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



Joe Torcivia said...


Whether or not it was your intention, you may have precisely summed-up what was wrong with the mighty and arrogant Walt Disney Company, circa 1990, believing it could act as a comic book publisher. Little more than the quickest scroll through this meticulously researched and extremely informative post reveals that they seemed interested in anything and everything BUT the production of that special art form we call “the comic book”.

Despite my often-gushing Letters of Comment, seen in the pages of Disney Comics (“Capital “C”), today, I wish that whole business had never happened.

Disney had not the commitment necessary to be a comic book publisher, and their failure began a downward spiral that has tainted the notion of classic character Disney comic books to the present day. Once enough folks believe they “don’t sell”, that belief becomes reality.

A reality, of course, aided by the poorly executed efforts and general mediocrity of Disney’s successor, Gladstone Series II No classic Mickey Mouse title, paper covered-books, and more – the antithesis of the glories of Gladstone Series I. Gemstone was most often good to great, but fell victim to its own internal practices… and the less said about the early issues published by Boom! Studios, the better we all are. To its credit, Boom! righted its ill-sailed ship and produced some high quality classic character titles in its last several months – but, by then, it was too late to overcome the outright mishandlings that prevailed at the start of their license period.

Honestly, with the general downturn of the comic book market as a whole, I’m not certain that an “unmolested Gladstone Series I” would still be publishing in 2014 – but, I truly believe that, without The Walt Disney Company arrogantly crushing “that little company that [once] could”, would surely have continued on past the nineties, and into the 21st Century, taking us on some wonderful rides along the way!

At the very least the Once-In-a-Lifetime WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES # 700, as published by an ongoing and unaffected “Gladstone Series I”, would have featured something WORTHY and for the ages… and not “Ultraheroes”!

Dan said...

Thank you, Joe for the praise, encouragement, excellent research material and the (repeated!) honor of a linking post for this post over at THE ISSUE AT HAND!

When a company swells to the levels that The Walt Disney Company did between 1984 through 1994, it's easy to see how $1.50 comic books were a low priority versus the hyper-marketing of $29.95 VHS releases. Had their own comics line entered with better knowledge of the industry and gone lighter on the pomposity, there may have been a kinder outcome.

Unfortunately, you are entirely correct that the stigma of "they don't sell" was created as a result of the shortcomings of the Disney Comics imprint... which has plagued projections and order numbers for successive publishers ever since.

While the glory days of Gladstone Series I would have eventually evolved into something else, those books still register as perhaps the best ever representation of the material, from covers to content. From 1993 forward, there have been plenty of high and low points, with several gaps of NO Walt Disney comic books at all!!!

Despite the inclusion of a new William Van Horn story, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #700 didn't quite celebrate what that flagship title was best known for. Personally, I like to subtract about 15 issues from the official numbering and consider #715 as a suitable substitute for #700... for once, you couldn't go wrong with either variant cover choice (both Gladstone/Gemstone worthy) and those covers wrapped around material that we'd been missing for far too long! – Dan

Joe Torcivia said...


And it was that difference, between the general time period of WDC&S # 700 and that of WDC&S # 715, that made all the “difference” in the world in the way Boom! approached the material!

I can’t heap enough praise on the books of Boom!’s later period. They had the right feel, the right attitude toward the characters, and the right set of creative talents – most notably David Gerstein and editors Chris Burns and Chris Meyer – on board.

They were standard format, low price point comic books, with high-quality printing and a perfect mix of American reprints, and “New-to-the USA” existing stories – suitably “punched-up” with new American English dialogue appropriate for the 2011 audience.

They celebrated the “Core Four” (with apologies to the New York Yankees, from whom I “borrowed” that phrase) titles of DONALD DUCK, MICKEY MOUSE, UNCLE SCROOGE, and the venerable WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES in exactly the way they should be done for modern times. Classic, without feeling “Old”.

If another publisher for these titles should someday surface, they would do well to follow the example of the last several months of classic character comic books published by Boom! in 2011.

2011? It’s already over THREE YEARS, isn’t it? Yep, that unjustified stigma continues to do its dirty work!

Chris Barat said...


Joe summed up the combined woes of post-1990 American Disney comics better than I could have. I still do believe that during its "prime period," Disney Comics gave us some of the most enjoyable Disney material that I've seen to date. If only the company had had the foresight to accompany this material with a legitimate PR push. Unfortunately, the company's acquisition of the Gladstone license coincided with the beginning of the decay of the Eisner regime, where the focus gradually shifted from quality to quantity (of market share). When elephants fight, the saying goes, the grass gets trampled, and an underpublicized and underappreciated Disney Comics line was quickly crushed in the midst of the ongoing deal-making and deal-breaking in which Disney was engaged at the time.

I do appreciate Bob Foster's efforts in bringing the DC line to a (virtual) end with some degree of dignity.

Dan said...


It has indeed been THREE years and counting since new issues of the "Core Four" have been absent from the comic book racks. It's due time for their return, and as you put it, the thought put into the last few months of BOOM!'s classic Disney titles would be an excellent template for treatment. You can honestly say that each issue felt like a full meal.

I can only imagine that the next publisher will recognize the triumphs and errors of the past to give those books the presentation and exposure they deserve. Classic and contemporary characters can sell just as well when done right, and they don't "lose" the characters.

As you've proven many times by excellent example, the American dialogue translations from overseas materials can make or break a story, no matter WHO drew the artwork. The handful of Italian Disney Duck and Mouse stories that showed up on comiXology last year were basically run through a translation app, and not passed through any level of (human) quality control: one preview panel I read had Huey exclaim something like: "Why don't you keep that in your money vault, Uncle Scrooge McDuck?"

Man... we readers AND the Ducks deserve better than that! - Dan

Dan said...

Thanks, Chris:

I agree with you more today than I would have a mere six months ago... the research I've done really had me pouring through my long box of the Disney Comics run, only to realize how much GOOD new material was produced during their run. Some of my favorite William Van Horn stories appeared ("That Ol' Soft Soap" in particular), the seven issues of TaleSpin was the best adaptation of an animated series to comic books I've ever seen, and the new material that appeared in early issues of Mickey Mouse Adventures is overdue for reprinting today.

Disney Adventures also had some cracking good material, especially in the early years, thanks in large part to the efforts of Marv Wolfman and Heidi MacDonald.

I understand what you mean about the decay of the Eisner regime, every corner of the company took a hit from about 1992 forward. This was largely due to the huge financial losses and P.R. hit while opening the Euro Disney Resort. The losses incurred caused serious limits on placing any significant money into future creative efforts throughout the company, which was further damaged by the death of Frank Wells two years later.

My intention was (and is) to keep this series of posts objective, but I think anyone can agree that Bob Foster deserves the praise and share of attention in these posts.

On a side note, I'm looking forward to your REVIEW of Gladstone's DuckTales #12, a favorite story, and a very rare example of capturing the spirit of that show in a comic book adaptation! - Dan

Comicbookrehab said...

This was excellent, and I look forward to reading the epilogue.

I think the strange infighting between Marvel and Disney over the direction taken with the upcoming "Big Hero 6" speaks volumes about why Marvel Comics is in no rush to publish a line of books featuring the Disney stock company, yet will announce a new Star Wars lineup a.s.a.p. - this is a paper marriage with a couple sleeping in separate twin beds.

Dan said...

Thanks very much, Joseph!

That's an excellent analogy, the Disney acquisition of Marvel had little to nothing to do with comic books. Disney has their girl audience locked in with TinkerBell and Princess brands, but had very little market share for boys "Action" brands beyond the Pirates of the Caribbean films, which was already hitting the third installment by the time they purchased Marvel.

It's wise to let both companies run pretty independently of each other anyway... there would be a ton of nasty comments and false rumors spread around if Marvel began publishing traditional Mouse and Duck books, anyway: "Disney MADE them do it!" and that kind of stuff.

Frankly, the only Marvel-related thing I'd want Disney to do is get Spider-Man back from his prison cell at SONY and restore ol' web-head's theatrical reputation in the Avengers cinematic universe!

- Dan

Deb said...

Those Donald and Scrooge comic book versions of the "Graphic novel" collection of Rosa's work were also available bagged in a set with a Gladstone-produced comic album of Carl Barks' Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 10-page "First Appearances" (in that title) collecting the first WDC&S stories with Scrooge, Gladstone and the Junior Woodchucks. Unfortunately, you'd need to buy this same book three times to get all three Don Rosa issues!

Joe Torcivia said...

Another thing that irked me at the time was that “Official Licensed Product of the U.S. Olympic Committee” nonsense! As seen in your illustration of DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES # 28.

Unless there was some sort of deal, the particulars of which we’ll never know, this would imply that Disney Comics PAID A LICENSING FEE to the U.S. Olympic Committee for the “privilege” displaying the Olympic Rings in the upper left corner of a comic book.


What difference would it possibly make to comic book retailers placing orders, and consumers who just wanna read about Donald Duck, whether or not the book was adorned by Olympic Rings?

Gold Key published WDC&S # 286 without such needless adornment, and I’m certain it did just fine! See the cover image HERE.

The CONTENT, including a new Carl Barks story (“The Olympian Torch Bearer”) and a chapter of Paul Murry’s “Return of the Phantom Blot” was what mattered, and Western Publishing would never have spent its money so frivolously.

Money, I might add that would have been better spent on the many things Disney had just gutted from its comics line… but, hey… they WERE some NICELY COLORED RINGS! Ooooh! Aaaaah!

Priorities… Never straight!

Dan said...

Great info, Deb... thank you!

I've seen the Gladstone First Appearances by Barks book but wasn't aware of that odd pairing of packaging with the standard format Donald and Scrooge books.

I'll definitely add that fact to the post over the next few days (and give you due credit)—maybe I can scrounge up a picture or two somewhere!

- Dan

Dan said...


Yep, and they did indeed pay a licensing fee to the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) If I was to make an educated guess, I'd say that deal was in place long before the "Disney Implosion" took place, when the outlook for the Disney Comics line was to become a "big fish."

That extra money wouldn't have been available (or a consideration) after 1991. Since the fee had likely been paid over a year earlier, there was no reason not to use it.

Licensing for the Olympics is surely a huge deal... there's a full website dedicated solely to that, with plenty of legalese to chew on: I.O.C. Licensing

In fact, things are so strict with the rules, I don't believe a scripted movie or TV show can use the phrase "Olympics" without paying a fee to the I.O.C.—you'd have to substitute it with "the big games" or something similar.

Crazy old world, innit?

But they WERE some NICELY COLORED RINGS, boy! ;)

- Dan

Joe Torcivia said...


On the Olympic licensing, I get what you’re saying… sort of. Yeah, it creates a nice feeling, in keeping with the Olympic Spirit that we manage to gin-up every few years, only to discard as quickly and completely as we do with the similarly ethereal “Soccer Spirit”, after the World Cup.

I can understand being an IOC officially-licensed automobile or brand of beer, for the prestige (for auto) or “bump” (for beer) it may bring… but this is only a comic book. Furthermore, a comic book whose regular readers (child OR adult) would likely have minimal interest in the Olympics – and would rather see Donald “master and epically fail” at his next endeavor, or go hunting for Square Eggs or sumpthin’.

Maintaining my position, and knowing the industry as I do, I’d be willing to wager that not a single independent comic book retailer ordered even one additional copy of DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES # 28, due to the specific presence of those (all together now) “NICELY COLORED RINGS”. Not when they could sink their money into yet something else with Wolverine in it.

So, yes… As you say ”Licensing for the Olympics is surely a huge deal…” But, not one that is tangibly beneficial to an ongoing comic book series. Particularly one as (unfortunately) “low-profile” as DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES.

And, if true that Disney could not utilize the word “Olympics” in said “low-profile” comic book without the benefit of the licensing fee, then so what? The same situation appears to be true with the phrase “Super Bowl”, but GREEN LANTERN # 37 (1993) managed to deftly get around that little problem.

Similarly, Disney could have assigned a “creative scripter” to come up with something to (Ahem!) “ring” themselves around using the word “Olympics” (Pardon!). Considering the corners I had to “paint myself OUT OF” in such stories as “Synthezoid from the Deepest Void”, and “Treasure of Marco Topo”, I wouldn’t mind taking on the job myself.

But, gosh yes… they sure were some (all together now, one more time) “NICELY COLORED RINGS”!

Argonaut said...

Hi Joe!

As a veteran (survivor?) of the games held in both Calgary and Vancouver, I can vouch that if you're looking to make money, it's definitely a good idea to invest in the license for the pretty rings.

People will line up around city blocks for stuff that is christened both "Official" and "Olympic", it's nuts!

Hi Dan:

As a veteran (survivor?) of Post-Whitman Disney comics, I must say I found this series to be incredibly fascinating.

I had very little knowledge of the story behind this profoundly significant era in Disney comics history, even though I was there for every piece of that Duckburg map-- and I still have the set of those reusable character stickers (which still work).

That said, under no conscious decision or understanding of mine at the time, Disney did begin to lose my attention the further they strayed from the Gladstone model. I dropped pretty much all of the new titles they'd added due to loss of interest, and distraction (the 80s-90s were a hell of a time to be a kid overall).

It wasn't until Rosa's work began to appear again (hallelujah to that Donald and Scrooge TPB) and the Barks reprints returned* that I jumped fully back on board (and evermore since).

It's great to finally get the bigger picture! Thank you so much to all involved for your efforts!

*Being 11-12 at the time, I depended on reprints in standard comics to have access to Barks at all, since the vintage issues and high end reprints were out of the question, economically. When Barks' work left the newsstands, it left me as well. Thank goodness Gladstone-I reprinted so much of it in the time they had.

Dan said...


Well, I don't know about everyone else, but I think you may have just sold a few more copies of Green Lantern #37 twenty-one years past it's release date!

That makes an excellent point, especially for the direct sales market orders... I can't imagine it making a lick of difference to store owners if the books featured an Olympics connection or not. As Argonaut just posted after you, it might have made for a bump in extra sales in Barcelona, for consumers caught up in the "the moment" of Olympic spirit.

My guess is that extra copies were printed to send over there, and probably given away for free in swag bags to the press, sponsors and participants. A quick eBay search shows that July 1992 issue of Donald Duck Adventures is readily available today for very reasonable prices!

No doubt you would come up with a more than suitable moniker à la "The 'Bowl" for the Olympics without having to dish out for the licensing fee. Then craftily sneaking "NICELY COLORED RINGS" somewhere in there too ;)

I also agree that a Marvel licensing deal featuring Wolverine participating in the Olympic games would have sold far more books. Wouldn't you just love to see the cover of Logan letting down the Canadian Volleyball team, yet again...

SNIKT! POP ***pssshhhhhhh***

(to a weary Referee) "Hey, bub. We're gonna need another ball."

Dan said...


Thanks so much for your comments! Great that people not only choose to give good feedback here, they really want to share their recollections of that period.

I received the "Duckburg Map" stickers, as well as the Darkwing Duck window cling that was sent out for replying to the 1991 survey. Can't find where those are stored yet, but when I do, I'll update the posts with some good quality scans.

Disney Comics straying from the Gladstone model was really the problem with the core of the entire line, at least for the duck books. The newer titles ran from great to poor... I remember John Nichols, who published The Barks Collector calling out Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers as "maybe the WORST comic book in history!"

Thanks too, for your appreciation of the efforts: the sorta undeclared manifesto of this blog is to showcase material not really covered elsewhere. Since there's really a short frame of reference out there on the Disney Comics line, I thought it'd be a good topic to expand upon.

We've still got an Epilogue for this story, and more about comic books to come in 2015! – Dan

scarecrow33 said...

The Disney company seems increasingly driven by hunger for profit over quality, yet if there is any company that could handle a few losses while allowing a creative property to "find its audience" it would be Disney. This is what I see as the essential problem, that the Disney Comics line went for too much, too fast, and didn't allow time for the wider audience to catch on.

One thing that has always bothered me is that it is nearly impossible to find Disney comic books being sold at the Disney theme parks or the Disney stores. Surely, if there were a perfect venue for Disney products, it would be these. A friend of mine actually sent in an inquiry to Disey a few years ago, when Disney comics were still being published in America, as to why the comics are never sold in the theme parks--and he received a response that just shut him down and wouldn't even discuss the issue. Yet, seriously, if Disney wants to build a significant audience for the comic books, they should market them in the places where people go to buy Disney products. (Collectors always get the cold shoulder from Disney--that is another of my major complaints about the modern version of the Disney corporation.)

One more thing that this latest chapter has reminded me of is that even during this uneven, uncertain period, quality material was still being produced. One example is the story "The Euro Disney Adventure," which represents one of the few times that a comic book story shows the Disney characters actually visiting a theme park--instead of just using the park as a springboard for semi-related but non-theme park adventures. It would have been nice to see this story presented in a more elaborate format. It certainly deserved it.

As for the Olympic Games representation, I am guessing that the reason the Scooby Doo "Spooky Games" DVD release did not actually mention the Olympics by name and used a variant of the rings is because they did not obtain the full licensing. Yet it wasn't until my second viewing that I caught on that the Olympics were not directly mentioned. My first impression was that the reference was to the real Olympic games--which proves that clever "fudging" can still produce the desired effect. It would be interesting to find out if those Disney titles were distributed at the Games that year...which proves my point that the comics should be made available at public events such as the Olympics and at the theme parks as well. If they are not made available to the general public, how can the general public know that they exist?

Dan said...

Very compelling insights, scarecrow! From my own experience, here are the three occasions I saw Walt Disney comic books for sale at the theme parks:

1) Early 1980s—Western Publishing's Dynabrite comics were sold at the Main Street Emporium in Florida's Magic Kingdom

2) 1989—Gladstone series I titles were sold along with other current comics and magazines at a 1940s themed corner newsstand in Disney•M.G.M Studios

3) 2005/2006—Several shops in Disneyland were selling Gemstone's Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Comics: 75 Years of Innovation compilation.

In the Disneyland Inc. and Q&A With Joseph Cowles posts from last year, we also know that in the early years, Dell and Gold Key comic books were sold at Disneyland.

We only know for sure that The Disney Stores sold the Collectible #1 issues Boxed Set from Disney Comics in 1990 in stores and through their catalog.

You're 100% correct when you say it comes down to profit. That's why comic book practically disappeared from the stands in the late 1960s through the early 1970s: the price point was too low to rake in any significant profit.

Drugstore and newsstand owners opted to utilize that space to sell $1.99 magazines (on which they would make about $1 per sale) rather than 15¢ comic books (which would only get them about 7¢ per sale.)

That's really why comic books cost what they cost today: they run from $2.99 to $3.99 in order to survive and insure they have a wider presence beyond the direct market. It's also why those Archie digests at the checkout stand are probably what kept Archie comics around as a lone entity, and never swallowed up by I.P. acquirers like Classic Media!

You may have noticed that Barnes & Noble sells standard comic books AND an impressive collection of collected hardback books and graphic novels. Neal Adams has said that retail book stores don't care a whit about anything priced below $10.

So why should they bother selling comics and magazines? Why do they have all those bargain books on tables right up front?

A big book chain like B&N can offset smaller costs like that because they offer a wide variety of periodicals. It's unusual to see anyone check out at B&N with a single magazine: folks on line usually have several items in their hands. Those smaller items augment sales of larger items located at the front of the store, like any "impulse" items at the supermarket or drugstores!

It's also easy to see how it can become a gateway to bigger sales: a kid might leaf through the latest issue of Batman, then wander around the store only to discover the graphic novel section, where there are two full SHELVES of collected Batman hardcovers and trade paperbacks! Same with Archie, or Spider-Man or The Simpsons.

That's why I think formatting is the biggest problem for the Disney Stores and Theme Parks. The low profit return for a single issue, the (perceived) hassle of monthly re-stocking, plus the fragile nature of a standard comic book is enough to turn them off to selling comics. Collected trade paperbacks, or decent quality hardcover reprints would make the most sense for stocking and price point.

The hotel shops Disney's resorts are the better bet to sell standard format comic books: when Mom and Dad are all worn out and the kids are still raring to go, what better place to give them a quiet "fix" of what they saw in the park than comic books?

The Walt Disney Company now has to keep the bottom line a consideration in any decision-making, but their cooperation with Fantagraphics on the new Barks, Gottfredson and Rosa collections are already a good sign that they're aware of the value of those creators. - Dan

Dana Gabbard said...

How humbling to re-read that editorial and the Disneydom item I wrote for that long-ago issue of Duckburg Times. I used to call myself guardian of the crossroads for my habit of poking my nose into various areas of Barks and Disney comics fandom. Had good relations with various parties that helped me obtain inside dope about what was happening and why. Guess that is classic fanboy behavior. Joe Torcivia I think at one point while this was unfolding had the smartest analysis when he noted during a chat we had that the comics could never compete with the theme parks as to profitability. And once Disney management realized this the comic book venture would wilt up. That is basically what happened.

Gladstone II was a huge disappointment. The spirit just was lacking and Bruce was more about hawking collectibles than celebrating the classic stuff as Phase I was. Plus I felt Don Rosa's work became less interesting (the last of his stories I enjoyed was Guardians of the Lost Library) which took a lot of trhe fun out of buying the comics. The overpriced WDC&S deluxe issues just came across as greed and dangling Rosa in small installments with mediocre filler to extract money from we fans. The base motive just turned me off.

I look forward to the epilogue, especially coverage of the later years of the digest which had healthy sales (thanks to being sold at the check outs at markets, which they spent big bucks to acquire) and was a showcase for cartoonists to develop new properties like Gorilla Gorilla that then were featured in Disney Publications collections. Disney also created new comics series through their Italian subsidary like WITCH that they did book collections of over here. Did any of those appear in the digest?

Kudos for all the obvious work you invested in doing this. I appreciate all this history being documented.

If you are interested in doing a book I bet Theme Park Press would be interested, although that would mean having it be just text since any illustrations with Disney copyrights would have to be left out. Jim Korkis would be able to hook you up with the TPP folks if that interests you.

Dan said...

Thanks very much, Dana: those last few months sure seemed like the days were numbered for the Disney Comics line. The monthly "Between the Lines" contained next to nothing in terms of what was happening with the actual books, while vague materials occupied the actual letters in letter column—which leads one to believe they receive no letters, or no positive letters that the remaining Editors chose to print.

The project failed, and Disney was quick to dissolve the endeavor: I have to give the company a lot of credit that they immediately handed the license back to Gladstone, with no gap in monthly releases. In a more bitter or ego-fueled situation, they would have sat on it out of spite, putting out a statement like: "Well, these books just don't sell. If we couldn't do it, no one else can."

The overall focus at Another Rainbow surely shifted with the departure of Russ Cochran. Gladstone II had flaws, but they were able to get some more good material out there: the prestige format Walt Disney's Comics and Stories might have worked better as a 64-page standard format with a price somewhere around $3.50. The cover art previewed in the two-page ad posted in this chapter shows how differently structured and elegant Gladstone's take on the same material was. The color and production work by Susan Daigle-Leach was leaps and bounds above much of what had been put out by Disney Comics.

The Epilogue will center on the what became of the individuals and companies the series has covered, including Disney Adventures. That title had a successful run, and really needs someone to do a similar series on the digest's history. I dropped off on Disney Adventures near the end of the 1990s, but they ran exclusive comics in there until the very end, long out-lasting The Disney Afternoon.

Your suggestion of my writing a book is very kind, I take it as a high compliment! There are a few book topics I've considered tackling, and it's funny you mention Theme Park Press—I've actually drawn some title design and cover art for a few of their titles this year, here are two recent examples: Funny Animals and More and Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams.

The ever-gracious Joe Torcivia has also labeled this series as being being "book-worthy material." I commented over at TIAH that perhaps once that series is complete, I'll flex my graphic design muscles by creating a tablet-friendly layout and provide a downloadable PDF of the entire series. We'll see where things goes once the final installment is posted!

- Dan

Ryan Wynns said...


(Just catching up...) You have done an absolutely phenomenal job with this series. Not only is it a thorough and exacting history of Disney Comics (the publisher), but the way that you have contextualized every aspect of that history within the broader scope of the Walt Disney empire itself, making dead-on historical and commercial connections to what was going on in the feature film and theme park divisions of the company, as well as its acquisitions or partnerships with other giants of the entertainment industry -- and also tracking everything in terms of popular entertainment and pop culture as a whole, not just in a strictly Disney sense -- is unprecedented, at least from the perspective of the plight of Disney Comics (the publisher). Major commendations from me.

The Implosion has always the over-arching narrative of most accounts of this story, but -- as you rightfully gave him his due -- Bob Foster really brought the three "classic" titles through a renaissance in the post-Implosion phase. I always thought those 64-page issues were great. He really dug up some gems to include in those. I was always particularly fond of the Bre'r Rabbit Sunday newspaper comic strip serial he featured.

Even at the very young age of 10, I thought the "Duckburg Map" gimmick was too ... well, gimmicky. Plus, even though it was DuckTales based, it wasn't even definitive or canon in terms of DuckTales -- it was a layout of that town cooked up just for that map!

At the time, I was surprised at how much I liked The Return of Aladdin -- it was in keeping with the post-Star Wars, big-screen action-adventure sensibilities that the movie had had that to me (perhaps unfairly) made me think of it as a break from the studio's more "girly" animated features that had preceded. It also gave me the idea that Aladdin would actually work really well as an ongoing series, so when the sequel v.2 (in direct-to-video) form and the successive animated TV series were announced, I was really receptive to the idea (and ended up being a fan, as my recent blog posts will attest). (A correction there: the series' Saturday morning episodes were carried on CBS, not ABC.)

I remember seeing those ads and press articles where we first saw the covers of the first issues of Gladstone's resumption of the line. At the time, I was relieved and excited. Within a couple years, though, THAT situation seemed pretty dismal in itself ... but that's a whole other story.

I was and am a fan of Dinosaurs (being a Jim Henson fan and general), but it didn't really work for me as a comic ... the characters looked really unnatural and creepy. (You mentioned the Baby marketing phenomenon -- I think he was conceived by marketing executives using some sort of scientific formula to melt down the combined essence of Bart Simpsons and Steve Urkel, two then-recent iconic-character phenomenons into ooze and mold it into some new monster of their own!)

I was surprised at how much I liked that Romana Scarpa-drawn Euro-Disneyland story in Collosal Comics Collection, considering that it was an obvious promotion. But it was a solid read, at least at the time.

-- Ryan

Dan said...

Ryan: Wow! Thanks very much for not only your praise of this series, but really understanding how important it was for me to use the timing and parallels of the comic book industry, film studios and TV networks, and pop culture in telling the story properly. They were all mighty factors that led to the rise and fall of the Disney Comics line.

In order to present the history as a whole, there is (and remains) a huge element of research and preparation to compile and present this series... especially when there was so little out there to begin with! From the feedback I continue to receive, I'm thrilled the time between each chapter seems to be been worth the wait.

Bob Foster's contributions cannot be undervalued, his titles easily generated the highest sales for the Disney Comics line, and showed the respect for the material and the reader.

Your young eyes were wise beyond their years, sir: The Duckburg Map tried a little too hard to satisfy DuckTales and comics fans, ultimately satisfying neither.

Aladdin was just dripping with expansion potential beyond the original film. That seems to have been the feature that had the most fleshed-out follow-up projects: the Disney Comics Mini-Series, two direct-to-video films, daily and Saturday AM TV series... and THEN, an ongoing title by Marvel Comics!

Interesting you mention the grotesque drawing style in the Dinosaurs comic stories: that's the subject of an upcoming post which will show up here. The "flat" graphic portrayal of CGI or hyper-realistic characters often looks creepy and wrong, rather than attractive and right: I've already begun drawing a few examples for that article.

Scarpa's Euro Disney story was a rare bird in that an entire full-length tale took place inside a park! It has been many years since I've read "The Euro Disneyland Adventure" but many of those lush panels (such as the Pirates of the Caribbean treasure scene) still stand out in my mind. Most important to this series was that Euro Disney stood as a real turning point during Michael Eisner's leadership—the P.R. damage and tepid response to that particular project really "clipped the wings" of future creative endeavors for The Walt Disney Company.

Thanks, too, for the correction of Aladdin on the CBS Saturday morning schedule, I'll update that now. Looking forward to reading your continuing reviews of the Aladdin TV episodes at your blog, which folks can read here: (Some of) Ryan Wynns' Assorted Thoughts

- Dan

Joe Torcivia said...

Ryan writes:

“I think [The Baby] was conceived by marketing executives using some sort of scientific formula to melt down the combined essence of Bart Simpsons and Steve Urkel, two then-recent iconic-character phenomenons into ooze and mold it into some new monster of their own!)”

Perhaps the most amazing thing to emerge from that whole Pop-Cultural-Mélange is that BART SIMPSON is STILL seen in new TV episodes every Sunday night in 2014-2015! ...And that *I’M* still watching and enjoying!

As I said “back then”, and still say today: “Bob Foster was the Heart and Soul of Disney Comics”!

Dan said...


Indeed, Bart and the residents of Springfield continue to entertain some 25+ years later!

In fact, I've just returned from Universal Studios Orlando to witness the NEW "Fast Food Boulevard" in the Springfield area. There, one can purchase and consume glasses of Duff Beer, or a Flaming Moe at Moe's Tavern, then gorge on "The Clogger" at KrustyBurger! Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa were out greeting guests, generating an impressive line of both kids and adults to meet and take photos.

Truer words were never spoken in that “Bob Foster was the Heart and Soul of Disney Comics!”... I hope Mr. Foster finds his way to these posts at some point to see how many of us still recognize and appreciate that, over twenty years later!

- Dan