal Republic was strong, but German cultural institutions were hesitant to sanction one U.S. import: the comic book. A law banning comics was proposed, and some American comics were eventually burned by school officials worried about their effects on students' morals and ability to express themselves in complete sentences.

When the Ehapa publishing house was founded in 1951 to bring American comics to German kids, it was a risky endeavor. Ehapa's pilot project, a monthly comics magazine, bore the title "Micky Maus" to capitalize on that icon's popularity. From the beginning, though, most of the pages of "Micky Maus" were devoted to duck tales.

Donald Duck's popularity was helped along by Erika Fuchs, a free spirit in owlish glasses who was tasked with translating the stories. A Ph.D. in art history, Dr. Fuchs had never laid eyes on a comic book before the day an editor handed her a Donald Duck story, but no matter. She had a knack for breathing life into the German version of Carl Barks's duck. Her talent was so great she continued to fill speech bubbles for the denizens of Duckburg (which she renamed Entenhausen, based on the German word for "duck") until shortly before her death in 2005 at the age of 98. Read the rest of this article here.