One of the greatest cartoon characters from the Walt Disney oeuvre will celebrate its 80th birthday on June 9.
I’m talking, of course, of Donald Duck.
I blame my parents for this. They were big Disney fans before I entered the picture. They were part of the massive band that performed during the opening ceremonies of Walt Disney World in Orlando in 1971.
Back in the early 1980s, either my parents or grandparents had bought a three-pack of Whitman Dynabrite Disney comic books — one featured Daisy Duck, another featured Uncle Scrooge, and the other featured Donald Duck. I don’t recall how it happened, but my brother got the Uncle Scrooge book, my sister got the Daisy book, and I got the Donald book.
The cover of the book, which had the title in big fun-looking letters, “Donald Duck: The Golden Helmet,” showed Donald hoisting a golden helmet and a map with his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie looking on.
The first story in the issue was “The Golden Helmet,” a 32-page adventure story where Donald and the nephews set sail to find the aforementioned helmet before Azure Blue (what a name for a villain!) could retrieve it and claim America as his own and make everyone his slaves. Up next was a shorter tale guest-starring Uncle Scrooge where they went looking for a gold mine. Then, the issue closed with a short tale of how Donald took a job as a dog catcher.
I read that comic endlessly. I even drew a crude rendition of Donald on the inside front cover. Like most things from my childhood, it was either packed away or thrown out. I moved on.
When the Disney Channel was in its infancy, we loved watching the classic Disney shorts, especially Donald’s misadventures. You can bet when my siblings and I came home from school that we didn’t miss another exciting episode of DuckTales (OK, so Donald only appeared a few times, but it was still good). When our family did go to Disney World, many of the souvenirs I picked up had a ducky flavor, including a hat in the shape of Donald’s head and a porcelain figure of Donald in a pirate outfit. When I went to Star Wars Celebration V, I picked up an action figure of Donald Duck as a Dark Trooper.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned the identity of the artist and writer of those comics: Carl Barks. Soon I became
obsessed interested in learning about the history behind the Good Duck Artist. Sadly, finding reprints of his work was next to impossible, unless you lived in Europe.
A few years back, I went looking around on eBay for a copy of that Donald Duck comic, and as luck would have it, I found it. As a Father’s Day gift, I got me a near-mint copy of the comic. As soon as I opened to the first page, I was immediately taken back to my younger days. I found myself reading the story slowly, savoring each panel’s artwork and dialogue. Yes, these stories were still amazing.
In a strange twist of fate, I was helping my parents clean out boxes in my grandparents’ garage where some of my childhood stuff had been stored. I opened a few of the boxes with my name on them, and there it was.
The Golden Helmet comic. It was in one piece.
Imagine my delight when I learned Fantagraphics was going to publish Barks’ Donald Duck catalog in hardcover. I immediately thought, “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.” So far, I’ve got three volumes — Lost in the Andes, A Christmas for Shacktown, and The Old Castle’s Secret. Apart from a few questionable caricatures from the era, these stories still hold up. My goal is to get every single volume in the collection. I think I can do it. Might take a while, but it’s doable.
In A Christmas for Shacktown, you probably can’t guess which story appears. Yup. “The Golden Helmet.”
To make matters worse, er, better, Fantagraphics will be publishing all of the Duck stories created by Don Rosa. I pretty much missed all of these comic books when they were first released, so being able to get my mitts on these will be another dream come true. (My wallet is screaming at me now)
Happy birthday, Donald! Try not to lose your temper too much.