Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"This Is Your Life, Donald Duck"

Well, so most people are at least aware of "From Egg to Duck," but how many people have THIS little number, from 1960, on their radar?

Maybe my perspective is distorted, but it seems like the answer is: not many.  This may have something to do with the fact that Marco Rota has exponentially more talent than Tony Strobl and Vic Lockman put together (sorry, guys, you know know I love you, but it's time to face hard truths); STILL--it's a biography of Donald, and therefore surely of some significance.  Let's take a look, shall we?

Man, the title just instantly dates the hell out of the story, doesn't it?  How many people who weren't there at the time are more than vaguely aware of This Is Your Life?  I only know about it to the extent that I do because it was featured on, I believe, an episode of This American Life some years back.  Still, at the time it must've seemed like an ideal format for the story to piggyback off of.  Indeed, the story gives you a good idea of what the original was like: there was a guest, and the host would go through their life with them, with the help of surprise guest appearances.  So, now we get this with Donald.  Fair enough, though my distaste for Jiminy Flippin' Cricket remains firmly in place.  It's interesting that both Lockman and Rota felt the need to include framing devices in their stories.

But first, we have to get Donald to the station, for which we need this bizarre Zorro shit.  Apparently.  This comic was published at the same time that Disney was doing their Zorro TV show and associated comics, so that's why this, I guess.  Hard to say whether Lockman was asked to include it, or did it of his own accord, however.

HA HA HA GRANDMA IS NEARSIGHTED.  Well…it's Lockman.  Fine characterization was never his strong suit.  

Also, "you looked more lifelike on TV"=something something simulacra.

Anyway, as in Rota's story, Grandma is raising him.  Also as in Rota's story, we see that he came from an egg.  Some find it unsatisfying that Rota's story elides the question of Donald's parentage, but at least it acknowledges that there's a question.  Lockman, for better or worse, just ignores it entirely.

The bit about Donald's infancy isn't that good, and there's a recurring motif of him smashing his head against things that's on the unappealing side.

On the other hand, if you don't mind the presence of Goofy and Mickey, this childhood part isn't bad.  One is actually strongly reminded here of how you'd expect Donald to behave in your old Taliaferro strips.

"Hee hee at the's not for me."  Yup--that's Lockman all right.

And then we get to the high school section, which is easily the best thing in the story, even if the characters feel somewhat jarringly out-of-place in the milieu.

And then the take on phone-booth stuffing firmly dates the comic even further than it already was, but in a kind of entertaining way.

Strictly from Nothingville!  That cracks me up.

But what's good about this part is that you have Donald actually working and making progress and getting better.  We want to see him not just be a total failure all the time.

...although if anyone wants to tell me how this task wouldn't involve "luck," I'm all ears.  I'm sure we can all think of jillions of ways Gladstone could've won out here.

Still, it's an amusingly silly finale.  I'm tempted to say that this story would've been better off if it were just the high school stuff.  It stands alone fine, and the rest kind of pales in comparison.

Was I recently talking about artistic "borrowing" in Disney comics of the time, or what?  The next section features Gyro, and the whole thing, as you can see, is lifted straight from Barks' think-box ten-pager (the story glides over the question of how and when Donald obtained his nephews).  This somehow doesn't strike me as being quite as egregious as the "Seven Cities of Cibola" affair, just because the story doesn't seem like it's trying to be sneaky; it just grabs this stuff, and that's all there is to it.  Still pretty darned lame, though.  You feel like a biography of Donald ought to be something special, and here you're pissing away a substantial chunk of it on old material that doesn't shed any light on anything.  When Gladstone chose to reprint this story, they just replaced this segment with Barks' original, which, as much as I'm not a big fan of the borrowing, seems lamer to me.  Okay, obviously Barks' art is better, but A) the juxtaposition is jarring; and B) come on--if you're reprinting a rare story, reprint it--don't just replace bits of it with common material we can find any ol' place.  Hmph.

And again, like Rota, Lockman includes a Stardom segment, though there's not much to it.  That expression on Donald's face in the second panel there…

Followed by an ending that might remind one of "70th Heaven."  Look at all them characters--including the weirdly ubiquitous Bongo and Lumpjaw.  Seriously, does anyone these days ever think of Fun and Fancy Free, apart from (possibly) "Say it with a Slap?"  I have my doubts.  So they get to be here, but poor ol' Horace Horsecollar?  Nowhere to be seen.

I do give this story credit for actually featuring some "Donald's childhood material" (albeit of variable quality) where Rota just skips from infancy to adulthood.  Still, it really could've been so much more.  Get rid of the lame Barks swipe, maybe actually include a coherent narrative through-line, and you'd have something.  As it is, this is basically just a novelty, a few ups, not too many precipitous downs, but ultimately not much to remember.

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Anonymous Debbie said...

I had three different printings of this at one point. The original comic (as a back issue of course, I wasn't alive in 1960), Gladstone's reprinting of it in a Donald Duck Digest, and the later reprint where they plugged in Carl Barks' Think Box story (and added pie-cut pupils to the Ducks' eyes). This comic is an adaption/rewrite of a Walt Disney Presents TV episode, also titled This is Your Life, Donald Duck.,_Donald_Duck

Jiminy Cricket hosting, the Zorro bit and all of the Disney characters showing up at the end are all taken from the episode, which may well be Grandma Duck's first animated appearance. Of course, rather than attempt to adapt all those clips from old Donald Duck shorts, Vic Lockman's script seems more in character for the comic book Duck.

February 20, 2014 at 1:22 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

OH HO! I truly had no idea that this was based on a cartoon. Clearly, I should have done some minimal amount of research before writing this. Thanks for that; I'll have to check it out. Certainly explains a thing or two.

February 20, 2014 at 1:30 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

"Seriously, does anyone these days ever think of Fun and Fancy Free, apart from (possibly) "Say it with a Slap?" asks Geox.

To be fair if ANYTHING people remeber from that movie is Willie the Gigant from Mickey and the Beanstalk segment who is a quasi-popular character. He was included in Mickey Christmas Crol, was recurring character in the recent "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" children animated show and made some cameos here and there ("House of the Mouse").

In my opinion "Bongo" segment is actually much more fun then the "Beanstalk" one but I guess it's the matter of prefrance.

Then agian this story is from the 60's so maybe people where more familiar with the movie back then (or at least Bongo character since the seqment was propably re-used on TV as part of some Disney TV special)

February 20, 2014 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Oh, no question, re comparative qualities. I certainly don't much care for Bongo, but Mickey and the Beanstalk is just AWFUL (okay, the bit when Donald bugs out and tries to kill murder the cow is pretty amusing, but that's it).

February 20, 2014 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Debbie's accurate in pinpointing the material directly lifted from the TV anthology episode. Here's a YT link to anyone who may not have seen it:

Of course, "This is Your Life, Donald Duck" was just another framing device to stitch together old cartoons, but it's comforting to see Jack Hannah's involvement in the bridging sequences (he'd go to work for Walter Lantz shortly following this production.)

The remarkable thing is the popularity of Scrooge McDuck at the time, yet they chose to leave him out... of course this was seven years prior to the "Scrooge McDuck and Money" featurette—but I'm amazed they didn't try and put snippets of the old Scot from "Spirit of '43" in there somehow to use Scrooge AND fill time!

February 21, 2014 at 7:31 AM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I read this in one of the Gladstone Series I digests. I found it quite pleasant, though it was amusing to note that Don, Gladstone, and Daisy looked almost exactly the same in their high-school days as they did in later life!


February 21, 2014 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger Sidious said...

I did use that story into my "personal headcanon." In my mind, the stories of Barks and Rosa constitute the "core" of canon, although I can accept any other story as long is it doesn't directly contradict this core. Heck, I even include some cartoons, especially "A Wise Little Hen!" I remembered that Don Rosa once said that Don appeared to be 14 in this cartoon, which was released in 1934--hence Donald being born in 1920. My understanding of this all is that was abandoned by his parents--for some unelucidated reason. He was reared by Grandma and Grandpa Duck (Grandpa appears in some Stroble or Lockman stories) until Grandpa passed away. Then by age 14 he was living on his own in Barnyard Land, meaning that ducks come of age much earlier than we do.

February 25, 2014 at 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Given the fact that this was modelled on the TV show which used old cartoons, I don't see any problem at all with the retelling of the Think-box story here. Fair use, in my mind, since the format sets you up for a trip down memory lane. If there had been extant American stories of Donald's adolescence or childhood, Lockman presumably would have used some of those, rather than making up material. But it is odd that Lockman didn't include, say, a short reference to Bear Mountain to explain how Scrooge came into Donald's life. I can understand his reluctance (and that of the makers of the cartoon TIYLDD) to get into why/how the nephews came to live with Donald, since we all know that it's very hard to touch that without getting into subjects such as Death or Seriously Delinquent Parents.

As with the Rota scenario, you are left wondering how Donald could have nephews, since he seems to have no sibling!

And, apropos of another conversation in another venue, I note that Daisy has a headband holding on her bow! Was that typical of how Strobl drew her?

As for Bongo...I note that Bongo stories seemed to show up quite a bit in, say, digests (not sure if those were before or after this story). So he may in fact have been better known to the 1960 readers than Horace.

February 27, 2014 at 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Unca Paspasu said...

Elaine said: "I note that Daisy has a headband holding on her bow! Was that typical of how Strobl drew her?"

Yes, it was:

February 28, 2014 at 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My understanding of this all is that was abandoned by his parents--for some unelucidated reason. He was reared by Grandma and Grandpa Duck": am I the only one to think that he was raised by his parents? I never liked the idea of Donald being raised by Grandma Duck, and for me the stories that include that idea are non-canon.

January 9, 2015 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

That's an awful lot of non-canon you've got there. So what do you think happened to his parents?

January 9, 2015 at 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So what do you think happened to his parents?": it's hard to say. They may have died sometime before 1947, or they may be still alive in the present (1950's) and Donald occasionally visites them off-screen. As we know, Rosa wanted to use Hortense in "A Letter from Home", but his editors prevented him from doing so and so they were declared "officially dead"... though statements made outside a story should be taken with a grain of salt: for example, Matilda was also declared "officially dead" before the production of "A Letter from Home"; by the way, this story avoids the issue of what happened to them, neither affirming nor denying their death.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that in my country (Italy) many stories say Donald hatched from an egg bought at the market (!) by Grandma Duck, and I strongly dislike this tradition, since I see the ducks as human beings and in my mind Quackmore Duck and Hortense McDuck are his parents.

January 13, 2015 at 5:38 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Hmm...I think maybe you ARE the only one to believe that about his upbringing :). Of course I know Rota's origin story (though I hadn't heard that bizarre "hatched from an egg bought at the market" thing--can you point me to a specific story that makes that claim?), and I know Rosa's (that he was bought up by Grandma, which seems to be commonly accepted nowadays), but I am unaware of any in-between stories like you're going for here (which is not, of course, to say that they couldn't exist--do they?).

January 13, 2015 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

"If you don't mind the presence of Mickey & Goofy"… Why should we "mind" it ? It's a well-established fact, Don Rosa notwithstanding, that Mickey, Donald and Goofy are long-time friends, so it makes a lot of sense to see them portrayed as Donald's childhood friends. The only thing I could "mind" is that they don't exploit the fact that these are Mickey and Goofy: Mickey does not investigate, Goofy doesn't goof. But them being there, I find natural, and I'd even say necessary.

November 25, 2015 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I will never, ever understand your ideas about "continuity."

November 26, 2015 at 1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His parents might be Hortense McDuck and Quackmore Duck but they didn't raise him for long. In almost every incarnation from the AL Taliaferro comics and early Donald Duck cartoon specials like "This is Your Life, Donald Duck;" his grandma raised him.

July 27, 2020 at 2:41 PM  

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