Apparently Donald Duck is to German philosophy and culture what Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes was to classical music. According to a Wall Street Journal piece, Donald Duck comic sell close to 250,000 copies a week in Germany. A monthly Donald Duck special sells 40,000 copies primarily to adults. Where Carl Stalling injected classical music into Bugs Bunny cartoons, Erika Fuchs spent over 50 years injecting German literature and philosophy into her German translations of the Disney icon. (my emphasis)
Dr. Fuchs’s Donald was no ordinary comic creation. He was a bird of arts and letters, and many Germans credit him with having initiated them into the language of the literary classics. The German comics are peppered with fancy quotations. In one story Donald’s nephews steal famous lines from Friedrich Schiller’s play “William Tell”; Donald garbles a classic Schiller poem, “The Bell,” in another. Other lines are straight out of Goethe, Hölderlin and even Wagner (whose words are put in the mouth of a singing cat). The great books later sounded like old friends when readers encountered them at school. As the German Donald points out, “Reading is educational! We learn so much from the works of our poets and thinkers.”
One of my first blog entries was about using comic books to promote the value of the arts. I am thinking that may still be a good idea given the influence Fuchs and Stallings works have had in making great works familiar and accessible to audiences. Americans for the Arts seems to have already picked up on that. Their last round of “Arts, Ask for More” television commercials featured characters from Disney’s Little Eisensteins.
Some of my earliest introductions to classics of literature were Classics Illustrated. I also remember reading religious comic books about Bible stories and Johnny Cash’s fall and return from grace. While waiting for the bus in a library during the winter, I read up on the life of Crispus Attucks and Harriet Tubman. I am sure interest and understanding could be generated in Shakespeare, Moliere, Bach, Mozart, Ansel Adams and Dada if someone did a good job of it.
Anyone with a visual arts background want to apply for an NEA grant? (Of course, nice cartoon videos to post on YouTube might be cool so actors and musicians are needed, too!)