Monday, June 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comics Cross Over and Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Comic Book Event of All

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

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

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

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

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

The Disney Touch 

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

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

Due to the Company's Rapid Growth at the Time, Michael Eisner Famously Referred to the 1990s as "The Disney Decade"
Left to right: Michael Graves (Architect), John Tishman (Owner), Michael Eisner (Past CEO of The Walt Disney Company), and Frank Wells, (Past President and COO of The Walt Disney Company) - See more at:
(Left to Right: Michael Graves, John Tishman, Michael Eisner, and Frank Wells)
Left to right: Michael Graves (Architect), John Tishman (Owner), Michael Eisner (Past CEO of The Walt Disney Company), and Frank Wells, (Past President and COO of The Walt Disney Company) - See more at:
Photo Courtesy of Disney Every Day
© Disney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rocketeer Fails to Soar at the Box Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bounty to Bag and Board

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

(Click Below to Enlarge Scan)

The June 1991 Disney Comics Between The Lines Column
© Disney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was already too late...

The Disney Implosion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Another Rainbow to Chase

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

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

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

The Terror That Flaps in the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Disney's Comics & Surplus?

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

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

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

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

Cripes! Comics Converge! Colossal Comics Collection Comes Calling!

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

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

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

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

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

Collecting Cartoon Tales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, that was perfectly fine.

Click the title below to continue to the next installment:

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

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

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

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

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

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



Joe Torcivia said...


Another magnificent piece of Disney comic book history, chronicled by one of the best researchers I know! My now-traditional linking post will be up this evening.

Wise move in breaking this up. The events, and your outstanding coverage of the times that begat them, are too extensive for a single post.

This is precisely the sort of history that cries out for a permanent chronicling. The late eighties, thru the nineties, are now far enough receded into cultural history that a lasting perspective on the period is required. Preferably, between a pair of (hard) covers.

I particularly enjoyed the widened-viewpoint of including “The Death of Superman”. Such a prime period from DC, almost coinciding with the Implosion, softened the sting considerably.

Lest we forget, Batman might not have “died”, but he, too, was replaced after being broken by Bane. The one-two (literal) punch of “The Death of Superman” and “Knightfall”, as each story unfolded in a seemingly endless stream of weekly installments, is one of the greatest experiences of my comics-reading life! It’s an experience that could never be duplicated by merely “binge-reading the trades”! Truly, if you “weren’t there”… you just “weren’t there”!

The sheer unpredictability and weekly surprises of this period has never been equaled, before or since. Even after all these years, I can say, with awe, that I was there for it!

And, in an amazing parallel with what was occurring in the comic book world, DC (Warner) would outstrip Disney (pretty much for good) when they ran-out BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES against GOOF TROOP.

To close, from this perspective, I wish the whole Disney Comics thing never happened… because, despite occasional instances of brilliance from Gladstone Series II, Gemstone, and Boom! (…mostly Gemstone!), the Implosion – and the erroneous view that “Disney Don’t Sell!” – dealt the classic character Disney comic magazine a blow from which I feel it has never fully recovered!

Dan said...

Another Chapter of The Disney Comics Story, another glowing endorsement from Joe Torcivia! Not only does Joe put up the kindest promotion for these posts, but he REALLY dug into his Gold Key comics to find the perfect panels to illustrate the theme! Observe:

What a pal! Thank you in bushels, Joe. I couldn't do justice to the Disney Comics era without sketching in the excitement of comics at the time. It has to encapsulate the mood for those who weren't there! The quality, variety, notoriety and AVAILABILITY of comic books around 1987-1992 was just palpable. They kept us coming back in those days, sometimes even between Wednesday arrivals!

Knightfall was initially included, but I had to remove it in favor of the "demise" of Supes in order to get to the subject, and the animated stuff was more relevant. Context-wise, the next chapter will zero in on the beginning of the downslide of the comic industry, and Michael Eisner slowly losing his grip, as things at the Disney Company began to grow TOO fast by 1993!

Your statistic is all too true on my TV in 1992/1993, Batman: The Animated Series usually won over Goof Troop, unless the occasional episode animated by the Disney's Australian unit was being shown that day. But I still thought the Goof made a good Dad, and became a bigger fan of the cinematic version a few years later!

You're also quite right that the fallout from the Disney Implosion still emits a toxic glow among retailers... each succeeding publisher had their high and low points, but distribution became more difficult with each passing year. If anyone can get the books positioned front and center under an new imprint, Marvel has the muscle to do it.

In fact, some folks online predict that things will "Get Dangerous!" at this year's San Diego Comic-Con.

Hey, St. Canard is relatively close to Duckburg, right? – Dan

scarecrow33 said...

The mentality at Disney Comics of the time seems to have been the same as TV executives--if something isn't a hit within about one month, then it's time to eliminate it. This kind of thinking demonstrates a complete lack of faith in the product that is being sold. If the Disney folks had enough confidence in their flagship characters to launch them in multiple titles within a short period of time, then the appropriate marketing strategy would have been to let these books find their audience, and let their audience find them! It takes TIME for word to spread when something is good. It takes TIME for the public to be aware that a certain title is available and is being regularly published. Losing money in the short run can lead to making much more in the long run...but people in business suits don't think with foresight. If they don't see immediate profit, forget it.

I was a witness to this disaster when it first "imploded" on the market, and I was absolutely devastated. I had gotten hugely excited over the fact that there were 8 regular monthly Disney titles and that other comics seemed to be looming on the horizon. It was an exciting time to be a Disney collector...then BANG! All but 3 titles vanished with hardly a word of explanation.

"We've decided to focus on our two most important market segments...collectors and kids." I'll never forget that piece of rhetoric--absolutely nonsensical. That was their market to start with! How did they not KNOW that? And if they truly wanted to please collectors (or kids), why did they get rid of Mickey Mouse? To me, that is the ultimate Disney blunder of all time...eliminating Disney's first big star and most famous character from the comics lineup. OK, so "Goofy Adventures" wasn't selling, or "Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers," that was something that could be lived with. It wasn't crucial for Disney to have a "Rescue Rangers" or "Goofy" title, but to get rid of Mickey Mouse was going too far!

This whole fiasco is a demonstration of the lack of vision of the Disney company without Walt at the helm. When profit, profit, profit becomes the sole reason for an artistic endeavor, then failure is what they are asking for, and is what they deserve. You can bet that Walt would have insisted on improving the quality of the books and the marketing and thus working toward long-term success that would have far-reaching ramifications. He would not have approved of this half-hearted, fly-by-night effort.

It is possible to trim your losses slightly until things improve, meanwhile making every effort to ensure that sales WILL improve. Walt always offered a quality product and always had faith in public taste. Most of the time his instincts paid off royally. Remember a little thing called Disneyland?

It's a real shame that the Disney folks did not have faith in their products and their characters. That lack of faith has led to the present non-state of Disney comics.

Thanks for a great post! This is an issue that has needed to be confronted for a long, long time.
I look forward to the rest.

Dan said...

Thanks very much, Scarecrow! Every point you made is extremely valid—the underlying drama of The Disney Comics Story is really that the original Gladstone crew was doing a wonderful job, only to have their license spirited away, publicly mangled, and thrown back to them in pretty bad shape.

It's no secret that most people managing these divisions have little to no connection with what they're producing. The mentality consisted of: "Well, comic books are hot right now, and kids watch Rescue Rangers 5 days a week. We can make a quick profit on that." The Disney Comics creative and Editorial staff was plenty sincere and able to get some great material out there, but they had to tow the company line and do/say certain things they knew weren't going to work out well.

It's not hard to guess that the problems came down from marketing executives and nervous managers: folks that probably never even OPENED a comic book before, much less had an inkling of knowledge about the industry at the time!

The model that could have worked from the start was keeping the "core four" up and running, and occasional Disney Afternoon specials... but starting off with EIGHT monthly titles is a pretty crazy prospect if you've never published ONE comic book before.

"We've decided to focus on our two most important market segments...collectors and kids." This certainly was the worst kind of marketing rhetoric. It was already too late by the time that was written. They already had the fans and collectors, but placement and availability of the books for kids and new readers should have been employed from the start. I, like Joe T. has written elsewhere, NEVER saw the self-published comics sold at the Disney Store or in the theme parks, outside of one newsstand at Disney/M.G.M Studios (which was more about theme than anything else.) Now, wouldn't those be logical places to sell Disney comic books???

Walt understood and respected his audience, he let Western Publishing do their thing with the comic books, and King Features do the same with the newspaper strips. The steps leading to the implosion wouldn't have happened under his watch, anyway! - Dan

Dana Gabbard said...

They (the bigshots) thought they would be Marvel from the get-go. And had little understanding of the comics market. During this whole thing I shared some very interesting phone conversations with Mark Evanier as I tried to figure out why in the world this was happening. This post very well tracks my understanding of the dynamics. BTW why did they not have the comics in The Disney Store or the parks? Those were separate divisions of a very large media company and had no interest in doing something to aid what the folks over there in comics. One big happy family isn't how the corporate mentality works. They didn't have the long-haul in mind and when they hit some problems pulled the plug. It should be noted my naming it the implosion was a riff on the infamous DC Implosion of the 1970s.

Dan said...

Thank you, Dana: I've no doubt that things could have turned out quite differently if someone with experience and ample knowledge of the business of comic books was given the role of making key decisions and establishing a sensible/gradual roll-out plan. So much of went wrong with the Disney Comics line came from portraying themselves as a powerhouse from day one.

I think of it this way: standard etiquette dictates that you probably shouldn't walk into a party roaring drunk and bragging, especially at a party where you don't really know anyone.

During a more level-headed time, Disney used a gradual tactic with TV animation—starting with Saturday morning and building resources as they carved their way into producing added daily syndicated animated programs. That method got perverted with pressure from the "big shots" to integrate successful elements from feature films, and the ABC acquisition in 1995: too many animated show were rushed into production, and cannibalized the quality level of their TV animation output overall.

I'd imagine Mark Evanier was approached to write for Disney Comics at the very beginning, but the rates and conditions under which might not have been to his advantage—of course, he is always prolific, and was knee-deep in Garfield and Groo duties at the time (which he still is as of this writing!) Though Mr. Evanier wasn't directly involved, I'd enjoy reading his perspective on the Disney Comics era one day.

Shocking as it may seem, I visited Walt Disney World with some frequency between 1990-1993, and I only ever saw the comics sold at a 1940s style newsstand at the Disney-M.G.M. Studios park, alongside current issues of Vogue and Sports Illustrated. Beyond the collectible "First Issue" box set, I never saw the books at any Disney Stores, back when they sold a much wider array of merchandise—wouldn't a small spinner rack have been an approachable display? Or poly-bagging 3 books to sell for $3? Despite aggressive synergy initiatives, many media companies simply became too big, and few divisions are aware of what the others are doing: ironically, they see other in-house divisions as their competitors.

I knew you co-opted that term from the DC Implosion... but I'm thrilled you revived it some twenty years ago for the subject of this series! - Dan

Joe Torcivia said...

Dana writes:

They (the [Disney] bigshots) thought they would be Marvel from the get-go.

Hey, guess what… Now, they ARE!

Do “all things come to he who waits - or buys it up”, or what?!

Dan said...


The Marvel mother lode isn't a bad purchase for the tidy sum of $4.24 billion (and sixteen cents!)

Believe it or not, that I.P. acquisition will have taken place FIVE years ago this August... in 2014, the "House of Ideas" has released two mini-series of Disney theme park-based comics. Could there be some ducks and mice the way we like 'em in their future?

In-house, Disney Press has also just released their own graphic novel based on a theme park attraction:


With the San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks away, perhaps there will be more news, or the standard U.S. Walt Disney comic book license passed on to a new publisher? Only time will tell!

In the meantime, it might be in Disney's best interest to spend another $4,240,000,000.16 to wrangle back the rights to the Spider-Man movie franchise from Sony Pictures! - Dan

Dan said...


I didn't consider it, but you're right that Mark Evanier and Len Wein have been good friends for many years. Mark is also close friends with Marv Wolfman, who served as Comics Editor for Disney Adventures and wrote some excellent Mickey Mouse and DuckTales stories for the Disney Comics line.

With those talents as friends and colleagues, Mr. Evanier certainly had a "backstage pass" to the Disney Comics explosion through the implosion. Perhaps Mark will find his way here at some point and choose to share a bit of insight.

Floyd Norman was a salaried employee of the publishing group, yet he had similar reservations as other pros. In the next chapter, we'll cover how the conditions in 1992 led a few others to follow Don Rosa's lead to create Disney content through Egmont.

To keep things from getting 100% negative, Marv Wolfman has said that writing those Mickey Mouse and DuckTales stories for Disney Comics was one of the most enjoyable projects he's ever worked on! – Dan