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Culture -- Comics: Why Donald Duck Is the Jerry Lewis of Germany --- The cartoon character turns
philosophical in translation; quoting Goethe
By Susan Bernofsky
23 May 2009
The Wall Street Journal
Germany, the land of Goethe, Thomas Mann and Beethoven, has an unlikely pop culture hero: Donald
Duck. Just as the French are obsessed with Jerry Lewis, the Germans see a richness and complexity to the
Disney comic that isn't always immediately evident to people in the cartoon duck's homeland.
Comics featuring Donald are available at most German newsstands and the national weekly "Micky Maus" --
which features the titular mouse, Goofy and, most prominently, Donald Duck -- sells an average of 250,000
copies each week, outselling even "Superman." A lavish 8,000-page German Donald Duck collector's edition
has just come out, and despite the nearly $1,900 price tag, the publisher, Egmont Horizont, says the edition
of 3,333 copies is almost completely sold out. Last month the fan group D.O.N.A.L.D (the German acronym
stands for "German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism"), hosted its 32nd annual
congress at the Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, with trivia and trinkets galore, along with lectures
devoted to "nephew studies" and Duckburg's solar system.
"Donald is so popular because almost everyone can identify with him," says Christian Pfeiler, president of
D.O.N.A.L.D. "He has strengths and weaknesses, he lacks polish but is also very cultured and well-read."
But much of the appeal of the hapless, happy-go-lucky duck lies in the translations. Donald quotes from
German literature, speaks in grammatically complex sentences and is prone to philosophical musings, while
the stories often take a more political tone than their American counterparts.
Whereas in the U.S. fans of Donald Duck tend to gravitate to the animated films, duck fandom in Germany
centers on the printed comics published in the kids' weekly "Micky Maus" and the monthly "Donald Duck
Special" (with a print run of 40,000 copies), which sells mainly to adult readers.
Donald Duck didn't always find Germany so hospitable. In the years following World War II, American