Del Connell, a longtime Tehachapi resident, is a comic book legend you've probably never heard of.
Boasting a comics career spanning more than 70 years, Connell contributed to the giants of the golden age of comics, such as Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and MGM studios.
He created memorable characters such as Super Goof, the daring alter ego of Disney's beloved Goofy, and wrote the basic storyline that was eventually adapted into the "Lost in Space" television series and motion picture.
And he did it all in total and complete anonymity. Until now, that is.
Connell, 93, diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about 10 months ago, was awarded the Bill Finger award for Achievement in Comic Book Writing at the recent Comic-Con International in San Diego, though he was not well enough to receive it in person. The award is given annually to a comic book writer the committee feels has been overlooked throughout his or her lifetime. Finger himself was an unsung hero: He helped create Batman and never saw a dime.
Mark Evanier, a television writer and comic book historian, chaired the committee that gave Connell the award. Evanier said Connell was perfect for it; he had written thousands of comic books and created memorable characters, but to Evanier's knowledge, Connell's name didn't appear on a single one.
Three out of the four judges, Evanier said, had never heard of Connell.
How could that happen?
During the time that Connell worked for Western Publishing, where he spent most of his career, the policy was not to put credits on comics or let artists sign their work, Evanier said. This allowed for writers and artists to be interchangeable, he said, and was also due to the fact that Western Publishing used licensed characters, such as Mickey Mouse. But few companies had such a firm policy as Western, Evanier said.
'He wasn't selfish or ambitious'
Connell's anonymity relative to his body of work can also be explained by his deep sense of humility, according to the artist's friends and family.
"He wasn't selfish or ambitious at all," said Vic Lockman, an artist who worked with Connell for many years. "He was just a regular guy. He loved the comics; he loved to write and edit them."
Perhaps Connell's biggest achievement was the creation of the storyline that eventually became "Lost in Space." Connell's son Brady said he remembered the night in 1962, when he was a small boy, that his father conceived the idea.
Back then, Brady said, the family lived in Woodland Hills. Rocketdyne (now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne) would regularly launch rockets into the sky, which the family could see from their backyard. One day, Brady said, his father saw a rocket flying into the sky and thought there was a story in that: the first family in space.
Connell went into the office the next day and wrote an outline for what he initially dubbed "Space Family Robinson."
Later, Brady said, legendary television producer Irwin Allen bought the rights to the story from Western Publishing, and adapted it into the successful TV show, "Lost in Space."
Brady called that loss of the intellectual property the most disappointing aspect of his father's career.
"I think there should have been some financial remuneration," he said, "or at least some kind of credit, maybe a 'based on the characters by' line."
But for Connell, it was never about recognition. It was about the comics, said Dan Spiegle, an artist who worked with Connell on the original "Space Family Robinson" artwork.
"He was always a very quiet, unassuming gentleman," Spiegle said. "He really knew his craft, but he wasn't pushy. A lot of people didn't know he was doing all he was doing."
Now Connell has finally received some commendation for his hard work. Evanier, who worked with Connell briefly as a young writer, described him as a multi-talented man of comics: an artist, a writer, an editor and a mentor.
"He was very humble," Evanier said. "One of the reasons we don't know how much he wrote was because he wasn't the sort to shout it from the rooftops."