As with so much of the pop-culture I grew up with in the 90s, the Danish Duck comics were largely geared at boys. That’s absolutely not to say that girls couldn’t read or enjoy them, but about 95% (Made up statistic) of stories were told from male characters perspectives, them going on daring adventures and meeting a long line of surprisingly vivacious non-recurring female characters. Regular female main characters were in short supply; Magica DeSpell enjoyed the lions share of the focus with a robust (and great!) slew of stories, but Daisy Duck was mostly a supporting player.
Stories putting Daisy herself front and center often portray her in a better light than her supporting roles, sometimes as a savvy businessperson, or as more empathetic and romantic. One sub-series of stories, labeled “Daisys Diary”, boiled this down to Daisy writing down anecdotes about her experiences -mostly regarding romance- narrating the stories and what she learned along the way. Some of the lessons she learns –such as “the heartthrob main character of a TV soap is not equivalent to the real life actor” –are a bit stereotypical for a female character of the time, but in jokes-first duck comics, any sort of character introspection at all is not always a given.
TODAYS STORY: The couples school (La scuola per fidanzate), published first 1999 in Italy. Story by Bruno Concina, art by Michele Mazzon.
Todays subject is one of the last long-format entries in subseries of the last 20 years (thanks to Lancashire Crab for pointing me in the direction of the comic compendium inducks.org, it’s a huge asset!), and is not one of the stories I grew up obsessing over, probably due to its “icky” romantic subject matter. But when I flicked through my books to find material for this column it captured my attention for being comparatively, dare I say, relatable?
This is where I preface the following by saying I’m not a relationship expert, but I am a married man of some years and try my best and critically assess how women are portrayed in media.
The story begins with Donald and Daisy on a date. A common thread in many Daisy stories is her being invested in etiquette, neatness, and keeping up good appearances for high society which also provides the inciting incident here as Donald crashes into an ice-cream eating Countess
Donalds bumbling is often a source of embarrassment for Daisy, and in a Donald-focused story she’d probably verbally or physically abuse him and leave him to improve himself in her eyes. However this does not happen in this case, as the Countess slips Daisy directions for a Couples’ School, which will allow her to “improve” Donald.
Daisy heads there immediately, alone, because this is the kind of school only one half of the couple attends. The thesis statement from the instructor is that men are flawed, and the “perfect women” must mold them into acceptable partners. As for how Men are flawed, it’s a laundry list of stereotypes, ranging from being too into uncouth things to being too forgetful.
You might think that many of these “faults” are pretty benign, with general carelessness being probably the worst offender. And the technique to combat these faults is: reflect them back at the partner, only magnified. Be a negative example. It is an approach some might have encountered –“stop taking out the trash until your partner realizes theres a lotta trash now, maybe they should take it out” – but the risk is that many people aren’t gonna take the hint, and that in this case Daisy, seeking a general optimization of Donald, effectively sets out to be as annoying as she can.
As for how this manifests, some things are more cringe and stereotypical than others, with the story trying to frame Daisy wearing casual clothes as unbecoming slobness….
However, Daisy also starts being hours late, being loud and obnoxious in the theatre, making a mess at restaurants, prioritizing TV shows over the company of guests, all with an oblivious lack of self-awareness. In the grand scheme of things, and certainly the exaggerated realm of Duck comics these things are not that extreme transgressions, but its all definitely things that can put strain on a relationship, and Daisy is doing it all on purpose.
The whole scheme comes to a crashing halt when Daisy heads for her next class, and finds it closed. It turns out, the teacher is currently on her honeymoon…alone. Because her fiancée got fed up with being “improved”, left, and got married to someone else (on what I guess is extremely short notice. The point is just to rub it in).
But honestly, I kinda get it – having your partner be purposefully annoying has to have a breaking point, and the idea that everything your partner does is an elaborate charade to shame you into improving is…not that appealing. Maybe better to just ask your partner to try being more punctual or whatever.
Learning this, Daisy immediately heads down to the beauty parlor to freshen up for her next date with Donald. And this is where I feel the story takes a step up. It could have easily ended here- Daisy dresses up, surprises a clueless Donald, status quo restored, “don’t be such a nag on your sloppy men, girls!”. But instead, as Daisy is getting ready, we cut to a worried Donald having just explained the situation to the nephews. Importantly, he’s not complaining about Daisy looking bad or being annoying, they can just all tell that something is…wrong. And so the nephews suggest that Donald try being a positive example. To show how much he cares about Daisy. So Donald too irons out his shirt, and shows up on time with a bouquet bigger than himself, resolving to praise Daisy regardless of her looks. You can say that Donalds’ romantic gestures are a bit stereotypical, but the important thing is, he’s specifically making an effort on his partners behalf, doing things he knows she’ll appreciate
And as Daisy opens the door dressed to the nines, seeing that they’ve both made an effort on the others behalf, they just burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation.
As Daisy comes clean as they make a ruckus during a fancy dinner (this is not one of the stories where Donald has financial troubles), Donald laughs that she did manage to get him to “shape up”. But this was not down to him being “indirectly shamed” into improving, but due to him wanting to salvage a relationship that had gone a bit astray. I guess you can say is still a result of the Negative Mirror approach, but certainly not in the way it was intended – none of the participating women seemed aware they were operating with stakes of “either your partner goes all out in desperation, or he calls it fucking quits”.
After dinner they head to the movie theatre once again, with Daisy having bought tickets for a western…and Donald for a romantic drama. Again the consideration goes both ways, its not just Daisy learning to like action movies, its Donald offering Daisy tissues during the drama with not a single hint that he finds the experience bothersome. The whole thing culminates in Daisy and Donald sharing a moment on a park bench under the shining moon, and Daisy grabbing her boyfriend for the biggest dang kiss.
The story concludes with Daisy saying that she learnt that “one can’t –and shouldn’t- try and change men, the important thing is love”, which feels a bit facile, but then of course this is a Disney comic for kids. The final beat of the story is Daisy hoping that the course leader finds happiness, and we cut to her having a meet-cute with a boombox-listening, smaller, casually dressed duck. I have no idea how much pull the “women are invested in keeping up high-status appearances of themselves and their partner” stereotype has, but regardless, I think the comic sells some OK relationship truisms.
Personally I very much think its OK for someone to try and affect some change in their partner – to try and make them remember taking out the trash, or be considerate about their health or whatnot. But clear communication is key, and you should not go into a relationship intending to sand off all the “sub-optimal” personality traits of your partner. Regardless, you can come a long way just by showing your partner that you care about them.
So yeah, where the prior story I covered felt like an “outlier” compared to the Disney mainstream because of how serious it took its life-or-death dramatic stakes, this one feels like an outlier because its so restrained. Its altogether so non-manic, so non-exaggarated that I can’t think of any animated production where it’d fit. At best this kind of thing would be the B-plot in a much more bombastic story. The actual beats are nothing spectacular in rom-com land, but for a story about Donald and Daisy Duck? Idunno, it stood out to me.
Some of the stereotypes against what is “unattractive” or “unwomanly” hold the story back, but overall I really like the resolution of this one, and how sweet it is, because as much as I love gnarly high-concept genre fare, I’m also a romantic sap at heart. And I like a story that shows Daisy and Donald as a couple that honestly loves each other, because theres’ plenty of stories where the punchline is Donald getting abuse from Daisy. Daisy stories in general are still not exactly the norm; apparently she’s recently had a stint as a superhero (who hasn’t), but I hope theres’ still room for the occasional romance-focused story in Duck Comics.
This one scores scores 8 out of 10 movie tickets for a film you don’t wanna see but your partner does, and you’re nice about it.
…I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, and alienated any prospective audience with relationship musings. But my OCD tendencies compelled me to pick this one to coincide with valentines day. More or less. So anyway, I think its time for more gnarly high-concept genre fare. So next time I figured I’d cover the Donald-Daisy dynamic when its at its absolute worst, which also involves demonic possession, naturally.
ELSEWHERE IN THE EURO-MULTIVERSE:
- Donald Duck has made a successful business as a bus driver for dear old ladies, but accidentally sign on to transport a bunch of rowdy soccer fans to the 2000 european soccer championship in Amsterdam. The fans proceed to wreck a lot of Donalds business, but they band together to combat an aggressive truck driver on the way. And I do mean combat, by the end the bus is a warmachine, and Donald is appropriately deranged. Its good fun and the art is by local boy Flemming Andersen, who’s really good at conveying manic cartoon energy
- Scrooge and Magica De Spell are sucked into a psychedelic magic-dimension where Scrooge needs to climb a tower and survive its tribulations to win back his lucky dime from Magica, waiting at the top. Along the way, Cousin Fethry is summoned to be his aide, and he thinks everything is a videogame.
- Scrooge owes a lottery winner 10 million dollars and Donald needs to chase the winner down, as it turns out it’s a Scrooge doppelganger who abhors wealth and just likes the simpler things in life.
- Mickey Mouse is on an expedition to Antartica where he’s suddenly sucked into a parallel dimension where Rome never fell, and is now a thriving modern civilization but with Roman trappings. Motorized chariots, movies about Super Ceasar Versus The Barbarians, stuff like that. Naturally Mickey needs to foil an assassination plot.
- Cousin Fethry (He gets a LOT of stories) and recurring character private detective Humphrey Gokart are approached by a famous director for his next movie, where they cause all sorts of antics because they are blithering, oblivious idiots. Eventually the script writer turns to crime because he can’t stand that they constantly retool his work.
- Donald spends his wages from Scrooge too quickly, so Scrooge gives him an indestructible device to carry which shrieks terribly whenever Donald is wasteful with his money. Antics ensue. It cant help but sound like a capitalist nightmare, but for what its worth its not framed as if Donald needs the money for rent or to feed the nephews (mostly he spends it on snacks), and Scrooge is uncharacteristically willing to lend Donald money before giving him the Shrieking Gizmo.
- Scrooge and Rockerduck search for the lost jungle city of Sho Ping, and also Scrooge is mad Rockerducks’ tech sells better in Asia. Its pretty by the numbers.