Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Playlist: Song Origins of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

 
The Original 1963 Attraction Poster for Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room
Image Courtesy of Gorillas Don't Blog
© Disney

Last year I wrote about the Hawaiian tiki craze that swept the continental United States during the 1950s and 1960s in a post on Disneyland's Tahitian Terrace. The Polynesian dining and show space opened in 1962, providing just a hint of the South Seas culture to come to the park one year later. On June 23, 1963 Disneyland presented their first full Audio-Animatronic show directly adjacent to the Tahitian Terrace: Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. The original Disneyland musical show has stood the test of time, and remains a must-see attraction for many visitors to Walt's original park.

Detail of 1963 Disneyland Front Gate Brochure for The Enchanted Tiki Room
Image Courtesy of Critiki
© Disney

There are generous resources in print and online regarding the history and influence of the attraction itself, so this post will focus on the origins of the songs performed in the original 1963 Enchanted Tiki Room show. Like the other playlist entries on I Can Break Away, there is a set of links to audio of all the songs at the end of the post and a FREE direct download to an MP3 for readers to enjoy. We'll begin with a breakdown of each song in the show, and the story behind themlet's dive in!

United Air Lines Sponsored Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room From 1963 to 1976
Image Courtesy of Vintage European Posters
Advertisement Illustration by Stan Galli (Circa 1960)
© United Air Lines, Inc.

The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room

As guests file into Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room from the outdoor lanai, they await the arrival of a hostess who lightly nudges José, one of four colorful host parrots who sit stationary on bamboo perches. The bird comes to miraculous life, muttering "My siestas are getting 'chorter and 'chorter!" With that, he calls upon his fellow emcees and the bird cast is introduced in the rollicking theme song of the Audio-Animatronic show.

This signature song "The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room" was included rather late in the development of the Enchanted Tiki Room show: it has since become a signature tune within the berm of Disneyland and other Disney theme parks around the globe. The song came into being simply because the show required a reason to explain just what the Tiki Room actually is.

June 20, 1963 Article From The Los Angeles Times: Walt Disney and Hostess Diana Lai Start the Show at a Press Preview of The Enchanted Tiki Room
Image Courtesy of Kevin Kidney on Tiki Central

In 1962, Walt Disney asked several members of his creative staff to report to Stage 2 of the Burbank Studio. There, a full mock-up of a new project for Disneyland had been assembled: the theme was a tropical hut in a South Seas setting. Standard tropical trappings of bamboo and rattan matting were accented by stuffed birds on perches, exotic plants, and comically carved tiki totems. When all in attendance settled down on folding bridge chairs, the presentation began... the once stationary decor suddenly came to life as birds chirped, flowers sang, and tiki totems chanted.

Walt Disney Chats With Juan, the Enchanted Tiki Room's "Barker Bird"
Photo Courtesy of Disney Dispatch
© Disney

When the presentation concluded, everyone agreed the show was unique, but came across as a non-sequitur performance. There was nothing established to encapsulate what they had just witnessed. Walt clarified that was the very reason he'd gathered them, stating: "It's a great show, but nobody knows what the damn thing is all about."

He then turned to the Sherman Brothers, who had been requested to attend, and asked "Any ideas, boys?" Ever quick on their feet, the songwriting duo cooked up the germs of what would become the signature framework of the new show:

The Sherman Brothers
Photo Courtesy of Examiner.com
© Disney
"[W]e suggested that an articulate parrot could sing a song to set up the show. In fact, we continued, he could even act as the emcee! The song could be done in a calypso beat'The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room.' It has a sound you could remember. And Walt bought the idea, just like that, adding: 'Instead of one parrot emcee, we'll have four, with French, Spanish, German, and Irish accents.' He always had a way of plusing a good idea."
– Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman,
Walt's Time
From Before to Beyond

The new presentation format of four host birds, and the Sherman's rhythmic chant of the work "Tiki" worked perfectly to gel the show's unusual elements. They established the lyrics and basic melody of "The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room," with a memorable calypso beat. The orchestrations for the song was provided by Walt Disney Productions musical stalwart, George Bruns. Bruns had a remarkable way of squeezing energy and emotion out of musicians from the smallest combo to the full orchestra.
 
George Bruns
Photo Courtesy of The CinemaScore & Soundtrack Archives
© Disney

Those familiar with the scores for Walt's animated films of that era will recognize signature trademarks and cues that pure Bruns. In fact, Bruns utilized several music cues in Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone (1964) that mimic his orchestration from The Enchanted Tiki Room—both were in production at the same time.


Jacket Art for Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room Original Soundtrack LP From Disneyland Records (1968)
Image Courtesy of DisneylandRecords.com
© Disney

The first track listed at the end of the post is the original version of "The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room," and the only audio from the actual show (since it was an original composition.)

The "Offenbach Number"

As the roisterous opening song is completed, an angelic bird's whistling signals the start of the infamous "Offenbach Number"—an opera selection performed completely in whistles and chirps. This portion of the show has been cut from the The Enchanted Tiki Room since the 1980s. 

Tiki Bird Michael's Famous Cut Dialogue:
"You Stay Off'n My Bach and I'll Stay Off'n Yours!"
Photo © by Dan Cunningham

The Offenbach song was considered a dramatic slow-down in energy: a two-and-a-half minute downshift which longtime W.E.D. Designer John Hench simply labeled as "boring." Hench noted that he often witnessed audience members losing interest and walking out of the show during that particular sequence. Luckily, the origin of the song has a bit more character than that!

Jacques Offenbach Composed Nearly 100 Operettas in His Lifetime
Image © & Courtesy of Offenbach Portraits

The song was composed by Jacques Offenbach, a prolific impresario of the romantic period. Originally written for his 1864 opera Die Rheinnixen (The Rhine Nixies or The Rhine Fairies) the tune was featured in Act 3 as "Elfenchor" ("The Elves Song") played against a flurry of elves and spirits in a forest setting.

The same melody resurfaced in Offenbach's final opera: Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) in 1881, this time as the song "Barcarolle." The title comes from the Italian word barcarola, defined as a folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, or a song written in the same style of meter, resembling the rhythmic oar strokes of the gondolier.

A Modern-Day Production of Jacques Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffman
Image © & Courtesy of Kollectium

The official track listing from the 1968 Enchanted Tiki Room LP album is listed as "Elfenchor from Die Rheinnixen." I've provided links to two Offenbach tracks at the end of the post: "Overture" from Die Rheinnixen and "Barcarolle" from The Tales of Hoffman... it's basically the same melody, but both are offered for the sake of context.

Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing

"Look! Here Come the Girls!"
Photo © by Dan Cunningham

In the next act, José and the host birds draw attention to the center of the room, where the magic fountain's water spout rises to beckon the descent of an elaborate "birdmobile"a chandelier-like carriage featuring a flock of lovely, white female cockatoos. The introduction of the girls signal the next number, an old favorite which encourages the audience to join in and sing along.

English Sheet Music for "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing" (1932)

Pianist Tolchard Evans had already experienced tremendous success as a songwriter by 1926 with the song "Barcelona," and in 1931 for the accordion standard "Lady of Spain," in a collaborative effort with Stanley J. Damerell and Robert Hargreaves.

Evans, Damerell and Hargreaves, along with Harry Tilsley struck gold again in 1932 with "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing." Bearing no romantic, national or religious associations, "Birdies" is an early example of a hit novelty song, preceding Bob Merrill's chart-topping "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?" by twenty years.

Their bird song became a favorite in English pubs and taverns thanks to it's playful melody and interactive sensibilityit's certain that the song was also performed within traditional English Music Halls (England's equivalent of Vaudeville.)

Sing-Alongs Have Always Been Wildly Popular in English Taverns and Pubs
Image © & Courtesy of Early Blues

Once heard, "Birdies" is easy to remember, so it's understandable how it caught on so well in a pub or theater setting. Due to the sheer simplicity and singability, the popular song quickly found it's way west, receiving it's first recording in the United States by radio personality Ben Bernie and His Orchestra in 1933.

A Vintage Recording of "Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing" by Bert Ambrose and His Orchestra is the Free MP3 on This Playlist
Photo Courtesy of Kicking the Moon Around

The recording of "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing" included in the link below is a FREE MP3 courtesy of archive.org, performed by (Bert) Ambrose and his Orchestra. This version is a early English recording, with a playful stuffiness that makes the song even more fun.

Hawaiian War Chant

As our avian chorus chirps and warbles the finish of their last number, ornate canoe-shaped baskets slowly drop from the thatched ceiling. Within the containers are bunches of singing Hawaiian orchidstheir melody is backed up by several stalks of clacking Bird of Paradise plants in each corner of the Tiki Room. The botanicals build from a soothing lullaby to a buoyant rendition of the famous "Hawaiian War Chant."

Colorful Baskets of Singing Orchids Begin "Hawaiian War Chant"
Photo Courtesy of Daveland
© Dave DeCaro

The original rendition of the "Hawaiian War Chant" wasn't composed as a chant at all. In fact, the song had an entirely different name and context: the original melody and lyrics were written in 1860 by Hawaiian Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku II as "Kaua i ka Huahua'i" ("We Two in the Spray.") Leleiohoku's song centered around a surreptitious meeting between two lovers, a composition with no connection to conflict or war (beyond the fact that the lovers are in the throes of an adulterous affair.)

 
Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku II's Original Composition of "Hawaiian War Chant" Had Nothing to Do With War
Photo © & Courtesy of Hawaii Alive

In the early 1930s, English lyrics were written by Ralph Freed, with a slight melody and tempo rearrangement by Johnny Noble, the band leader at Honolulu's Moana Hotel. Noble's faster pace and jazz beat rendition lent to the notion of becoming a chant—his version helped popularize the song via radio broadcasts and recordings. "Hawaiian War Chant" became cemented in popular culture when it was performed by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra in the 1942 MGM musical comedy Ship Ahoy.
 
"Hawaiian War Chant" Was Performed by Tommy Dorsey in MGM's Ship Ahoy (1942)
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
Poster Art © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

As the Tiki Craze of the 1950s and 1960s permeated pop culture, "War Chant" could be heard frequently on the mainland, from exotic bars to episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The song remain as one of the most iconic representations of Hawaiian culture today—it is still regularly performed at resorts and live performances throughout the 50th state. 

Bora Bora (Tahitian Drums)
 
Tikis Play The Drums
Photo © by Dan Cunningham

The singing flowers are interrupted by a change of lighting, the mood shifts with a sudden beating of tribal drums, as four trios of tiki drummers in the recessed corners of the Tiki Room begin to furiously play, calling forth the totems that flank them to begin their imposing incantation of the "Hawaiian War Chant" lyrics. The tiki totems recite with shifting eyeballs and blink with convincing realism (with both eyelids!) as the tempo builds ever faster.

The entire room builds to a stunning climax of "Chant," summoning sudden thunder, lightning and a heavy rainstorm as seen through the bamboo window shades of the Enchanted Tiki Room: all of it's inhabitants now fully alive. Fulton Burley as Tiki Bird Michael sums up the freak change in weather best, by uttering: "The Gods have been angered by all the celebratin'!"
 
Simple Movements Breathe Life Into the Enchanted Tiki Room Totems
Photo © and Courtesy of Flickr User Leslie K.

There are three selections listed below as inspirations for this sequence. First is the traditional "Hawaiian War Chant" by Andy Iona, which reflects Leleiohoku's original romantic rendition. The second is traditional island drumming by The Polynesians to mark the transition to the rainstorm. The third is an Ella Fitzgerald's cover of "Hawaiian War Chant" to provide a swinging example of Ralph Freed's English lyrics and Johnny Noble's pacing.

Aloha 'Oe (Farewell to Thee)

The sudden storm heads out to sea and calm is restored to the Tiki Room. Right before the "Farewell and Aloha" conclusion song written by the Sherman Brothers (which is a quick wrap-up of what guests have just seen)—another Hawaiian standard glides in beneath the dialogue of the birds. In fact, it's likely the most iconic musical example of Hawaiian culture: "Aloha 'Oe (Farewell to Thee)"

"Aloha 'Oe (Farewell to Thee)"
Image Courtey of Authentic History

The composition of "Aloha 'Oe" was a accidental, yet serendipitous one, by Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch. There are varying accounts as to the origin of the song, but the most widely accepted rendition of the story is as follows:

In 1878, Queen Lili'uokalani visited the Maunawili Ranch in Oahu, where Colonel James Harbottle Boyd resided. As she departed for home on horseback, she turned to admire the view of Kaneohe Bay only to catch a glimpse of Boyd and a young lady affectionately bid each other farewell. The sight struck an emotional chord with Lili'uokalani who began softly humming on the trip back to Honolulu. By the end of their journey, the entire horseback party was humming the tune.

Queen Liliʻuokalani, the Last Hawaiian Monarch
Photo Courtesy of Hawaii For Visitors

Lili'uokalani was no stranger to writing or song compositions, she had composed over 150 songs, including "He Mele Lahui Hawaii" ("The Song of the Hawaiian Nation") which served as one of Hawaii's early national anthems. The Queen drafted a manuscript for "Aloha 'Oe" containing the score, lyrics and English translation, including a note stating "Composed at Maunawili, 1878. Played by the Royal Hawaiian Band in San Francisco August 1883 and became very popular."

Updated English lyrics were written in 1923 by J. WIll Callahan, who extended the title with the parenthetical "Farewell to Thee." Since then, "Aloha 'Oe" has become a signature song of the state of Hawaii, used in countless live performances and recorded for radio, film and television productions. The original sentiment remains as a fond embrace "until we meet again."
 
Mokoli'i Island (a.k.a. Chinaman's Hat) Lies Just Off of Kaneohe Bay, the Setting for the Original Farewell That inspired "Aloha 'Oe"
Photo Courtesy of Flickr User LeAnne Kilman

The track listed below is by George Kulokahai and His Island Serenaders, theirs serves as an exemplary rendition of Lili'uokalani's first impression of the tender interaction off Kaneohe Bay.
 
Heigh-Ho

The Tiki Birds compel their audience to stand up and applaud, guiding them to the exit doors by singing a familiar tune from the Walt Disney songbook. Some clever re-tooled lyrics to the beloved Seven Dwarfs marching song "Heigh-Ho" leads guests out the door as the inhabitants of the Enchanted Tiki Room reset for their next show.

This is an early example of Disney's staff winking to the audience by being self-aware, which was as uncommon in 1963 as it is common in 2014. "Heigh-Ho" was composed by Frank Churchill and written by Larry Morey for Walt Disney's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

Much like "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing" it is deceptively simple, and one of Disney's best known. The prelude to the tune is the "Dig-a-Dig Dig" introduction, which leads into "Heigh-Ho" signaling the end of the Dwarf's workday in the jewel-rich mine.

Heigh-Ho: The Seven Dwarfs Marching Home Remains One of Most Memorable Sequences in Animation History
Image Courtesy of Disney Theory
© Disney

The animated sequence is a beautiful thing to witness, both artistically and as a perfect introduction to the characters: it remains just as memorable as the song itself. "Heigh-Ho" appeared as recently as June 2014 when The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction opened in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

The track listed is from the 2001 re-mastered soundtrack of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, containing the original "Dig-a-Dig Dig" leading into "Heigh-Ho" as it appeared in the 1937 film.
 
Album Art for Song Origins of Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room Playlist

Each song listed below is available on Amazon.com and iTunes. As usual, direct links to albums for both stores are provided below the description of each song, where you can listen to audio samples and purchase those that you might like to create your own South Seas/Tiki playlist. As usual, I don't get a piece of the profits if you make a purchasethe links are there to make things easy. While sampling, you might discover some new favorites for your music library.

The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room
Artist: Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman
Album: The Official Album of the Disneyland Resort (2013 Edition)
Amazon  |  iTunes

Die Rheinnixen: Overture
Artist: Gulbenkian Orchestra
Album: Offenbach: Music From the Operettas
Amazon  |  iTunes

Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffman/Act 4Entr'acte (Barcarolle)
Artist: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Album: Barcarolle—Favorite Opera Intermezzi
Amazon  |  iTunes

Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing
Artist: Ambrose and His Orchestra 
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD

Hawaiian War Chant
Artist: Andy Iona
Album: Hawaiian Memories
Amazon  |  iTunes 

Bora Bora (Tahitian Drums)
Artist: The Polynesians
Album: Hawaiian Serenade
Amazon  |  iTunes

Hawaiian War Chant (Ta-Hu-Wa-Hu-Wai)English Version
Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
Album: Ultra-Lounge Vol. 15-Wild, Cool, & Swingin' Too!
Amazon  |  iTunes

Aloha 'Oe (Farewell to Thee)
Artist: George Kulokahai and His Island Serenaders
Album: The Music of Hawaii
Amazon  |  iTunes

Heigh-Ho
Artist: The Dwarf Chorus
Album: Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Amazon  |  iTunes 

Song Origins of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room LINKS

A Portrait of Tolchard Evans and Stanley Damerell

The Comprehensive Site on Disneyland Records

"Hawaiian War Chant" Lyrics

Hawaiian Nobility Portraits via Hawaii Alive (Downloadable PDF)

Los Angeles Travel Art of the Golden Age—United Air Lines

If you've enjoyed this look at the origins of the songs behind The Enchanted Tiki Room, I recommend a visit to FoxxFur's Passport to Dreams Old & New—her 2013 three-part series on the musical history of The Country Bear Jamboree is a comprehensive look at the songs and artists behind the 1971 Audio-Animatronic show designed for Walt Disney World.

Read all about it here:
 
The Music of Country Bear Jamboree: Part I 


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Disney Comics Story (1990-1993): The Disney Implosion

A Severe Re-DUCK-tion in Size: The Cover Art for Donald Duck Adventures #38 Provided a Fitting Analogy for Disney's Self-Publishing Endeavor
Detail of Cover Art by William Van Horn, Donald Duck Adventures #38 (May 1993)
© Disney

The Story So Far...
In our PROLOGUE we saw how the rise of graphic novels, TV and cinematic adaptions of comic book properties and a rising speculation market created the comic collecting craze of the 1980s. At the same time, a languishing Walt Disney Productions was revived thanks to the incoming leadership of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells into the company. The U.S. Walt Disney comic book license was reclaimed from Another Rainbow Publishing's Gladstone imprint, as the reinvigorated Walt Disney Company decided to publish the comics in-house.

CHAPTER 1 revealed a growing corporate culture at The Walt Disney Company, and the formation of the new comic book line under W.D. Publications, Inc. The first offerings of Roger Rabbit and Dick Tracy specials led to the April 1990 launch of eight monthly Walt Disney comic book titles debuted under the in-house imprint, appropriately named Disney Comics. The new books were upgraded to high-quality paper and coloring, with primarily brand new content, and an ambitious plan for growth within the first year of publishing.

CHAPTER 2 showcased the "Disney Explosion"
launching Disney Adventures, specials and annuals published alongside the monthly books during the first year of Disney Comics. Much new content was tied to then-current television series, films and anniversaries. Expansion plans included three new imprints, based on Touchstone/Hollywood Pictures films, as well as original action-based and mature themes. By the close of 1990, the Disney Comics Album Series had been discontinued as their own market saturation had begun to settle in.
With self-inflicted market saturation comes dipping sales. Naturally, the expansion goals for their comic lines would be have to be reconsidered, revised or flat-out reduced. Disney Comics readers had no idea just how severe that reduction would be.

With that in mind, let's pull back to take a wider view of the business of comic books around 1991/1992...

Comics Cross Over and Back

We've already covered how comic book publishers benefited from the collector's surge and took every opportunity to capitalize on the situation. In fact, most of the larger media companies began to take a page from Disney's marketing playbook and utilized hyper-synergization strategies across multiple platforms.

Batman Returns One-Sheet Poster
Image Courtesy of IMP Awards
© DC Comics/Warner Bros.

DC Comics and Warner Brothers were already at work on the sequel to the 1989 mega-hit Batman, coercing Tim Burton and Michael Keaton to remain on board for another round in Gotham City. Batman Returns would be released to U.S. screens on June 19, 1992 with a mass marketing blitz that matched its predecessor.

Title Card for the Ground-Breaking Batman: The Animated Series
Image Courtesy of DVD Covers
© DC Comics/Warner Bros.

To keep the Bat-Signal lit between a inevitable third installment of the film series, development began in 1990 on Batman: The Animated Series, a joint effort between DC Comics and Warner Brothers Television Animation. The creative team behind the tone of the show consisted of life-long comic fans: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm. The team took the best of Batman's world and spun a dramatic, exciting take on the characters. The show was scheduled to premiere on the then-fledgling Fox Network in the late summer of 1992, six weeks after the theatrical debut of Batman Returns.

Marvel Was in on the 1992 TV Animation Schedule Too, With an Epic Saturday Morning Take on X-Men for the Fox Network
Image Courtesy of Comic Book Movie
© Marvel

The scrappy Fox Network was building their own reputation and programming schedule brick-by-brick. Not to be outdone by DC Comics, Television executive Margaret Loesch backed a Marvel Comics animated pilot Pryde of the X-Men in 1989, which had been broadcast, but not picked up as a series. The core of the show was re-tooled and pitched again to more closely resemble the sensibilities of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book series. X-Men was picked up as a Saturday morning series by the Fox Network with an initial order for 13 episodes, set to premiere in 1992, mere weeks after the debut of Batman: The Animated Series.

The Simpsons
Image Courtesy of The Mary Sue
TM & © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Fox had already gained momentum with television animation: in 1987, their Sunday night schedule of original live-action programming garnered major ratings thanks to the irreverent comedy Married... With Children, followed by the quirky sketch comedy of The Tracey Ullman Show. Before commercial breaks, Ullman featured 30-second animated bridge sequences with original characters written and designed by Life in Hell cartoonist Matt Groening. The stars of these sequences were a dysfunctional cartoon family, the capers of whom skyrocketed in popularity—they spun off to a prime-time Christmas Special in December 1989, followed by a weekly prime-time series of their own in January 1990. The Simpsons quickly became a cross-generational sensation and a merchandising bonanza.

 The Mask Made a Successful Jump From Page to Screen
© Dark Horse Comics

Independent comic book publisher Dark Horse Comics held comic book properties that launched several successful box office films in the mid-1990s, the most successful of which was already in development: The Mask was released in 1994 starring Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz. Though the property was previously known only to staunch comic readers, The Mask would be a financial success, thanks in large part to Carrey's rising stardom. The film begat a hit soundtrack and a 1995 animated television series.

Projects Spun-Off From Comic Books and Animation Became NEW Comic Books
Cover Artwork © Respective Owners

Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before them, each of the above were spun off into comics resembling their television and cinematic counterparts. New comic book titles adapted from the Batman, X-Men and The Mask animated series would occupy shelf space alongside the titles that launched them onto the screen. The Simpsons appeared as comics in the magazine Simpsons Illustrated through Welsh Publishingthe quarterly publication was so successful, that it led Matt Groening to form his own publishing company, Bongo Comics in 1993. There, multiple Simpsons titles and several other properties would dwell as standard-format comics.

The Biggest Comic Book Event of All

Beyond synergistic efforts, DC Comics dropped a bombshell of an announcement that would draw focus back to the pages where the excitement began. In October of 1992, a three-arc storyline kicked off, running across multiple titlesa saga that would occupy a full year of publishing. Simply stated, no comic book plot has ever received media attention like The Death of Superman.

The Death of Superman Storyline Remains the Most Widely Publicized Comic Book Event in History
Cover Art for Superman #75 (Vol. 2, November 1992)
Pencils by Dan Jurgens, Inks by Brett Breeding 
Artwork Courtesy of Comic Art Community
© DC Comics

Not only did this event draw new attention to the entire line of Superman titles, it drew PLENTY of readers and spec buyers to comic shops around the country to snare multiple copies of Superman #75, which was available as a standard cover, and several sealed polybagged editions containing special "Superman Memorial" ephemera.

DC Comics Teaser Ad for Superman #75
Image Courtesy of Fortress of Baileytude
© DC Comics

Of course, DC had no intention of keeping Superman "dead"... there were development deals in place for a new series of films with Warner Brothers, and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was being prepped for ABC's prime time line-up in 1993. The Death of Superman was a marketing event, engineered to sell more comics to those who had jumped on the collector's bandwagon, and those who couldn't resist plunking down a few dollars and salt away (at the very least) one of the variant offerings of landmark issue #75. 

The Disney Touch 

The Disney Afternoon Promotion Attracts Extra Visitors to Disneyland: Exactly the Type of In-House Synergy The Walt Disney Company Perfected
Cover of Spring 1991 Issue of Disney News
Scan Courtesy of Tim's Disney News Archive
© Disney

Increased attention and buzz surrounding the above comic book projects led new and return customers to make more frequent visits to the comic books shops that were proliferating across the country. This I.P. cross-pollination was exactly what The Walt Disney Company wanted with the inception of the Disney Comics line. They were especially aware of their own brand recognition: Parents and Grandparents picking up comic books for the kids at home probably couldn't identify Doctor Strange or Guy Gardner, but they surely knew Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy.

Due to the Company's Rapid Growth at the Time, Michael Eisner Famously Referred to the 1990s as "The Disney Decade"
Left to right: Michael Graves (Architect), John Tishman (Owner), Michael Eisner (Past CEO of The Walt Disney Company), and Frank Wells, (Past President and COO of The Walt Disney Company) - See more at: http://www.disneyeveryday.com/vintage-construction-photos-of-the-walt-disney-world-swan-and-dolphin-resort/#sthash.0twAoeBX.dpuf
(Left to Right: Michael Graves, John Tishman, Michael Eisner, and Frank Wells)
Left to right: Michael Graves (Architect), John Tishman (Owner), Michael Eisner (Past CEO of The Walt Disney Company), and Frank Wells, (Past President and COO of The Walt Disney Company) - See more at: http://www.disneyeveryday.com/vintage-construction-photos-of-the-walt-disney-world-swan-and-dolphin-resort/#sthash.0twAoeBX.dpuf
Photo Courtesy of Disney Every Day
© Disney

The Walt Disney Company's well-known properties and acquired/licensed I.P. only bolstered the confidence behind their growth strategy. Established and original content could be exploited to and from the comics page. This made perfect sense in 1991 as the massive wave of the comic book craze was about to crest.

On the occasion of the comic line's first anniversary, Editor-in-Chief Len Wein reported that over the course of their first twelve months, Disney Comics had produced 3,000 pages of original material: that's not counting reprints of U.S. stories or translations of existing overseas material. He also promised that more new titles would be joining the line-up later in 1991.

Their output had been the result of a tremendous marketing push and initial capital investment to W.D. Publications, Inc.—but dipping sales figures and shrinking quantity orders from direct market comic book shops proved the first year of Disney Comics was only a partial success, with some significant holes in their initial publishing strategy.

To help patch the holes, an attempted outreach to readers beyond letter column replies was run in most of the monthly books: a basic survey encouraging feedback on the habits of Disney Comics readers.

In 1991 This Survey Form Was Run Throughout All Titles to Get a Better Grasp on Reader's Preferences (But Had Little to Do With Comic Book Content)
© Disney

The only problem with the information requested was that the survey inquired no information that sales figures couldn't already determine, nor did it evoke motivation to actually improve or modify the contents of the books.

Still, regular monthly titles, specials and Disney Adventures came out on schedule after the Disney Comics Albums were quietly discontinued.

The Rocketeer Fails to Soar at the Box Office

The Studio was hopeful for the potential of a new franchise with the release of The Rocketeer from Walt Disney Pictures in the summer of 1991. The Disney Comics team was also hopeful for the film's release, as it would attract a new, built-in set of consumers who were fans of the original comic series by Dave Stevens. Stevens himself illustrated the cover for the official Rocketeer movie adaptation graphic novel, released by W.D. Publications, Inc. in June 1991.

The Rocketeer Landed With a Thud in Cinemas, Thereby Crashing Hopes for Any New Further Comic Adventures From W.D. Publications, Inc.
From The Rocketeer—The Official Movie Adaptation (June 1991)
Cover Art by Dave Stevens, Interior Art by Russ Heath
Artwork Courtesy of Cracked Magazine and Others
© Disney

Disney's promotional hype for Dick Tracy the previous summer had been rampant. While the film experienced an impressive opening weekend, the studio had anticipated a hit on the level of 1989's Batman, but the pop culture impact of Dick Tracy paled in comparison to the phenomenon and grosses of the worldwide Bat-Craze. Box office returns led executives to declare Tracy as a mild to moderate success, thus squashing the potential for a franchise of films or synergistic theme park expansion for the famous comic strip detective.

Concept Art for Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers, a Planned Attraction for Disneyland 
Image Courtesy of Disney and More
© Disney

As a result, Walt Disney Pictures was a bit more conservative with the scale of marketing of The Rocketeer for 1991. The comic book stories had gained a respectable fan base since the character first appeared in Pacific Comics titles in 1982but The Rocketeer was considerably less of a household name than comic book heroes such as Thor or Green Lantern.

The Rocketeer Suffered at the Box Office, But the Film Gained a Mass Following in Later Years Through Cable and Home Media Viewings
Image Courtesy of BRIANORNDORF
© Disney

Though the overall reception from fans and critics were high, the film failed to perform, and was considered a disappointment in ratio to the high budget. Once again, the Studio immediately severed all future plans for a Rocketeer franchise of films or development of presence in the theme parks. The Rocketeer later found its audience, and enjoys a remarkable cult following today.

A Bounty to Bag and Board

The summer of 1991 also found Disney Comics at their zenithwith the addition of Roger Rabbit's Toontown in June, their schedule now consisted of TEN regular titles published per month, in addition to the Junior Woodchucks Limited Series, and Summer Fun #1, not to mention the comic book content that took up a good portion of the monthly Disney Adventures. The June 1991 Between The Lines column proved the breadth of their output released in a single month (not including Disney Adventures!)

(Click Below to Enlarge Scan)

The June 1991 Disney Comics Between The Lines Column
© Disney

The list of offerings bursted with text, leaving no space for the usual left column greeting from Len Wein. The selection was an impressive line-up, in sync with the new, synergistic Walt Disney Company under Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.

To non-comic book readers, it represented a sign of Disney's marketing might, securing success in yet another corner of media.

To fans and collectors, it was a bounty of variety to "bag and board."

But to the casual reader, it may have been too much of a variety to dedicate $15, minimum, to purchase every issue of the standard books each month (about $40 a month, minimum, in 2014 comic book prices.)

The Time Tetrad
  
In August of 1991, Editor Bob Foster used the four titles under his direction (Donald Duck Adventures, Uncle Scrooge, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, and DuckTales) as a springboard to sell multiple books within the same month: The Time Tetrad series contained four indirectly linked stories centered around a time machine built by Gyro Gearloose.

The Time Tetrad Spanned Across Four Disney Comics Titles in a Single Month
Panel Detail for "The Only Way to Go," Art by Vicar (Uncle Scrooge #259, August 1991)
© Disney

At the same time, Mickey Mouse Adventures and Goofy Adventures (two other titles not under Foster's Editorship) also featured non-Gearloose time travel stories to round out the notion of a monthly theme. Perhaps themed issue promotions or connected multi-part storylines might have benefited sales figures a few seasons earlier.

But it was already too late...

The Disney Implosion

Goofy Adventures Became the First Casualty of "The Disney Implosion"
© Disney

The first sign of real trouble for Disney Comics showed up during that August of 1991: Goofy Adventures #17 was released with "FINAL ISSUE!" emblazoned below the corner logo in capital letters. Sales for the title beyond the first few issues had dipped alarmingly low, enough to justify the title's cancellation. The most unfortunate aspect of the cancellation is that the book was wholly original in the world of Disney Comics, containing plenty of excellent new material and parodies that were quite clever, in the satirical tone of MAD magazine.

David Cody Weiss' Letter Column in the Final Issue of Goofy Adventures
© Disney

The letter column in the final issue was penned by Editor David Cody Weiss (in the guise of "Goofy" himself) explaining the basic facts, and foreshadowing not only the need to make room for other titles, but the addition of Goofy to The Disney Afternoon the following year in the weekday series Goof Troop, promising a new comic book title based on the upcoming show.

Goofy Was Scheduled to Return to Monthly Comics in 1992 Following the Debut of Goof Troop on The Disney Afternoon
Image Courtesy of 9teen87's Postcards
© Disney

Consider that in the pre-digital age of publishing, most comic books were prepped for press three months in advance of their release date. Weiss likely wrote the column in May, right after the first anniversary of the Disney Comics imprint. At the one-year mark, accountants had likely taken a good, hard look at which books covered their costs and which were less than profitable.

The severe changes to come weren't necessarily known at the time of Weiss's missive to readers. What wasn't foreshadowed in the letter column was the impending cancellation of six more Disney Comics titles in the following two months. After eighteen months of aggressive publishing, low sales figures were predominant in their roster of titles. The only books that kept up their sales were those reprinting the comic book stories of Carl Barks and vintage comic book stories, or material directly inspired by the same.

Budget Cuts Were Thrown Down So Quickly, Most Books Ran Copy for the Next Issue's Contents: Mickey Mouse Adventures #19 and "The Phantom Fires" Never Made It to Press
Detail of Letter Column From Mickey Mouse Adventures #19 (September 1991)
© Disney

Disney Comics announced they would restructure their efforts to provide content along the lines of Gladstone's efforts a few years earlier, with a minimized emphasis on contemporary content. Starting November of 1991, the monthly publishing schedule would be slashed by over two-thirds: Mickey Mouse Adventures, Goofy Adventures, Roger Rabbit, Roger Rabbit's Toontown, DuckTales, Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers and TaleSpin titles were all cancelled.

Seven Titles Would Be Cancelled by December 1991, Restoring Traditional Content as the Primary Focus in U.S. Disney Comics
© Disney

The same fate met the annual specials: Autumn Adventures and Holiday Parade had material prepared to each justify a second issue, the Disney Comics volumes of Spring Fever and Summer Fun never made it past their first year.

Also completely cut was the Final Fantasy Limited Series written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Dell Barras, with cover art by Hellboy's Mike Mignolaall four issues had been written, with art nearly halfway completed.

Gone, too, were expansion plans exploring different genres via the new imprints Touchmark Comics and Vista Comics.

Only three monthly titles remained under the Disney Comics banner: Donald Duck Adventures, Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics and Storiesthe promise was made that these titles would feature newly-translated overseas material and reprints of rare, classic U.S. material.

Classic Comic Book Artists Featured Prominently in the February 1992 issue of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories
© Disney

It was also declared that new material featuring contemporary characters was still being produced to be released in the form of Limited Series and specials. But inside, Disney's management dictated that there would be no budget for new stories to appear in Disney Comics.

The "no new stories" mandate did not apply, however, to material featuring The Disney Afternoon characters in the pages of Disney Adventures digest, which usually consisted of 50% comics content and remained a strong seller.

More accessible (available in locations beyond comic book or collector's shops) and kid-friendly formats were scheduled to debut by the end of 1991. A new series of hardback editions featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were also in the planning stages, to further entice fans of classic material.

Bob Foster (Right,) Poses with Carl Barks—Foster Took Over as Managing Editor of Disney Comics After Len Wein's Departure in the Fall of 1991
Image © & Courtesy of Bob Foster

Comic book titles and projects in the planning stages were not the only casualty of the reduction: Editor-in-Chief Len Wein departed, with David Cody Weiss not long after, giving Bob Foster the opportunity to take the reins as Managing Editor. It was a logical choice of succession: Foster had been the Editor on Donald Duck Adventures, Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories since the in-house Disney Comics began.

The massive reduction of output was appropriately nicknamed "The Disney Implosion" by The Duckburg Times fanzine publisher Dana Gabbard—a term that gained momentum throughout both the fan community and the comic book industry.

It was a hard pill to swallow for W.D. Publications, Inc. Behind closed doors, it was even harder for stubborn Marketing executives at The Walt Disney Company to accept the fact that their greatest profits were coming from the very material that Disney wanted Another Rainbow/Gladstone to move away from.

Yet Another Rainbow to Chase

Speaking of Another Rainbow/Gladstone: their offices in Prescott, AZ weren't exactly idle. Despite the removal of the traditional comic book license, Bruce Hamilton and his staff were still operating with their surviving license from The Walt Disney Company to produce high-end lithographs of oil paintings of the Disney ducks by Carl Barks. They had also been amicably handling the subscription and back issue services for Disney Comics since the inception of the in-house comic books in April of 1990. In the middle of 1991, the following ad appeared in the pages Disney Comics to great reception...

 Another Rainbow Delighted Readers With the Announcement of The Carl Barks Library in Color, Published Under the Gladstone Imprint
© Disney

Having completed their run on the hardbound, black-and-white Carl Barks Library, a new opportunity arose for Another Rainbow: a set of prestige format comic book albums, The Carl Barks Library in Color. The album series would cover Barks's entire comic book output in lavish color editions, each book accompanied by numbered trading cards. This was arranged as a separate deal from the traditional comic book license, and the albums would be published by Another Rainbow under the familiar Gladstone imprinta gesture which tickled fans and collectors to no end.

The Terror That Flaps in the Night

Darkwing Duck Proved Perfect Fowl Fodder For Comic Book Capers!
© Disney

Right at the same time Disney Comics began scaling back their efforts, a new show premiered on The Disney Afternoon, thus beginning the trend of rotating out older series each year. Re-runs of The Adventures of the Gummi Bears was cycled out to make room for the first spin-off from Walt Disney Television Animation: Darkwing Duck was birthed from a 1987 episode of DuckTales, titled "Double-O-Duck."

The series was developed over the course of a few years, originally starring Launchpad McQuack as a bumbling secret agent, then placing him as a sidekick and comic relief to a new lead character who would take the title role. It was decided that the new Double-O-Duck resembled Donald Duck a bit too closely, so animation artist Toby Shelton was tasked to redesign the the masked mallard with some unique touches and a slight nod to Roger Rabbit's design.

Model Sheet of Toby Shelton's Masterful Character Design for Darkwing Duck
Image Courtesy of Toby Shelton: Stuff I Did
© Disney

With Darkwing Duck, series creator and Producer Tad Stones introduced a smart, broader sense of humor to The Disney Afternoon, and rounded out the show from a singular premise into a full-blown sitcom:
"Jeffrey Katzenberg told me it was a one-note spy parody and ordered me to do it over. Darkwing Duck fought crime at the same time as raising an incorrigible daughter who wouldn't stay out of his hero business. That's a richer story mine than just superhero parody. It became a much stronger, much funnier and fresher series."

 Story Possibilities Grew as Series Creator Tad Stones Developed the Notion of Darkwing Balancing Heroic Life With Family Life
Image Courtesy of The Mickey Mindset
© Disney

Still operating on their initial strategies, by the time the series premiered in September 1991, Disney Comics had planned to incorporate the launch of the new series just as it had with TaleSpin the year before. Darkwing Duck comics would be included in the latest issues of Disney Adventures and debut as another four-issue Limited Series, paving the way for an ongoing, monthly title. The September 1991 issue of Disney Adventures featured the very first Darkwing Duck comic book story "Let's Get Fiscal", the Limited Series kicked off later that month, recounting the TV movie that set up the premise for the series.

The Limited Series was penciled by John Blair Moore and inked by George Wildman: the pair utilized a bold, cartoony look that strayed from the "house" Disney style by other new artists. Moore's adaptation managed to captured the lunacy of the series perfectly, while keeping the pathos intact.

John Blair Moore's Loose Cartooning Style Reflected the Show's Sensibilities, While Retaining Genuine Moments
© Disney

Moore also prepared another adaptation of a two-part Darkwing Duck episode: "Just Us Justice Ducks" which was anticipated to serve as fodder for the launch of a monthly, ongoing Darkwing Duck title. This time, Editors prompted feedback from readers on whether or not there would be a regular title: though Darkwing's world held plenty of comic book D.N.A., a monthly Disney Comics title never came to be. 

Walt Disney's Comics & Surplus?

 "Gosh! What'll I do with these unpublished comics?"
Image Courtesy of Wonders of Disney
© Disney
 
Happily, there would be plenty of well-executed Darkwing Duck comics in Disney Adventures. But with no monthly title, what would become of Moore's "Just Us Justice Ducks" adaptation?

To that end, what would become of the other completed material prepared for cancelled titles, such as TaleSpin or Goofy Adventures?

Nothing would go to waste: plans were already in place via the "accessible, kid-friendly formats" Bob Foster alluded to. These formats would serve as an excellent vehicle to deliver the surplus material while exploiting their own library (reprinting recent material in different formats was already a method long utilized by other comic book publishers.)

First up, was a second digest, this one containing 100% comics content with an alliterative (and somewhat vague) moniker...

Cripes! Comics Converge! Colossal Comics Collection Comes Calling!

Disney's Colossal Comics Collection: the Little Digest With the Unusual Name! 
Image Courtesy of Neo-Monzopolis
© Disney

The premiere issue of Disney's Colossal Comics Collection was released in October 1991the bi-monthly digest indeed served as a means to capitalize on both their past library of comic stories in Disney Adventures and completed material intended for cancelled titles.

The covers featured an assemblage of characters from The Disney Afternoon, but outside of "Disney's" within the title, the book's nonspecific title lacked unity and instant recognition: it came across as merely a random collection of characters. The Disney Afternoon Comics Digest might have made for a more cohesive banner.

"The Volcano of Gold!" Had Potential as a Stand-Alone TaleSpin Graphic Novel From Disney Comics
Scan Courtesy of Animation Source
 © Disney

Still, the digest served its purpose and made a fitting companion to Disney Adventures, sharing the coveted placement on supermarket and drugstore checkout racks during its run. A true highlight for Colossal Comics Collection was issue #5, featuring a 41-page TaleSpin story "The Volcano of Gold!" with bold color rendering and dynamic art that was likely intended as a stand-alone graphic novel, before the reductive effects of the Disney Implosion.

Collecting Cartoon Tales

Disney's Cartoon Tales Intended to Fill a Demographic and Distribution Void
© Disney

The second reprint format came under the banner of Disney's Cartoon Tales. Geared toward younger readers, the Cartoon Tales series were designed to sell in toy stores and "big-box" retail shops such as Target and Kmart alongside children's coloring and activity books.

The series collected longer, multi-part stories or multiple issues of Disney Comics in a single book. The primary focus was reprinting stories based on characters from The Disney Afternoon, or the previously released graphic novel movie adaptations such as 101 Dalmatians and The Little Mermaid.

Incidentally, John Blair Moore and Gary Martin's Darkwing Duck adaptation of "Just Us Justice Ducks" finally saw print in Cartoon Tales #7, as the lone volume in the series to feature original content. The two-part tale was soon reprinted in Colossal Comics Collection issues #5 and #6 just a few months later.

Tale as Old as Time
  
The Critical Success of Beauty and the Beast Changed The Playing Field for Animated Films of the 1990s and Beyond
Image Courtesy of FLIX 66
© Disney

1991 closed out with a new course set for the future of Disney Comics, and a smash hit for Walt Disney Pictures: Beauty and the Beast premiered with tremendous fanfare, and tremendous ticket sales. The film's immediate success with both family audiences and critics was due largely in part to excellent buzz generated from a work-in-progress viewing at the New York Film Festival earlier that summer.

Despite Cost-Cutting Measures of the Disney Implosion, Beauty and the Beast Was Published as Both Prestige and Standard Format Graphic Novels in Late 1991
Panel Detail Penciled by Colleen Doran, Inks by Dave Hunt
© Disney

Now in tandem with the Studio's customary marketing roll-out, Disney Comics had their graphic novel adaptation on the stands a few weeks prior to the film's theatrical release. There was immediate plans to further capitalize on the popularity of Belle, Beast and the enchanted objects in a new Limited Series to follow in the tradition of their successful four issues of The Little Mermaid.

Turns out the "no new stories" mandate only applied to classic characters like mice, dogs and ducks. But new comic stories proposed to Marketing executives as direct tie-ins for new TV shows, films and VHS releases?

Apparently, that was perfectly fine.

COME BACK SOON FOR CHAPTER 4: 
"THE END OF THE LINE!"

In Which You'll Witness:

The Duckburg Map!
Image Courtesy of Calisota Online
© Disney


Pre-Hysteria!
© Henson/Disney

3-D Thrills!
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

 She's a Funny Girl, That Belle!
© Disney

C'mon back for more next monthand I must add that a great champion of this blog and these posts has been Joe Torcivia, who, yet again, has just put up a full post about this post! Be sure to read it, and all of the excellent topics over at Joe's blog, This Issue at Hand. He even found the perfect Gyro Gearloose panels to illustrate the topic!

Read his recap of this chapter and insight on the early 1990s comic craze here:

Joe Torcivia Provides the Perfect Visual Metaphor of the Disney Implosion: Another Crazy Gearloose Invention!
Panel Detail From Uncle Scrooge #82 (June, 1969)
 Artwork by Kay Wright & © Disney

Joe is not only a noted reader and collector of the comics we all like, but he's written official articles and translated some wonderful Walt Disney comic book stories himself... his most recent contribution can be read within the latest Mickey Mouse volume by the fine folks at Fantagraphics: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot!

Joe's text accompanies that of the invaluable editing team of David Gerstein and Gary Groth. You can preview a generous 21 pages of the new book at the link below to appreciate the thought and care they've put into the series:



Guilty Admission: I had initially placed the link to Joe's post in the comments section of this post, but my HTML skills proved ineffective. Ahh, the kids today with their JavaScript, and the in-app purchases, and the snapchats, and the emoticons of the I-don't-know-what...

NOTES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS