Op-Ed: How I’d set up the Disney comics line
There are still no American Disney comics being published. This bothers me because I got in to Disney comics during the beginning of BOOM!’s run, and I never got the chance to see what are known by Disney fans as the best series of comics during their original published run. I’ve been excited to read new material, but since BOOM! went… boom, I’ve had the opportunity to look at old Gladstone and Gemstone reprints. I’ve read old reprints of great Disney artists past in compilations, and to seriously examine why I like the Disney comics I do… and why I don’t like the comics I don’t.
Since I have no expertise, no financial or creative stake in it, I feel completely comfortable armchair quarterbacking what the new publisher (whomever they may be) should do as though I were some sort of authority. So, in this hypothetical world where I have the opportunity to outline the creative direction of Disney comics, here’s how I’d run the joint, both in terms of new stuff and in comparison to the days of old.
This is a property so good that I can’t believe it was untapped as long as it was. Darkwing Duck is, and I mean this, one of the best modern comics I’ve had the pleasure of reading. One of the most creatively interesting things about Darkwing Duck is that it has the ability to switch between dramatic and funny at the drop of a hat, all without breaking tone. With lush, gorgeous art from James Silvani and some excellent comedy, the cartoon king of cool deserves a place as the comic king of cool.
Now, the original BOOM! Darkwing Duck series had more than its fair share of gaping, monumental problems, but they occurred later in the run when executive meddling had taken its course. In the hands of James Silvani (the best Disney artist working today) and Aaron Sparrow, the original creator of the comic, we could have more stories like The Duck Knight Returns, which they had the most direct influence on… and not so much like its final arc.
What I’d change: The original trades were done in 4-issue story arcs that were meant to be read as trade paperbacks. I like reading longer stories, but the four-issue lock lacks narrative flexibility and can ruin the pacing. Give them the freedom to write a story as long or short as it needs to be. And for God’s sake, give James Silvani credit as a co-writer.
When Marvel realized that comics continuity was too difficult for a new reader to penetrate, they created the Ultimate Universe, which served as a fusion of old, new, movies, and What If?s, all wrapped in the veneer of a modern day setting. That’s ostensibly what the BOOM! DuckTales was supposed to be.
It really, really wasn’t.
That legendary disaster aside, it’s not actually such a bad idea, especially when combined with the Darkwing Duck universe and its crossover potential.
What I’d change: You don’t need to make it a straight adaptation of the cartoon. If you wanted to, you could bring in Brigitta MacBridge, use Barks/Rosa’s backstory for Goldie, include some hints of Paperinik, but keep Fenton, Launchpad, Webby, and the TV version of most events if you wanted to. The big selling point of this comic is an opportunity to give creative people an opportunity to play with Scrooge McDuck and change things beyond the status quo without affecting the core Disney titles. It doesn’t need to be a continuity-heavy work, but that flexibility of changing elements of the status quo can allow more storytelling possibilities.
Beyond that, I’d strongly suggest bringing Donald back in to the fold. If you want a good example as to how the character dynamics could work with such a huge cast, take a look at The Arcadian Urn. But under no circumstances are the writers of Rightful Owners or Dangerous Currency allowed anywhere near this reboot, which will start at Issue #1.
This is going to sound strange and obscure, but hear me out. Fillmore was a 26 episode series that ran on Disney, which was basically a 70s style buddy-cop show set in middle school. The cops were safety patrollers, counterfeiters were making phony baseball cards, and the ‘mayor’ was the Principal. It was an excellent series with clean animation, interesting characters, and great mysteries. Contingent on creator Scott M. Gimple’s involvement, I’d ask him to revive it as a comic book in a heartbeat. It has no continuity that you’d need to know in order to start the series again, and if you never knew it was a TV show you could pick it up without a problem.
I’ll be talking about Fillmore in a future review in detail, but I think that it could be perfect for comics, allowing for a greater flexibility in cast, recurring villains, ongoing plots, and bigger visuals.
What I’d change: I’d probably ask him to be a little more generous with the screen time of Fillmore’s partner, Ingrid Third, but beyond I honestly believe that the series’ formula was honed to perfection. What Gimple wants as a writer to improve that, I’d gladly give him.
For those of you who are just Duck-and-Mice fans, Gargoyles was a Disney Afternoon show that ran for three seasons, though only two count for our purposes. Created by Greg Weisman, the show boasted the most impressive continuity in a cartoon of its time, and a desire to tell serious stories to kids in a way they could appreciate.
Personally, I have some issues with the show, but it’s mostly because I think Weisman is a better comic writer than TV writer due to the way he handles ensemble casts. But my opinion doesn’t matter. What does matter, however, is the enormous number of fans who DO still exist. Greg Weisman’s show has created one of the most enduring fandoms, and makes Firefly fans devotion almost look small in comparison. Which is why when he had the opportunity to continue his show as a comic under Slave Labor Graphics, it was a nerddom’s dream come true.
And because he is Greg Weisman, demigod of stories cut short, it was cancelled because Disney raised the licensing costs.
This is a comic than can give serious critical acclaim to the Disney lineup, and brings in a pre-built audience with a love for comics. The Gargoyles license belongs to Disney, but the story belongs to Weisman. And while the story’s not exactly my cup of tea, it’s a story that he should be telling, and can do for years to come. He might be working on Young Justice right now, but… well, let’s be honest, no matter what you think of the show, it’s Greg Weisman working on TV: It’s gonna get cancelled.
What I’d change: Nothing, as far as I can tell. The comic was incredibly successful, critically acclaimed, and suffered no editorial nonsense. What is there to change? But if he can get a co-writer so he can release more issues a month, including his numerous spinoff plans, I’d be happy with that.
Mickey, Mickey, Mickey. Buddy, you put out some truly terrible comics.
When I read an issue of Mickey Mouse from Gemstone, I’m absolutely baffled. Who writes these bland stories, lacking characterization or thrilling action? Why is there no tension, or an intellectually engaging mystery? Where’s the sense of danger? Why is the art so workmanlike, without creativity in the visuals or action? Why is Mickey’s face pale? Why is he ever wearing anything but his classic red shorts outfit? It’s partly it’s because Egmont is responsible for these stories, but partly because… well, these guys are no Floyd Gottfredson, a true master of the character and craft. These are people who are writing and drawing new Mickey stories because there must be new Mickey stories, and little is done to be innovative. It makes collecting his comics very much a waste for me.
But there should still be a Mickey Mouse comic.
What I’d change: Don’t mistake me, Mickey Mouse is one of the greatest comic characters of all time. And it’s almost entirely due to Floyd Gottfredson’s hand, because I have never read a Mickey Mouse comic that stands up to even a lesser Gottfredson tale.
But I still think you can do a great Mickey Mouse comic today. It just needs to be treated like any other artistic project, allowing the team to push themselves to mastering the comic book format for an American audience. First and foremost that means a dedicated writer/artist team working on it who can stay on the title for a long time to come. On top of that, it needs to be removed the Gottfredson/past comic book continuity to give the writers a fresh slate, and an opportunity to place it in the DW/DT universe.
And there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t include Donald and Goofy as supporting characters if you wanted to. This is especially true considering DuckTales, which didn’t use Donald as more than a series of small guest appearances, and the slippery nature of comic book time. The dynamic of the ‘big three’ of Disney is an opportunity that’s better explored in the Kingdom Hearts game than Disney comics, and that’s just not right to me.
One big area of change, and perhaps a key to the comic’s success, is Mickey’s character. He needs to be written not just as an everyman, but a character with qualities and emotions all his own. This makes him not just funnier and a more dynamic, less reactionary character, it makes him relatable. Right now, no kid wants to play as Mickey Mouse, because there’s nothing to imitate. It is absolutely my opinion that it’s not just because the stories are boring, but because his character is written like a newspaper strip character, and that just doesn’t work when you bring it to the comics. Barks didn’t imitate Taliaferro.
In terms of tone, you need the kind of dashing, swashbuckling action that made Gottfredson’s work so powerful. A smart hero who can outthink his enemies more than outfight them, but can still mix it up, is a hero that kids can really get engaged in. Written with just enough of an ‘edge’ (meaning that Mickey could punch people and leave a bruise, have firearms get involved, or even consider the possibility of a villain dying) you could have a children’s comic that made people see Mickey for what he was intended to be all along: Doug Fairbanks.
Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck
Originally I was writing the Uncle Scrooge entry and wondered if there should be a separate Donald Duck comic. But quite frankly: No, there shouldn’t be, and there shouldn’t be an Uncle Scrooge comic either.
What I’d change: The reason I wouldn’t separate these two characters is because they’re intrinsically linked. You can have separate stories starring these characters, but by segregating them you’re often forced to publish substandard work to fill out the page count rather than emphasizing the best of the best. Typically that’s taken the form of the tame Egmont Duck stories and the outright insane Italian stuff, and you’re left with an uninteresting tiresome comic.
That may make my desire to publish it at 64 pages sound insane, but hear me out. It’s a matter of what the expanded page count will allow them to publish. They can reprint the longer Barks, Rosa and European reprints (yes, there are some truly great European Disney comics), but more important still is allowing brand new Duck stories made for the comic, without imposing a particular length. This also gives them an opportunity to introduce stories starring characters who don’t get the chance for the spotlight, including Gyro, the nephews, Beagle Boys, or Magica.
Each issue should include one headlining adventure story, two backup 10-15 pagers (be it the traditional gag stories or a short adventure, such as “The Island at the Edge of Time”), and at least one of the 1-4 page gag story.
The Muppet Show
I confess, I haven’t read the Muppet comics. My knowledge of the Muppets is very, very limited. But Roger Landridge’s work on the BOOM! series has been acclaimed, he’s been wanting to do it for a long time, and if it means a talented man making great comics I’ll be happy. I don’t want Muppet comics, I want Roger Landridge’s Muppet comics.
What I’d change: Don’t cancel the title after ten issues because of the line folding.
Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories
Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories should be the great bastion of creativity and experimentation. An anthology comic starring whatever Disney comic characters the writers want to use, the content can and should be made of various stories of different lengths starring different characters, with no central title to it at all. But I think releasing it as a 32 page comic is a mistake: It should be 64.
What I’d change: WDC&S tends to be the backup book, and I don’t think it needs to be. The reason I want a 64 page WDC&S isn’t because I want that many more short gag pieces, but because it gives them freedom to be more experimental in their content. If they want to do a continuing 10-page feature on the misadventures of Goofy, by all means, do exactly that. If they want to simply publish a 22 page story as a ‘pilot’ for a new series, or just as a one-off that’s too short for a graphic novel? Do that too, because there will be room! This should be a place where comics can be a grand experiment, not just a matter of churning out reprints month after month. If someone doesn’t like an individual story, they’ll have that much more to choose from. The reader will get more from it, and so will your artists.
So what else would I do?
Every comic would have a letters page, to be handled by the writer, editor and artist depending on who is best equipped to respond to a particular letter. There is to be no snark at a reader’s comments: The Gladstone letter pages were wonderful and should be used as a template for how a creative team should respond to fans: Thoughtfully, respectfully, and great fun to read even twenty years later. While the letters page tended to be populated by adults in the older Gladstone/Gemstone titles, I found the Gemstone responses (at least in the Mickey comics) to be rude, and that’s not going to fly when you’re dealing with small children.
All crossover stories would be published under one title. By that, I mean if Darkwing Duck and DuckTales cross over for a story arc, their story will only be told in either the Darkwing Duck or DuckTales comic. If that means twice-monthly issues for the duration of a crossover, that’s just the way it goes. I despise having to open different longboxes to switch between JLA and JSA for each issue. There is absolutely no need to confuse and frustrate a reader the way DC and Marvel tend to.
Story arcs. While they’re not necessary, they are a great tool of modern comics and if/when used, should be handled with care. Locking a reader out of buying a comic because you’re meant to read from issue one like a graphic novel isn’t acceptable. An issue that’s part of a story arc must have a short recap in the form of a caption so that a first time reader can jump in, and hopefully refresh the memory of people who, well, haven’t read the comic in a month or so.
Reprints that are too long for a single issue, generally expected to be Italian comics under the WDC&S and Uncle Scrooge/Donald Duck title should be split across two issues rather than consume the entirety of the page space of the backup features.
I encourage writers to develop one-shots so they learn how to effectively manage their storytelling, and not just decompress it because you can.
Each title will be given an annual with a larger page count, to be marked as simply as (Title) #13 rather than as (Title) Annual #1. It’s easier for collectors, and doesn’t force the writers and artists to abandon what they’re doing in the main title to concentrate on something completely different. If they want to do a one-shot, an anthology collection, a continuation of the story, that’s fine, but it’s a change of pace that should be fun for the readers and creative team.
Colorists work under the supervision of the original artist. I firmly believe that their job isn’t to decide what the coloration is meant to be, but to bring to life and enhance the line-artist’s work. And I say this because if the original run of Barks comics had one flaw, it’s the abysmal coloring. It was partly due to the 4-Color press technology of the time, which I can understand. But mostly it had to do with incompetent colorists who, because of the way the studio was set up, didn’t work with the artists and completely ignored coloring directives… and all the while they did it badly. That’s just not okay.
You’re insane. You’re changing everything. What is WRONG with you?
This is absolutely drastic change from traditional Disney comics. It isn’t what any fan remembers reading as a kid.
Nor should it be.
A comic series that tugs at your childhood is a wonderful thing, and so is sharing that childhood love with others. While reprints of classic Disney comics should be a part of the line, and reprint compilations are absolutely wonderful (I gave my nephew a copy of Fantagraphics’ “Only a Poor Old Man” this Christmas), the comics deserve more than nostalgia. Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfredson, and Don Rosa aren’t artistically or culturally relevant because of the format they used, they’re relevant because they told great stories that happened to be in a certain format.
There was no Gottfredson before Gottfredson, Barks before Barks, or Rosa before Rosa. And even Rosa, whose admiration for past comics is well known, wasn’t Carl Barks after Carl Barks! He couldn’t be. It’s not a matter of a lesser talent at all, it’s a matter of him being a different artist, not a slavish imitator. By playing to his own strengths and telling the kinds of stories he wanted to tell, he created some of the most interesting work Disney has ever put out there.
I’m not saying that we should ignore the works of the past, nor that we should entirely stop reprints of these great works. But to only print and reprint comics in that format, and to value a comic because it is the best of a particular format rather than wanting a good comic in its own right simply because that’s the way it’s always been done? That’s just plain foolish. I believe that the best creators can use what’s been done before them not just as a tool for their own stories, but to improve on what has been. They can bring new, exciting ways of telling stories that feel true to those characters. There is no need to force someone to work under an artificial format that’s been in place for seventy-odd years just because that’s the way it’s always been.
But that’s just my opinion. What do you think?