09 May 2009

Sketches For Fethry Duck's First Appearance

Disney comics' "S-coded" story production program—S for Disney studio—began in 1962. George Sherman, head of Disney’s Publications Department, had heard that the Disney comic book stories being produced in the United States weren't enough to fill the overseas comics. Sherman hired Tom Golberg to supervise the making of new stories principally for foreign use. Dick Kinney, former story man on Disney shorts and numerous TV cartoons, was one of the series' chief writers. In a 1964 S-coded story, "The Health Nut," Kinney and artist Al Hubbard (Scamp, Mary Jane and Sniffles) created Fethry Duck, one of my favorite Disney characters.

Donald's faddist cousin is Duckburg’s most highly motivated citizen. To meet Fethry is to be smothered by his craze of the moment: an exciting new hobby, a protest against society’s ills, or the urge to attain enlightenment, just to name the most typical types of obsessions. Alas, while infinitely well-meaning, Fethry is also unknowingly clumsy, thoughtless, and tactless—so the more exposure one has to his interests, the more punishment one takes. Enter Donald, whom Fethry considers his favorite relative. Fethry is simply determined to expose Donald to as many of his interests as possible. Uh-oh!

Today I'm sharing the earliest Fethry drawings I know to exist. Several years ago, the Disney studio briefly sold publications development art on eBay. The intent was to unload material that had already been documented by Disney, but a previously lost box of especially early S-coded production materials was discovered in the process. Among them was Dick Kinney's scribble-script to “The Health Nut,” the first five pages of which I'm reproducing here.

While I can't be sure that (as I once presumed) these are definitely the very first sketches of Fethry, they're certainly among the first, and certainly offer a look at Kinney’s developmental process that would not have been possible before. The simple, direct drawings crackle with the life and energy of animation storyboards: we can feel the raw emotion of a New Age nerd bursting onto the scene and radically revising Donald’s existence. Of course, they don't yet contain the ingredients that final story artist Al Hubbard brought to the table. Without (or before) Hubbard, Fethry's hat is almost a yarmulke; his eyes wide, his hair very different, his aggressive enthusiasm almost pugnacious.

On the back of page three, Kinney half-sketched an early trial image of Fethry with droopy eyelids (below). But it is plainly Hubbard—whose corresponding art I'm also reproducing here—who first brought the character’s classic, improbable grace to bear, and who gave him the truly baggy-eyed, lovably flaky facial features we know today. Like many unintentionally overbearing people in real life, Fethry had two extremely doting parents.

[Thanks to Alberto Becattini for details on Golberg's role. See more of Al Hubbard's comics at Thad's and Andrea's blogs. Scans of published "Health Nut" story come from Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 638 [2003], which you can buy here.]


The Coyote Never Wins said...

Those Dick Kinney script/sketches are very loose and appealing. I have a few Disney comics somewhere with Fethry, but I didn't know Dick Kinney had had anything to do with his creation. Thanks for posting these!

Thad said...


Joe Torcivia said...

It fascinates me that, from the early 1960s onward, the American Disney comic followed two very separate paths – Western Publishing and the Disney Studio Program – and that the two operated so differently.

The Western comics followed the basic Barks/Gottfresdon/Murry model (but at the same time reviving the Phantom Blot and creating Super Goof, Moby Duck, Dimwitty, Emil Eagle, Dangerous Dan and Idjit the Midget and others), while the Disney product went off in another direction entirely – introducing such characters as Fethry, Hard Haid Moe, OO Duck, the Salesman character whose name eludes me, and more.

And yet a THIRD continuity was established in Europe with Rockerduck, Brigitta McBridge, Jubal er… [“Pomp”] -- and the continuation of Eega Beeva.

Fethry, oddly, was something of a crossover with Tony Strobl drawn appearances in DONALD DUCK # 105, 106 and WDC&S # 304… before fading away until the appearance of European and Disney Studio produced stories in the American comics.

Maybe it’s because they appeared in my beloved Silver Age. Maybe because I prefer Strobl to Hubbard on Ducks. Maybe because I feel Dick Kinney’s humor better lends itself to animation than comic books… Or maybe I just don’t care for Donald owning a cat and living in a word of humans… My fondness for those first three stories has not translated into the ones seen more recently in Gemstone comics.

…Except for the TNT series. That utilizes the Donald / Fethry dynamic to perfection!

Dana Gabbard said...

I'm just glad some of this obscure history is being pinned down.

Thanks to stuff I published in Duckburg Times I knew about things like the S code comic book stories and Disney special Christmas themed comic strips and am glad I've been able to aid in the documenting of these on Wikipedia. I am tweaking the Fethry entry and Disney studio part of the Disney comics entry to add information from this posting--thanks, David!

Years ago I interviewed Golberg for what I hoped would be an article on Disney comic strips and books. This was when I was visiting the Archives to read their file of Barks fan correspondence. He was retired but agreed to come to the studio and let me interview him. Very nice gentleman.

Never got any farther with the article as all attempts to find information on the strips hit a dead end--King Features totally snubbed me. I didn't tape the interview but I did take notes which I still have in my fan clutter (currently boxed up in a storage unit one block from Uncle Dana World headquarters). Maybe eventually I can find some way to make use of them.

Duck Dodgers said...

Ehy, David!
After your last email I've started dreaming...hope you'll reply me soon to send me in Cartoon/Comics Heaven!
Read ya soon,

Daniel73 said...

Great discovery! Thanks!! Fethry is one of my favorite Ducks characters.

Unfortunately, in The Netherlands Fethry is banned since the mid-1970s. He only appears in imported, translated pocket books. Exceptions are very few. (sob) (sob)