Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On the Mouse buying the Spider

I'm not so pompous as to believe that this blog is the first thing you look at each morning, so odds are you've already heard that Disney is buying Marvel Comics for about 4 billion dollars. To say that this has caused some talk in the comics industry and the electric-type internet is an understatement.

Comic fans are doing what they do best; assuming the worst. There are endless doomsday scenarios being posed left and right, most involving Marvel's storylines being castrated and niceified to the point of insulin shock. Endless jokes about Disney/Marvel mashups and crossovers have been told, and generally, it's gotten everyone talking.

So why shouldn't I?

There are exactly 2 areas that I can see that could be problems for Marvel. Bear in mind, these areas are rather large and the amount of which the issues present themselves is impossible to know.

1) Disney has a VERY different way of working with creators than Marvel, or any comics company since about 1954 does. Up until recently, Disney did not allow individual artists to sign their work. If you drew something for Disney, it was drawn by no one in particular. While he was alive, it was supposed to be implied that Walt drew all the comics, etc by himself, as his name was the only that appeared on it. Even the legendary Carl Barks worked uncredited for years, only the fans knowing who drew what. Animation god Mike Jittlov famously got around that limitation by sneaking his name right into the work he did for The Mouse, where they couldn't take it out. Most Disney shows that feature animation has a credit to the effect of "We thank the Disney animators who made this all possible." Nowadays most of their TV cartoons features a "created by" credit, so that dictate is changing, but on the whole, the work of Disney is faceless.

More importantly, Disney's contract with its creators basically states that ANYTHING the signatory creates during his employment at Disney belongs to Disney, or at the very least get right of first refusal on it. It's the reason that creators like Keno Don Rosa patently refuse to work directly for Disney - Don works for Egmont, a Dutch company who licenses the rights to produce Disney comics, but without strictures like, as Don loves to describe it, "ownership of your unspoken thoughts". Now, in the last fewish years, Disney's comics in the US have been produced by outside companies like Slave Labor Graphics and currently BOOM! Studios. Those companies don't have those strictures either. But should Disney decide that they wish to produce their own comics in the future, there's the remote possibility they'll try to bring these rules over with them. Disney needs to have it explained to them very clearly that such a contract will NEVER fly in today's comics industry.

2) Marvel will now be owned by a parent company that has made a habit of caving to public complaint. As a rule, no matter what part or subsidiary of Disney decides to release something of questionable moral standing, it's described as being done by Disney itself. Best example in recent memory is Kevin Smith's Dogma. The film dealt with God and religion in a very irreverent (but at the same time, QUITE reverent) way, and the film was lambasted by the Religious Right in the US (sight unseen, of course). The film was being released by Miramax, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney with complete say as to what films it could release, including many classic films not intended for family audiences. But when the inflammatory Dogma mailings started to go out, the film was described as coming out from Disney itself, as if the famous castle logo would precede the film. The perception wildly outstripped the facts, and eventually Miramax was forced to drop the film, allowing it to be released by another company. Disney has edited and censored its own films after complaints by special interest groups, including Aladdin and many changes to its upcoming release The Princess and the Frog. And don't get me STARTED on Song of the South.

If Marvel chooses to do a plotline of any controversial nature in their books (say, one where a character makes a deal with the devil to keep their elderly aunt alive, say), there is the chance that the latest iteration of Adults Against Funny Cartoons will take to the streets, clamoring about what "Disney" is putting in "a children's comic book". And for all the explanations that comics aren't just for kids anymore, Marvel is an indepedent company, etc, there's the remote chance that Disney will take the easy route and ask the plotline be ended. I can't imagine it happening often, and I don't think Marvel will have to submit anything for approval (none of Disney's other subsidiares do) but I can forsee and extreme situation with this unpleasant end.

Just about everything else is a potential plus.

For one thing, Disney already owns the rights to the Crossgen universe. While it's generally known that they bought it almost solely for J. M. DeMatties' Abadazad, it's still a large number of characters who had a brief but popular life. And now they have access to a comics company who could get the use of them. To quote Henry Fonda, "I'm just saying it's possible".

To be terribly honest, I don't know how interested Disney is in being in the comic book making business. Like Warner Brothers and DC, I think Disney's far more interested in the money they can make off the licensing and movies than all of the comic sales combined. They tried their own comics company not too recently, and dropped it because the paltry profits didn't compare to what they could be doing with that money, so they went back to contracting it all out.

But if they DO decide they want to get more into comics, I don't see that as a bad thing. Example - people are talking about a Hannah Mantana comic book as if it's the worst idea in the world since labial piercing. But I don't see how. No comic company wants to do one, under the old chestnut that kids (and especially little girls) don't read comics. But if it was made available in the Disney store or in proper bookstores? I have no doubt it'd sell. Same with Wizards of Waverly Place, Zack & Cody and any other series they choose to do.

I'd love to see a return of a bunch of the comics from the beloved Disney Adventures magazine. Dan Brereton was in the middle of a Dr Syn (alias The Scarecrow) comic that woulda knocked your socks off. This was a magazine that was selling a million copies a month, and Disney dropped it because again, it wasn't making enough money for them. Money that would have dwarfed (no pun intended) the sales of any American comic.

And that's the key here. Disney exists so far away from the little pool that is the direct market that's it borders on the embarassing. Disney comics featuring Mickey and (far more so) Donald Duck regularly sell in the millions of copies in Europe. Part of that is because comics are more universally available there, and people still read them regularly and openly. They never had a Wertham come along and so successfully convince them that comics were the purview of the illiterate and socially illiterate that to this day the simplest way to show a bad guy is a flannelhead in a movie is to slap a comic book in his hand. But the point remains, Disney is used to selling MILLIONS of something, not 30,000. And they have the power to bring those books back to the mainstream.

I can see Disney making the legendary deal with Wal-mart and Target to get comics back in the stores. If, and it's a large if, they think it's worth it. They might well be happy with solely making the money on the movies and the t-shirts, and as long as marvel proper isn't actively losing money, will leave it alone.

The sad part? Most comics fans would consider that a happy ending.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points all! Heck, I'm all for HANNAH MONTANA comics if it'll get more kids interested in reading, especially if it's something besides the likes of that snarky GOSSIP GIRL-type stuff. :-)