Del Connell wrote and drew comic books back when a given issue could be reasonably expected to sell a million or more copies, and comics were the lingua franca of American youth.
He started as an artist at Disney Studios in 1939, where he worked on both features and shorts, and later moved to the Dell Comics division of Western Publishing, first as a freelancer and later as a writer and editor.
Even at a time when companies were churning out a wide variety of comics to meet growing demand, Connell was notably prolific; he wrote thousands of comics over the course of his career. Among his creations at Western: Daisy Duck's nieces, Wacky Witch and Space Family Robinson (to which Irwin Allen bought the rights and turned into Lost in Space). For over twenty years, he also wrote the daily and Sunday Mickey Mouse newspaper strip.
Jaclyn Borowski/The Californian
Comics creator Del Connell.
Jaclyn Borowski/The Californian
Because he worked for Western, which dealt largely with licensed properties, Connell's work routinely went uncredited. This recent profile in Connell's hometown newspaper quotes his friend and colleague, the writer Mark Evanier, noting that when his name came up as a candidate for the prestigious Bill Finger award for Achievement in Comic Book Writing, 3 out of the 4 judges did not recognize it.
Connell did receive that award, which was handed out at San Diego Comic-Con last month, though he was too ill to attend the ceremony. (Connell had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease almost a year before.)
On Monday, Evanier reported on his blog that Connell passed away over the weekend.
Connell's story isn't unique. Hundreds of creators — not just those who worked for companies with policies against crediting writers and artists — never received the recognition they deserve.
(Many, unfortunately, were never adequately compensated for their creations. That's one reason an organization like The Hero Initiative exists — a way for fans to show their appreciation for the veteran comics creators who've shaped millions of lives by helping them with late-in-life medical expenses and other basic needs.)
By all accounts, Connell was a deeply humble man who never sought public recognition — when he was told of the Finger award, for example, he reportedly started naming other people whom he felt deserved it more.
But now that he's gone, here's hoping he wouldn't mind my singling out one of his creations for praise, though said praise will be too little, and quite literally too late.
Del Connell, thank you, thank you, thank you for Super Goof.
Super Goof, C'est Moi
Understand: Back in the 70s, when I was but a tow-headed youth, the House of Mouse was anything but cool. Kids of my age had no Disney ambassadors to look to; a perfunctory, forgettable Mickey Mouse Club aired from '77-'79, but it didn't take: America remained caught in the grip a Mouseketeer drought, a post-Funicello, pre-Timberlake caesura. Meanwhile, movies like The Cat from Outer Space and The Shaggy D.A., and animated features like The Rescuers, seemed a mighty thin gruel indeed.
Oh, we'd dutifully watch Wonderful World of Disney, but I lacked any reference point for Mickey. He seemed like a corporate logo, nothing more. But that opening shot of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World — THAT had real power. We'd visited Disney World as a family, and the sight of it filled me with fond memories of the short con we'd collectively pulled, working my mildly sprained ankle for all it was worth to zoom to the front of every line.
But the whole cavalcade of Disney characters left 7-year-old me cold. They were kid stuff. My reading palate was more refined; I enjoyed the finer, more esoteric pleasures offered up by The Avengers and the Justice League of America, thank you very much.
But while Disney meant nothing to me, it meant a great deal to my mom: It meant safe.
Which was why she'd slide a Disney digest-sized comic — a collection of old and new stories — into her shopping cart on every trip. There it would sit on the kitchen counter, next to the Hamburger Helper she hadn't yet put away, a thick paper-bound slab of color and adventure. I'd roll my eyes at it with all the cool, patrician reserve a 7-year-old could muster ("It's for babies") but comics were comics, and once the groceries were put away I'd steal with it up to my bedroom.
I'd skim, mostly: Minnie Mouse this, Chip and Dale that. Whatever. Not for me.
I still remember the first time I turned a page to find Super Goof staring up at me.
Super Goof? Truth in advertising: Nothing more or less than Goofy, with super powers. Costume? Red long johns, a blue blanket tied around his neck. Secret origin? Eats super-goobers (peanuts), gains pretty much the full roster of Superman's abilities.
Super Goof was created in 1965 by Del Connell. The notion of slapping a superhero persona on an existing character wasn't exactly groundbreaking in itself (Hanna-Barbera's Quick-Draw McGraw had adopted his El Kabong identity a few years before) but it presaged the true heyday of superhero parody by a good couple years.
(One year later the Adam West Batman debuted, as did Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Heroes, followed by Buck Henry's Captain Nice and Jay Ward's Super Chicken in 1967; that same year, MAD Magazine's Don Martin created the similarly union-suited Captain Klutz.)
in 1975 I was watching the 60s Batman reruns every day after school, which to me read as straight-up superhero adventure. But even I could see that this "Super Goof" was a joke at the expense of my beloved heroes.
"Gawrsh!"? Oh, gawrsh, indeed, sir!
It could have, and maybe should have offended me, and turned me off Disney for good. But the Connell stories reprinted in those digests were impossible to resist. The Super Goof character he wrote worked a simple but completely charming magic; those were the first comics to suggest to me that the stuff I loved most about superheroes — things like super-breath, mad scientists, money bags with dollar signs and wearing one's underwear in public — were, when you thought about them, kind of ... goofy.
It's a lesson I soon learned to embrace, and which helped to preserve my love for that goofiest of genres through its darkest, grim-n'-grittiest years. (At one point in the mid-90s, I got so fed up with the prevailing ugly, nihilistic, self-serious mood in the comics I was reading that I attempted to parody it by writing a treatment for a dark, hyperviolent, debauched Super Goof story.)
(NOTE TO ANY DISNEY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAWYERS WHO MAY BE READING THIS POST: That treatment was little more than self-therapy, and has been mercifully lost to the ages.)
So Del Connell's work entertained me as a kid, but it did more than that — it helped shape my sensibilities, helped clarify for me why I love the things I love. That's a gift he's left to me, and, I suspect, to thousands of people like me.