Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Disney Comics Story (1990-1993): The End of the Line

1993 Was the End of The Line for Disney's Self-Published Comic Books
Panel Detail From Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #250 (May 1961)
"Boxed-In" Story and Art by Carl Barks
© Disney

The story up to now...
Our PROLOGUE recounted the the comic collecting craze of the 1980s, due to the growing popularity of graphic novels, TV and cinematic adaptions of comic book properties in tandem with a growing speculation market. During this time, Walt Disney Productions was revived with the incoming leadership of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. The reinvigorated Walt Disney Company decided to bring their comic book publishing in-house, reclaiming the U.S. Walt Disney comic book license from Another Rainbow Publishing's Gladstone imprint.

CHAPTER 1 revealed a corporate culture engulfing The Walt Disney Company, and the formation of their new in-house comic book line under W.D. Publications, Inc. The initial offerings of Roger Rabbit and Dick Tracy specials led to the April 1990 launch of eight monthly Walt Disney comic book titles under the imprint Disney Comics. The new line was the seeds of an ambitious plan for growth within the first year of publishing, with goal of becoming a major contender in the comic book industry.

CHAPTER 2 showcased the "Disney Explosion": launching Disney Adventures digest, specials and annuals in addition to monthly books during the first year of Disney Comics. New material tied to then-current television series, films and anniversaries was developed alongside aggressive plans for expansion to new imprints to present broader content. The original business plan was so aggressive that self-inflicted market saturation had begun to settle in, and the Disney Comics Album Series were discontinued after the first eight months of publishing.

CHAPTER 3 captured the effects of the "Disney Implosion": as the comic book craze was about to crest in 1991, Disney's accountants took a hard look at the numbers Disney Comics pulled in during it's first year of publishing. Economics dictated a severe slashing of monthly titles and the removal of Editor-in-Chief Len Wein, along with other members of the staff. Bob Foster was put in place as Managing Editor for the Disney Comics line, with a greater emphasis on classic material, to mimic the content Gladstone had published a few years prior.

1992: A New Mission in a New Year

Having trimmed the publishing schedule down to three monthly titles and a Limited Series under rotating themes, 1992 kicked off the second era of the Disney Comics line. Their goals were passive in contrast to the bombast of the April 1990 launch, as efforts were now to split the focus of their publications, catering either directly to the fan base or directly to kids. There remained an optimistic possibility of nurturing some kind of overlap between the two demographics.

The Scaled-Back Disney Comics Monthly Schedule as of January 1992
© Disney

Reactions to The Disney Implosion

Following the departure of Len Wein, Managing Editor Bob Foster assumed drafting the "Between the Lines" column and kept monthly messages to Disney Comics readers refreshingly direct. Foster openly acknowledged the changes that had taken place in late 1991, rightfully citing economics as the cause for the severe cancellation of titles.

Disney Comics Managing Editor Bob Foster and Legendary Comics Book Artist Russ Heath (Seated) at the 1991 San Diego Comic Con
Image © and Courtesy of Bob Foster

Reader feedback following the "Disney Implosion" was fairly limited in the letter columns of the three monthly titles, the correspondence largely continued to focus on the content and artists in previous issues.

Fans Openly Reacted to the Disney Comics Line Beyond the Pages of the Comic Books Themselves
© Comic Buyers Guide Cover Courtesy of All Things Valiant

Elsewhere, opinions were voiced loud, clear and unfiltered. In the days before online comments sections and message boards, there was another outlet for comics fans to cast their opinions: the weekly tabloid newspaper, Comics Buyers Guide.

The succeeding months brought sour reactions to the Disney Comics line, especially in contrast to the quality of the Gladstone books that preceded them. Negative views were submitted not only from fans, but from creatives involved in the comic book industry, and several who had worked directly on Disney Comics publications.

These comments carried enough weight to elicit a reply in Comics Buyers Guide from a Disney marketing executive, reassuring that the comics line would move forward, having learned real-time lessons from their tumultuous first eighteen months of publishing.

The Increasing Numbers of Disney Stores Across the Country Never Carried Disney Comics Beyond the Collectible Set of #1 Issues

The executive's reply was lengthy and laced with corporate buzz words, but especially insulting in the following claim:
"We're finding new places to sell comics, in addition to both the Disney theme parks and the Disney Stores which have sold selected comic book product since we began publishing...."
That statement may read like it was meant in good faith, but it was a flat-out lie.

If by "selected" they meant the premium-priced Collectible #1 Issue Box Set mentioned in Chapter 1 of this series, no one had ever seen any of the Disney Comics line offered in Disney's theme parks, nor in Disney Stores that continued to pop up in malls across America.

After all, wouldn't those have been the most logical places to find Disney comic books?

The 1992 Walt Disney Pictures Film Slate

Over in Burbank, the disappointing performance of The Rocketeer was quickly overcome by the tremendous success of Beauty and the Beast at the close of 1991. Walt Disney Pictures had plenty more up their sleeves for 1992 with high hopes for a variety of projects: the original live-action musical Newsies, a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sequel, the original family comedy The Mighty Ducks, and a holiday season release for Feature Animation's next project: Aladdin.

The 1992 Release of Aladdin Would Score Another Big Hit for Feature Animation, and Fuel Upcoming Comic Books
© Disney

Of these films, only Aladdin would receive the graphic novel adaptation treatment from Disney Comics. The first eight pages of the adaptation were previewed in the December 1992 issue of Disney Adventuresadditional new Aladdin stories would later appear in the digest, as well.

Disney Comics Ad for Aladdin: The Official Movie Adaptation
Graphic Novel Cover Art by Xavier Vives Mateu
© Disney

Meanwhile, another family film was set to release that Christmas, featuring some familiar friends who were new to the Disney fold. This points us to a slight detour which will merge back onto the road of The Disney Comics Story and comic books overall...

Growing the Identity
George Lucas's Star Wars Saga Changed the Way Audiences, Filmmakers and Studios Looked at the Execution and Marketing of Films
Image Courtesy of Star Wars Legacy
© Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Under Michael Eisner's creative leadership, The Walt Disney Company had begun to make gestures in expanding their identity, by way of licensing or full acquisition of outside properties. The trend actually began as a result of projects a few years prior to Eisner's arrival: in particular, the Studio's unsuccessful efforts in the early 1980s to develop hit science-fiction/action properties to compete with the mega-blockbuster Star Wars films from 20th Century Fox and the built-in fan base of Paramount's new Star Trek theatrical series.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Signaled a Profitable New Era of Science-Fiction Films
Poster Art © Lucasfilm, Ltd. & CBS Studios, Inc.

Walt Disney Productions had produced two films as a response to these cinematic sci-fi sagas: The Black Hole (1979) and TRON (1982). Both films created lush worlds with dynamic art direction and state-of-the-art special effects. They were also costly, and failed to strike a chord with a wide audience, despite significant promotion during their theatrical releases.

The Black Hole (1979) and TRON (1982): Big Budget Science-Fiction Films From Walt Disney Productions Didn't Fare as Well With Audiences
Poster Art © Disney

The Black Hole was considered especially uneven, unable to bear fruit as a film franchise, merchandise or a theme park attraction.TRON fared slightly better, having spawned a popular video arcade game and aspects of the film were folded into segments of Disneyland's PeopleMover track.

The deflated returns of those films combined with the high costs of developing unproved properties led to Eisner cannily forging deals with outside companies to utilize their I.P and talent under Disney-led projects.

The Walt Disney Company Began to Seek Outside Talent to Develop New Properties Starting With Captain EO for the Theme Parks
(Left to Right: Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Jackson, George Lucas)
Photo Courtesy of "F" This Movie

The first big outside licensing deal was negotiated with George Lucas's visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic to produce the cutting-edge 3-D film Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson and Angelica Houston. Following the completion of the third installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucas was already committed to other film projects: his colleague Francis Ford Coppola stepped in as Director for the high-profile short film.

The Success of Captain EO Proved That Not All Creative Innovation Had to Come From Within the Halls of The Walt Disney Company
© Disney

Industrial Light and Magic created innovative 3-D effects especially for Captain EO in tandem with Jackson's equally innovative music and dance choreography. The scope and names attached to the 17-minute film was an expensive endeavor, but a portion of the costs were covered through the sponsorship by Kodak. Not to mention, the drawing power of Michael Jackson in the mid-1980s was basically the equivalent of printing your own money.

With the immediate success of Captain EO and dealings with George Lucas proving amicable, Disney was able to acquire the Star Wars license for exclusive use in their theme park attractions. A motion simulator attraction was already in development at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, Californiait was simple to re-skin the concept to adapt it into the world of Star Wars as commercial galactic space travel, resulting in the opening of Star Tours in 1987.

Flanked by Familiar Friends, Michael Eisner and George Lucas Attend the Ribbon Cutting for Disneyland's Star Tours in 1987
Photo From Starlog #118 (May 1987)
Image Courtesy of The RPF

Both Captain EO and Star Tours came online within a year of each other at parks on both coasts, bringing new life and cultural relevance to the Disney name. This relationship benefited all parties, and lured in another colleague of George Lucas: Steven Spielberg, resulting in licensing the Indiana Jones franchise for Disney's theme parks.

The Outside I.P. Fit Well Into Disney's Theme Parks, Attracting Both Longtime and Brand New Guests
Poster Art © Disney/Lucasfillm, Ltd.

The Disney/Lucasfilm relationship became the tip of the iceberg for integrating content developed and established outside of The Walt Disney Company. The work of another media phenomenon had the attention of Mickey's new CEO for some time...

It's Time to Meet the Muppets

During Eisner's time heading television programming, he forged a relationship with the gentle creative force that was Jim Henson. Upon a remarkable rise in exposure during the 1960s, Henson's work was seen everywhere the following decade via commercials, television specials, thanks in large part to the strength of Sesame Street on PBS and eventually, The Muppet Show.

 In fact, Henson was widely considered as the creative successor to Walt Disney.

Due to His Creative Nature, Jim Henson Was Considered "The Next Walt Disney"
Image Courtesy of Zillion Arts

Michael Eisner recognized this trait early in his own career, and had attempted for several years to bring Henson's work into the Disney fold. In 1989 a deal was finally struck to acquire Henson and his core group of Muppet characters into the Disney portfolio, as well as multiple development deals for television, films and theme park attractions. Sadly, Henson's involvement was limited beyond a few initial projects, due to his untimely death in May of 1990.

Almost immediately after Henson's passing, the original Disney/Muppets deal fell apart. But a few projects came to fruition, including the 1992 holiday season release from Walt Disney Pictures: The Muppet Christmas Carol, a re-telling of the classic Charles Dickens tale starring Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge alongside the quirky Muppet cast.

The Muppet Christmas Carol Was the First Muppets Film After Jim Henson's Passing
Poster Art Courtesy of Music for a Mid-Life Geek
© Henson/Disney

Prior to the Disney acquisition, the comic book license for the wholly-owned Henson properties had been granted to Marvel starting in 1982. Marvel had produced comic book adaptations of Henson feature films The Dark Crystal, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Labryinth, and ongoing series of Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies titles (both the animated Muppet Babies and Fraggle Rock Saturday morning series were co-produced by Marvel Productions Ltd.)

Not surprisingly, Marvel's Henson license was not renewed beyond 1989, right around the time of Disney's initial dealings with Henson and the decision to self-publish the Disney Comics line.

Throughout the 1980s, Marvel Comics Produced Several Comic Book Adaptations of Jim Henson's Film and Animation Projects
Cover Art © Henson/Marvel

Disney's increasingly brittle dealings with the Henson family showed in the lack of acknowledgement in the comic books, which would have been a proper vehicle for synergistic promotion. Though it seemed a likely candidate, there's no indication of Disney Comics preparing a graphic novel adaptation of A Muppet Christmas Carol or any other comic offerings with the famous Muppet characters.

The Studio's apathy towards the Muppets brand became even more telling in April of 1992, when the license to reprint the Marvel-produced stories from Muppet Babies was granted to Harvey Comics.

Everything Old is New Again

Rare and Restored Classic Content Began to Show Up in Disney Comics
Cover Art by Walt Kelly and Larry Mayer, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #571 (March 1992)
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

The promise of the Disney Comics editorial staff proved true: traditionally-styled foreign reprints continued to appear as vintage gems were restored and recolored for upcoming issues, much of which had never been reprinted before. Some of the most unique material was found in the pages of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, which experienced a doubling of page count with several 64-page issues in 1992.

Several Well-Crafted Foreign Stories Were Reprinted in the Style of Carl Barks
Panel Details From "The Money Ocean" Art by Marco Rota, Uncle Scrooge #266 (March 1992)
© Disney

The foreign stories had merit, as they were originally written for Denmark's The Gutenberghus Group in the tradition of Carl Barks stories. Several tales by Vicar and "The Money Ocean" by Marco Rota evoked the spirit and pacing of the 1950s work by Barks.

Creative Erosion

Due to the creative management policies of W.D. Publications, Inc., Gutenberghus also had indirectly attracted some new talent from the United States: management stated that original art would not be returned to the artists, which became a growing point of contention. Many artists negotiate to receive some or all of their original art to be returned in order to sell the work at comic conventions or through galleries and auction houses. Doing so provides a much-needed source of income for those under freelance or project-to-project contracts.

Don Rosa Receives an Award from Swedish Journalist Sture Hegerfors
Photo Courtesy of Introduc(k)tion to Don Rosa

During the end of the Gladstone era, fan favorite Don Rosa had been vocal in his disapproval on this policy, and made the transition to providing stories for Gutenberghus, his latest works would appear in overseas publications long before seeing print in the U.S. By 1992, some of Rosa's new work was beginning to trickle over into issues of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, providing a much-needed shot in the arm for Disney Comics.

In 1991 John Lustig and William Van Horn Also Began Producing Stories for The Gutenberghus Group
(Left to Right: John Lustig, William Van Horn, Garé Barks, Carl Barks)
Photo © & Courtesy of The Lustig and Van Horn Families

Immediately following the Disney Implosion, the "no new stories" mandate put in place for the Disney Comics line was quietly intended for the classic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, leaving some North American comic creators to find work elsewhere. Both John Lustig and William Van Horn found a more stable home for their talents at Gutenberghus. Disney Comics could still use their workbut had no real editorial control over it, and had to go through the Danish company to acquire the stories.

Premiums and Promotions

Classic reprints and new stories by Don Rosa and William Van Horn were a good way to keep fans and collectors coming back for the next issue. There was enough cash left in the coffers to swing a few promotions to promote incentive for new readership, and to bolster consumers purchase of the monthly titles.

Valentines Are Flying

The 1992 Valentine's Day Poster Was an Elegant Premium
© Disney

February 1992 brought reprints of two Valentine's Day stories by Carl Barks and an exclusive centerfold poster in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #570. The centerfold was on glossy paper featuring a nicely rendered illustration of Mickey and Minnie based on the 1941 Mickey Mouse short The Nifty Nineties flanked by two of the cherubs from Fantasia.

While the centerfold poster made for a nice bonus, a bigger premium promotion was at hand: something Editors hoped would guarantee purchase of Donald Duck Adventures, Uncle Scrooge, and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, across a three-month span!

The Duckburg Map

 The Duckburg Map Promotion Ran Across the Standard Disney Comics Titles Over the Course of Three Months 
© Disney

The months of April to June brought forth The Duckburg Map promotion, in which one full-page piece of nine were printed in each issue of the monthly titles to form a large 26" x 33" map of the town. The goal was for the readers to collect all nine pieces, and mail in proofs of purchase: in exchange, they would receive a set of electrostatic stickers (like vinyl Colorforms®) to place on the map, and a chance to win a piece of original Donald Duck newspaper comic strip art.

The promotion had several drawbacks: the map pieces were printed on actual pages within the comic, not as a high-quality insert like the February centerfold. Because of this, the printed ink on the reverse side was visible, and cutting out a map piece led to a loose or untethered adjoining page in the comic.

All Nine Duckburg Map Pieces Combined Into a Giant 26" x 33" Poster
Map Art by Joe Pearson and Larry Mayer
Image Courtesy of Calisota Online
© Disney

The bigger problem was that the map pieces were placed in the three titles geared to collectors, yet the map really keyed directly off the animated series DuckTales, not the traditional, Barks-style stories. The promotion may have been a desire to develop that overlap between sales demographics, but it wasn't properly executed, and came across as more youth-driven than collector-minded.

Flaws aside, the promotion was met with contestants: Disney Comics sent out the sticker sets to all those who entered, and there were three winners of comic strip art, and two winners of a print of the Duck Family Tree by William Van Horn.

Euro Disneyland

The Euro Disney Resort Opened in 1992 Among Controversy
Image Courtesy of Jenny RTW
© Disney

The Euro Disney Resort (now Disneyland Paris) had opened earlier in the year, 20 miles outside of the city of Paris. The project was plagued early on with local resistance, construction issues, and considered an under-performing endeavor due to a European recession that summer. Despite the public setbacks, Disney's marketing made sure to promote their newest destination through every possible channel of the company.

The Special "Passport to Disneyland Adventures" Disney Comics I.D. Box
© Disney

June featured a theme of "Passport to Disneyland Adventures" as a way to cross-promote the opening of the Euro Disney Resort. The three monthly titles eschewed their usual I.D. box at the top left for an "admission ticket" bearing the promotion, and (oddly) an illustration of the Anaheim, California Disneyland castle.

June 1992 Disney Comics Titles Featured Theme Park Inspired Stories
Panel Details From "Plunkett's Emporium" Art by Vicar, Uncle Scrooge #269 (June 1992)
© Disney

Translated stories from Gutenberghus opened on the streets of Euro Disney and transitioned into yarns based on locations within the parks: a medieval adventure in Fantasyland in Donald Duck Adventures, and a pair of nostalgic Main Street U.S.A. stories in Uncle Scrooge. Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, reprinted "Mastering the Matterhorn" a classic 1959 Carl Barks tale set on the slopes of the famous mountain.

The Original French Cover For "The Euro Disneyland Adventure"
Cover Art by Romano Scarpa, Hors Collection: Aventures à Euro Disney #1 (March 1992)
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

Disney's Colossal Comics Collection #9 reprinted a 40-page tale set within the new park, drawn by Romano Scarpa: "The Euro Disneyland Adventure." This was another story that would have likely been released as a stand-alone graphic novel, prior to the Disney Implosionthe cover art depicted above is surely what would have been used in that case.

The 1992 Summer Olympics

Another big event that summer was the Olympic games of 1992, in Barcelona, Spain. There were prominent associations and sponsorships by large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nike and Visa. Walt Disney Productions had previously played a significant role sponsoring the 1984 Summer Olympics, which took place in Los Angelesan especially wise association, considering that the 30-mile proximity of Disneyland to the Olympic game sites would surely benefit attendance.

Disney Artist Bob Moore Designed 1984 Olympic Mascot, Sam the Olympic Eagle
Image Courtesy of Heavy Newz
© Disney

Longtime Disney artist Bob Moore even designed the 1984 Olympic mascot, Sam the Olympic Eagle (no relation to Henson's Muppet character, nor the host of the Disneyland attraction, America Sings.) That year, Sam showed up on everything from programs, posters, toys and T-Shirts to soda cans and packages of film.

Disney Comics Celebrated the Summer Olympic Games in July 1992
Cover Art by Jim Franzen, Donald Duck Adventures #28 (July 1992)
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

Disney had a stake in the the 1992 Summer Olympic games as well: that July, the three Disney Comics titles featured Olympic themes, with lead stories of each book found the ducks participating in Olympic games and trials.

Official permission to use the famous five-ringed symbol within the books.and the I.D. box declared the books as an "Official Licensed Product of  the U.S. Olympic Committee"... so it's quite possible those particular books found their way to Barcelona to be distributed to participants and attendees!

3-D Thrills

Disney Comics Ad Announcing Disney Comics in 3-D
© Disney

As we've covered earlier in this series, format variations became popular during the comic book craze of the 1980s and 1990s. A throwback gimmick from the 1950s had found its way back into the mainstream: comic books in 3-D.

3-D movies had become the craze of both theater-goers and movie studios in the early 1950s. The application of the technique to comic books was developed in 1953 by cartoonist Norman Maurer, son-in-law to Moe Howard of The Three Stooges. Maurer created the first 3-D comic book in tandem with his brother Leonard and their Managing Editor at St. John Publishing: comics legend Joe Kubert. Three Dimension Comics #1 was released in July of 1953, headlined by another famous cartoon rodent: Mighty Mouse of Terrytoons fame.

The First 3-D Comic Was Published in 1953, Starring Paul Terry's Mighty Mouse
Images Courtesy of Daily What Not & Comicartville
Mighty Mouse © Viacom

The experiment turned out to be a financial success: a 25¢ cover price was decided upon to cover the cost of the special 3-D "space goggles" included within. Despite the higher price amid a sea of 10¢ comics, Three Dimension Comics #1 sold over 1,200,000 copies. and opened the floodgates for plenty of publishers looking to cash in on 3-D comics.

Disney's Comics in 3-D #1 
© Disney

Disney Comics recognized that it was relatively easy to format previously published stories for the 3-D format. With this novelty in mind, Disney's Comics in 3-D #1 was released polybagged with glasses to present stories in an extra dimension. The title had a 48-page count, justifying the higher cover price of $2.95.

Back-Up Stories From the Cancelled Roger Rabbit Title Were Formatted for Dimensional Treatment in Roger Rabbit in 3-D #1
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

A stand-alone Roger Rabbit in 3-D comic soon followed in the same format, with a 32-page count and a $2.50 cover price. Beyond the cover art, neither issue featured new content. Future issues of either title failed to materialize.

Don Rosa Collected

A monthly title containing new duck material from Don Rosa assured good sales figures for that issue, so a special book dedicated to Rosa's work was logical project to greenlight. A 100-page, prestige format album simply titled Donald and Scrooge was released in 1992 compiling Rosa stories that appeared in Disney Comics over their first two years of publishing. The collection contained strictly reprints, but Don Rosa was commissioned to create a new cover for the special.

The Donald and Scrooge Special Compiled All of Don Rosa's Stories for Disney Comics Up to That Time
Cover Art by Don Rosa for Donald and Scrooge Album #1 (1992)
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

The contents of the Don Rosa special was later broken into three standard format issues of Donald and Scrooge, sold both individually and as a polybagged package containing all three issues—marking the third time the same material was made available in less than two years. This level of hyper-reprinting was becoming a common practice in the comics industry at the time, but became a factor in diluting the value of the original comic books within the collector's market.

To Maximize Rosa's Popularity, the Same Material Quickly Appeared Again in Three Standard Format Issues of Donald and Scrooge 
© Disney

Bob Foster Departs

The three monthly titles in May 1992 were the final books under the Editorship of Bob Foster, who also departed for Denmark to work for Gutenberghus as a script editor. Foster had become the guiding light of the Disney Comics line, and a great champion of getting both new and classic material "out there"an example of Foster's dedicated contributions was preparing vintage Pinocchio material for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories to coincide with the classic film's Summer 1992 re-release.

Bob Foster Researched and Prepared Rare Material to Appear in Disney Comics, Such as this Vintage Pinocchio Story
Panel Detail From an Untitled Pinocchio Story by Carl Buettner,
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #575 (July 1992)
© Disney

It was a harsh blow to the already anemic Disney Comics line. Not only was Foster's experience and history in the animation and comics field a significant asset, he had provided a personal voice and the only honest connection to loyal readers who had "hung in there."

Foster's Legacy Continued Via Planned Future Issues and Rough Layouts For Cover Designs
Cover Art For Donald Duck Adventures #35 (February 1993)
Concept by Bob Foster, Penciled by Jim Franzen, Inked by Bruce Patterson
Image Courtesy of COA I.N.D.U.C.K.S.
© Disney

Fortunately, comic books are prepared and planned far ahead of printing, so plenty of Foster's concept sketches and materials were left to inspire upcoming books. Editor Cris Palomino and Senior Editor David Seidman quietly took the reins, overseeing a small, but dedicated staff.

More Fan Pushback

Foster's departure signaled a collective groan for fans who understood his value and contribution. The 1992 issue of the well-circulated fanzine The Duckburg Times offered a hard, honest editorial on the remaining embers of the Disney Comics line, the text of which is transcribed below:

An Editorial in the 1992 Issue of The Duckburg Times Captured the Frustrations of Walt Disney Comic Book Fans
Cover Art by William Van Horn
The Duckburg Times © Dana & Frank Gabbard
"[T]here is more to the recent shake-up at Disney Comics than meets the eye. It is a symptom of pervasive problems with Disney's approach to doing business during the [Michael] Eisner era.

Disney's near miraculous turn-around since the new management took over in 1984 could turn most anyone's head. In its aftermath hubris, what Michael Eisner terms the 'masters of the universe' syndrome, has infected Team Disney. They behave as if they know more about anything than anyone else and can do no wrong. Prince of the Magic Kingdom contains an illuminating anecdote about Disney executives behaving arrogantly during meetings with network television executives despite at that time having had very little success producing TV programs.

Arrogant presumption of this sort explains why Disney, with no experience publishing comics, could decide not to renew Gladstone's license in the belief that they could more successfully produce and market the comics themselves. Before a single issue of the new Disney Comics line had even been distributed, Disney executives were rumored to be confidently predicting that in a short time they would be competing on an equal footing with industry leaders Marvel and DC. After all, they were Disney–how could they go wrong?

Given Disney's reputation for synergy and marketing savvy, the litany of mistakes, gaffes and blunders that bedeviled Disney Comics is surprising and embarrassing: the $1.50 cover price cripples sales to their target audience of kids and parents. The refusal to return original art or pay royalties alienated talent. The line of graphic albums was mishandled and sputtered to a halt. Promised publicity on The Disney Channel and The Disney Afternoon never materialized; plans to sell the comics at K-Marts, the theme parks and Disney Stores went nowhere. Some of the new material was dismal (most pointedly, the Roger Rabbit titles and early issues of DuckTales) and foreign licensees refused to reprint it (a significant source of revenue for the studio.) Favoritism in hiring created cliques and tension among the staff.

Disney never had a commitment to publishing comics beyond a desire for profit. When it became clear marketing Disney Comics would require more than just publishing the books and hope they sold, it was decided to scrap the line except for the Duck titles. Len Wein and his associates were sacked, indirectly scapegoating them for the whole mess.

Wein et al. bear quite a bit of blame, but the chief culprit was Disney's management and its lack of strategic planning in starting this venture. With Bob Foster gone, Disney Comics is at a crossroad. Hopefully this lull will give Disney a change to reflect upon its mistakes and perhaps profit from them. Please?"
– The Duckburg Times Fanzine Editorial (1992)
The rear cover of the same issue offered a column of recent news, called "DISNEYDOM"a paragraph featuring an update on the Disney Comics line suggested that perhaps the feelings expressed in the editorial were shared in Burbank as well. Click the image below to enlarge:

As Quickly as The Walt Disney Company Wanted to Get Into the Business of Publishing Comic Books, They Wanted to Get Out of It
The Duckburg Times © Dana & Frank Gabbard
Character Art by Carl Barks, © Disney

The end was near, but there were a few projects that would find their way to the racks, most notably including properties and associations mentioned at the beginning of this chapter...


Though the full acquisition of the Jim Henson properties failed to gel, The Walt Disney Company retained development deals with Henson Associates for features, home video releases and television shows.

The Henson-Created Dinosaurs Ran Several Seasons on ABC's Prime-time Schedule
© Henson/Disney

The first original project that found it's way through the pipeline was an original television series debuting mid-season on abc's 1991 prime-time line up: Dinosaurs was a sitcom featuring the Sinclairs, a prehistoric family of domestic dinosaurs, presented in the usual Henson style of sly satire and social commentary.

Dinosaurs was heavily promoted during the premiere season, and gained decent ratings thanks to the sharp writing and cross-generation appeal. The antics of precocious Baby Sinclair proved something of a marketing bonanza, which led to dolls, stickers, a CD recording and of course, comic books.

Original Dinosaurs Comic Stories Debuted Through Disney's Hollywood Comics Imprint
© Henson/Disney

Two Dinosaurs comic books were released in late 1992 and early 1993 in the graphic novel format through the Hollywood Comics imprint. Other new stories featuring the Sinclair family characters appeared in Disney Adventures, and several were reprinted in Colossal Comics Collection and a volume of Cartoon Tales

Comic Sequels and Prequels

The Goof Troop Limited Series promised the year before never came to pass, but Goofy and son Max were not completely forsaken on the comic pages: new stories based his The Disney Afternoon show were featured monthly in Disney Adventures.

Peter David Remained "Under the Sea" to Write Both Issues of a Sebastian Mini-Series for Disney Comics
© Disney

Having completed the 4-issue runs on both The Little Mermaid and Darkwing Duck Limited Series, there was no problem mining the Disney library for the next theme of upcoming titles... Peter David remained "under the sea" to write stories for a two-issue Mini-Series focusing on the breakout calypso crab character from Mermaid. His two-part Sebastian story surfaced in July and August of 1992.

The phenomenal box office success of Beauty and the Beast meant it was a natural to bring the property to the comics page beyond a movie adaptation. Like the premise of The Little Mermaid Limited Series, the next two-issue Mini-Series from Disney Comics appeared: The New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast, again taking on the setting of a prequel.

Like The Little Mermaid Comics, The New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast Also Took Place Before the Events of the Film
© Disney

The Mini-Series featured beautiful art by Jorge Sanchez and the Jamie Diaz Studios, an advanced color technique provided soft gradients and colored line work, which gave the book a feel that was close to the film's look.

 Colored Line and Soft Backgrounds in The New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast Stories Helped Evoke the Feel of the Animated Film
© Disney

The Cartoon Tales series continued to reprint film adaptations and content from previous issues of Disney Comics. Cartoon Tales #13 featuring Uncle Scrooge was scheduled but never published, leaving a head-scratching gap for collectors and completists.

The last few in the run of the series were formatted the same, but deviated from the animation-centric content and dropped the Cartoon Tales banner. This is where another George Lucas license comes into play...

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Also Appeared on ABC's Prime-Time Line-Up
Image Courtesy of pipocatv
© Lucasfilm, Ltd.

In 1992 Amblin Entertainment and Lucasfilm produced a big-budget prequel to their blockbuster Indiana Jones film trilogy, a weekly television series for abc's prime-time line-up: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Each episode in the series jumped to different points in Indy's formative years, providing a nice complement to the films.

Disney Comics Obtained the Reprint Rights to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Comic Book Stories
© Disney/Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Dark Horse Comics had obtained the Indiana Jones license from Marvel in 1990. Upon the debut of the television series, Dark Horse published 12 issues of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, adapting six early TV episodes into two parts.

Having established a good working relationship with Amblin and Lucasfilm, Disney negotiated the reprint rights to those comic book stories: the first six Dark Horse issues of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles were compiled and reprinted as three complete stories in the Cartoon Tales format: The Curse of the Jackal, The Search for the Oryx, and The Peril of the Fort.

Another Arabian Night

In an interesting turn, the final months of Disney Comics actually foreshadowed the upcoming trend of the Studio's direct-to-video sequels: The Return of Aladdin was released as a two-issue Mini-Series in early 1993, bucking the prequel trend by setting the stage for the Aladdin characters in a sequel setting.

The Return of Aladdin Would Be the Final Mini-Series From Disney Comics
© Disney

The comic book Mini-Series appeared one year ahead of Disney TV animation's release of their first original project exclusive to home media: The Return of Jafar. The project was not just a VHS sequel to Aladdin, it was a new way to monetize the TV movies used to set the stage for the upcoming Aladdin animated series on both The Disney Afternoon and CBS Saturday morning in 1994. Instead of blocking 60-90 minutes as a one-time TV special for prime time viewing, each unit retailed for $29.95. This was the beginning of a new trend in home entertainment, and a new type of profit center that would prove to be pure gold.

Released One Year Apart, The Return of Aladdin Comic Book Closely Mirrored Direct-to-Video Presentation The Return of Jafar, Right Down to the Cover Art
© Disney

The Return of Jafar had a premise resembling the plot of the Disney Comics Mini-Series, yet each held significant enough contradictions to each other. Unfortunately, contradictory content between comic book tie-ins and animated projects would no longer be a concern by the end of April 1993: The Return of Aladdin would be the final Disney Comics Mini-Series.

Walking With Giants

Each Aladdin sequel project was developed independently, but it wasn't too surprising... The Walt Disney Company had grown so large, that two branches of the company were completely unaware of each other's handling of the same I.P. 

The growth strategies set in place by Michael Eisner and Frank Wells had worked well with minimal growing pains: the humble Walt Disney Productions of old had been remade into a media giant in just under a decade.

In Less Than Ten Years, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells Turned the Walt Disney Company Into a Media Giant
(Left to Right: Frank Wells, Roy E. Disney, Michael Eisner)
© Disney

Naturally, larger financial and P.R. stumbling blocks such as Euro Disney took precedenceissues like a branch of publishing struggling with $1.50 comic books couldn't garner much personal attention from the heads of the company.

If it had, perhaps the ship could have righted itself... both Eisner, Wells and Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney understood the value of their company's rich history. It was Michael Eisner himself who appointed the formation of Walt Disney Television Animation, and planted the seeds for DuckTales.

The End of the Line

Some telling signs regarding of the end of Disney Comics showed in the lack of information within the "Between the Lines" and letter columns during the last few months of publishing. No real information was leaked as to the future of the comics line until May of 1993, the final month of publishing.

Whether it was coincidental or intentional, perhaps the most symbolic of their last gasp was the cover art chosen for the final Disney Comics issue of Uncle Scrooge:

The Final Disney Comics Issue of Uncle Scrooge Appropriately Featured a Weathered, Sunken Ship Against a Solid Black Background
Cover Art For Uncle Scrooge #280 (May 1993)
Concept by Bob Foster, Art by Don Rosa
© Disney

"Between the Lines" appeared for the final time, assuring readers their favorites will not be dormant long... click the image below to read the farewell message from the Disney Comics staff:

The May 1993 "Between the Lines" Farewell Column
© Disney

The text assured that contemporary content would continue on a monthly basis in the pages of Disney Adventures. The comic book license for classic content was restored to the publisher who had handled them best: Another Rainbow's Gladstone comic book imprint.

Best of all, the Walt Disney comic books would have no lapse in release... Gladstone would resume their publishing schedule the following month.

This news was further verified with a two-page subscription form that showed the familiar logos and titles, which picked up right where Gladstone had left off. Preview images of the upcoming Gladstone cover art suggested a different tone than the past three years of Disney Comics.

The New Gladstone Series II Subscription Ad Officially Brought Walt Disney Comic Books Back to the Publisher That Had Handled Them Best
© Disney

(Nearly) The End!

This chapter concludes The Disney Comics Story from inception to cancellation... but if you remember where we started last November, this all began with a Prologue. With every Prologue there needs to be an Epilogue, right?

So there's one more installment to go! After all, we need to cover:
  • What events heralded the end of the comic book craze of the 1990s?
  • What happened to Walt Disney comic books since Gladstone resumed the license?
  • What became of the creative talent that supplied work to the Disney Comics line?
Those who follow the business side of entertainment probably recognized a pattern in this chapter, with The Walt Disney Company, abc Television, Marvel Comics, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the Muppets. We'll see just how those roads converged in the past twenty years.

Comic Book MarketplaceVol. 3, Issue #103 (May 2003)
Image Courtesy of David Gerstein
Cover © Gemstone Publishing Inc.

The Epilogue to this series will be posted in early 2015, but to satisfy those who'd like to go back further into the history of Walt Disney comic books, Author, Historian and Editor David Gerstein wrote a wonderful 22-page history of the U.S. Walt Disney comic books for Comic Book Marketplace in 2003, titled "Disney Comics: Back to Long Ago!"

This expertly researched article chronicles the books from the original Mickey Mouse comic strip, right up to 2003. David has kindly made the article available online as a PDF which you can view or download for offline reading at the link below:

Special thanks goes to Joe Torcivia of THE ISSUE AT HAND—Joe provided me with some exceptional reference material for this chapter in particular. Be sure to browse his blog for plenty of subjects you're sure to enjoy... and plenty more about comic books of ALL kinds!

 Take It From Me, True Believers: Joe KNOWS His Comics!
Photo © & Courtesy of The Issue at Hand