Monday, August 15, 2011

R.I.P. Del Connell

Del Connell, a very prolific writer and later editor for Western Publishing, passed away this weekend at the age of 93.

If there are two things I shall be forever grateful to Del Connell for, it was the creation of Super Goof (in PHANTOM BLOT # 2, pictured below) and the concept of “Space Family Robinson”, which later became the TV series LOST IN SPACE.


And, for all I know (but have long suspected), he MAY have even written THIS STORY, that I consider to be one of the best of all time, and the reason I became a regular Disney comic book reader, fan, and later contributor.


Please go to THIS POST by Mark Evanier, who actually knew and worked with Mr. Connell, for more and better detail than I could ever provide. Also, read the links within Evanier’s post for some of the best information I’d ever seen on Connell… including a quote from Vic Lockman!


With the retirement of longtime editor Chase Craig, Del Connell became editor of the Gold Key Comics line (in its final years) and the later Whitman Comics line. This would be somewhere between 1975 and 1978. I used to know this precisely, but I’m afraid the more exact data has retreated to the recesses of my memory, and is likely to never find its way back out.


Back in the eighties, when I was an enthusiastic, twenty-something fan, I established mail correspondences with as many of the persons who worked for the Dell / Gold Key / Whitman comic books as I could. My correspondence with Mark Evanier yielded more valuable information (which Mark was happy to provide) than I imagined possible – and remains the basis for the information I’ve gathered over the years on the subject… long before there was a handy-dandy Internet to answer all your questions.


Most of the people I contacted via mail were pleased to engage in either a long or short term dialogue with me. Del Connell was one of two exceptions – the other was Paul Murry.


I wish I still had Connell’s exact words handy, so that I might not misquote him, but the gist of his one and only brief response to me was puzzlement over why anyone would have any interest in his work. He offered no more than that, and no invitation to continue. Being a non-pesty sort, I left it right there, and concentrated on those who had more information and stories to share.


At the time, I thought that Connell simply did not want to be bothered but, reading Evanier’s description of the man’s great humility, perhaps he REALLY DID believe that no one could possibly have any sort of interest in his work.


From this perspective, it is a shame that Del Connell did not participate in a postal exchange with me, as very little insight into those strange and unusual “Whitman years” appears to exist anywhere. For anyone who lived through it, as I did, it was anything but “standard-comic-book-operating-procedure”.


On this we can all agree, the Whitman comics were inferior to their Gold Key and Dell predecessors in both quality and (especially) distribution. I’d sure like to have known some of the reasons why, but that, alas, was not to be.


One area in which I will give Del Connell BIG PROPS is that, once the comics no longer ran interior advertising – and ran 32 pages of story, we began getting issues like THESE!
In the post Gladstone / Gemstone days, getting stories like this may not seem very unusual… but in the early eighties, seeing stuff like this was a DREAM COME TRUE!


Unfortunately, they found themselves alongside issues like these.
I can’t imagine there was NO “new blood” out there that might have improved the story and art of what looked to be a tired old comic book line. Gladstone certainly found some, and might have found still more, if finances were less of a factor. I felt this was something Whitman could have attempted as well.

We’ll never know, of course, but I wonder if Del Connell might have taken the time to trade letters with an occasional fan of the product he presided over, might there have been a difference in the overall look and feel of the books? Probably not, as Western seemed fiercely loyal to the remaining few writers and artists that hung with them for years (regardless of the current quality of their work), but it’s nice to think about.


Rest in Peace, Mr. Del Connell. Regardless of era, we comic book fans have LOTS to thank you for! And *I* have lots to thank you for!


9 comments:

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Great tribute and great post in general. Someone (ie, YOU) ought to write a book about the history of Disney-comics publishing in the US.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

A very nice tribute.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks, Geo, but you’ll never see a book from me. Even if I HAD the time to devote to such an effort (…which I can’t see ever happening), none of my information is first hand, but pieced together from hours upon hours of long-ago conversations and correspondence with persons, many of whom are no longer with us.

As I say about Connell’s comments to me of about 30 years ago, I would not wish to misquote or misstate anything said by others.

I CAN say with complete conviction that, if I personally witnessed, experienced, or lived-through something, or some particular era, that I am completely confident in my assertions. (As with my comments on “Bird Bothered Hero” on your Blog!) BUT, there’s a lot of that history that I haven’t lived through (some pretty important parts, actually) and have just pieced together on hearsay, anecdotes, and the words of others. I’m hardly comfortable trading on that!

If anyone ever wants me to contribute some PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE on that history – as I did on the “Walt Disney Treasures” DVD feature on Donald Duck comics, along with David Gerstein, Bob Foster, and others – you could talk me into that. But a book of my own? Not happenin’!

Funny thing… It’s not unlike when I listen to the Commentary Tracks for many of the old movies I discuss on my Blog, I get the feeling that the age of Western Publishing is receding further and further into the “Black Hole of Cultural Legend”. And some of this information, locked up in peoples’ heads, had better take on some permanent form (certainly more permanent than Blog postings) before it vanishes altogether.

Mark Evanier may be the only being left alive that could do the concept justice! I’d love to see him take a crack at it! …Before it becomes too late!

Joe.

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Oddly, and it didn’t occur to me until I read your comment, once you go beyond his friends, relatives, and remaining colleagues, I might actually BE in one of the best positions to write a tribute to Del Connell!

I lived through (certainly a majority of) his time at Western Publishing. Read a LOT of his stories, whether or not I KNEW they were his.

I’ve pretty much devoted the last three decades to the study of Western, its people, and its workings.

I lived through the notable highs and the frequent lows of the Whitman era, and actually had one scrap of correspondence with the man.

If this doesn’t seem like much (...and it ISN'T), consider that Mark Evanier seems to indicate how unknown he was to most persons in the field. Probably even less known to fans and historians like us.

The more I think about it, the more it is a shame that I might actually place relatively high on the list of persons who could write something meaningful about Del Connell.

Joe.

Comicbookrehab said...

I dunno...that Inner Earth adventure looks like a potential Quack Pack episode that didn't happen...And It's nice to see that Scrooge wore the golden fleece coat for at least one adventure. ;)

The Whitman era is a curious time because it flies in the face of a lot of what was happening elsewhere, but it is fun to find a comic from that time. I remember reading an issue of Daffy Duck where Daffy was trying to help the Tasmanian devil find something to buy with a penny he found - years later, I found that the same plot appeared in a Flintstones comic for Marvel around the same time - credited to Mark Evanier! Well, that's one way to find out who worked on what! :)

Joe Torcivia said...

‘Rehab:

Welcome to our Comments Section.

GeoX says I tend to be more positive in some of my assessments than he does, and he’s probably right. BUT, when I would get a brand new UNCLE SCROOGE comic like “The Inner Earth Adventure” and compare it with not just the Carl Barks classics – but even later (and lesser) sixties stuff by Lockman and Strobl like “Bye-Bye Money Bin” (U$ # 76, 1968), I would shake my head and wonder what has happened to my favorite comics!

…And, in my book, any parallels to QUACK PACK will only diminish it further! :-)

Your comments were both valid and enjoyable, but I think you and I have different definitions for “The Whitman Era”.

Yours seems to include any time in which Whitman editions existed, published parallel with corresponding Gold Key issues.

In my view (as represented in this post), any time in which Gold Key branded issues existed would be part of the “Gold Key Era”. That would include the period of parallel Whitman issues of 1972-1979 – and overall would span 1962-1979.

“The Whitman Era”, for me, begins the month that the Gold Key brand ceased, and Whitman was the ONLY brand these comics carried. That would begin with the 40 cent issues released in January, 1980 – thru the 60 cent undated issues released in the fall of 1984.

You can pretty much surmise that by the “Whitman Era” issues I pictured. All were of early to mid eighties vintage.

If we are referring to Mark Evanier (who did lots of great stuff at a time when “great stuff” was in very short supply), or when Carl Barks was writing JR. WOODCHUCKS, that would be categorized by me as being part of the “Gold Key Era”, and not applicable to the discussion.

BTW, one easy way to recognize Mark’s uncredited Gold Key work (…told to me by Mark, himself, back in the day) was to look for titles with PUNS in them.

Perhaps my favorite of those was “One Nation in Dirigible” that he did for Super Goof.

When I finally was privileged to do my first script for Gemstone – on Super Goof – I called it “Now Museum, Now You Don’t”, in tribute to Evanier’s pun titles. I showed him this when I saw him at a recent New York Comic Con… and, to my surprise, it turned out that HE wrote the original story back in the seventies – that *I* had scripted for Gemstone and titled in his vein!

Naturally, I gave him a copy of the issue – and marveled at how wonderfully things work out sometimes.

Come back again…

Joe.

Steven Rowe said...

As Chase Craig retired in 1975, we can use that date for Del Connell being editor of all of the west coast Western comics. He had already been amangaing editor since 1968, and a story editor prior to that (working under a managing editor).

Joe Torcivia said...

That sounds correct, Steven. Thank you!

When preparing the post, my memory just failed me on that that piece of the timeline -- and, unfortunately, there’s no place I’m aware of to readily look it up.

Joe.

Brady Connell said...

Hi Joe -
I'm Del Connell's youngest son... thanks for your reminiscences of my Dad. I just wanted to confirm your impressions as to why my Dad probably didn't respond adequately to your inquiries: he was by far, the nicest, most humble man I have ever met (lucky me!). He always deflected praise to others, and was very reluctant to do interviews (the odd thing is that his humility was the only thing that was at a higher level than his talent -- he had every right to be the exact opposite). Even with this modesty, there was actually one other more practical reason he declined interviews and dispelled acclaim: he had two jobs that were potentially viewed as a conflict of interest, and if one knew he was doing the other, he might lose one of the jobs. During the 30+ years he worked for Western and was one of their most prolific writers/editors, he ALSO wrote the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip for Disney for 20 of those years (he took over from Floyd Gottfredson). In my opinion, EITHER career is worthy of a book on its own! His ability to create/write/edit all those stories for Western, and ALSO write the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip - one each and everyday for all those years - is a little mind-boggling. I remember him coming home from a full day at Western, and then toiling over the Mickey gags for several hours after dinner until he couldn't hold his head up anymore. HIs commitment to providing for his family was paramount. In addition, he continued to create and re-create projects well after he retired - into his '90's - the true sign of a creative force. It couldn't be turned off until literally, his brain turned off. We have hundreds of stories & characters (and inventions) that he created over the years, stuffed away in file drawers. Our hope is to at least scan all these works so that people can see the breadth of his interests and talents. If you ever want to follow up, or if you know someone who might want to take a stab at doing a book or website on my Dad, we would be very happy to cooperate however we can. Please feel free to contact me at bconnell@basecampfilms.com. Thanks for everything you do to help recognize artists and their work. Best, Brady Connell