Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Disney Comics Story (1990-1993): Ready to Launch

The Striking Cover Art For Mickey Mouse Advenures #1 (April 1990)
Pencil Art by Todd Kurosawa, Inked by Gary Martin
© Disney

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 industryin 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
© Disney

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
© Disney 

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 Mermaidthe 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
© Disney 

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 riseas 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

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 companythe 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 Productsthis 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
© Disney

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.

Disney Comics Founders Pose With Gladstone and International Walt Disney Comic Books (October 1989)
Pictured, Left to Right:
Len Wein (Editor-in-Chief), Sally Prendergast (Marketing Manager),
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

The First Publications? P-P-P-Please!

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
© Disney/Amblin

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
© Disney/Amblin

"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
  • DuckTales
  • Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers
With the exception of the long-running Uncle Scrooge (issue #243) and the even longer-running flagship title Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (issue #548), all the Disney-published titles reset their issue numbering to #1, for both consistency's sake and to capitalize on the collector's market.

 Editor-in-Chief Len Wein Welcomes Readers to Disney Comics in The Inaugural Edition of His Monthly Between The Lines Column
(Click to Enlarge)
© Disney 

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 bookhowever, 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 highthe 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
© Disney

Of the new offerings in particular, Mickey Mouse Adventures and Goofy Adventures boasted some impressive new content by Stephen DeStefano and Rick Hoover that strengthened and re-invigorated those characters in comics form. The new Mickey Mouse Adventures material had several references to Floyd Gottfredson comic strip serials, as well as nods to the later years of Western Publishing, while being fully unique and entertaining in their own right. Goofy Adventures contained some of the outright funniest new content, not keeping the Goof chained to any one continuity, but allowing him to step into history and fictiontaking a typically goofy approach to the roles of figures like Genghis Khan in one issue, Dr. Frankenstein in the next.

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
© Disney/Amblin

As newer titles go, initial orders for the new comics showed that the Roger Rabbit title was the strongest contender in the new line. The comic took place after the events of film, with a caveat that would impact the continuity of the stories: the likeness rights of actor Bob Hoskins as Detective Eddie Valiant were not in place for the series beyond issue #1. This led to Valiant leading a new human detective character, Rick Flint to pair with Roger for new capers in 1940s Los Angeles. The format wisely contained a live-action and 'toon adventure, with a back-up story set in the cartoon district of Toontown.

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
© Disney

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
© Disney

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
© Disney

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
© Disney

Click the title below to continue to the next installment:

The Disney Comics Story (1990-1993):
The Disney EXPLOSION!!!


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 Handnot just by way of links, but an ENTIRE POST titled Dan Does Disney Comics!

The Gracious Joe Torcivia Bestows the Highest Junior Woodchuck Honor
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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Disney Comics Story (1990-1993): Prologue

Disney's Self-Published Comic Books Ran From 1990 to 1993
© Disney

The U.S. comic book boom of the 1980s restored the medium to the mainstream forefront. Once-sagging sales figures due to low circulation and constrictive distribution methods (discussed HERE) were back on the rise. This new attention brought forth publishing of new and resurrected titles during that period—a wide variety, the likes of which had been unavailable for decades.

Within that crop of fresh, four-color entertainment came a re-vamped line of Walt Disney comic book titles. The tale of The Walt Disney Company's stint at self-published comics is about to unfold here as a multi-part series... 

Don't Worry—We'll Get to This Guy Soon
Image Courtesy of Fantagraphics Books
© Disney

...but before we get to ducks and mice, let's have a bit of history to place things in context. In modern-day comics parlance, this post can be considered "Chapter Zero."

Coming of Age 
Comic books had taken a remarkable turn in the public eye by the close of the 20th Century. Legendary cartoonist Will Eisner's desire to elevate the art form was brought to fruition with the 1978 release of his seminal work A Contract With God. The dramatic collection of stories told through sequential art brought the term graphic novel into our lexicon.

Will Eisner's A Contract With God Was the First Widely Recognized Graphic Novel in the United States
Image Courtesy of
© Will Eisner

Exposure of graphic novels as literature was aided largely in part by the success of Art Spigelman's Holocaust memoir Maus, and Frank Miller's contemporary handling of an aging Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Returns. Selected graphic novels began to show up as The New York Times Best Sellers, and were added to public school reading lists (joining European imports such as Goscinny & Uderzo's Asterix series, and Herge's Tintin.)

Maus Recounted the Horrors of the Holocaust in Comic Strip Format, Casting Animals as Various Races and Nationalities
Interior Art Image Courtesy of  SHS Art Web Gallery
© Art Spiegleman

Something Old, Something New
In mainstream pop culture, a brand-new property captured the imagination of children and teenagers across the United States: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began life as a self-published, independent black and white comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The crazy concept with the even crazier title caught on quickly when the characters were licensed as a highly sought-after line of toys and an immensely popular animated television series beginning in 1987. A quarter-consuming arcade game followed in 1989, with the first of three big-budget feature films slated for release in 1990. The favorable response to these oddball heroes let loose a flood of valuable merchandise and product tie-ins, all of which led back to comic books in the form of collected back issues, spin-offs, and an alternate comic book adaption of the animated series.

Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Directly and Indirectly Helped Birth a New Generation of Comic Book Readers
Image Courtesy of Man-E-Toys
© Viacom International, Inc.

Close to follow was the much-hyped 1989 blockbuster cinematic release of Tim Burton's Batman for Warner Brothers, which placed the gritty world of Gotham City at the forefront of the DC Comics universe. The feature film boasted the inspired and unexpected casting of Michael Keaton in the titular role, and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, accompanied by a chart-topping, multi-platinum soundtrack featuring original music by Prince. This cross-demographic appeal couldn't be ignored, and it was impossible to turn a corner during the summer of '89 without seeing the familiar winged logo. Naturally, this led to a profitable wave of bat-branded merchandise, from T-shirts to breakfast cereal to video games, and cyclically, back again to comic books. New and collected Batman and Joker stories from DC Comics were in high demand, in addition to the official Batman movie comics adaption written by Denny O'Neil with lush art by Jerry Ordway.

The Summer of 1989 Was the Summer of Batman: The Hit Feature Film Brought Another New Audience and Former Readers Back to Comic Books
Image Courtesy of Wide Screen World
© DC Comics/Warner Bros.

The Turtle and Bat phenomena were remarkably timed: both properties ignited dual fuses, causing an explosion in the American comic book marketplace. A new generation discovered comic book entertainment via other forms of entertainment media, finding their way to newsstands and the relatively new establishments known as comic book shops that had surfaced in the past decade.

Comic Book Shops Opened Around the Country During the 1980s
Image © and Courtesy of

This surge in popularity benefited lifelong, core fans of classic comic book heroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Mentheir commitment rewarded with hardbound collections, expanded content and spin-off titles of favorite characters. But a boost from pop culture movies and television was only half of the reason for the explosion...
The Collector's Market 
While some sought entertainment, an equal share of others came looking to cash in on the "easy money" of soaring prices for vintage and current back issues that the news outlets had begun to exploit. The comic book collector's market was in full swing.

The Comic Book Collector's Boom Helped the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide Expand and Spawned Many Periodicals on Comic Collecting

The speculation boom lured adult consumers who would never otherwise pick up a comic book, and publishers made sure to keep them coming back each week. Some crafty marketing techniques to ensure a single customer's multiple purchases of the same issue included limited print runs, polybagged editions, variants (different cover art on the same issue) and embellished "incentive" covers.

Cover Gag for Bartman #1:
 The Simpsons Have Satirized Everything, Including the Comics Industry's Sales-Drving Technique of Cover Variants and Enhancements
Image Courtesy of Simpson Crazy
© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

New comic book shops quickly opened up across the country to service the new audience that arrived on the comics scene, fueled by the factors above. One thing was clear—comic books were no longer just for kids. They were now taken seriously as:
  • a form of literature,
  • an extension of popular movie and television productions,
  • valuable to the corporations that owned the I.P., and
  • investments to speculators who spent serious money each week on new releases
The funny books had indeed come of age. A long way from the days of languishing sales in the 1970s, and even further from the slings and arrows of Dr. Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent in 1954.

Mouse House Resurrected

The Animation Department Poses For One Final Picture Before Their Evacuation From the Walt Disney Studio's Main Lot (Circa 1984)
Courtesy of The Pixar Podcast
© Disney

Like the comic book industry, Walt Disney Productions was emerging from dark times as well by the of the decade. Upon surviving a hostile takeover and near-liquidation by Investors and corporate raiders, the wilting media powerhouse became re-established as The Walt Disney Company in 1985 with the appointment of Michael Eisner as CEO/Chairman of the Board and Frank Wells as Presidenttheir early restructuring of the company and updating of the Studio's output and image took a near-immediate hold.

Existing projects in varying stages of development were heavily scrutinized, and the notion of productions more in line with competing Studios no longer eschewed. This included animated product as well. Prior to the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid and the money-making template it would cast, two high-grossing achievements of the decade were animated projects that fueled new excitement by reaching into the Studio's past:

 The Syndicated TV Series DuckTales Owed Its Success to the Walt Disney Comic Book Stories of Carl Barks
Image Courtesy of Financial Post
© Disney

The first was the 1987 original animated series DuckTales, with a heavy foundation on the comic book stories of Carl Barks. The syndicated afternoon show debuted with consistently high ratings, thanks to a healthy budget offering scripts and visuals of much higher quality compared to most animated television offerings of the time. A combination of classic and new characters led to a remarkable 100-episode run, spawning a hit video game, and a full-length feature film released to theaters in 1990.

A Bounty of New DuckTales Comics Were Produced In Argentina and Italy, Featuring Characters From the Popular Television Series
Panel Detail From Gladstone Publishing's DuckTales #13 (Series I—March 1990) 
Art by The Jamie Diaz Studios  
© Disney

New comic book stories featuring DuckTales characters were produced by Italian Publishers and through the Jamie Diaz Studios in Argentina, appearing in U.S. and overseas comic books, digests and magazines.

A Critical Success and a Technical Marvel, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Restored the Value of Classic Cartoon Characters From Multiple Studios
Image Courtesy of
© Disney/Amblin

The second project followed ten months later, with the 1988 release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? a joint project with Disney's new Touchstone Pictures division and Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The box office smash created a significant boost in interest of well-known classic animated properties seen in the film from various Hollywood Studios. The new characters of Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit and Baby Herman became instant classics, and Disney immediately set up production of a new series of short cartoons with significant plans to incorporate them into the theme parks.

 Marvel Comics Published the Graphic Novel Adaption of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Combining the Talents of Comic Book Legends Dan Spiegle and Daan Jippes
© Disney/Amblin

In a bit of ironic foreshadowing, a comic book adaption of the film was released as a prestige format graphic novel by Marvel Comics in 1989, some twenty years prior to The Walt Disney Company's $4+ Billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. The oversize adaption shined with art by a pair of comics legend: Dan Spiegle handled the live-action scenes incorporated with cartoon characters and settings by Daan Jippes.

These projects broke the ice of a notably stale two decades of lackluster animated fare. In another direct parallel to comic book publishers, the recent success prompted Disney's re-examination of their existing I.P. and aggressive development of new properties.

This re-examination included the Walt Disney comic book license and the deal that was currently in place, about 400 miles southeast of Burbank, CA...

There's Always Another Rainbow

Another Rainbow Publishing Held the Walt Disney Comic Book License Through Their Gladstone Imprint From 1985 to 1990
Image Courtesy of The Comic Prospector
© Disney

In 1986, the license to publish Walt Disney comic books had been granted to Another Rainbow Publishing, a modest company in Scottsdale (later, Prescott,) Arizona. Founded and run by two well-known collectors and champions of comics as an art form: Russ Cochran and Bruce Hamilton. Another Rainbow had already met success with lavish lithographs and a special edition book of Carl Barks's oil paintings. These were produced alongside a high-end, archival series of hardcover box sets reprinting the entirety of Barks's Walt Disney comic book work, as well as E.C.'s line of Horror comics and Marjorie Henderson Buell's Little Lulu.

 Another Rainbow Produced The Original Carl Barks Library:
Ten, Three-Book Box Sets (Set I Pictured Above)
Product Image Courtesy of My Comic Shop
© Disney

Cochran and Hamilton may have lacked the financial clout of Eisner and Wells, but where they lacked in dollars, they made up for in heart. So devoted to the work of Carl Barks were the duo, that their company name was based on the title of an early Barks oil painting of a young Scrooge McDuck: Always Another Rainbow. The imprint for their Walt Disney comic book license would bear a similar tribute: Gladstone Comics was named after the Barks-created cousin of Donald Duck with perpetual good luck: Gladstone Gander.

Cochran and Hamilton Named Their Comic Book Line After Donald Duck's Frustratingly Lucky Cousin, Gladstone Gander
Image Courtesy of Duck Comics Revue
© Disney

Two 100-page specials appeared on newsstands in late 1985, followed by the debut of the  "core four" monthly titles* in July of 1986. As Gladstone's launch restored Walt Disney comic books to newsstands and spinner racks, they received a bump in sales and critical praise. Bi-monthly titles, prestige format albums and specials were gradually added to their publushing schedule.

 Utilizing Excellent Presentation and Carefully Selected Content, Gladstone Published Some of the Finest Stateside Walt Disney Comic Book Titles
Image Courtesy of Filmic Light
© Disney

Editors took great care in presenting each issue's content: for the first time in the United States, Disney stories and art were properly credited to the artists, writers and colorists in the format they were originally presented. Thought-provoking text articles often accompanied comic stories, providing context and history on the featured tales. Not only did the Gladstone books reprint and credit classic domestic stories, they imported a HUGE treasure trove of translated stories from Disney's mammoth Danish comics publisher, The Gutenberghus Group (now The Egmont Group.) The original Gladstone comics also gave modern-day comic legends Don Rosa and William Van Horn their first chance at creating official duck stories.

Gladstone's Uncle Scrooge #219 Debuted The Son of the Son: Don Rosa's First Official Disney Duck Story
Image Courtesy of The D.U.C.K.Man
© Disney

Initially, the Another Rainbow/Gladstone staff had minimal interference from Burbank executives, who were likely pleased with long-dormant profit from U.S. comic books. In turn, the comics likely experienced a bump from the September 1987 debut of DuckTales as a new generation discovered the exploits of the world's richest duck each weekday afternoon. But the powerful wake of new success impacting The Walt Disney Company was about to shake up the fate of the Gladstone comic book license significantly.

Comic Influences
The news media's increasing focus on comics books and related properties such as Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had motivated the Disney Studio to greenlight production of TWO big budget, live-action film adaptions of comic properties:

Dick Tracy (1990)
Poster Art Courtesy of Flick Facts
© Disney/TMS News and Features, LLC

Slated for release in the summer of 1990 was a highly-touted film adaption of Chester Gould's famous comic strip detective Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna and a slew of memorable cameos.

The Rocketeer (1991)
Poster Art Courtesy of Collider
© Disney

The following summer was a property the Studio optioned several years earlier: The Rocketeer, a popular independent comic book by Dave Stevens, with a Saturday Matinee serial flavor, starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connolly and Alan Arkin.

Of course, Dick Tracy and The Rocketeer were licensed outside properties with adventure and action themes (the type of which The Walt Disney Company didn't own outright). This returns us to the Company's aforementioned re-examination of their existing I.P.which included looking closer at their own comic book output through Gladstone Publishing.

Creative notes from a once-quiet Burbank began to show up at the Gladstone offices more frequently: one notorious incident was a note regarding Barks-drawn duck characters looking "off-model" on the cover of a comic book album, suggesting Studio-approved models in it's place.

The Carl Barks-Drawn Cover to Gladstone Comic Album #21: Donald Duck Family Sparked a Surprising Red Flag From Burbank Executives
Image Courtesy of
© Disney

Gladstone's four-year output of Carl Barks covers were never a conflict before—it became apparent that while the marketing folks enjoyed profits from the work of Barks and many other Disney comic artists, they held little notion of their content or value. The I.P. was considered more valuable than the reason the comics were popular in the first place.

The truth was: if it wasn't for Carl Barks's ducks and Floyd Gottfredson's mice, there would likely be no market for reprints of Walt Disney comics in the first place.

1980s Marketing Executives Never Quite Pieced Together That the Work of Carl Barks (Right) and Floyd Gottfredson (Left) Set the Standard For Walt Disney Comic Books Around the Globe
Portrait Photo Courtesy of  Carl Barks Art
© Disney

Similar interference continued until the close of 1989, when The Walt Disney Company chose not to renew their comic book license with Another Rainbow/Gladstone. The resurgence in interest of their classic characters and the boom in the comic book market inspired Disney to undertake something they'd always left to others: the company would publish the comic books themselves. The desire being that all profits could be kept in-house, and editorial control wouldn't receive any creative pushback. This business plan now in motion, the final Gladstone comics were released to newsstands and comic book publishers during the first three months of 1990.

A class act up to the end, Gladstone didn't cover up or hide what was to come, nor were they outwardly vengeful or bitterclick the image below to read their farewell message to faithful readers, and a hint of the change that would come to Walt Disney comic books the following month:

Editor Geoffrey Blum Wishes The New Disney Comics Effort Well in the Final "Cross Talk" Section of the Original Gladstone Run
© Disney

End Prologue
So... this finally brings us to the doorstep of our main topic—there's plenty more to come, but this is a pretty logical stopping point. 

Below are a few images to serve as a preview of what to expect in the next chapter, in which everything discussed here converges into into the preparation and launch of the 1990 Disney Comics line (and that's exactly what the comic book imprint was named):

"This Could Be The Start of Something BIG!"
The First Official Advertisement For Disney's Self-Published Disney Comics Line
© Disney/Amblin

Synergy was keyan in-house Disney Comics line would be the perfect place where a tie-in to an upcoming comic-based big-budget film could be exploited:

In 1990, a Mini-Series and Official Comics Adaption of the Disney Studio's Upcoming Dick Tracy Feature Was a Natural Fit
© Disney/TMS News and Features, LLC

To create buzz and entice the collector's market, most titles were reset to issue #1 to promote collectability, while classic and new characters were given titles of their very own:

At the Initial Launch of the 1990 Disney Comics Line, New and Classic Disney Characters Received Their Own Titles
© Disney/Amblin

The start of the Disney Comics line was a bold endeavor, with an even bolder publishing plan. Click the title below to continue to the next installment:

* The long-running "core four" titles in U.S. Walt Disney comic books are Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories: these four titles have been restored most often by comic book publishers that acquire the license.