Happy 80th Birthday Donald Duck

One of the world’s most famous ducks — Donald Fauntleroy Duck — is now an octogenarian.

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cover by Daan Jippes, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #513, December 1986

Donald made his first appearance on June 9, 1934 as a supporting character living on a houseboat in a Walt Disney Silly Symphony cartoon “The Wise Little Hen.”  Later in 1934 he appeared in “Orphan’s Benefit” alongside Mickey Mouse.  This animated short revealed his boastful personality and his ill-tempered manner when things don’t go his way.

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by Daan Jippes and Fred Milton, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, December 1986, p. 7

Donald served as the out-of-control, egotistical, easily-angered foil to the calm, in-control, humble Mickey Mouse.  As Mickey became more popular, the Disney studios discovered that they could not use him in jokes where he would be made to look bad or shown to have a bad attitude.

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cover by Russell Schroeder, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #534, November 1988

An anonymous Disney writer, who many believe was Walt Disney himself, stated, “Mickey is limited today because public idealization has turned him into a boy scout. Every time we put him into a trick, a temper, a joke, thousands of people would belabor us with nasty letters.”  Instead, Donald became the go-to-character for ideas that couldn’t be used for Mickey.

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cover by Russell Schroeder, Walt Disney’s Mickey and Donald #12, August 1989

Donald became very popular with fans after his 1934 debut, so he began appearing in more animated shorts and comic strips.  As more material was needed for additional cartoons and comic strips, Donald’s world expanded.  Donald soon had a house, a car, a girlfriend Donna (later renamed Daisy), and three energetic nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

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Cover by Branca, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #532, September 1988

Donald’s comic strip appearances are what ultimately led to his comic book success.  Originally,Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories just reprinted the newspaper strips.  When the editors realized that they were running out of strips, they decided that Donald would be the character featured in the new material for the comic book, since Mickey Mouse was already being heavily featured.

The editors also realized that Donald could not have a temper tantrum in every new story.  In the new stories, Donald was allowed to just be a bungler and be oblivious to all the dangerous situations in which he found himself involved.

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cover by Daan Jippes, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #548, June 1990

Donald’s first starring comic book role was in an April 1943 10-page story.  When the editors wanted to use Donald in longer stories, Donald’s world was expanded again to give the writers more material.  New supporting characters were added including the Beagle Boys, cousin Gladstone Gander, and Uncle Scrooge McDuck, who would eventually get his own comic book title.

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cover by Russell Schoeder, Uncle Scrooge #239, November 1989

The Disney company never published any of the comic books itself, but instead used numerous licensed independent publishers.  These included Gladstone, Gold Key, Western, and Whitman.  The publishers used freelance artists and writers, paying them a flat rate per page.  The artists and writers never received any additional royalties if the artwork or story was used again.  Originally, the artists and writers were uncredited ; by the 1980s, Gladstone was giving artistic credits on the first page.

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by unknown artist, Donald Duck #207, May 1979

Happy Birthday Donald!

Credits

All images are from The Center For Humanities Comics Collection.

The Walt Disney quote is from

Eliot, Marc. Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince. Birch Lane Press, 1993.

Other information on Donald Duck’s history is from:

Donald Duck.  Wikipedia, n.d.

Lenburg, Jeff. The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, 2nd ed. Facts on File, 1999.

Rosa, Don. The Epilogue. Don Rosa Collection. February 2013.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck. Walt Disney Productions, 1978.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.