For this last day of May, we’re ending our month-long tribute to mothers with a bit of an odd duck. rimshot The world of comics is not all superheroes!
Publisher: Disney, and whatever companies currently hold the Disney licenses in various countries (so, like, a lot of companies).
First Appearance: Donald Duck newspaper strip (as a painting in 1940, in person in 1943)
Created By: Al Taliaferro
Elvira was born in Duckburg, Calisota, the daughter of Clinton Coot, founder of the Junior Woodchucks, and granddaughter of Cornelius Coot, founder of Duckburg itself a very illustrious pedigree, duckishly speaking. She married Dabney Duck (sometimes called Humperdink), with whom she started a farm and raised three children Quackmore, Daphne, and Eider.
When Scottish billionaire Scrooge McDuck moved in next door, hot-tempered Quackmore fell in love with one of Scrooge’s sisters, the equally hot-tempered Hortense. They eventually married and had twins, Donald and Della, and then seem to have just…disappeared, leaving the twins with Elvira and Dabney. Matters were made even more difficult when Dabney passed away, leaving Elvira to run the farm and raise her grandchildren no mean feat where Donald was concerned!
At the tender age of 20, Della married and had triplets: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Then she abandoned them to the tender mercies of their ‘Unca Donald,’ and hasn’t been seen since. Somehow, Donald managed to turn three even worse hellions than himself into model young ducklings, but it’s widely agreed that he wouldn’t have managed without the calming influence of Elvira, as well as her father’s Junior Woodchucks.
Now Elvira is the matriarch of four generations of ducks, running her farm with the ‘help’ of her lazy great-nephew Gus (and, occasionally, the mice from Cinderella. Disney comics are weird).
So What’s So Great About Her?
Disney comics have a long and storied tradition, though they’re not very widely read in the US. The biography above is based mainly on the work of Don Rosa, following an informal family tree laid out by the all-time king of Duck comics, Carl Barks. In older Italian comics, Scrooge and Elvira are brother and sister, and in others, they’re cousins, though those traditions have mainly been supplanted by the Barks/Rosa storyline.
But Donald and his family are cartoon characters, existing continually in the present and wearing the same thing every day, and so the details of the past are less important than those of today. Regardless of tradition, some things are always true about Grandma Duck: she runs a farm, she raised Donald, and she helps him keep Huey, Dewey, and Louie in line.
That alone would be enough to make her awesome. Running a farm is really freaking hard work, and Grandma has done it basically alone since her husband died, since Gus is pretty much useless. (Actually, considering his main characteristics are ‘lazy’ and ‘gluttonous,’ he’s probably worse than useless.) Raising three kids is also really freaking hard work, especially as difficult kids as the Duck family tends to turn out, and Grandma Duck was, by all accounts, an excellent mother.
But Elvira went above and beyond, raising her grandchildren and running the farm alone despite her grief (not only had her husband just died, but it’s probable that Donald and Della were left with Elvira because Quackmore and Hortense were dead). That’s a heroic effort. And though no one really knows what became of Della, Donald turned out all right hot-tempered and foolhardy, sure, but basically good-hearted and happy. And the nephews are paragons of little ducky virtue (in the comics, at least).
Disney comics can be unkind to female characters (Barks’s depiction of Daisy makes one want to weep), but Grandma Duck is consistently portrayed in a positive light. The undisputed matriarch of the whole motley clan, she’s strong, capable, and self-reliant, yet also nurturing and cozy, ready at a moment’s notice to provide a plate of fresh-baked cookies and some sound advice or a boot in the bottom and a no-nonsense talking-to. She takes no guff from her hot-headed grandson or his blustery uncle, and is Daisy’s go-to for help and guidance despite the fact that until Donald puts a ring on it, they’re not actually related. (Well, probably not. The Duck family tree is tangled.)
Donald may be a star and Scrooge may be a fantasticatrillionaire, but there’s no question who wears the pants in the Duck family…
…Actually, no one. Lack of pants-wearing is a longstanding family tradition. But Grandma Duck is most definitely the lady in charge.
Grandma Duck has never had her own title in the US, but she’s had over ten thousand appearances worldwide (I told you Disney comics were big!), and over 500 comics in the US alone. You can find a full list of her appearances here. Nowadays, you’re most likely to find her in Walt Disney’s Comics, currently being published monthly by Boom! Studios.