Who knew? The national weekly Micky Maus, featuring mainly Donald Duck, sells 250,000 copies in German, beating out Superman. Another 40,000 mostly adult readers snap up the monthly all-Donald specials. The fan organization D.O.N.A.L.D. (an acronym for “German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism”) holds a yearly convention, philosopher Max Horkheimer admitted to reading Duck comics at bedtime, and many Germans credit the Donald with introducing them to the literary classics. He remains the most popular children’s comic in Germany.
As Susan Bernofsky writes in the May 23 Wall Street Journal, it’s because Disney’s German licensee, Ehapa, retained artistic control over the translations. Donald was introduced during the years following World War II, when school officials were setting fire to American comics and some were proposing laws to ban comic books altogether. Ehapa hired a Dr. Erika Fuchs, who had never laid eyes on a comic before she was handed her first Donald Duck story. Her job was to breathe a little erudition into Disney. In her version, Donald quotes (and misquotes) Schiller and Goethe, he’s prone to philosophical musings, and even ordinary dialogue is cranked up: “I’d do anything to break this monotony!” becomes: “How dull, dismal and deathly sad! I’d do anything to make something happen.” A cat belts Wagner. And through it runs a vein of political critique, mostly, it seems, aimed at Nazism and intolerance.
Dr. Fuchs supplied the German for Donald Duck for a rather amazing 54 years, until her death in 2005.