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Every Duck Has Her Day

Feminist Figures in the Disney Comic Book

By Katherine Sullivan

2003

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About this paper:  This essay was written in early 2003 as the author's English Capstone project.  As the final, culminating project of the undergraduate English experience, students were allowed to choose any topic they desired as long as the end result was at least 25 pages of scholarly analysis.   This essay may not be redistributed or reprinted without the express permission of the author.  You are, however, free to link to it from other websites.

Image ownership notice:  All images and characters in this report are the property of the Walt Disney Co. and are used without permission for academic purposes only.  Some images were scanned by the author while others were gathered from other websites.  The author apologizes for the breach of Nettiquette in the latter case, but at the time of its creation this paper was intended only for a professor's eyes.  If the owners of the websites originally hosting images on this page wish to contact the author, she would be glad to provide proper credit.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed in this essay are the sole responsiblity of the author and may or may not reflect those of the Disney company, comic book authors, artists and scholars, or any other person in the universe.

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A Short Introducktion to Disney Comics

 

The characters of Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Huey, Dewey and Louie were created for animated "shorts" by the Walt Disney Company in the 1930s, but they didn’t truly come into their own as well-rounded characters until the 1940s, when Carl Barks began using them in comic book stories. Barks created a plethora of friends, family and foes for his feathered protagonists. The most significant are the absurdly wealthy adventurer Scrooge McDuck, the obnoxiously lucky Gladstone Gander, the greedy sorceress Magica de Spell, the felonious Beagle Boys and the wacky inventor Gyro Gearloose. Other comic book artists added such characters as Grandma Duck and Brigitta MacBridge to the cast. Two characters originated on television and later made the transition to the comic books: the scholarly Ludwig Von Drake and the inept pilot Launchpad McQuack.

It must be understood that, despite the frequent groupings on Disney merchandise, the ducks and mice meet extremely rarely in the comic books. Mickey and Donald do appear together in early cartoon shorts, but in print they almost always inhabit very different worlds.

The comic book adventures of Donald and Scrooge were published continuously in the United States from the early 1940s to the late 1990s. After a hiatus of several years in which the books continued to be vastly popular in Europe, publication is scheduled to resume in the U.S. in June of 2003. Comic books starring anthropomorphic animals are often called "funny animal books," but Carl Barks elevated the form beyond a mere diversion for the elementary school crowd. The comic books of Barks and his successors are rich with detail, cultural satire and even educational elements of history and geography. As Barks noted in 1978, comics are "not ‘juvenile kid stuff.’ Sure, the stories are enthusiastically enjoyed by children; that is proved by the mounds of fan letters that reach my desk, but the main line devotees of these story forms are grown-ups—men and women who read the stories first as children, then reread them again after they had reached sophisticated adulthood" (Barks, Best Comics – Donald Duck 5). Indeed, Barks’ fans include such media giants as the creator of Star Wars. George Lucas wrote "An Appreciation" at the beginning of a definitive Barks collectors’ volume in which he calls Barks’ stories "cinematic" and "a priceless part of our literary heritage" (Barks, Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times 9).

Despite to the incredible influence and abundance of Barks’ stories, the ducks have sprung from the pens of many other talented artists through the decades. Among the modern greats are Romano Scarpa, William Van Horn and Keno Don Rosa. While Rosa himself modestly downplays his reputation as Barks’ "heir," his stories have gained both critical and popular acclaim. What makes Rosa unique is his strict adherence to the Barks canon. He meticulously researches his plots to keep them in line with Barksian "facts," and tries to keep his work in the same spirit as that of Scrooge’s creator. So concerned is he with staying true to Barks that most of his stories contain a hidden dedication "D.U.C.K"—Dedicated to Unca Carl from Keno. Thus is it possible to talk of a "Barks/Rosa canon," a continuum of comic book adventures which generally do not conflict with each other. Not all duck fans and scholars accept this view, preferring to elevate Barks above all others, but for the purposes of this study both Barks and Rosa will be considered canonical.

 

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Behind Every Duck is a Good Woman

 

Nearly all the recurring characters in the Disney duck comics universe are male. Entire stories may go by with no significant female figures, yet their scarcity should not be equated with insignificance. Their influence is strongly felt by male ducks and readers alike, and the beloved characters and stories of Donald and Scrooge would be far emptier and flatter without them. Unfortunately the female ducks are usually stereotypical and shallow, nothing a feminist would appreciate. This situation has improved slowly but steadily through the decades. Progress is slow, since after so many years the canonical Disney cast of characters is firmly in place.

New characters are generally only successful in small, infrequent roles. Old ones are so well established that changing them is out of the question. Attempts to modernize them meet with limited success. For instance, in 1996 the television series Quack Pack gave Daisy Duck a more mature wardrobe and hairstyle, and cast her as a career woman with a television reporter job. The series was moderately popular at the time, but has had no lasting effect on the way the character is portrayed. Merchandise and other promotional material, as well as the more recent animated series Mickey’s House of Mouse, all continue to show the "classic" Daisy.

Fig. 1. Daisy Duck in her classic attire and as seen in the Quack Pack series

Daisy Duck has been described "the only woman in an environment populated almost exclusively by males," whose "life must get lonely" (O’Brien et al 45). This is a bit of an exaggeration, but she is one of the very few recurring female characters. As such, it is lamentable that she has such a stereotypical, flat personality. Carl Barks seemed to have "little use for heroines" (Blitz 192). Glittering Goldie O’Gilt was created as a gold-digging dance hall girl by Barks, who only used her in one of his stories, but in more recent years she has developed into a more independent, well-rounded character under the pen of Don Rosa. The passing decades have seen each of these characters undergo varying degrees of development, so that Daisy remains flat and anti-feminist, while Goldie--who started out as little better than Daisy--has grown into a more resilient, respectable character.

 

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Daisy Chains

 

Daisy Duck is a notoriously shallow and stereotyped female character who has developed little since her creation. From her impractical wardrobe to her hysteric outbursts, she is hardly a poster duck for the women’s lib movement. Comic book historian Daniels refers to her as "Donald’s garden party girlfriend" and dismisses her as "no more than an infrequent, annoying interruption" (55). Other critics have blasted her as "the embodiment of all the female vices," calling her "vain, capricious and devoid of humor or gratitude" (O’Brien et al 44) An examination of the character’s history will perhaps shed some light on her dismal reputation.

Like Donald, Daisy first appeared not in comic books but in short animated cartoons. Some consider her debut to be in 1937’s Don Donald. However, the female duck in this short is called Donna, not Daisy, and although their looks are somewhat similar their personalities are not. It is especially troubling that her name is merely a feminine version of Donald’s own. This implies her only purpose is to interact with him—which presumably is the case, at least from the artists’ viewpoint. Although apparently not deserving of her own identity, Donna is more self-reliant than Daisy. She flirts outrageously with Donald, but one does not get the sense that her entire existence revolves around him, as is often the case with Daisy. When Donald’s car sputters and dies in the middle of the desert, Donna is far from the wailing, helpless damsel that Daisy is. She has a sort of miniature moped tucked away in her handbag, which she uses to literally leave Donald in the dust.

The true appearance of Daisy Duck was three years later, in the 1940 short Mr. Duck Steps Out. Here she is a "vivacious flirt who [can] wrap Donald around her little finger" and whose long eyelashes are "put to very effective use." She also now sports the familiar attire of a "puffy sleeved blouse, Minnie Mouse shoes and a perky pink bow" (O’Brien, et al 44). She is, essentially, Minnie Mouse with feathers, or—even more disturbingly—Donald in drag. No particular care was taken into her creation. She existed solely to provide plot complications for Donald. Indeed, for the first several years of her existence she had the same voice artist as Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie did: Clarence "Ducky" Nash. Only in the 1950s did Disney Studios seek out an actress to provide her dialogue, and even then they only bothered to search as far as their own inking department. Unfortunately, "a beguiling voice was not sufficient to rescue her from the role of the perpetual girlfriend, and she tended to remain a one-dimensional personality, orbiting around Donald as his female counterpart" (O’Brien, et al 44). Therein lies the most fundamental problem in Daisy’s character. Blitz writes that although Daisy "occasionally had inspired moments…her role as a traditional girlfriend confined her—her interactions with Donald were limited to domestic situations" (107).

Fig. 2. A still from "Mr. Duck Steps Out."

As a further insult, there is no marriage proposal in sight. Their relationship has withstood decades of "anger, resentment, petty fights, practical jokes, broken dates, insults, and injuries, and we can only wonder why Daisy has never demanded a stronger commitment. Either she has the patience of a saint, the confidence that she doesn’t need a husband, or a sneaking suspicion that a piece of paper will spoil all the fun" (Blitz 110). If either of the latter two scenarios were true Daisy would be a more feminist character than she appears, but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

Some comic book writers have speculated on how a possible marriage between the two might play out. One such story was published in the 1980s in Italy and Brazil. In what turns out to be a Bob Newhart-style dream sequence, Donald sees himself married to Daisy, who soon become pregnant with a mind-boggling thirteen children!

Fig. 3. "The Marriage of Donald Duck," Brazillian ed.

Along with her limited characterization, Daisy has been plagued by a bland, childish wardrobe. Her omnipresent and often impractical high heels are just another example of her stereotyped female character. The enormous bow on her head is a nod to her predecessor, Minnie Mouse. The curiously childish accessory disappeared for the 1996 cartoon series Quack Pack, but has remained in virtually all other appearances of the character.

Much has jokingly been made about Donald and Daisy’s lack of pants. It is obviously not unusual for anthropomorphic cartoon characters to forgo some pieces of clothing. After all, Minnie Mouse was topless in most early cartoons—not that her anatomy was particularly vivid. In the case of Donald, Walt Disney reportedly thought "the duck’s bottom was wonderfully expressive—why cover it up?" (Blitz 79) An infamous urban legend tells how Donald Duck comics were supposedly banned in Finland because he was pantsless and unmarried (Mikkelson). There is no truth to the story, but it did inspire a parody image sketched in Don Rosa’s spare time. In it, Daisy approaches Donald with a marriage license, a man from the "Decency Police" drags off the apparently illegitimate Huey, Dewey and Louie, and poor Donald is forced to wear bulky blue jeans.

Fig. 4. Donald vs. the censors, an informal drawing by Don Rosa

It should be noted that although Daisy generally wears no pants or skirt, she is usually drawn with frilly feathers around her hips that resemble the lacy ruffles of old-fashioned bloomers. How absurd that the subtle reference to female undergarments is somehow more acceptable than natural avian nudity!

Curiously, Daisy underwent a significant change to her appearance in 1947. When she debuted onscreen in 1940 she was as flat-chested as Donald himself. In 1946 she was similarly endowed. The next year, however, she was suddenly drawn with a decidedly female chest. The alteration preceded the switch from a male to a female voice artist, but it was perhaps due to the same desire to feminize her character that this enhancement was added. Still, in later years she sometimes reverted to the previous, flat style. One wonders if this was due to shifts in company policy or the tastes of individual artists. In any case the flat-chested version combined with the bow make her appear too childish to be taken seriously as an adult character.

Another problem with Daisy’s character is her hair-trigger temper. She frequently nags and scolds Donald for irresponsible behavior, has a tiff if he looks at another female, and flies into a tantrum if his actions don’t meet her expectations for romance. Her jealous temper is such that Donald worries she will overhear a Mexican friend boasting about their past escapades with señoritas, despite the fact that she is hundreds of miles away and couldn’t possibly hear the conversation (Rosa – "The Three Caballeros Ride Again"). Daisy’s nagging, argumentative ways are yet another example of her hopelessly sexist characterization.

A typical example of Daisy’s role in the comic books appeared in 1963 in Walt Disney Comics & Stories issue #270, in a tale by Carl Barks entitled "The Jinxed Jalopy Race." All of Duckburg is preparing for the annual Mistletoe Ball. "Beauteous maidens vie for the honor of being queen," the caption tells us. Daisy wins the beauty contest, and the males of Duckburg immediately boast and squabble over who will "win the right to kiss Queen Daisy." Donald adopts his trademark shadow-boxing pose and protests, "Daisy’s my girl! Nobody’s going to do any winning but me!" This setup is triply problematic from a feminist standpoint. The woman is judged by her physical beauty alone, is set up as a prize for males to "win," and is defined as her boyfriend’s property. To gain her hand for the evening’s ball, would-be suitors compete in a jalopy race to be the first man to return from the Black Forest with a sprig of mistletoe. Sabotage knocks everyone but Donald Duck out of the race, and it appears he has no competition. On the way to the forest, however, he is arrested for littering and sentenced to immediately pick up the trash along the highway. Daisy waits at the finish line, becoming more and more impatient. The mayor comments that "for some strange reason race driver Donald Duck hasn’t returned with the traditional sprig of mistletoe!" In her characteristic temper, Daisy fumes, "He’d better—if he knows what’s good for him!" Meanwhile, Donald’s perpetually lucky cousin and romantic rival, Gladstone Gander, manages to repair his car and win the race. Daisy demands to know where Donald is, and Gladstone slyly says, "He wasn’t even trying to win, Daisy! He was just dallying by the roadside." Daisy storms off in a rage, calling Donald a "brute." She finds him sitting by the roadside, and, not realizing he is being watched by a policeman, berates him as a "beast" and says "I never want to see you again!" One almost expects the cliché rolling pin to appear in her hand. Instead, she angrily rips up the declaration of Donald’s victory she had prepared and throws it in his face. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The police guard, however, arrests her for littering, and the two ducks end up spending the evening together not at the Mistletoe Ball but picking up trash together by the roadside under police escort. Daisy forgives him after Donald has a chance to explain, but her earlier hysterical outburst is typical of her character.

Fig. 5. "Queen" Daisy has a tantrum.

Sensing the limiting nature of the character, Don Rosa has only used Daisy sparingly. In her few appearances, she is merely part of a silent background group. In "The Crocodile Collector" she appears in the first section of the story because the plot necessitates the distinctly feminine accessory of a crocodile skin handbag. Once she unknowingly provides this clue for the males’ treasure hunt, she disappears from the story until the end, when she is happily decked out in gaudy jewelry—a fraction of the treasure bestowed on her by Donald. In another Rosa tale, "Making the Grade," Donald invites her for a cruise on his new yacht. Their romantic getaway is spoiled when Daisy finds his old report cards and is horrified at his poor grades. For the rest of the cruise he must study textbooks while she knits and nags him. Thus more recent stories have not shown her as a likable and liberated female character, either.

Fig. 6. Rosa’s Daisy proves to be a nag

 

 

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All that Glitters is not Goldie

 

Donald’s co-star in the duck comics, his astonishingly wealthy uncle Scrooge McDuck, also has a love interest. Although she is far less well-known, Goldie O’Gilt has benefited from far more character development in the last fifty years than Daisy has—especially from a feminist perspective. When she first appeared in 1953 she was a typical gold-digging dance hall girl with an eye for shiny jewelry. Even then she showed some potential, for she resisted male authority (however unsuccessfully) and fended for herself as a lone prospector for decades. She only appeared in one story by Barks, however, so her opportunities for development were limited. It has only been in the last fifteen years that Don Rosa has given the character new dimension as a more liberated woman.

Fig. 7. Gold fever strikes in Carl Barks’ "Back to the Klondike."

Like Daisy, Goldie was originally created to play a specific role in relation to a male character. In his earliest stories, Scrooge McDuck is a bitter, cranky tycoon who makes Shylock look generous. As the character developed and became more popular, however, Carl Barks began to look for plots that would both soften the duck’s edges, making him more likable, and provide background information to flesh out his character. Barks said, "I was afraid if I got him to be too softhearted, then he would be wishy-washy" (Andrae and Blum 111). Yet making Scrooge into a ruthless robber baron would destroy his charm. If the story formula of defending and enlarging his fortune were to keep readers’ interest and sympathy, they would have to feel he deserved his wealth. This dilemma was in Barks’ mind in 1953, as he tried to get his life back in order following a complicated divorce. He was staying in motels in Oregon and Washington when he happened to ran across a book about the Yukon gold rush of 1898. It occurred to him that making Scrooge a sourdough was the perfect solution to his characterization problems (Andrae and Blum 112). The duck had to toil under miserable, dangerous conditions to coax gold from the frozen ground and then keep it away from greedy thugs and swindlers. He deserved every dime earned by his grueling labor and self-discipline. Furthermore, the dance-hall girls in the book inspired the possibility of an old flame in Scrooge’s past. A hint of star-crossed romance would serve to soften Scrooge’s character without completely ruining his tough façade.

Serving to take the edge off the miserly Scrooge was not the only reason Barks created the character of Glittering Goldie, however. As he researched the Yukon gold rush, Barks read about the dance-hall girls and others left behind when the boomtowns dried up. This led him to wonder what happened to the people who failed to strike it rich and "had to scrape along in poverty after the boom subsided" (Andrae and Blum 112-113). He consciously painted the modern, aged Goldie as a sympathetic character to give a face to these forgotten figures of the gold rush. Thus she served a double purpose in the story, one of which had more to do with her basic humanity than her relationship to a male figure.

The story Barks eventually created was "Back to the Klondike," which explains how Scrooge first became rich as a prospector during the Yukon gold rush. It appeared in the second issue of Uncle Scrooge, minus five pages removed by the censors. The condemned portions of the comic are hardly graphic, but for the times they were too mature for so-called "children’s entertainment." One objectionable portion contained an epic barroom brawl pitting a younger Scrooge against dozens of thugs. Barks meant it as a parody of the popular Western films of the day, but the violence of the half-page panel did not set easily on the editors’ eyes. Another problem was the decidedly un-Disney atmosphere of a frontier saloon, with all the accompanying drinking, weapons and flashy women. The most problematic section, however, revolved around one particular dance-hall girl called "Glittering Goldie."

After finally making a big strike, Scrooge goes into the Blackjack Ballroom in Dawson to show off a nugget the size of a goose egg. Struck with gold fever, Goldie drugs Scrooge’s coffee, steals his poke and leaves him unconscious in a snow bank. This is what provokes the massive brawl mentioned above. An enraged Scrooge demands the return of his gold, but in the meantime Goldie herself has been robbed. He threatens her into writing an I.O.U., then throws her over his shoulder "screaming and clawing like a singed cat" and takes her to his claim. For the next month, he forces her to mine gold to pay off her debt.

This dishonest spitfire of questionable morals is certainly not the feminist ideal. She allows herself to be victimized by a male, and even when she freezing, hungry and bedraggled she is still concerned that her "dress is in rags!" But if Goldie is far from the perfect heroine, in this instance Scrooge is hardly heroic, either. A seedy frontier tavern is not the typical hangout for a Disney protagonist, and kidnapping women is not the expected behavior.

Only after the censors brought it to his attention did Barks realize how questionable this sequence looked:

Barks explained[,] "[Scrooge] picked her up and carried her out to his claim and made her go to work. ... It didn't look like kidnapping, yet it was." Although Scrooge seemed justified in abducting her and forcing her to work off her debt for the gold she stole from him, "He was taking the law into his own hands and that is not lawful." Barks had thus, in his editor's eyes, implicitly justified criminal behavior, and transgressed one of comics' strongest prohibitions. But still more serious was the sequence's implication--however veiled--that Scrooge and Goldie might have been lovers. Their month-long sojourn at Scrooge's claim raised the question, "What did he do with her at night? I had really overstepped the bounds, and I realized it when the editors cut the sequence out." (Andrae 521)

The censored panels of "Back to the Klondike" remained missing from reprints of the story until the 1982 publication of a collector’s album entitled Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life & Times. Subsequent reprints in regular comics have included the sequence, as well. Storylines in other comic books between the 1950s and 1980s made the Klondike scenes seem quite tame by comparison. Barks’ reputation had also grown from one of obscurity to great respect, so that the preservation and display of all his work was now a higher priority.

In a 1975 interview, Barks was asked if he would have liked to include more sexuality in his work. He replied, "I thought at times we could have gone a little bit more toward the teenage type of sexual interest. You know, kissing and hand-holding and doing that sort of thing, but I never thought of the comic books, especially the ducks, as being sexual. It just seemed to me their interests was [sic] in other things, rather than in sex" (Barks – The Duck Man).

 

Were Scrooge and Goldie doing more together than just mining gold? The censored flashback sequences of "Back to the Klondike" can be interpreted with either platonic or erotic undertones. The other, uncensored portions of the story are actually less ambiguous. "Back to the Klondike" shows that four decades later, Scrooge returns to the Yukon to find that the claim he abandoned after the gold rush is now inhabited by a "claimjumper" who turns out to be none other than Goldie herself. He insists to his nephews that the only reason he is interested in her presence is the immense amount of money she owes him. (With compound interest for half a century, her I.O.U. is now worth a billion dollars.) However, his reaction upon finally coming face-to-face with her speaks volumes about his true feelings. With meek posture and a chivalrous tip of his top hat, he sweats bullets and smiles shyly. Goldie is expecting him, having quickly dolled herself up in her old ballgown and jewelry. She flatters him, calling him "just as handsome as ever." Scrooge fidgets in embarrassment and grins, saying "You and your soft soap! If you weren’t so pretty I wouldn’t listen to you." Certainly being kidnapped and forced into hard labor is not likely to inspire affection, yet there is definitely a sense that this is not the first time these tender sentiments have been expressed.

Fig. 8. The reunion of Scrooge and Goldie as seen in the original printing of "Back to the Klondike."

Scrooge shakes off his silly smile and demands she pay off her debt. Doing so means she must go to the poorhouse, a fate she accepts with remarkable dignity. This fits with Barks’ desire to portray the "losers" of the gold rush with respect. She begins to leave, but in a sudden burst of conscience Scrooge calls her back. "Goldie! Wait! I’ve got a deal to make!" As all things are with him, the proposal is couched in financial terms. He challenges her to a winner-takes-all gold digging race. Whomever can dig the most gold in ten minutes will be the rightful owner of the claim and its ore. Scrooge artfully arranges for Goldie to dig in a particular spot, where she immediately uncovers a huge cache of nuggets. Scrooge puts on a great public lament, claiming to have forgotten in his old age that this spot was where he once hid a hoard of gold. Donald correctly guesses that "he rigged that race so Goldie would find his cache!" but chooses to let Scrooge think he fooled them all. Leaving Scrooge with his dignity and Goldie with her home and fortune, the ducks depart.

As the rest of Barks’ oeuvre shows, rare indeed is the moment when Scrooge lets sentiment win over greed and thrift. Extreme motivation is needed to make him part with even a penny, much less a mountain of nuggets. This alone, regardless of the flirtatious words and body language, indicates that Goldie holds a special place in Scrooge’s heart. One has a hard time imagining Donald making so great a sacrifice for Daisy.

Carl Barks never returned to Goldie’s character in his comic books, but she did not disappear from his thoughts. After his retirement in the 1960s he began a series of oil paintings depicting the ducks and their adventures. Goldie appears in no less than seven of these paintings.

 

Fig. 9. Two oil paintings by Carl Barks. Left: "The Goose Egg Nugget." Right: "She Was Spangled and Flashy."

She was used sparingly by a few European artists through the years, but she did not really came into her own as a character until the late 1980s, under the pen of Don Rosa. She is a major player in six of his stories1, and is mentioned or alluded to in at least eight others2. It is repeatedly implied that Goldie is Scrooge’s true love, the greatest lost treasure of his life. Writing in a less restrictive era, Rosa can explore the nature of the relationship between Scrooge and Goldie in more detail than Barks ever could have and in the process adds welcome depth to her character.

It is Rosa whom Goldie has to thank for her last name, O’Gilt. This is just one indication of the way he has given her an identity. Instead of a mere dance hall girl, Rosa makes her the owner of the Blackjack Ballroom. Moreover, in Rosa’s stories she owned and operated a small saloon in the days before the gold rush, when Dawson was a frontier outpost boasting little more than a sawmill. For a lone woman to own a business in the middle of the nineteenth-century Canadian wilderness is a remarkable, admirable feat. Rosa also gives Goldie the dignity of less attention-grabbing attire in the pre-gold rush scenes.

Fig. 10. Goldie in her pre-gold rush attire, as seen in Rosa’s "King of the Klondike"

Although never explicitly stated, it is nonetheless clear from Rosa’s 1988 story "Last Sled to Dawson" that Scrooge was planning to propose to Goldie. After accumulating a respectable fortune mining gold, he closes up his Klondike claim and prepares for one last trip to Dawson. Among other things, he carries with him a deed to a homestead in America, a box of chocolates and a letter addressed to Goldie. However, fate intervenes. A sudden fissure opens in a glacier and traps his dogsled, and he barely escapes with his life. Devastated, Scrooge wonders, "Why did everything turn sour as soon as I decided to settle down, go to Dawson, and…" He never finishes that thought, instead vowing to get richer and richer until "I don’t measure my money by the million, but by the…the acre!" This is of course exactly what he does, using the homestead to build a money bin instead of a house. Yet decades later, amid a hectic business day, he stops to muse, "Sometimes I can’t help remembering the days when life was simpler! And sometimes I wonder how things might have turned out if…" Again, the thought trails off, unfinished. Yet the implication is clear. He is thinking back to that day in 1899 when he chose wealth over love. A telegram then arrives from one of his Klondike businesses, informing him that the portion of the glacier where his sled is entombed will soon be breaking free. He rushes to the Yukon to intercept it. Adventure ensues, but in the end the glacier regurgitates the sled onto the main street of Dawson. Huey, Dewey and Louie find the box of chocolates and give it to Goldie. She reads the letter within and is clearly emotional about the contents—although the reader never learns the message. One of the triplet nephews suddenly looks up and says, "Makes you wonder what might have happened if [Scrooge] hadn’t lost his sled!" Indeed.

Fig. 11. A key panel from "Last Sled to Dawson."

This proposal seems to have expired over forty years ago. Yet the possibility of a renewal of Scrooge and Goldie’s love affair is not quite extinguished. In "A Little Something Special," he again dismisses her by insisting his financial empire keeps him too busy for romance. She merely smiles and says, "I know! I know! I’ll wait!"

Fig. 12. Goldie’s promise in "A Little Something Special"

As the adage says, "If you truly love something, set it free." Goldie knows Scrooge must go his own way, at least for now. In "Last Sled to Dawson" she sees him off on yet another treasure hunt with a silent blessing, "I hope you find whatever you’re looking for." She understands that she comes second in his life, but this does not diminish her affection, and she has not given up hoping for a return of her sentiments.

Scrooge, too, realizes that perhaps someday he will finally be ready to claim her love, but will never admit it. In Don Rosa’s "The Quest for Kalevala," he has the opportunity to claim eternal prosperity with the help of a legendary Finnish sorcerer. The price, however, is too high; he must forfeit the chance to return to the Yukon "where a lost love still awaits" him. Scrooge refuses, but the sorcerer lets him keep a souvenir from the adventure, part of a magic gold-making machine (the "Sampo" of the Kalevala epic.) When his nephews notice this and comment on how it was given to him for his trophy room, Scrooge gets a distant look in his eyes and says it was to remind him of why he made that decision. He clearly has not given up on the idea of renewing his romance with Goldie.

Fig. 13. Scrooge’s decision in "The Quest for Kalevala" by Don Rosa.

It would be easy for a feminist to condemn even this expanded version of their relationship on the grounds that Goldie is wasting her life waiting for her "Prince Charming" to return and sweep her off her webbed feet. Her happiness is on hold until a man deigns to claim her. She cannot be a complete person without a husband. This interpretation, however, does not do justice to Goldie’s character as either Barks or Rosa portrays her. Barks never implied that Goldie was waiting for Scrooge. Quite the contrary, he showed a resilient woman who lived on her own in a woodland valley for decades, supporting herself through her own labor, and even raising the orphans of mining disasters. The unrequited love angle is Rosa’s invention—albeit a poignant and entertaining one. However, Rosa inherited the characters from Barks. Between his great respect for Barks and the Disney Company’s reluctance to fundamentally alter their established characters, Rosa is limited in what he can do with them. The background of "Back to the Klondike" had been in place for almost fifty years when Rosa first began writing and drawing duck stories. That he has been able to create such a powerful love story from that original scrap of flashback is a credit to his skill as a storyteller. He cannot change the events of "Back to the Klondike" to make Goldie a more acceptable, modern woman, but he has added to the plot by weaving scenes before, after, and in one case ("The Coin") even within the story.

Fig. 14. Scrooge pays off Goldie in Barks’ original "Back to the Klondike"

Fig. 15. Rosa revisits—and expands—Barks’ scene in a flashback in "The Coin"

Although the content of Don Rosa’s stories is still Disney-approved and therefore essentially G-rated, he has slipped in some highly suggestive moments. In "Hearts of the Yukon," young Scrooge is lost in a blizzard and hallucinates that Goldie is before him, encouraging him not to give up. As the sleighbells of a rescuer approach, however, the vision of Goldie metamorphoses into a reindeer. Annoyed, the deer/duck says, "I don’t have to take this! I’ve been offered starring roles in better dreams than yours, dollboy! … When you’ve outgrown visions of sugarplums and you’re ready for an adult dream, look me up!" In "The Dream of a Lifetime," Donald Duck uses one of Gyro Gearloose’s inventions to become an active participant in his uncle’s dreams. One of the dreams takes place in the Yukon, where Scrooge is shown attacking a thug. "Wah-hoo!" Donald cheers. "Uncle Scrooge was quite a tiger when he was young!" The dream-version of Goldie overhears and looks away with a sly smile. "Sailorboy, if you only knew…" she says, primping a little. Another particularly risqué moment is in "Last Sled to Dawson," when Scrooge enters a Dawson hotel to look for lodging during a treasure hunting expedition. To his astonishment, Goldie appears to announce that she is the owner of the hotel. She gives him a suggestive look and says, "You need a place to stay tonight, Scrooge?" He stammers an excuse and departs as quickly as possible. In the climate of the 1990s and 2000s, then, Don Rosa is able to occasionally use obvious innuendo while in the 1950s Carl Barks was heavily censored for even implying the opportunity for sexual activity.

So Rosa has sexualized Goldie’s character in a way Barks never could have. The blatant sexualization of the female is something feminists abhor, yet even this wrinkle does not disqualify Goldie for labeling as a feminist figure. While it is true that she has become more sensual in recent decades, she is very much in control of the image she projects. She is sultry and alluring because she wants to be, not because men have forced her into the role. In Rosa’s stories she was already a successful businesswoman before she donned the flashy attire of a dance hall girl. Furthermore, she is highly selective about the targets of her flirtation. Her reputation is that of "The Ice Queen of Dawson," refusing all advances and aggressively rejecting romance. She heatedly denies any attraction to Scrooge when her co-workers tease her about him. Goldie embraces her femininity and acknowledges her beauty, but only on her own terms. She will not let herself be manipulated by others. In fact, she clings to her independence so stubbornly that she refuses to acknowledge her heart softening toward Scrooge—who is equally stubborn in denying his attraction to her. Theirs is a poignant romance between equally strong characters.

 

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Conclusion

 

Strong female characters are sadly scarce in the established cast of the Disney duck comic books. Despite the progress made in recent decades, no character yet qualifies as a true feminist figure. However, in the hands of Don Rosa the previously problematic character of Goldie O’Gilt has gained in independence, dignity and strength. Perhaps there is still hope for Daisy Duck to someday rise above her stereotypical beginnings.

 

 

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Endnotes:

1. The Coin, The Dream of a Lifetime, Hearts of the Yukon, King of the Klondike, Last Sled to Dawson, and A Little Something Special.

2.  Attack of the Hideous Space Varmints, The Beagle Boys vs. The Money Bin, The Billionaire of Dismal Downs, The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark, His Majesty McDuck, The Quest for Kalevala, The Richest Duck in the World, and The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut.

 

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Works Cited

Andrae, Thomas. "The Expurgated Barks." The Carl Barks Library of Walt Disney’s

Uncle Scrooge. 1st ed. Set three, vol. two. Scottsdale, AZ: Another Rainbow, 1984. 517-524. 3 vols.

Andrae, Thomas and Geoffrey Blum. "Tales of the Gold Rush." The Carl Barks Library

                    of Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge. 1st ed. Set three, vol. one. Scottsdale, AZ:

Another Rainbow, 1984. 109-116. 3 vols.

Barks, Carl. Interview. The Duck Man: An Interview with Carl Barks. By Tom

                    Andrae and Don Ault, 1975. 1996 videocassette ed. 1 hr 32 min.

---. Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life & Times. 1981. Berkeley: Celestial, 1987.

---. Walt Disney Best Comic Series – Donald Duck. New York: Abbeville, 1978.

Blitz, Marcia. Donald Duck. London: New English Library Ltd, 1979.

Daniels, Les. Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. New York: Outerbridge

                    & Dienstfrey, 1971.

Mikkelson, David P. and Barbara Mikkelson. "Fowled Out." Urban Legends Reference

                Pages. 26 Feb. 1999. http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/finland.htm (4 Mar.

                2003).

O’Brien, Flora, Justin Knowles and Leslie Posner. Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: 50

                Years of Happy Frustration. Ed. Charlotte Parry-Crooke. Tuscon: HP Books,

                1984.

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Other Sources Consulted

 

Barks, Carl. Walt Disney Best Comic Series – Uncle Scrooge. New York: Abbeville,

                 1979.

Barrier, Michael and Martin Williams, ed. A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.

                 New York: Smithsonian Institution, 1981.

Blum, Geoffrey. "Dateline: Duckburg." The Adventurous Uncle Scrooge McDuck.

                 March 1998: 1, 34.

Feder, Edward L. Comic Book Regulation. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Administration,

            U of California, 1955

McAllister, Matthew P., Edward H. Sewell, Jr. and Ian Gordon. Comics and Ideology.

            New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

Rosa, Keno Don. Interview. "Don Rosa Talks to Komix About the Background

of his Story ‘A Little Something Special.’" Komix Jan. 2000: 38-39. http://www.geocities.com/komixgreekpage/komix139.htm (27 March 2003).

Smoodin, Eric. Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons from the Sound Era. New

    Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1993.

Thompson, Don and Dick Lupoff, ed. The Comic-Book Book. New Rochelle, NY:

                 Arlington, 1973.

 

 

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