Grandma fixes breakfast for Gus. Artist: Carl Barks.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Released by: Disney
First Appeared: 1943
Creator: Al Taliaferro
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When the Disney organization noticed that Donald Duck was beginning to eclipse even Mickey himself in popularity, they started loading him up with family members (i.e., possible …

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… spin-offs). Nephews in 1937, cousin Gus Goose in '38, cousin Gladstone Gander in '48 … And of course, how could they neglect dear old Granny?

Grandma Duck (first name Elvira, sometimes rendered as "Elviry") made a debut of sorts as a portrait on Donald's wall, in the August 11, 1940 episode of his Sunday page. It was three years later that she turned up in the flesh, or what passes for flesh among cartoon characters. The Donald Duck daily strip for Monday, September 27, 1943 began a sequence that firmly established her as an ongoing addition to the cast. Artist Al Taliaferro is said to have based her on his own mother-in-law.

Grandma runs a farm near enough for Donald and his other relatives to visit frequently, but not so near they can see each other on a daily basis. She's old-fashioned enough to drive a car that looks like a motorized "surrey with the fringe on top", and industrious enough, even at her advanced age, to milk her own cows and slop her own hogs. As irascible and assertive as he is with others, Donald clearly defers to her as an authority figure.

She was seen here and there in comics, but not (unlike Gus and the Nephews, who were also first seen in print media) in animation. She got her own gig in 1950, a regular series in the back pages of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories. In the 121st issue (October), she replaced Bucky Bug, thereby becoming a minor star in her own right. In this series, Gus was her farmhand and the only other person who lived on the farm with her. Characterized from the start as lazy and gluttonous, Gus wasn't much help to her. She kept him on anyway because he was her nephew.

A couple of mice infesting her barn were also used as supporting characters. Gus and Jaq had been introduced in Disney's Cinderella, released a few months before Grandma's series began. Some latter-day fans, perhaps interpreting the settings a bit too literally, question the use of characters from a 16th century French fairy tale in stories apparently set in 20th century rural America. But these are cartoons, and in cartoons, didn't Ricochet Rabbit (a western) debut in an episode of Touché Turtle (a swashbuckler)? In this universe, for all these fans know, maybe Cinderella's castle is right over in the next county.

Grandma's series ran a few years, then succumbed to shrinkage. The 168th issue (September, 1954) was the last with 48 interior pages. Starting with #169, it was down to 32. Grandma was dropped from the lineup, as was Little Hiawatha, who had started out in a Silly Symphony. But later, the publisher, Dell Comics, devoted several issues of Four Color Comics (where everyone from Smitty to Winky Dink got a shot at stardom) to her. Grandma Duck's Farm Friends was featured in nine issues between 1957 and '62.

In 1960, Grandma was finally animated. She appeared in "This Is Your Life, Donald Duck", which aired March 11 of that year as an episode of Disney's long-running TV variety show. It consisted mostly of clips from theatrical cartoons, but Grandma was in one of the newly-animated segments tying them together. But she hasn't exactly become a star in that medium — in fact, she was next animated in Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), where she had a bit part. To the extent she's an animated charcter at all, her voice has been done by June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Grammi Gummi).

In comics, however, she remains prominent, appearing in new stories wherever Donald and the gang are published. Her position in the family isn't consistent (in Italy she's Uncle Scrooge's sister-in-law but elsewhere they're related to Donald through opposite parents), and she doesn't star in her own stories as often as she used to. (Also, except in reprints, Gus and Jaq are long gone.) But as matriarch of the Duck clan, her place is where the family gathers for special occasions, and she's the one who wields whatever authority is there to be wielded.


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Text ©2005-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Company.