This week, we profile the career of an artist with an impressive career, Don R. Christensen!
Born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Don Christensen’s interest in art led to his enrollment at the Minneapolis Art Institute, where he attended evening painting classes after he graduated high school. After two years at the Institute, Christensen took a job in the art department of the Minneapolis Journal. A year later, he left Minneapolis to join the Disney studio, and in October 1937, Christensen became an in-betweener.
During his training period, he submitted gags for animated films in progressa practice encouraged by the studio for every divisionwhich granted him a promotion in the story department, where he partnered with Roy Williams. Christensen worked on several features as a story artist, such as Fantasia, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Happy Valley (later the Mickey and the Beanstalk segment for Fun and Fancy Free). He was one of many artists laid off during the strike on September 12, 1941, but fortunately, he met Ivy-Carol at the picket line. The two were later married, and remained together for 48 years. As he recalled in an interview with comics historian Alberto Becatinni, I started our honeymoon by stopping off at the state office to pick up our unemployment checks!
Christensen went over to Warners, after showing his portfolio of rough gag panels from humor magazinesnamely Peek, Swank and Hooey – and became a story man for Norm McCabe. He is credited on such films as Daffy’s Southern Exposure (1942) and The Impatient Patient (1942). He partnered with Melvin Tubby Millar on McCabe’s cartoons, without receiving credit, meaning Christensen would have also contributed on The Ducktators (1942), The Daffy Duckaroo (1942), and Hop and Go (1943). When McCabe was drafted into the Army, Frank Tashlin took over his unit, beginning with Scrap Happy Daffy and Porky Pig’s Feat, both 1943 releases credited to Christensen and Millar, respectively.
During his time at Warners, Christensen was recruited by James Davis to freelance on “funny animal” stories for the Sangor line of comics, under the pen name “Don Arr”. (Tubby Millar, his writing partner at Warners, was the main letterer for the comics.) He left Warners in December 1944, and continued to write and draw these stories. By the late 40s, he also wrote and drew his own featured stories with Puss n’ Pooch for DC Comics’ Leading Comics magazines. Besides drawing funny animal stories for Sangor and DC, Christensen managed a busy work ethic. He designed greeting cards (for Sangamon, Gartner & Bender, Buzza-Cardozo), submitted short stories for magazines (Argosy, Detective Tales, Family Circle) and wrote for radio dramas (Stars Over Hollywood and The Man Called X).
Around 1948, Christensen stopped drawing for the Sangor comics as its Los Angeles operation dissolved, and continued to freelance for DC Comics. Two years later, he went into Western Publishing, where he drew Mickey Mouse and the Disappearing Island, a promotional comic – for Wheaties Cereal – written by former Disney story-man Homer Brightman. Christensen didn’t draw any other comics for Western, and instead became one of their principal writers.
He wrote countless stories for Western Publishing featuring the Disney, Warners, Lantz, and Hanna-Barbera characters, as well as designing activity pages and childrens books. For his adaptations of the Disneyland episodes, Man and the Moon and Mars and Beyond in the mid-50s, each received a Thomas Edison Science Foundation Award for Best Science in Comic Books. By the early ’60s, Western Christensen wrote for a superhero series, Magnus, Robot Fighter, drawn by Russ Manning.He also the syndicated Yogi Bear and Flintstones daily and Sunday comic strips; while Gene Hazelton was the regular writer, he would occasional use material from other writers. Christensen wrote Disney comic book stories aimed at foreign markets during this period. (He wrote stories for the foreign market in another stint, in 1970.)When he felt comics werent enough to earn enough income, Christensen went back into animation on a freelance basis in 1965. He worked as an art director at Grantray-Lawrence, served as a storyboard artist for Filmation, and became a writer for DePatie-Freleng, Walter Lantz, Fred Calvert Productions and Hanna-Barberathe latter studio he worked for in two consecutive stints. Coincidentally, another Don Christensen – Don L. Christensen – worked at Filmation around 1966; Christensen used the Don Arr signature in his Sangor/Davis comics to avoid confusion from the other animator bearing his name. (This identical Christensen remained at Filmation until the early 80s.)
In the early 70s, Christensen went back into illustrative work for Western, writing stories for Big Little Books, published by their Whitman subsidiary. Throughout the ’70s, he worked for Disney merchandising and ad agency deals. He worked with artist Russ Manning again, writing continuity arcs for the syndicated Star Wars Sunday comic strip, which appeared in 1980. As president, vice-president and treasurer of the Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS), he compiled and edited an instructional how-to book entitled Tips from Top Cartoonists, first published in 1982. Christensen also wrote for a Marvel-published comic Wally the Wizard, some drawn by Howard “Howie” Post, issued in 1985 and 1986. He passed away on October 2006, at the age of 90.
Now, here is a sampling of Don R. Christensen’s comic book work!
Potter Otter – Happy Comics #14 (July 1946)
Fixer Fox – Happy Comics #22 (November 1947)
Robin Hood Robin – Barnyard Comics #18 (June 1948)
Kermit the Hermit – Coo Coo Comics #45 (May 1949)
Relative Troubles (Porky Pig) – Four Color #426 (Sept. Oct 1952); drawn and inked by Fred Abranz.
Caws and Effect (Pluto) Walt Disneys Comics & Stories #152 (1953); drawn and lettered by Paul Murry.
The Near-Sighted Owl – Bugs Bunny #35 (Feb.-March 1954); drawn by Ken Champin.
Chore Chump (Ludwig von Drake) Walt Disneys Comics & Stories #265 (1962); drawn and lettered by Paul Murry.
(Thanks to Didier Ghez and Thad Komorowski for their help.)