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The Middle Ground #36: What Would Walt Do?

by  in Comic News Comment

There are times when I want to stop reading into things. After all, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as they say, and this is not a pipe and and and. But there’s something about comics that builds in a certain… I don’t know, distrust, about the stories that we get told about things, the official explanations; maybe it’s because we’re taught to believe in secret identities and ulterior motives and melodramatic plans that somehow come together much more than they would in real life. But anyway, back to my point. As I semi-asked on Twitter earlier today, what exactly does Disney think about comics?

The question really came to mind when I was thinking about the (great) news about Fantagraphics getting the rights to publish a definitive collection of Carl Bark’s Donald Duck stories the other day. It seems like a perfect marriage – Fanta has shown time and time again that it knows how to package and promote collections of classic comic strips (Just look at the company’s amazing – and much-imitated – The Complete Peanuts for proof), and Barks’ strips are calling out for that kind of care and attention – until I realized, Wait: Disney actually owns its own comic publisher. Why isn’t Marvel doing this?

Here’s what less cynical, more intelligent people said when I asked on Twitter earlier:

Bully:

[Maybe Disney would] rather deal with [Fantagraphics publisher] Gary Groth than Joey Q?

The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald:

I would guess that the Barks material is NOT seen as a contemporary money maker but rather an archival prestige project. It’s probably something that Disney just doesn’t to take the time to get right to the degree they KNOW the fans will demand.

Marc-Oliver Frisch:

Don’t imagine the material would’ve profited much from the Marvel brand. Audience may be more likely to find & buy at from Fanta… Maybe they figure doing Disney comics would require too much heavy lifting, since it’s not the kind of material Marvel’s known for?

I think there’s definitely something to that train of thought – That Fantagraphics is just better at this than Marvel would be, and better positioned in the marketplace, as well. Following that, it makes sense as well for Disney to keep the Pixar and kids books at Boom!, who’ve been shown to have success with those books already (You’ve all picked up Roger Langridge’s The Muppet Show by now, right? Hopefully you’ve also given The Incredibles a try, as well), because Marvel treats its all-ages books like something it’d rather forget than making a big deal out’ve them – which it should, considering they are wonderful and often more enjoyable than the “main” Marvel Universe versions of the same characters.

But the thing about that attitude is this: If it’s true, then Disney really didn’t buy Marvel to get a comic publisher. It bought Marvel to get the IP, the movie studio and most importantly to get the foothold into that demographic – Note that the only synergy Marvel has had from Disney has been Tron comics and now CrossGen. Which, let’s be honest, isn’t necessarily a bad idea: Marvel’s strategy for the last few years has seemed to be “Aim for the existing readers and everyone else will come ’round eventually,” so buying the company to get those readers and then sell new projects to them makes some sense. But for comics featuring the characters central to the Disney brand…? Apparently, there are better places outside of the corporate umbrella to go for that. Which, for all of the Marvel bravado of “We’re not going to suddenly become Mickey Mouse Comics” during the news of the sale, still has to hurt the House of Ideas a little bit.