The Striking Cover Art For Mickey Mouse Advenures #1 (April 1990)
Pencil Art by Todd Kurosawa, Inked by Gary Martin
We concluded our Prologue with the Walt Disney Company's revocation of the formal comic book license from Another Rainbow Publishing's Gladstone imprint at the close of 1989. Shifting cultural influence and an surprisingly aggressive speculation market had re-invigorated the comic book industry—in a likewise parallel, The Walt Disney Company was experiencing a renewed interest in their library of animated characters, both new and old. These events sparked the notion in Burbank that new comic books published in-house would logically trump the popularity of the Gladstone books, whose cornerstone was firmly placed in classic comic material of the 1930s through the 1960s. By self-publishing their own comic books, the Walt Disney Company would:
- no longer have to share the profits with an outside licensee;
- depict their I.P. as they deemed appropriate, dispensing with creative and editorial battles over classic vs. contemporary content; and
- gain the freedom to promote new projects and franchises to the comics page, without having to negotiate individual licenses per project
Corporate Expansion in a New Decade
Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures Was Restored As a Strong Presence in Hollywood By the Start of the 1990s
Image Courtesy of Trend Wallpaper
The road to the 1990s was paved with gold as far as the Walt Disney Company was concerned: domestic theme parks were well-attended and expanding, as new resorts were being developed around the world. A strong film slate during the second half of the 1980s kept Studio coffers healthy via their new Touchstone Pictures label, with hits such as Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Good Morning Vietnam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Dead Poets Society.
1989's The Little Mermaid Was an Immediate Success, and Re-established the Animation Division's Reputation For Feature Animated Fare
Walt Disney Pictures was bouncing back as well: 1989 brought box office gold with the family comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, followed by the wildly successful animated feature The Little Mermaid—the animated film that placed Disney animation back on top of the heap.
Walt Disney Domestic Television Had Developed an Impressive Lineup of Quality Programming During the 1980s
The television market was sewn up too, with no less than a 24-hour premium cable channel, prime-time network hits like The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and original syndicated animated series such as DuckTales and Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers, with each outlet seeded with significant plans for rapid growth.
The media empire was back on the rise—as its prominence and projects grew more ambitious, so did the departments within.
The Success of the Late 1980s Had It's Price: The Once-Familial Atmosphere of The Walt Disney Studios Had Grown Formal and Corporate
Image © & Courtesy of Reuters.com
Like in so many periods of corporate growth, the arrival of new management sometimes arrived in unwanted forms to existing and new departments: eager, but less than creative executives who knew profits had to justify their salaries. With awakened success, more of this management style permeated the company—the price to pay was that the familial, campus-like atmosphere of the Walt Disney Studio was dissipating into the ether of memory.
Merchandising, Merchandising, Merchandising!
Studio Co-Founder Roy O. Disney Poses Amongst a Plethora of Official Disney-Licensed Merchandise, Circa 1953
© LIFE Magazine Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt
Photo Courtesy of Viewliner Ltd.
For decades, licensing had always been the most profitable arm of the company, even during the leanest years. Classic properties like Cinderella and Peter Pan and new properties like The Little Mermaid covered their production costs many thousands of times over in ticket sales, home entertainment, soundtrack recordings and all manners of related merchandise produced by approved licensees.
By 1990, the licensing division was known as Walt Disney Consumer Products—this subsidiary had grown exponentially due to the company's new prosperity. In fact, the consumer products division had expanded so much that sub-subsidiaries needed to be established to manage particular lines of merchandise. Products such as preschool toys, collectibles, soft goods, timepieces, and (of course) the publishing of books and magazines.
A Sampling of Recent Titles From Disney Editions
Image Courtesy of Steven Miller
Thus, several imprints for diverse publishing endeavors were formed (later carried under the banner of The Disney Publishing Group): Disney Editions, Disney Press, Hyperion Books, and Hyperion Books for Children. A fifth imprint, W.D. Publications, Inc., was formed especially for Disney's self-published comic book line, set to launch a month after the final issues of the original Gladstone comics hit the stands.
Setting Up Shop
In 1988, a full year prior to the termination of the Another Rainbow/Gladstone license, the plan had already been underway to bring the Disney comic books in-house. The proposal was spearheaded by Michael Lynton, the successful and influential marketing head of Walt Disney Consumer Products. Lynton reached out to Jim Shooter, the somewhat controversial Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics from 1978 to 1987, and soon-to-be founder/publisher of the Valiant Comics line of books in 1989.
Former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter Nearly Held The Same Title For the Disney Comics Line
Image © & Courtesy of Jim Shooter
Shooter was selected by Lynton as a consultant, and as the first choice to be Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Disney's new comic book line. This grand opportunity was torpedoed by Lynton's due diligence: when references were requested, prominent comics professionals described Shooter as a "monster" and claimed they, nor other creators would ever want to work for the company with Jim Shooter at the helm.
The duties became divided: in a questionable move, the title of Publisher was awarded to Randy Achee, who held no comic book publishing experience (his background was in the publishing of controlled circulation magazines and the sales of ad space within.) The more logical appointment was that of Len Wein as Editor-in-Chief. Wein was a prominent writer and editor for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Project founder Michael Lynton became the Executive Editor.
Pictured, Left to Right:
Len Wein (Editor-in-Chief), Sally Prendergast (Marketing Manager),
Randy Achee (Publisher), Bob Foster (Managing Editor), David Seidman (Editor)
Randy Achee (Publisher), Bob Foster (Managing Editor), David Seidman (Editor)
Below Center: Michael Lynton (Executive Editor)
Photo © & Courtesy of Bob Foster
With the polarizing appointments of the less-qualified Achee as Publisher and the industry-experienced Wein as Editor-in-Chief, it was clear the aforementioned unwanted executive interference was already present at W.D. Publications, Inc. More names joined the roster, thankfully closer related to the field of comic books and animation: Bob Foster became Managing Editor, David Seidman and David Cody Weiss as Editors, and Cris Palomino as their "peerless one-woman Production Department."
Floyd Norman (Left) Worked on Animation Storyboards During Walt's Time, and Did Significant Work Re-Establishing the Mickey Mouse Comic Strip for King Features Syndicate
Photo © Disney
Since comic books had become big business, the new publishing effort was to be touted as a major force entering the marketplace from the outset. Longtime Disney artist and writer Floyd Norman was working within the publishing department at that time, and recalled the initial crunch to prepare for the aggressive launch of eight monthly, ongoing titles:
"Big shot executives from New York took charge of the prestige units but our comic book company was given little regard. I honestly believed they would have given us more respect if we had been publishing sleazy girlie magazines. I do not joke when I say our editors did a lot of their early work on packing boxes. Disney had given the artists and editors a firm deadline on getting the books to press yet there was no furniture available. In spite of these challenges, Disney entered into the world of comic book publishing with their usual snotty attitude. The company not only paid the lowest page rates but refused to allow the artists to retain their original art. Word of Disney's arrogance spread throughout the comics industry and before long many were eagerly anticipating our doom."
– Floyd Norman, February 2013
Surprisingly, the initial release from W.D. Publications, Inc. was not a comic book proper, but an slick, oversized, prestige format book under the banner of A Disney Movie Book, employing still frames of actual animation as comic panels, with dialogue balloons added. The first Disney Movie Book was an adaption of the Roger Rabbit short subject Tummy Trouble, which preceded the hit Walt Disney Pictures release Honey, I Shrunk the Kids in June of 1989.
Intended as an Ongoing Series, Disney Movie Book #1: Roger Rabbit in Tummy Trouble Was The First Book Published By W.D. Publications, Inc. in Early 1990
From a marketing standpoint, it made perfect sense: Roger Rabbit was a hot property, with Tummy Trouble as the first in a series of theatrical shorts. Two more shorts, Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990) and Trail Mix-Up (1993) were produced, but never adapted into future Disney Movie Books. This first volume sold well but failed to break even, leaving Tummy Trouble as the lone entry in an attractive, abandoned series. Tummy Trouble even included the premium of a fold-out movie poster—a scheduled Roller Coaster Rabbit adaption (presumably Disney Movie Book #2) was intended to include a flexible, vinyl record containing the wild musical score for that short.
A Tie-In to the Upcoming Walt Disney Pictures Release, DIck Tracy: Big City Blues Was a Prestige Format Graphic Novel With Bold Art By Kyle Baker
© Disney/TMS News and Features, LLC
The next release in February 1990 was a touch closer to a traditionally-sized comic book. The original graphic novel Dick Tracy: Big City Blues was the first of a three-issue prequel and comics adaption of the upcoming Walt Disney Pictures release Dick Tracy. The prequel mini-series was written by John Francis Moore, with the film adaption written by Len Wein. All three books were dynamically drawn by Kyle Baker, who took the art in a more dynamic, independent comic book style (rather than emulating the comic strip style of Tracy creator Chester Gould and his successors.)
But these were not "official" releases under the Disney Comics imprint. Those titles were in preparation, and about to show up in a matter of weeks: featuring new content, bright white pages and vibrant computer coloring to take place of the traditional newsprint and four-color presentation that had long been the norm for traditional Walt Disney comic books...
April 1990: Disney Comics Launch
April 1990: The First Month of Disney Comics, Featuring (Mostly) #1 Issues
"We are going to produce an expanded line of comics, to broaden the audience beyond the collector's market. We'll be going with both updated and brand-new titles. We're looking for the Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson of the future."
– Publisher Randy Achee to Disney Magazine, Spring 1990
The rigors of setting up, hiring staff, commissioning artists and overcoming stumbling blocks behind them, the Disney Comics line launched on schedule in April of 1990, with an ambitious slate of eight monthly, ongoing titles featuring classic Walt Disney characters and newer Disney properties of that era. The eight titles at launch were:
- Mickey Mouse Adventures
- Donald Duck Adventures
- Goofy Adventures
- Uncle Scrooge
- Walt Disney's Comics and Stories
- Roger Rabbit
- Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers
Editor-in-Chief Len Wein Welcomes Readers to Disney Comics in The Inaugural Edition of His Monthly Between The Lines Column
(Click to Enlarge)
The traditional Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy books officially added "Adventures" to their titles, justifying the issue #1 designation. Justified, except that Gladstone had already been publishing a Donald Duck Adventures title in addition to the standard Donald Duck book—however, Disney Comics chose to start again at issue #1. The same numbering reset was done for the DuckTales comic book previously published by Gladstone, which has caused confusion for collectors and completists ever since! (Read my post on the ongoing confusion this caused HERE)
There Was a Desire to Jump-Start New Collectors Via a Box Set of Disney Comics #1 Issues Through The Disney Store and Catalog
Image © & Courtesy Funmerica Comics
To reach out beyond the collectors' market, a special edition box set of the six #1 issues was offered via The Disney Store and its companion mail catalog: the comics were shrink-wrapped and accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity. The set retailed around $75, which may have been a touch too high—the six books were not unique or variants, simply the direct market editions sold at comic books stores (no UPC bar code) that could still be purchased for $1.50 apiece.
Even corner identifiers and logo treatments were conformed to show a unification and identification that these books were the stamp of a new regime. The initial Disney Comics output featured brand new commissioned material, plus European stories that had never been printed in the U.S., as well as classic content from the Western Publishing era to round out the books (and satisfy former Gladstone readers).
In a Cheeky, Satirical Format Similar to MAD Magazine, Goofy Adventures Placed The Goof Throughout History and in The Guises of Legendary Figures
Panel Detail From Goofy Adventures #4, (July 1990)
Art by Rick Hoover
Early Pre-Order Numbers for the Roger Rabbit Title From Disney Comics Were Promising, Even With New Detective Rick Flint Standing in for Eddie Valiant
Panel Detail From Roger Rabbit #4 (July 1990)
Art by Cosme Quartieri, Robert Bat, Ruben Torreiro, and Carlos Valenti
Like Many Contemporary Publishers, Comics Based on TV Series DuckTales and Chip N' Dale: Rescue Rangers Ran Storylines Across Multiple Issues During Their Disney Comics Run
Panel Detail From Chip N' Dale: Rescue Rangers #3 (June 1990)
Art By Hector Savedra and Nestor Torreiro
Most kids who came home from school at that time quickly settled in to watch a full hour of syndicated Disney animation with new episodes of DuckTales and its companion Chip N' Dale: Rescue Rangers, which always garnered high ratings in their local time slots. It was a natural to bring both into the Disney Comics fold as individual titles. In a new format for domestic Walt Disney comic books, both titles carried plots across multiple issues, a prolonged method of sales via storytelling that DC, Marvel, and others had found success in. This was just prior to the premiere of the Fall 1990 two-hour programming block known as The Disney Afternoon... and Disney Comics already had plenty of plans for that, too.
Early Efforts Were Made To Satisfy Fans of Classic Walt Disney Comics Content Via the Disney Comics Album Series, to Varying Degrees of Success
The pages of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, Donald Duck Adventures and Uncle Scrooge held closest ties to the Gladstone content: fan favorites William Van Horn, Don Rosa and Carl Barks could be found there, albeit with some new twists. The format of the squarebound Gladstone Comic Albums remained with the numbering also reset and re-christened as Disney Comics Albums, which served to further cater to the classic comics collector. Unfortunately, the contents were often uneven, and thoughtful/contextual commentary from Editors such as Geoffrey Blum were sorely missed.
The First Prestige Format Graphic Novel Under the Disney Comics Imprint Was the 1968 Comics Adaption of The Jungle Book by Carl Fallberg and Al Hubbard
As was the marketing team's intent, comics adaptions of classic and new Disney films were planned to be published in both standard and graphic novel formats to coincide with the release of the films in theaters or VHS. By the Summer of 1990, the first graphic novel under the Disney Comics imprint was a dual prestige format and traditional softcover reprint of the 1968 Gold Key comic book adaption of Walt Disney's The Jungle Book, drawn by Al Hubbard and written by Carl Fallberg. Many brand-new film adaptions were already in various stages of development.
Gateway to "The Disney Explosion"
There was no starting small, and the first few months were the gateway to what would be dubbed "The Disney Explosion" when MUCH MORE than these eight monthly titles would become available: annual specials, graphic novels film tie-ins and and several other projects were in stages of development. Next time, we'll look at what those encompassed.
Detail Art From June 1990 Disney Comics "Reach For The Stars" Ad
NOTES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY...
Joe Torcivia's Round-Up of the First Month of Disney Comics
I'd also like to give a BIG thank you to Joe Torcivia, who shined a spotlight on our Prologue a few weeks ago at his own blog The Issue At Hand—not just by way of links, but an ENTIRE POST titled Dan Does Disney Comics!
Praise & Screen Grab Courtesy of The Issue At Hand
Joe's got some material relevant to our next few chapters in the Disney Comics story which we'll be linking to, and I can't say enough good things about his own posts... if you enjoy hanging around here, you'll certainly like spending time over at TIAH.