Everything old is new again with the upcoming reboot of Duck Tales on Disney XD, which is looking to include an expanded role for “Unca Donald.” Often modern Disney-enthusiasts might only know Donald for his temper, but a few decades ago, he was one of the champions of cleverness and comedy. These aspects of his character come to life in IDW’s fourth collection of the Donald Duck daily newspaper comic strip. Over 750 strips, most with just four panels, show piles of hilarity from 1945 to 1947.
The Donald Duck portrayed in the comics was largely through the work of Alfred Taliaferro, an artist who had come to the Walt Disney Studio in 1931 on newspaper strips. After doing work on strips such as inking on Mickey Mouse and drawing for Silly Symphonies, Taliaferro charged ahead as the lead on Donald in the newspapers. Donald’s trademark rages translate better in animation, so instead we see Donald’s day-to-day life as an inventor, a guy who just cannot catch a break, an embodiment of the spirit of vengeance, and an infamous cheapskate. Taliaferro could not put his own signature on the comics as they were a company product, but he was able find ways to get his name in the background, such as an ad for “Al Tal’s Agency” seeking an artist. That natural wit shines throughout the Donald Duck strips.
Donald’s daily adventures are often mundane, such as an argument about the meaning of irony of suffering in the sun on a hot day due to cutting down the shade tree last winter for the fireplace. Donald usually ends up as the butt of the jokes, with his chosen tree for a heart-carving quickly being cut down or his career in boxing quickly cut short with the referee being his opponent’s twin. Much of it may be karma, as he readily doles out anything to get an edge in the world, like pretending to fall down a coal chute to make off with a bag full while coated in black dust.
In addition to Donald, readers will find other members of the Disney community like his demanding girlfriend Daisy; his playful nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie; and Bolivar, the lazy St. Bernard who has been fairly absent in recent generations. Daisy is played well with her own cleverness, such as making a coat from the fur in the latest in Donald’s terrible taxidermy gifts, as well as a running gag about having the wildest hats.
Not all of the strips age evenly, of course. One such example is Donald’s problems with finding “red points” mixed in with his coins during the WWII-era rationing of groceries, rarely a problem we see today. Yet others are well ahead of their time, like Donald Duck’s invention of a noiseless alarm clock that uses a bright beam of light. Many, however, are simply timeless, with no better cure for a dog digging in the garden than to put boxing gloves on over his paws.