My boyfriend in many ways is a typically Dutch man. He is tall and blond, he likes all things made from potato and he reads Donald Duck cartoons. When I first heard him say it, I thought he was making some sort of difficult to follow European joke. We were talking on the phone."What are you doing?"
"I’m reading the Donald Dook."
"The Donald what?"
I hung up sure that I had misunderstood him. It was only once I finally came to Holland and saw the pile of Donald Duck comic books next to the bed that I realized I had heard right. There were stacks of the comics with pages bent back and large Donald Duck anthologies with spines bent from repeated readings.
His mom says she tried to cancel the subscription to the children’s comic once her two boys were in their 20s but there was a massive outcry not only from them but also from her husband who said he enjoyed a good Donald Duck from time to time.
The retelling of this story for my benefit has a kind of “crisis averted” ending. The subscription stayed and when we visit Tim’s parents house we often leave with back issues (secretly pilfered from Tim's father) which Tim consumes voraciously, reading them with great seriousness and sometimes offering me his expert analysis of the storyline.
He says there are lessons in the comic for children and also humor that only adult readers understand. I can’t read Dutch very well, so all I see are Disney cartoons, frozen in comic-form. Donald and Daisy and a legion of weird half-dog, half-human characters who remind me in a not-so-pleasant way of my own childhood. (I never really liked classic Disney characters -- they weren't nearly cute enough.)Perhaps the popularity of Donald Duck here in Holland is partly due to the the comics being so available in the country, sold in grocery stores and by ubiquitous subscription services. They are also one of the few comics written and published in Dutch which in a small country like the Netherlands stirs up a bit of national pride, nevermind the main character was obviously dreamed up by Disney. The Dutch made it theirs. The Dutch market for Donald Duck is so strong that an enterprising publisher recently launched a magazine called “Donald” on the feathered back of the comic’s success. Donald is a men’s glossy about cars, sports, electronic gadgets and sexy ladies where Donald Duck appears to play the role of a Hef-like overseer of all the magazine contains. One article, called “Don’s Girls.” shows a typically pants-less Donald Duck posing in the middle of a group of attractive ladies. For Dutch men on the go, Donald Duck is now also available on the ipad.
A reviewer raves: “This new digital comic is great for Dutch expats like myself. Now I can buy the latest copy of Donald Duck Weekly whenever I want. If I buy every issue it would cost me about €125 per year, which is cheaper than the €179.40 it would cost me to get a real subscription outside Europe.”
I try to think of something from my own childhood I still love so intensely. I have my old stuffed animals, I suppose. But there is nothing that I go to still for comfort in the way Dutch men gravitate to their Donald Duck comics. Am I missing something?