Sep 8, 2014

Summer 1971: Donald Duck's Double Life

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my favorite comics were the Harveys (CasperRichie Rich), followed by Gold Key jungle heroes (Tarzan, Korak, Brothers of the Spear), and then Archie, and maybe some Marvel and DC if I could get them.  Disney's Donald Duck was not as low on the list as Bugs Bunny, but it was down near the bottom.
The problem was that Donald led a double life.  I liked the stories where he was an adventurer, brave, resourceful and intelligent, setting out with his rich Uncle Scrooge to explore lost Atlantis, the Yucatan, Tibet, Antarctica, or the Seven Cities of Cibola, in plotlines as macho as Treasure Island, as passionate as Time Tunnel.  It was a man-only world, with no damsels in distress to be rescued and no girls waiting back home at the story’s end.

In fact, no one expressed any heterosexual interest at all, though the nephews sometimes swooned over male crooners and teen idols.  (During the 1990s, Don Rosa retconned the characters to give Uncle Scrooge a long-ago romance with dance-hall girl Glittering Goldie).

But in other stories, Donald transmutated like a zombie into a single father living in the town of Duckburg, where he was saddled with a series of dismal jobs: janitor, gas station attendant, door-to-door salesman, delivery boy. And  he had a girlfriend, Daisy Duck, who was constantly natting her disapproval of  every single one of his interests, hobbies, goals, and dreams (precisely like Poil's disapproval of Spooky's passion for scaring).

The two could not be more different. Donald exuded toughness and aggression, Daisy was dainty to the point of idiocy. Donald bellowed at baseball games, Daisy drank tea at the Tuesday Afternoon Ladies’ League. Donald puttered around in junkyards, Daisy puttered about in her petunia bed.

It was disgusting! Donald had not only abandoned his life of swashbuckling adventure, he could not even enjoy the simple pleasures of boxing matches and working on cars. Instead, he sat bored on a frilly white chair at the Bon Ton, while Daisy tried on hats. Why would he do it? If they shared no common interests whatsoever, why would he even want to hang out with her?

In "The Double Date," Daisy and Donald go on a double date with Clara Cluck and Rockhead Rooster.  Donald and Rockhead exhibit an instant, eye-bulging attraction to each other, and become so engrossed in discussions of cars and sports that they ignore the girls.  They even dance together at a party.  Daisy and Clara agree that "They shouldn't see each other again."

One rainy afternoon in the summer of 1971, when we were sitting on the floor in Bill's family room, reading comic books, I brought up my concerns.  "I don't get it.  Donald Duck has a lot more fun on his adventures with Uncle Scrooge, and he doesn't anything that Daisy likes.  Why does he hang out with her?  What's the big deal?”

Bill's older brother Mike happened to be passing through on his way out, wearing a raincoat and tossing his keychain in the air. He pulled the comic from my hands and leafed through it, murmuring “Hmm…very eenterest-ing,” like the Nazi spy on Laugh-In. Then he returned it with a grin. “Een mine professional opinion, Uncle Scrooge ees a boy, und Daisy Duck ees a girl.”

“So what?” I asked.

Mike  laughed, and reached down to tousle my hair. “So what!” he exclaimed in his normal voice. “Just wait ‘til you discover girls. Then you won’t ask ‘so what’? You’ll say ‘gimme her number!’”  And he was gone. I heard him repeat “so what!”, chortling to himself, as he clomped through the kitchen and out the back door.

Suddenly chilled, I scooted over to sit next to Bill, our backs against the couch.  He smiled, and we sat together, quietly.

Abandon the Seven Cities of Cibola to drink tea from fragile cups and discuss poetry! The idea was absurd!

See also: Heterosexualizing my Childhood Hero