Long Before They Bought Marvel, Disney Forced One Marvel Character To Wear Pants
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We asked readers to name their favorite comic book nemesis. While we got a good many answers like "Magneto" and "Dr. Doom" (and one for evil Martha Wayne, complete with a cosplay photo), the most surprising answer came from Brian D., who suggested Howard the Duck. Now, Howard was no villain in his own comic, but he was the enemy of one particular organization: The Walt Disney Company.
In 1977, Disney was convinced that Marvel's Howard the Duck looked a whole lot like Disney's own Donald Duck. And while Disney has a reputation for being too quick to call in the lawyers, they may have had a point this time. Howard did resemble Donald, so much that you might even think he was a parody of him—except, he wasn't really a Donald parody, so Marvel couldn't fall back on that as a defense in a copyright suit.
Specifically, Howard was a somewhat anthropomorphic duck who walked around wearing a shirt but no pants. This style is so associated with Donald that in Hungary, for instance, they have the word donaldkacsazas ("Donald ducking"). It means "walking around in a shirt but no pants or underwear," a situation apparently common enough in Hungary that they need a word for it.
Disney demanded to be able to redesign Howard themselves, and their redesigned character wore pants. Marvel accepted this, but first, they had to create a story that explained Howard's new style. In it, Howard is besieged by protesters who call him indecent, and this turns out to all be a conspiracy by a businessman named Wally Sidney. This time, Marvel really was aiming for a Disney parody.
Wally Sidney was a cartoonist who invented a rat named Hymie ("a rat that wears clothes and talks?" say his boss, "that's the stupidest thing I ever heard"). He quits the biz and moves into the fashion world. He opens an emporium called "Sidney Land" and also creates a fashion film called Pantasy—this last part may be a reference to Fantasia, but the parody's getting loose at this point. He makes conservative clothing till updated trends leave him unsuccessful. So he creates a conspiracy to make people clothe their pets. And now, Howard must agree to wear pants, else an angry mob will come in and tear him apart.
When the Howard the Duck movie came around in 1986, they even had him telling those confused by his clothes, "My lawyers tell me I've always been wearing these pants." It's a film otherwise known for some human characters taking off their pants and for duck characters showing off above-the-waist nudity, but Howard keeps his pants on.
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