He looks pretty good for a 75-year-old duck. The German Donald Duck lives in the town of Entenhausen (Duckburg) with his nephews Tick, Trick and Track (Huey, Dewey and Louie). His wealthy uncle Dagobert Duck (Scrooge McDuck) and the inventor Daniel Düsentrieb (Gyro Gearloose) also live there – in a fantasy world invented by…
If you wanted to say Walt Disney, you’d be wrong. The man who actually invented Duckburg and many of its inhabitants was named Carl Barks (1901-2000). Barks was a Disney Studio illustrator and comic book creator, who went to work for Disney in 1935. It was Barks who invented most of Donald Duck’s world. (Donald was created originally by Disney in 1934, as a minor character and foil for Mickey Mouse.)
In Germany, Donald and the duck tales are no Micky Maus operation. The Disney comics outsell “Superman” in Germany, and are read by more teens and adults than children. The German print editions are more popular than the animated cartoons, so you well may ask just what is it that makes Donald Duck such an attraction in Germany — so popular that a new lavish 8,000-page German collector’s edition sold out despite its hefty price tag of almost $1,900.
One of the main reasons is that Donald Duck in German is different from Donald Duck in English. The late Erika Fuchs (1906-2005), who began translating the Disney comics into German in 1951, gave the German Donald a bit more polish and erudition. She rather freely translated the original English, putting a more literary German into Donald’s mouth, even creating popular sayings that many Germans know today.
“Her interpretations of the comic books often quote (and misquote) from the great classics of German literature, sometimes even inserting political subtexts into the duck tales. Dr. Fuchs both thickens and deepens Mr. Barks’s often sparse dialogues, and the hilariousness of the result may explain why Donald Duck remains the most popular children’s comic in Germany to this day.” – from the Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2009, Why Donald Duck is the Jerry Lewis of Germany
In post-war Germany, comic books were viewed at first as a trashy American import and a bad influence on youth. The Ehapa Egmont publishing house wanted to counter that attitude about its Disney comics, and Fuchs’ clever translations helped make Donald popular among German kids — and later adults.
In May 2009, the German fan association D.O.N.A.L.D (the acronym stands for “German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism” in German*) hosted its 32nd annual meeting in Stuttgart. Like a Star Trek convention, the group had trivia and trinkets on display, and offered lectures on “nephew studies” and other Donaldism topics.
For more about the Disney characters’ names in German see my Disney Character Glossary at About.com.