This is the one-hundred and twenty-first in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and twenty. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
Special theme week! I didn't even notice at first, but two of the three bits I was doing this week involved Disney, so I figured, what the heck, so I scrapped the original third and made this week an ALL-DISNEY THEME WEEK!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Walt Disney forced Marvel to change Howard the Duck's appearance.
I was already planning on doing this bit when reader Matthew Johnson wrote in with basically the same question - which was a pretty darn freaky coincidence!!
Matthew asked whether the drastically different look for Howard the Duck in the new Howard the Duck mini-series has to do with Disney threatening Marvel over similarities between Howard and Donald Duck.
That, Matthew, I am afraid I do not know for sure, but what I do know is that yes, Disney did, in fact, threaten to sue Marvel over the appearance of Howard the Duck. It led directly into the depiction of Howard in the 2002 Howard the Duck mini-series.
Here is how Howard looked when he first got his own series in the late 70s...
Disney threatened suit later on in the 70s, after Gerber had left the book, and Marvel capitulated to Disney's demands, which included that Marvel must make Howard look like a design sheet that DISNEY'S artists supplied!
Marvel agreed. The biggest difference was that Howard was to wear pants...
When Gerber returned to do the MAX series in 2002, he wanted to have an artist redesign Howard, but as it turns out, Marvel's deal with Disney forbade Marvel from doing just that - they could not come up with a new design. Since the Howard in the new release looks nothing like the above cover from Brian Bolland from 1986, it appears as though Marvel manage to renegotiate that part of the deal.
But in 2002, it was not the case, which led to Gerber's humorous solution - have Howard become OTHER animals!!
And, appropriately enough with the specific company that caused the changes, the first animal was none other than a mouse!
If someone else out there knows how/if Marvel got their deal changed, let me know!
Thanks to Matthew for the question, and thanks to Steve Gerber and Darren Schroeder (whose great interview with Steve back in 2001 at Silver Bullet Comics provided the information) for the info.
NOTE: Obviously, in the years since this column first came out, Marvel was actually purchased BY Disney, so the Howard/Donald issue is likely much less of an issue nowadays.