Those of you familiar with my career know I worked in Disney’s comic strip department for a number of years. I’ve always had a love for comics having become an avid reader during my kid years growing up in Santa Barbara. My first job was for a local cartoonist, so comics have been a part of my life for a good number of years. Once joining Walt Disney’s animation team I put comics aside. However, due to an odd twist of fate I found myself back in the comic book and strip business in the early eighties. I was delighted to join a talented group of comic book writers and artists who created Disney magic for the printed page. I actually had so much fun I found I didn’t miss the world of film production all that much. I not only had the opportunity to work with amazing individuals, I can honestly say I learned a good deal more about story telling while working in this department than I ever did working on movies.
One of my story mentors was this amazing gentleman. His name is Don Ferguson and I knew very little about him when I joined the department in the early eighties. Don was tasked with scripting the “Winnie the Pooh” comic strip and I’ll have to confess it was one of the funniest strips I ever read. Don Ferguson had a unique sense of humor. It was not surprising since his previous job was working with Jay Ward, a zany animation production company that thrived during the early sixties. You’re probably familiar with “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” Dudley Doright” and many of the other Jay Ward creations. How we manage to get Don to migrate to Disney I’ll never know. I do know that he brought a very special cartoon sensibility to the Walt Disney Publishing Department and we were all the better for having him here. One would imagine that writing a comic strip about the silly ‘ol bear would be pretty tame stuff. After all, “Winnie the Pooh” could hardly be called irreverent. It was usually considered pretty namby pamby stuff targeted at young children. However, Don managed to bring a degree of audaciousness to the “Winnie the Pooh” comic strip that was totally unexpected. It was Don’s cheeky sensibility that made the comic strip such a joy to read. Unfortunately, I doubted most adults bothered to read “Winnie the Pooh” because on the surface it appeared to be simply another strip aimed at kids. Not so, in this case. The level of sophisticated humor was totally unexpected and that’s made reading the Disney comic such a joy. I confess it was one of the few Disney comic strips that made me laugh out loud.
Don Ferguson was a remarkable writer and I considered him one of my favorite story mentors. Whenever I had a problem I would take it to Don. He was extremely gracious with his time and his storytelling gifts were always on target. When the Walt Disney Company decided to restructure its publishing department in the early nineties, Don Ferguson was sent packing along with a number of other gifted Disney writers and artists. Guys like Don Ferguson, Tom Yakutis and others were considered “old” and ready for retirement. However, these guys were brilliant and still at the top of their game. Unfortunately, corporate hardly values talent and creativity. Sadly, they’re more focused on a balance sheet. However, that’s another story. For now I’ll simply say how much I enjoyed being continually surprised at the clever, irreverent humor of a quiet little comic called “Winnie the Pooh.” And, how much I appreciated the delightful work of a humor writer named Don Ferguson.