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 , which you can buy here.]