Everything I know of life I learned from Disney Comics

I don’t know exactly when I learned to read, but it was sometime around four, and mostly I seem to have learned by

following the action in Disney comic books and relating it to the words. If I could con an older relative (my brother, ten years older and my cousin Natalia, fourteen years older were the prime targets) into reading the books allowed to me, I’d memorize the sounds of the words, then compare those to other words with same letters… anyway, you get the point.

Years later, when my younger son was having trouble learning to read (he was six, ferheaven’s sake) and didn’t seem inclined to – as his brother did – just plunge right into Roman History texts, I thought “I wonder if he’d learn from comic books.”

Of course, the problem at that point was that most comic books nowadays have material not suitable for elementary schoolers… or middle schoolers… and you should be careful about the high schoolers.

Unlike Europe, where Disney comics are ubiquitous and can be found everywhere on newsstands, and read by everyone including adults (several characters and series exist that don’t here, and anthologies come out all the time that contain, you know “all Junior Woodchuck” stories), I’d never seen Disney comics in the states. This was before the full hit of the new comic craze, too, so I didn’t even know where the next comic bookstore was. So I searched online.

After some brief and bizarre encounters – do you guys know there’s Uncle Scrooge/Donald slash? I mean, let alone the sheer wrongness (they’re DUCKS) there’s the incest. Never mind – I found the company currently publishing Disney comics… Or rather, just about to quit publishing them.

They were trying to get rid of stock and for $500 you could purchase something like 1000 comics of the Donald and Mickey lines. I had $500 and did – though in retrospect, I regret not having spent the $2000 and got everything they’d ever printed – and got this HUGE box of comics.

On the one hand they worked for the kid. On the other hand, I found that a lot of what they had were reprints of comics dating back to the depression era, stuff I’d never seen. In comics as in most other such stuff, Europe JUST does not reprint and therefore has a much “shallower” memory than the US in many ways (which sounds counterintuitive.)

I found out that I could learn a lot more about the texture of daily life from comics of the thirties and forties than from books about those time periods. For instance, I’d never heard of Victory gardens before, in all my copious reading. I also didn’t fully understand how people felt… Like, there is a contest where the prize is a job as a hotel bell hop. Think about it. The prize is a … job. (Yeah, we’re getting there.) But there were also a lot more revelations – like the fact that Mickey used to go around with a gun almost his size. Which makes sense, I guess. If you’re a small mouse in a man’s world you’d best be armed. Or what was considered a really good meal. Or the fact that when Donald needs to track his nephews, he puts radioactive buttons on their hats.

But possibly the most important revelations were those that are hard to state explicitly. The way courting couples treat each other, for instance (it’s not as chauvinistic as we’ve been led to believe, but it IS different.) Or the way kids were expected to act – in comparison to even bratty kids today, Donald’s nephews could only be qualified as demonic. (How did they go all goody two shoes these days? There’s an entire sociology and education thesis on that alone.) Mickey’s nephews are not much better. And it’s clear that this was not considered out of the ordinary.

Some of it I had reason to suspect, like that animals were a lot more “disposable” than today. Try doing a comic today with a hero just kicking an animal out permanently for misbehaving.

Anyway, there’s an education in them there comics. Even accounting for the exaggeration of the medium (and of course there is some. Distortion, too) it shows an almost completely alien way of life, one that’s foreign to us and that is hard to intuit from scholarly works.

By the way, you can get sort of the same sort of feel from mysteries written and published in the first half of the 20th century. A feel for a life that was completely different in ways that more serious studies won’t allow you to see and that movies often don’t show. For that matter, mysteries are better than main stream novels simply because in mysteries, clues and circumstances are built of the quotidian. So, “normal life” holds center stage.

The past is another country, but comics – and sometimes mysteries – give you a visa to visit

10 thoughts on “Everything I know of life I learned from Disney Comics

  1. Reading the old Disney comics is a lot of fun. You can frequentlly find batches of them on ebay, but of course you get dups. You will also find different covers with the same insides (reprints) but, oddly, the same covers with -different- insides. You really can’t judge the disney comic by it’s cover!

    When you say they are available in europe … is that /present day/ or when you were growing up?

    1. no, no, at least as of last year they were available everywhere. Unfortunatley you get very odd plots written in the last ten years or so. Very… er… European.

  2. Amongst the best of those old Disney are the Carl Barks comics, many of which conveyed what would now be considered radical conservatism. One particular story began with Uncle Scrooge’s money bin being destroyed in a windstorm, with the money strewn throughout town. Rather than gnash teeth (okay, not an option for a duck), bemoan his luck or demand the government make him whole, whaddya think Ol’ Scrooge did? He recognised that Duckville’s nouveau riche would adopt to their easily achieved wealth by becoming lazy and spending carelessly and so settled in to work, offering to mow lawns, run errands, do chores — and Duckville’s citizenry soon spent themselves back into poverty and Scrooge again had a full money bin.

    A favorite family pastime is sharing books in the car, either reading them ourselves or audiobooks, and a particular joy derives from observing how the past was a different country. We especially enjoy noting what constituted a BIG salary in the 1930’s or 40’s — sometimes as much as $150 a week — and that something like a ham sandwich (readily available in Archie Goodwin’s New York at drug store lunch counters) and glass of milk could be bought for two bits!

    1. RES
      My kids WORSHIP Carl Barks. If you ever meet my family somewhere they’ll have a grand time discussing stories with you. They like Don Rosa too, but not as much. Archie Goodwin is also a favorite, though some of the expressed opinions are odd and rub me the wrong way. Not nearly as bad as the “continuation of the series” after Stout’s death, though. And I became a foodie because of those books. But you’re VERY wrong about one thing. Disney ducks have teeth. You sometimes see them in drawings, like when they’re about to take a bite. And speaking of the newer comics, when did Minnie become an insufferable cause-monger? I love the older Mickey comics particularly the semi-supernatural ones, but the ones that are all about Minnie searching status through “culture” or dogoodism make me want to set a mousetrap…

      1. I will second the endorsement of Don Rosa, a rare case of a worthy heir. Can’t defend Archie except to note that he was often enlightened for his time — which shows how much times have changed in some ways.

        As to Minnie – there are reasons I don’t read those any more and that there is one of the big ‘uns.

        1. Oh, Archie didn’t offend me so much — he was par for the course for the time, pretty much, also a pretty good “wolf archetype”. But some stuff like “paying taxes is good for you and you should pay as much as possible” from Nero got on my nerves. OTOH I note he worked to the tax, so maybe Stout was making a point? 😉

  3. Stout certainly was Left-of-Center, but Nero never did more work than he had to and was hardly a model of cooperation with the government, as Inspector Cramer would attest. OTOH, Beloved Spouse and I wondered whether the audiobook of Too Many Cooks would ever appear, given the depiction of race relations therein. Kudos to the publisher for finally releasing it, although I expect the reader had to gargle thoroughly after some scenes in there.

    1. Yes. I didn’t mind the left of center. It too was part of the times. (Early Heinlein.) But one particularly sanctimonious lecture on taxes almost got the book thrown across the room. OTOH nothing compares to a long rant in one of Christie’s espionage thrillers (and to quote my friend Sean, Christie’s espionage thrillers are OMFG SO BAD) about how government should ALWAYS be by the “best” and not come from the people. It was a moment of stunned staring at the page before I went “different time, different country” and went on.

      1. Well, Dame Aggie WAS a Brit. And it is useful (and more than a little chilling) to read the views of so many of the world’s best minds on such things as eugenics. For all the horrors perpetrated by Hitler we should at least thank-him for so completely discrediting THAT nasty bit of “science”. (To save discomfort to people with undies prone to knotting, as descendant of Baltic Jews I stand second to no one in detestation of Schicklegruber.) And in defense of Wolfe, the past is a different country; I don’t recall the passage and so presume it from a later novel, when Stout had undeniably peaked and was mostly coasting in the series.

        1. Yes, I agree with you re: Hitler. yeah, I’d prefer if he hadn’t existed, but he did lay to rest the idea of racial superiority which at one time was pretty much received wisdom. And yes, on the past being another country. Also on my being unable to schedule posts on WP, apparently. Um… Had a post for today. didn’t post. Sigh.

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